President Donald Trump at the White House on Jan. 29. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Waterboarding Washington


President Trump feels waterboarding works.

If you knew what he knew, wouldn’t you? He heard Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham say torture works with his own ears. He said it on Twitter, which means it must be true. Defense Secretary James Mattis said he’d do better with a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, but, hey, if the president feels something, it can’t be wrong. “I happen to feel,” Trump said yet again last week, “that it does work.”

The problem with torture is that people will say anything to make it stop. If you’re afraid you’re going to die, you don’t care what’s true, you just care about surviving. There is abundant evidence of this behavior in Washington, where the fear of political death also makes people say anything.

Consider Team Trump. Only electoral torture — the threat of losing power — can account for the readiness of the White House and the Republican Congress to say anything, to act as though the infotainment freak show posing as our government were perfectly normal, to pretend that having a megalomaniac in charge of our nuclear arsenal isn’t the kind of emergency the 25th Amendment anticipates.

At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer give no hint onstage of what they know full well backstage, that the man they serve is a total disaster no longer waiting to happen. A million phantom inaugural attendees; 3 million imaginary illegal voters; the theft of health insurance from more than 20 million people; an animus toward Mexico that will steal billions from working Americans; a Muslim ban that reads right off ISIS’ script — what fresh hell will their boss serve up for them to defend next? A de facto abortion ban? Looser libel laws to make the media, as Steve Bannon barked, “keep its mouth shut”? A sweetheart deal with Putin on sanctions?

At the other end of the avenue, the game faces that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan wear hide their daily humiliation of humoring a tempestuous toddler; conceal their fear that their party is one golden shower away from disgrace and oblivion; and mask their terror that their country is one dirty bomb away from martial law. The last best hope of the Republican leadership is an impeachment they couldn’t be blamed for invoking, and a Pence presidency that would do the Tea Party proud.

Trump’s behavior checks all the symptoms on the malignant narcissism tick list: sadism, aggressiveness, paranoia, hypomania, grandiosity, lack of impulse control, lack of empathy, you name it. His disorder is hiding in plain sight. Here’s an excerpt from his interview last week with ABC’s David Muir:

“That [CIA] speech was a home run. … I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time. … That speech was a total home run. They loved it. … People loved it. They loved it. They gave me a standing ovation for a long period of time. They never even sat down, most of them, during the speech. There was love in the room. You and other networks covered it very inaccurately. … [T]urn on Fox and see how it was covered. And see how people respond to that speech. That speech was a good speech. And you and a couple of other networks tried to downplay that speech. And it was very, very unfortunate that you did. The people of the CIA loved the speech.”

It goes on.

This is scary. This is not how a president talks. It’s not even how a normal person talks. But it explains how Trump’s courtiers talk. Like the denizens of Wonderland, they fear the Red Queen, who “had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head!’ ” The Red Queen, Trump’s doppelganger, is the mother of all narcissists, the waterboarder in chief. So, to save themselves from political execution, Trump’s enablers, like the playing cards who paint the white roses red, confect “alternative facts.” Like Humpty Dumpty, who makes words mean what he chooses, Bannon calls a free press that speaks truth to power “the opposition party.” It’s not. That’s their job.

In his first news conference as president, Trump said that even though waterboarding “does work,” he’ll defer to his defense secretary’s opposition. “He will override. I’m giving him that power.” Here’s some wishful thinking: If Mattis can get Trump to observe the Geneva Convention on torture, maybe he can get him to observe the Paris Agreement on climate change, too.

Or even — I can dream, can’t I? — to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.


MARTY KAPLAN holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Israelis were brutalized at Munich Olympics, widows reveal


Family members of the victims of the massacre of 11 Israeli Olympians during the 1972 Games in Munich only learned the horrifying details of how they were treated 20 years later.

The Israelis — athletes and coaches — were beaten and, in at least one case, castrated during the 20 hours that they were held by members of the Palestinian terror group Black September, The New York Times reported.

Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, widows of two of the Olympians, discussed the details of the cruelty of the treatment in interviews with the Times that were published Tuesday.

They first viewed photos taken during the hostage siege in September 1992, at the home of their lawyer. At the time, they said, they agreed never to discuss them publicly.

Prior to that viewing, German authorities had denied that the photos and hundreds of pages of reports on the attack and the failed rescue attempt existed.

The women say they are coming forward with the information now in order to gain public and official acknowledgement for their murdered husbands and all the members of the team.

According to the German documents and photos, weightlifter Yossef Romano was shot trying to overpower the terrorists early in the attack. He was then left to die in front of the other hostages and castrated, the Times reported. It is not known if he was castrated before or after he died.

Other hostages were beaten and sustained serious injuries, including broken bones, Spitzer told the newspaper. Her husband, fencing coach Andre Spitzer, and another hostage died during the siege in the Olympic Village; the rest were killed during a rescue attempt at the airport.

After decades of failed attempts to have the murdered Israeli athletes recognized during the games, the new International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, has agreed to a moment of remembrance during the 2016 Olympics in Rio for all athletes who have died at the Olympics.

Spitzer and Romano are lobbying to have the Munich athletes remembered separately, since their deaths were as a result of a terror attack.

The IOC reportedly has also agreed to help finance a permanent memorial to the murdered athletes in Munich.

Lebanon’s human rights record up for review


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Lebanon is due to go before the United Nations Human Rights Council next week for a review of its human rights policy. Activists say that since the last human rights review five years ago, the situation has not improved.

“Over the years we have had many meetings on the issue of torture including talks with the Prime Minister last January,” Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, told The Media Line. “When we look at Lebanon’s record over the past five years, we see missed opportunities, procrastination and a lack of leadership.”

Lebanese authorities deny these charges. In its national submission to the Human Rights Council last month, the Lebanese government asserted that “vigorous steps are also being taken to prevent torture by prosecuting perpetrators of torture and either sentencing them to imprisonment or subjecting them to severe disciplinary measures, such as dismissal from office.”

The problem, activists say, is that the military investigates itself, making convictions almost impossible. Lebanon committed itself to establishing the National Preventive Mechanism to visit facilities like jails and police stations where torture is believed to take place, and to stop it before it starts.

“According to our statistics, in prisons and police stations, at least 60 percent of the detainees are subjected to torture and ill treatment during their investigation,” Marie Daunay, of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights told The Media Line. “During detention people are kept in underground places where they never see sunlight which is a form of psychological torture.”

In the past few months there have been growing protests against the government which closed the main landfill in the country without offering an alternative. Mounds of garbage have piled up in the streets.

“I filmed militia groups throwing rocks and concrete blocks during the recent protests,” Habib Fattah, an investigative journalist in Lebanon told The Media Line. “The militia is part of one of the political parties in Lebanon, and my footage went viral. The party later claimed they had nothing to do with the attacks but I showed that the men were close to the speaker of parliament.”

The only bright note is a 2014 law on domestic violence that makes it easier for women to file complaints against their husbands, and encourages the government to prosecute them.

Officials blame the current political crisis in Lebanon for their inability to do more to safeguard human rights. Lebanon currently has no president, and the government is a caretaker one that hesitates to take decisions. In addition, Lebanon is struggling to handle the 1.2 million Syrian refugees who fled to the country.

Refugees from Syria have to pay about $260 to renew their residency permits each year, more than many of them make in a month. As a result the number of illegal asylum seekers is increasing each year, which presents its own human rights challenges. These refugees will not turn to the police if a crime is committed against them, fearing they could be arrested and deported back to Syria.

Houry recognizes the challenges that Lebanon is facing but says they cannot be an excuse for human rights abuses.

“The scale of the problem is like the garbage crisis – it’s just getting worse,” he said. “Procrastination and mediocrity are not doing Lebanon any service at this stage.”

Israel’s Medical Association warns against proposed prisoner force-feeding bill


Israel's cabinet approved on Sunday a proposed law that would enable authorities to force-feed Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike, a practice opposed by the country's medical association.

Israel has long been concerned that hunger strikes by Palestinians in its jails could end in death and trigger waves of protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But Israel's Medical Association, which considers force- feeding a form of torture and medically risky, has urged Israeli doctors not to abide by the law if it is passed.

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who sponsored the bill, said the cabinet's support for the legislation would allow him to re-submit it to parliament for two final votes in the near future. It already passed a preliminary vote in the legislature before Israel's parliamentary election in March.

“Hunger strikes by imprisoned terrorists have become a weapon with which they are trying to threaten the State of Israel,” Erdan wrote on Facebook. “The cabinet's decision today sends a clear message: we will not blink in the face of any threat.”

Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club that advocates on behalf of Palestinians in Israeli jails, called the legislation racist and a violation of international law. Under existing Israeli law, patients cannot be treated against their will, although an ethics committee can be asked to intervene.

Demanding an end to his detention without trial, a Palestinian prisoner, Khader Adnan of the Islamic Jihad militant group, has been on a hunger strike in jail for the past 41 days, refusing solid food and drinking only water.

Adnan went on hunger strike for 66 days during a previous detention period in 2012, the longest such Palestinian protest. It ended when Israeli authorities promised to release him.

He was jailed again in July 2014 under so-called “administrative detention”.

Israel's use of a decades-old policy of detaining some Palestinians without formal charge has drawn international criticism. Israel says the procedure is necessary to avoid exposing confidential information in trials.

Jewish lawmakers decry torture practices, welcome report


Jewish lawmakers and anti-torture umbrella groups with Jewish affiliates expressed dismay at revelations of U.S. torture practices.

“The CIA’s actions a decade ago are a stain on our values and our history,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in floor remarks Tuesday after the release of the report on torture she had authorized.

“Releasing this report is an important step to restore out values and show the world that we are in fact a just and lawful society,” she said.

A number of leading Republicans had opposed the report’s release, saying it could lead to attacks on U.S. interests abroad, but Democrats and a minority of Republicans led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a survivor of torture while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said its release was necessary.

Practices described include waterboarding, subjecting detainees to extreme temperatures and continuous loud noise, forced rectal feeding, sleep deprivation and threats to the families of detainees.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was among an array of Jewish Democrats to release statements Tuesday welcoming the report and expressing dismay at its revelations.

“The exhaustive report from the Senate Intelligence Committee documents that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were not effective and violated international commitments and the core principles of the United States,” Cardin said.

“It also resulted in fabricated information and did not lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence,” he said. “Years may have passed by since these egregious activities occurred, but the United States must confront the mistakes that were made as we responded to the devastating 9/11 attacks.”

Also welcoming the report’s publications were the Interfaith Action for Human Rights, an alliance of faith leaders whose executive director is Rabbi Charles Feinberg, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which includes among its affiliates the Reform and Reconstructionist movements along with T’ruah: The Rabbinical Call for Human Rights.

“As a nation, we have much to repent for – and true teshuvah, repentance, requires both acknowledgement and accountability for what we have done,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the T’ruah director, said in a statement. “The report is a step toward acknowledgement. A step toward accountability would be for Congress to act to make clear that the CIA will never be allowed to torture again.”

Haaretz reported that a section of the report describes CIA officials at one point considered citing a 1987 Israeli commission that recommended “moderate physical pressure” in “ticking bomb” scenarios as a means for making the case for torture among lawmakers. The Israeli Supreme Court in a landmark 1999 decision banned many of the 1987 report’s recommendations.

Hungarian man, 98, charged with World War II crimes, prosecutors say


Hungarian prosecutors on Tuesday charged a 98-year-old man who tops the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center's wanted list with war crimes, saying he had helped to deport Jews to Auschwitz in World War II.

Laszlo Csatary was found guilty in absentia in 1948 of whipping or torturing Jews and helping to deport them to the death camp while serving as police commander in the Nazi-occupied eastern Slovak city of Kosice in 1944.

He was sentenced to death and lived on the run for decades until Hungarian authorities detained him and put him under house arrest in Budapest in July last year. He has denied any guilt.

In March, a Slovak court commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment.

“He is charged with the unlawful execution and torture of people, (thus) committing war crimes partly as a perpetrator, partly as an accomplice,” said Bettina Bagoly, a spokeswoman for the Budapest Chief Prosecutor's Office. She said Csatary's case would go to trial within three months.

The Wiesenthal Center named Csatary their most wanted war crimes suspect last year.

In April his detention terms were changed to a ban on leaving Hungary, but prosecutors have now applied to put him back under house arrest, Bagoly said.

In a statement, the prosecutors said Csatary had regularly hit Jewish prisoners with a dog-whip in 1944 when he was a police commander overseeing a detention camp in Kosice, which was then part of Hungary and is now in Slovakia.

Around 12,000 Jews were deported from Kosice to various concentration camps, mostly to Auschwitz.

“With his actions, Laszlo Csatary … deliberately provided help to the unlawful executions and torture committed against Jews deported to concentration camps … from Kosice,” the prosecutors' statement said.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Mark Boal’s journey from journalism to movie chronicler of the Middle-East wars


The time: 2003. The place: Black Site: Undisclosed Location. A battered man strung up by his wrists is being questioned by an interrogator. When he refuses to answer he is forced to the ground and held down by three men wearing ski masks. A black towel is wrapped around his face and the interrogator pours water from a pitcher over the towel while shouting questions at his prisoner: “Who is in the Saudi Group? What’s the target? When is the last time you saw Bin Laden?” 

This is the act of torture that is known as water boarding.  And in an Oscar season filled with controversies, it is this scene, which takes place early in the multi-nominated film “Zero Dark Thirty” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, that has created the most heated debates and angry protests from the halls of the motion picture academy in Beverly Hills to the chambers of Congress in Washington, DC. At the center of the controversy stands the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, and its screenwriter, Mark Boal, the same creative team who produced the 2009 Academy Award winner for best picture, “The Hurt Locker.” 

Boal, who also won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” is nominated again this year for his “Zero Dark Thirty” script, while Bigelow was snubbed in the best director category. The omission, many believe, may be at least in part due to the film’s appearance of supporting the efficacy of torture. 

Boal  has worked as a journalist for 20 years  moved into the film business when an article he wrote became the basis of the 2007 Iraq war-related film, “In the Valley of Elah.” During his time as an embedded reporter in Iraq, he said, he also gained first-hand insights for his work on “The Hurt Locker.” For “Zero Dark Thirty,” however, Boal relied on information from people closely involved in the Bin Laden operation, who supplied him with “first-hand accounts of actual events,” as stated at the opening of the film. 

When he began the project, Boal’s script was about the failed hunt for Bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, but that version was shelved when the terrorist leader was killed by Navy Seals on May 2, 2011.  As a result of the news, Boal started fresh, telling the story that led up to that day. 

As with all feature films based on fact, Boal struggled with the delicate balancing act of staying true to the story while having to create a workable screenplay. “Storytelling is kind of universal, but screenwriting is its own craft,” he explained. “Zero Dark Thirty” was based on some research that I did, but it’s also a written document — it’s not a documentary, it’s a screenplay. I talked to a lot of people who were involved in the mission and double-sourced information, but I approached it as a screenwriter. There’s homework and research to do, but I’m writing parts for actors, and, in this case, a story that follows one main character over 10 years.

“There are over one hundred speaking parts in the film,” he added. “But at the same time it’s doubly challenging, because it has to be honest and faithful to what actually happened. In some ways, this story would probably be easier to tell if it was pure fiction.”

Even so, Boal said, “I found it an exciting story to work on because of the dedication and the complexity and the morality and immorality and the excitement of the hunt. All that makes for good drama.”

The tortures scenes depicted in the film have been aggressively attacked from two sides:  Some claim the film endorses the efficacy of torture, while others complain that the scenes are presented as more brutal than what actually occurred.

But Boal thinks both miss the point. “The political point is that this work was carried out by people without regard to politics one way or another. It was carried out by civil servants, not by Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “But of course that’s the last thing they want to talk about in Washington. And the real point is that the country and Washington have to face that they’re culpable for what they did.  Rather than bash the movie for depicting the policies that they implemented, they should have a frank discussion about it. The torture that’s in the film is still relevant. To see that these kinds of harsh punishments are still going on –not in the exact same way –but it’s always convenient to bash Hollywood instead of actually doing the hard policy work of going down the hall and seeing what could be done, for example, to stop doing business with countries that torture people.”

The fact that ‘Zero Dark Thirty” has been the subject of both public and secret investigations by Congress does not surprise Boal, who also believes the attention has helped bring audiences out to see the film. “That’s what they do in Washington. They use things to create publicity platforms for themselves. They’re politicians,” said Boal. “I think at the end of the day I find it gratifying that people go out and see the movie and have a solid or moving movie experience. I can’t change Washington, and I wouldn’t ever begin to try.”

So far, Boal’s three films, “In the Valley of Elah,” “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” all have focused on events surrounding the war on terror. And though he said he has no definite plans to continue exploring that subject matter, he hopes others will continue down that road.

“I think all three of these movies are important subjects for Hollywood to explore, and I hope there are other movies about them. But what movies can do that other mediums cannot do, is reach a broad public audience, and Hollywood has a responsibility to make films about tough subjects and not just superheroes.”

Dick Cheney, torture and teshuvah


According to press reports, Dick Cheney’s memoir, set to be released this week, is one long exercise is not regretting any decision he made while serving as Vice-President of the United States. This is a shame. The first step in teshuvah, repentance, is recognizing the wrongs that one has committed. Cheney, rather, articulates his continued support for interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, extremes of heat and cold, sleep deprivation, long-term isolation, sensory deprivation and stress positions. It’s clear he will continue to defend his authorization of such torture and has no remorse for the criminal acts of torture he authorized. Cheney could have helped in the effort to repair the harms caused by torturing prisoners by expressing some regret for his actions. He has not.

I have found that the greatest challenge for me in talking about torture, about why torture is, from the point of view Judaism and from the point of view of the larger faith community, completely forbidden, is getting beyond the initial gut level response of—but of course it’s forbidden, how can any sentient being think otherwise. However, as with many things, the obvious needs to be articulated for those, like the former Vice-President, for whom, as a result of force of habit or willing blindness and moral obtuseness, the obvious is not so obvious. So we begin at the beginning.

Genesis Chapter one verse 27.

And God created the human in his own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female he created them.

The basic facts that the Torah wants us to know about the creation of the first human is that God created the human as male and female and that God created them in God’s image. This divine image, the tzelem elohim in Hebrew, is the guarantor of the human’s humanity. The biblical answer to the question: “what is it to be human?” is: to be created in the image of God.

To be created in the image of God brings with it the very notion of a life worth caring for, a life precious for its own sake. In chapter 9 of Genesis, the Torah records God saying:

He who sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.

The reason that an accounting for the blood of a human will be demanded by God (from person or animal) is that humans are made in the image of God. The corollary of this is that denying a person their divine image, and even more so erasing that Divine image, is at the same time denying or destroying their very humanity.

Having been created in the image of God means many different things. For the midrash, it is the extraordinary synthesis and integration between body and mind or soul that is emblematic of the Divine image. For this reason the Torah (Deuteronomy 21:23) says of one who was executed as a result of a death sentence:

you shall not let his corpse stay the night on a tree but you shall surely bury it on that day, for a hanged man is God’s curse.

The midrash explains that leaving the executed corpse hanging overnight is the same as if the bust of a king were being desecrated. It is the human being, body and soul which represents the Divine and cannot be desecrated, for in that desecration God is desecrated.

For the medieval rationalist philosophers like the great 13th century Sage Maimonides, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, being created in the image of God means having an intellect and intellectual capacity. The ability to make rational choices and arrive at rational decisions, the ability to acquire knowledge and to know God, these are all aspects of the Divine image in a person.

When one human being tortures another, the point of the torture is to destroy the humanity, the Divine image of the person being tortured. Pain, in the torture situation, is not applied towards any specific end. The words that are used in torture interrogations, as Elaine Scarry has argued, are not the actual language of the torturer. The questions which seem to be requesting information are only the background to the language of pain in which the torturer refocuses the torture victim’s whole consciousness on their body and its pain. The torturer assumes the role of God in that room and the torture is deployed so as to undermine any sense of free will, any ability to formulate actual rational thoughts and choices. The distortion of a torture victim’s body and soul through torture is not a by product of the torture, it is its purpose. The lasting effects and long-term insidiousness of torture is that very loss of tzelem, humanity which is hard to regain.

This moment of the destruction of a person’s tzelem elohim is the reason that torture needs to be absolutely forbidden. Beyond the arguments that torture is not reliable (since torture victims will say anything to stop the pain) or whether or not there really might ever be an actual “ticking time bomb” situation, beyond all this is the prohibition against destroying a person’s tzelem elohim. This is what we affirm when we read the decalogue.

God introduces Godself by declaring: “I am the Lord your God who has taken you out of Egypt out of the House of Bondage.”

What is the content of this introduction? God took Israel out of slavery, out of the state of being a slave. What is that state? It is a state in which one’s tzlelem elohim is erased. When Moses came to the Israelites with the message that they were to be redeemed by the God of their ancestors, the Israelites “did not heed Moses out of shortness of breath and hard bondage.” They were unable to comprehend because their bodies and souls had been distorted by the torturous slavery.

The corresponding prohibition to the opening saying (as we think of the two tablets in parallel) is: “Do not murder.” Slaves are those who can be tortured or killed with impunity since their essential humanity, which is their Divine image is not recognized.

We manifest God’s presence in the world by recognizing that God is the guarantor of every person’s humanity, that every person is made in the image of God and that it is absolutely forbidden for another person to demean and destroy that image of God.

As a first step towards a national teshuvah, we have a moral obligation to fully investigate the government’s past use of torture, not to brush it under the rug or excuse it in the name of national security. The United States must establish a Commission of Inquiry that fully investigates all aspects of the use of torture by the United States to ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again.  We must refuse to allow Dick Cheney’s moral obtuseness define us as a nation.

Briefs: They’re Jews first and Israelis second; Pope to soap offending trope


Israelis Identify by Faith, Then Flag

Israelis are three times more likely to identify primarily as Jews than as Israelis, a poll found. According to a survey in Monday’s Yediot Achronot, 40 percent of Israelis said they identify “first and foremost” as Jews, while 13 percent identify primarily as Israelis. Most Israelis, 45 percent, identified primarily as human beings, with the rest undecided on how to identify themselves. The poll had 500 respondents and a 4.2 percent margin of error. It was not clear if the respondents represented a cross-section of Israel’s entire population, 20 percent of whom are Arabs, or just the Jewish majority.

Stars to Celebrate Israel’s Birthday

Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg are among Jewish celebrities expected to attend Israel’s 60th Independence Day events. The famed musical diva and Hollywood director are among those invited to a May 13 conference in Jerusalem being organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres in honor of the Jewish state’s 60th birthday, Ma’ariv reported Monday. Streisand will entertain by singing “Avinu Malkeinu,” a Peres favorite. Among foreign statesmen expected to attend the events are President Bush and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Canada Removes Israel, U.S. From Watch List

Canada removed Israel and the United States from a list of countries suspected of using torture. Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said Saturday that an internal government torture watch list naming Israel and the United States had been amended to omit them. Bernier noted that Israel and the United States are among Canada’s “closest allies.” The watch list, which had been compiled as part of training for Canadian diplomats, was accidentally leaked to the press. It mentioned methods known widely as “torture light” — sleep deprivation, forced nudity, isolation and blindfolding. Human rights groups denounced Bernier’s turnabout, saying designation states that sanction torture should not depend on whether they are political allies. Israel and the United States admit that their security services use vigorous interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists but deny this amounts to torture.

Israeli Spy Satellite Launched

After months of delays, the TECSAR satellite was launched into space Monday from a site in India. The TECSAR features an all-weather, day-or-night radar imaging system that will significantly improve Israel’s ability to monitor Iran and other Middle East foes. Two Israeli-made Ofek satellites, with conventional optical camera, already are in orbit. Israel is among a handful of countries that manufactures and deploys its own satellites.

Olmert Praises Aid to Sderot

Aid extended to Sderot by the Israeli military has improved conditions for the rocket-rattled town, Ehud Olmert said. The Israeli prime minister, who made an unannounced visit to Sderot last Thursday after the military’s Southern Command was ordered to deploy personnel in the town to reinforce buildings against rocket salvos from the nearby Gaza Strip and help with routine affairs, said the measure has shown some success.

“I found a different atmosphere both in Sderot and its outlying communities. I found impressive determination, fortitude, fewer complaints but not less pain and concern, and great appreciation for the activity being carried on there,” Olmert told his Cabinet in broadcast remarks Sunday.

Last week saw a surge in rocket fire by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups as Israeli forces pressed attacks in Gaza. The Jewish Agency for Israel announced Sunday it has begun providing emergency relief grants of around $1,000 for Sderot residents who are injured, or whose homes are damaged, by rockets. A total of $300,000 was last month earmarked for Sderot out of the Jewish Agency’s Victims of Terror Fund, which is underwritten by the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod.

Pope to Change Liturgy Offensive to Jews

Pope Benedict XVI reportedly has decided to change part of the Good Friday liturgy that is offensive to Jews. The decision was reported by Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican expert of the Italian daily “Il Giornale.” The change would affect the Missal of 1962, which the pope brought back into use. The prayer is not used in most churches, but certain congregations continue to use the old rite on Good Friday.

The prayer, which refers to the blindness of the Jews in refusing Jesus as the messiah, is part of a series of prayers for non-Christians. The prayer reads: “Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, you do not refuse your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.”

A reference to “perfidious Jews” was dropped in 1959. When Pope Benedict brought back the prayer, the chief rabbis of Israel expressed concern, as did the ADL.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Bring me the legacy of Alberto Gonzales


Los Angeles mom pleads for life of son kidnapped in Iran


“Why is the world so silent — why are Jews so silent about the plight of Jews being held captive in Iran?” Elana Tehrani, an Iranian-born Jewish woman now living in Los Angeles asked a crowd during a speech at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills.

Tehrani believes her son is being held captive in Iran, and after 12 years of trying to quietly work through channels, she and 11 other families — who also believe their loved ones are in the same situation — have filed suit against Iran’s former president, Mohammad Khatami, in U.S. Federal Court. They are asking that the U.S. courts hold Khatami responsible for the kidnapping, imprisonment and disappearance of loved ones between 1994 and 1997.

“As a citizen of the United States,” Tehrani said at a rally in New York, “I ask that President Bush and those in Congress help me retrieve my son from the hands of the Islamic Republic!”

Tehrani began speaking out on Sept. 20 before a crowd of more than 30,000 people who were gathered outside the United Nations in New York for a rally organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to protest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presence at the United Nations. With her were Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, U.S. senators, national Jewish leaders and Israeli officials.

“I was hoping that from this rally … the world would become more aware of this issue,” she told The Journal in an interview from her West Los Angeles home. “But I don’t know why there was no media coverage of it anywhere, and no one said another word about it since.”

She believes her son, Babak, was kidnapped and imprisoned by Iranian secret police while trying to flee Iran in 1994.

“We have been trying for the last 12 years to get our sons back, but since we have not heard anything about their status after all these years, we were forced to take this action against Mr. Khatami,” Tehrani said. “We want to tell the world that with every day that passes by, we will pursue this issue more and more, until the Islamic Republic of Iran gives us answers”.

A homemaker who also works with her husband in their downtown L.A. shoe store, Tehrani said doctors have told her she has developed glaucoma as a result of excessive crying.She said she has developed a closer bond with her two other sons, who also live in Los Angeles, and an inner strength from praying three times a day.

“I refuse to give up on Babak and give up hope that he’s still alive,” Tehrani said. “We have witnesses that have seen him, and I will not stop looking for my child until he is back in my arms.”

Tehrani said her worst nightmare became a reality on June 8, 1994, when Babak, then 17, and his 20-year-old friend, Shaheen Nikkhoo, attempted to secretly leave Tehran. Because they were the age of military conscription, leaving the country was illegal. The two boys, both Jewish, arrived with their smuggler, Atta Mohammed Rigi, in the southeastern city of Zahedan, near the Pakistani border. Witnesses saw them being arrested there by non-uniformed Iranian secret police, Tehrani said.

Leaders from the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), a Los Angeles umbrella group of Iranian Jewish organizations, have made quiet diplomatic efforts for the last 12 years to help secure the release of Babak Tehrani and the other imprisoned Jews. Six years ago some activists in the Iranian Jewish community, among them George Haroonian and Frank Nikbakht, became so unhappy with the IAJF’s lack of progress, that they began to pursue a more vocal public approach in attempting to secure the release of the prisoners.

IAJF leaders have long advocated minimizing criticism of Tehran’s regime out of fear of retributions against the approximately 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. Despite internal differences of opinion, the various factions within the local Iranian Jewish community recently banded together in support of victims’ families’ lawsuit.

“Our entire community is united in demanding the immediate release of these individuals and will support any legal and moral course of action that their families may choose to pursue,” the group said in a statement released by the IAJF.

In 2000, with the assistance of various American Jewish groups, the Iranian Jewish community spread news of the case of 13 Iranian Jews from the city of Shiraz who had been imprisoned in 1999 on fabricated charges of spying for Israel. Ultimately the international exposure put pressure on the Iranian regime, prevented the execution of the “Shiraz 13,” and they were eventually released.

Babak Tehrani was last seen in 1996, according to Fereidoon Peyman, an Iranian Jew who was the Tehranis’ neighbor in Iran and who now lives in Los Angeles. In a sworn affidavit given to the Tehrani family, Peyman said that in 1996 he visited Tehran’s infamous Evin prison while attempting to sell land nearby to prison officials. While there, he stated, he saw Babak.

“As I was walking, a jail cell with a window caught my eye, I went forward and I saw several youths who were sitting on the floor,” Peyman stated in his affidavit. “The poor kids, including one whom I knew particularly since he was my daughter’s classmate and whose name was Babak.”

Evin prison is a maximum-security prison allegedly used by the Iranian government to house and torture political dissidents, student protesters, journalists and anyone else believed to pose a threat to the Iranian regime, Nikbakht said.

Experts familiar with Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic laws say such a long imprisonment of Babak Tehrani and the other 11 Jews is highly unusual for an attempted escape from the country and could be politically motivated. According to Chapter 11, Article 34 of Iran’s official Criminal Laws and Regulations, punishment for illegal exit from the country is either a fine or a prison term ranging from two months to a maximum of two years.

Babak’s father, Joseph Tehrani, said he was particularly disappointed with the lack of support and assistance from the Israeli government for the plight of his son and the other imprisoned Iranian Jews.

Torture? Nah, Just a Tantrum


A new billboard depicting Jill Greenberg’s photographs of sobbing toddlers might raise the profile (and debate over) her controversial exhibition at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery.

The ad, hovering above the intersection at Highland and Melrose avenues, presents images from her “End Times” series. The portraits, the Jewish artist says, reflect her fears of the Bush administration’s Christian, apocalyptic views.

“They’re about the hysteria these toddlers might feel if they could understand the world we’re leaving to them,” Kopeikin said.

Seeking greater exposure for the show, Kopeikin accepted the billboard owners’ offer to trade two to three Greenberg prints for space June 10 through early July. He also extended the show six weeks, until July 8.

While the few published reviews have been positive (Blogcritics.org called the luminous portraits “striking” and “powerful”), debates raged on at least three Web sites. Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection accused Greenberg of “child abuse”; a man on BloggingBaby charged her with “bullying these children for profit and … trying to justify it by saying it’s ‘art.'” Many other bloggers — including several of the toddlers’ relatives — defended the work.

Greenberg, also a prominent commercial photographer, said she was upset by the derogatory remarks because “I honestly did not feel my technique was controversial or questionable.”

The series began when she photographed a friend’s son, who spontaneously began crying, soon after Bush’s 2004 re-election.

“When I saw his mortified expression, I decided to call the [photo] ‘Four More Years,'” Greenberg, now 38, said. She went on to shoot some 35 toddlers (including her own daughter), two-thirds of them models. She said she chose children 3 or under because she could easily make them cry by using a common show-business technique: taking away a lollipop or asking their mothers to leave the room. She said the images are shocking because toddlers tantrum — as if they’re being tortured — over small things. They cried for about 10 minutes.

“Seconds later, these children were fine,” she added.

Paul Kopeikin Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-0765.

 

PASSOVER: 10 Contemporary Plagues


In the Passover haggadah, we read of the 10 Plagues that God sent to convince Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go free. The plagues — bloody, violent, magical — are a dramatic highpoint of the narrative. Mindful of the pain these plagues brought even to innocent Egyptians, Jews have traditionally spilled out a drop of their festive seder wine at the recitation of each plague.

We don’t suggest that these modern plagues are the work of a punitive God or punishment for society’s wrongdoing — we’ll leave that analysis to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

But we recall that with the original plagues, the rabbis tell us, the purpose was to instruct the Israelites as much as to punish the Egyptians. In that light, we offer 10 contemporary plagues, named in Hebrew, as an opportunity to mourn their victims and discuss how we can prevent them and their like from plaguing us next year.

What’s So Bad About Torture?


Suppose your child were kidnapped.

She is buried alive with a limited air supply. Police arrest one of the kidnappers. Indeed, he was on a store videotape luring the child and then abducting her. Witnesses saw him put the child in a car. His handwriting is on the ransom note. He admits he knows where she is but remains stubbornly unresponsive.

The police by-the-rules interrogation moves slowly, it seems, against the clock. The kidnapper’s record and demeanor indicate clearly that he would respond to graduated pain. The only way to save the girl is to intimidate and physically hurt this man.

If your child’s life were on the line, would you condone rough treatment?

In our society, the parent does not make this judgment. The civil authorities properly do. Because, for one thing, parents might want to kill this person with their bare hands, even after torture had done its job. And that would violate the due process that is fundamental to our system, which properly protects civil liberties, even when a life is at stake.

Our government, too, has an interest in saving this child’s life in this situation — and in doing almost anything necessary to save lives that are in imminent peril. And the minute you accept that, you understand the folly of blanket prohibitions against torture when confronting terrorism.

The situation here is analogous to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, when the Clinton administration naively used the criminal justice system to prosecute the perpetrators, as if their act were an isolated crime, rather than go after the terrorist organization that launched their mission.

How, then, does our Western system apply to the global war on terror?

To answer that, it helps to recognize the scope of terrorism, which is more varied and pervasive than many commonly realize. The terrorists will not always be Islamists. And, even now, not all Muslim terrorists are religious zealots lining up for virgins in heaven.

The anti-Soviet Muslim groups in Chechnya are more nationalistic than religious. Many secular Palestinian groups want to destroy Israel, not conquer the world for Islam.

Still, our primary concern in the years and, possibly decades, ahead is mainly with the Islamo-fascists who would indeed use violence to impose Islam — whether they are part of an organized Al Qaeda-like group or lone rangers.

The military supremacy of the United States with the fall of the Soviet Union ended the era of classic war, with military forces that engage on land, air and sea, culminating in a defined victory for one side. Instead, smaller nation-states or, more likely, renegade movements that may or may not find sanctuary in states will lack the “rationality” that constrained other bad guys of times past, like the former Soviet Union.

They won’t heed, as did the Soviets, the nuclear deterrent of mutually assured destruction. Nor would they ascribe to the economic rationality that inhibits an ambitious China and other ascendant powers that look beyond military hegemony.

In contrast, consider how a mullah in Iran responded recently when asked whether Iran ought to explode a nuclear bomb in Israel, given that so many Arabs live in Israel, in the West Bank and in adjacent countries. Thousands of Arabs would be killed, if not immediately, then through radiation disease and toxic cancers. The mullah was unmoved, because he said the key was simply killing the Jews in Israel and destroying that country.

This is not your father’s Cold War-style conflict. And this scary Iranian theocracy could look moderate compared to Islamist terrorist gangs that stalk us, who would lack even the arguable constraints that moderate Iran’s behavior. Even Iran must deal with Russia and Europe, and its anti-Semitic president still has a public to answer to at home.

President Bush, for all his proper focus on national security, has not sufficiently explained the peril of today’s asymmetric warfare. We’re not talking about an old-style IRA explosion that would kill several uniformed British soldiers or even about the targeting of civilians, including children. Regardless of what was found in Iraq, Americans do face an ongoing threat from weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, biological, radioactive and chemical — that could sicken, maim and kill vast numbers of noncombatants at a blow.

Torture truly could be a lesser evil when the stakes are this high.

Even so, torture could not be justified if it falls short by any of three measures that have been articulated recently by law professor Harvey Rishikof, who heads the national security strategy department of the National War College in Washington, D.C. Rishikof, who does not object to torture under all circumstances, lists these possible objections to torture: pragmatic, political and moral, which I will deal with one by one.

The Pragmatic Objection I, the Reciprocal Golden Rule: We shouldn’t torture, because we don’t want our soldiers and civilians treated that way when they are captured.

This precept certainly holds in normal warfare, For example, one side is deterred from using biological weapons for fear the other side would retaliate in kind. But no matter how nicely we interrogate terrorists, their side will never reciprocate. Their core value is that enemy soldiers have no rights either as combatants or even as fellow humans, and that civilians are no better than soldiers.

The Pragmatic Objection II: Torture does not work or is even counterproductive. Take the case of a civilian suspect who falsely confesses to a murder or a terrorism suspect who falsely implicates others in a nonexistent plot.

I accept that torture does not produce assured results, especially if it isn’t carried out both thoughtfully and rarely. But what about the case when it does work?

The argument over capital punishment offers a helpful analogy. Opponents of capital punishment, for example, argue that it is not actually a deterrent. But what if you could show them, say, just one person who was deterred from murder?

When I confronted actor Mike Farrell, a crusader against the death penalty, with this possibility, he quickly acknowledged that it didn’t matter, because he was morally opposed to capital punishment, regardless.

This was an honest and telling response. The lack-of-deterrence argument simply is a convenient rhetorical stratagem. I regard the pragmatic argument against torture the same way.

What if you show that torture is, in some circumstances, utilitarian? After all, how can you possibly know that in all cases torture will never work? My guess is that the pragmatic objection to torture morphs really into a more reasoned political or moral objection.

The Political Objection: There is an indisputable downside for the United States if we are perceived to condone torture. Yes, some U.S. soldiers deserved to be punished for what happened at Abu Ghraib. It was a stunning setback to our national image.

And it’s possible that some people have been wrongly imprisoned in Guantanamo. Many more have not. And we have gained information from prisoners there that has helped us apprehend key terrorists and prevent significant loss of life.

Besides, the people who hate us, hate us. No matter what we do, large segments of the Islamic world believe the worst about us, even though Americans have fought and died in Asia and Europe to help Muslims — from Bosnia to Afghanistan to Iraq. And of the countries around the world that sit in judgment on Guantanamo, nearly all have engaged in torture. And in many cases, I’m talking about their police, who use torture to investigate street crimes, as well as making it an instrument of state oppression against unarmed and peaceful dissidents.

The Moral Objection: It’s wrong to torture. Morality is intrinsically good but is the moral course clear?

Here we come full circle to the original scenario, that of the child whose life is in imminent danger. Except multiply that child by 10, by 100, by 1,000, by 1 million. What about a biochemical attack that could be hours away? The possibility is not far-fetched. Consider, too, the long-term increases in cancer rates in the wake of a terrorist nuclear attack and the profound damage to the environment.

The goal is prevention, not responding after the fact… after thousands or even tens of thousands have died, and hundreds of thousands and their offspring are toxically doomed. To prevent such a calamity, would it be moral not to torture?

The Geneva Accords intended for such formal military conflict certainly might not fit well to the instance of interrogating terrorists operating outside of nation-states. Under Geneva, even temporary exposure to heat or cold or sleep deprivation would be off limits.

Are we to avoid degrading treatment? Are stress techniques forbidden? Critics of the United States have classified as torture even techniques that leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm. Writer Mark Bowden, author of “Black Hawk Down,” for one, does not the regard the manipulation of fear and anxiety as torture. Neither do I.

Consider the case of an Al Qaeda terrorist who did not respond for months to conventional interrogation. His interrogators eventually manufactured a fraudulent photograph of his wife and two children, with the Arabic caption, “They need their father’s love.” He broke, providing valuable information. Was this beyond the pale?

What if, in the future, a brain scan could yield lifesaving information? (We’re not talking Dr. Mengele here.) Would that “invasion of privacy” or “violation of due process” be going too far?

Critics constantly group into the word “torture” practices that stop well short of ripping people’s fingernails off or mutilation. Is it OK to be mentally intrusive or hassle a detainee psychologically?

According to Rishikof, interrogators, under certain evolved and tortured definitions of torture, can’t even scare or threaten someone.

Let me be clear: I am not in any way advocating that our government should torture a criminal who commits arson or bombs the store that fired him. Even though that looks like terrorism, these acts are fundamentally crimes. And torture should never be used as punishment, , although it might be used to apprehend terrorist perpetrators, as was reportedly done by the CIA following the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed CIA employees. My argument concerns what to do about a terrorist organization, and ultimately, doing what’s necessary to prevent a terrorist attack.

Opponents of torture talk about a worrisome, slippery slope, but the more worrisome and dangerous slide may be on the other side, when anything outside of “Adam 12” and the reading of Miranda rights becomes unacceptable.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst who serves on the Board of Visitors for the National Defense University. This article represents only his personal views.

Israel Tames but Doesn’t Halt Torture


Last November, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), while campaigning to ban the U.S. government from using torture, told the “Today” show: “The Israeli Supreme Court outlawed torture, outlawed cruel and inhumane treatment. And I have talked to Israeli officials, and they say they do very fine without it.”

It was a useful point of rhetoric, but the story of Israel and torture is more complex; Israel is less the example of humane progressiveness that McCain would have it.

Actually, the Shin Bet intelligence agency has reported that during the first three years after the 1999 Israeli ban on torture, it used “exceptional interrogation methods” on 90 Palestinian prisoners.

“I understand ‘exceptional interrogation methods’ to mean torture,” said Jessica Montell, executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization that has monitored human rights abuses by the Israelis, including torture, for some 20 years. “We know of a few more cases in the years since the Shin Bet’s 2002 report.”

It’s possible that many, if not all, of these 90-plus cases of “exceptional interrogation methods” met the criteria for the classic “ticking bomb” defense in the use of torture: Information is needed urgently from a suspect to prevent innocent people from being killed. However, Montell noted that the attorney general failed to prosecute Shin Bet agents, so the judicial system never ruled on whether the ticking bomb defense applied.

However even for Montell, a human rights monitor, “it’s clear that we’re talking about a qualitative and quantitative improvement since the high court ruling.”

That’s for sure.

Most of these exceptional cases took place during the Al Aqsa intifada, which began in September 2000 and which, while having subsided, hasn’t ended yet. During its first three years, it marked one of the most savage terror campaigns any country has ever endured. Approximately 1,000 Israelis were killed and several thousand injured.

The Israeli army, backed by Shin Bet intelligence, arrested tens of thousands of Palestinians. Out of all of them, 90-plus prisoners may have been tortured and likely in urgent circumstances.

By comparison, during the first intifada from 1987 to 1993, Montell estimated that “tens of thousands” of Palestinian prisoners were tortured in ways that would be illegal in Israel today. Her estimate is based on B’Tselem’s finding that about 85 percent of Palestinian prisoners in that period were tortured. (In those days, Palestinians were arrested and jailed for long periods for offenses as minor as displaying PLO flags or passing out PLO literature.)

Besides the old standby of beatings, the methods of torture included violently shaking prisoners; shackling them in painful, contorted positions for long periods, wearing foul-smelling hoods that made it difficult to breathe; preventing them from sleeping for two or more days at a time; and threatening sexual assault or death on prisoners and their families.

Over the years, about 10 Palestinian prisoners died in custody as a result of torture, the exact number is uncertain, said Montell, whose organization is probably the best known investigator of human rights abuses against Palestinians.

While Israeli security officials and right-wingers have castigated B’Tselem as being unfair and anti-Israel, its case against Israeli torture has been backed up by testimony from many hundreds of victims and was ultimately supported by the Israeli Supreme Court.

The outlawing of indiscriminate torture marks probably the greatest human rights victory in Israeli history, won by the country’s legal community over the vaunted security establishment. That members of the security establishment say today that they “do very fine without” torture, as McCain noted, is agonizing.

It means tens of thousands of Palestinians, by B’Tselem’s estimate, were tortured for nothing, causing unfathomable damage to the victims and to the atmosphere surrounding Palestinian-Israeli relations. It also shines a harsh light on torture’s remaining proponents today.

However, even during three decades when the Shin Bet was routinely using torture to wring out confessions, true or false, from Palestinian prisoners, Israeli practices were still a long way from the big leagues of torture. Israel didn’t go in for anything remotely close to the inconceivable mass torture/murder still going on in large parts of Asia and Africa, both by governments and rebel forces.

Israeli agents didn’t turn blow torches on Palestinians’ faces or throw them out of airplanes as did Latin American military dictatorships to leftists by the thousands. Neither did it shoot to death prisoners after torturing them to their limits for information, using such methods as electrodes tied to genitals, as France did wholesale during the 1954-62 war in Algeria. Nor did the Shin Bet use the monstrous tactics of, for instance, the former Soviet KGB, the East German Stasi or the various “special” forces that burned, raped and generally savaged their way through the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Israel didn’t do that sort of thing, even to known terrorists who’d killed dozens of innocents. There were no mass graves in the West Bank or Gaza, like the Russians are still leaving in Chechnya.

However, the Shin Bet’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners, and the way agents lied about it in court, was bad enough. So when agents’ practice of torture came to light, which happened in 1984, it was probably inevitable that the Israeli judicial system would rule it out — or nearly out — of existence.

The breakthrough came in the “Bus 300” affair that year. Four Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Israeli bus, commandeering it to Gaza, where they held the passengers hostage, demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli security forces raided the bus, killing two terrorists and taking the two others prisoner. That night, Israeli officials announced that all four suspects had been killed in the raid. However, the Hadashot daily newspaper bypassed the Israeli censor and published a photo the next morning of two plainclothes Israeli security officials walking one of the terrorists away from the bus.

For the next three years, official investigations and inquiries followed one after another; the head of the Shin Bet, Avraham Shalom, was forced to resign. Also, a young Palestinian accused of membership in a terrorist organization died in his interrogation cell — from a heart attack, according to the Shin Bet. But his family said his corpse showed signs that he had been brutalized.

In 1987, an inquiry commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau gave the Shin Bet a reprimand of an unprecedented frankness and severity. The commission found that agents had been torturing confessions out of Palestinians and lying about it in court — which had been routinely convicting prisoners on the basis of those confessions and Shin Bet testimony — since at least 1971. This institutionalized dishonesty and brutality “was passed from one generation [of Shin Bet agents] to the next.”

Noting that there were no legal guidelines for how far an Israeli interrogator could go with a suspect, the Landau commission codified a long list of allowable methods of what it called “moderate physical pressure.” These served as the Shin Bet’s guidelines for the next 12 years, even though many legal critics called these stipulations “legalized torture.”

“Things didn’t get better after Landau,” Montell said. “They just got a lot more regulated. Interrogators were now acting according to orders, instead of their own private initiative.

“The interrogations became highly standardized,” she continued. “They had about five or six different methods of physical force to cause prisoners suffering, such as shaking, shackling, hooding and sleep denial. We know because the interrogators had to fill out forms detailing the methods they used.”

But this record keeping was at least a more honest system than, say, the U.S. decision to house prisoners at Guantanamo, which is outside U.S. territory, so the government can claim that U.S. legal protections therefore don’t apply. Then there are the alleged secret U.S. prisons abroad reported on recently in the U.S. press — not to mention the U.S. practice of rendition: secretly handing over a suspect to a country that places no limits on torture and letting the foreign torturers do the Americans’ dirty work.

When Israel brought its torture practices above ground and started keeping track, these records set the stage for reform. They provided a database that helped the Israeli courts take the next step in significantly restricting torture.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1999, many Israeli troops still treat Palestinians brutally and in a humiliating fashion — not only Palestinians and human rights activists have attested to this, but so have Israeli soldiers. The West Bank is still wild. But the interrogation rooms of the Shin Bet, at least, are not nearly as dark as they used to be.

While torture is still likely used on occasion, these instances are not hidden by the Shin Bet, which indicates, we can hope, that these were instances when torture was used to prevent the imminent deaths of innocents — instances when torture, as horrifying as this may sound, was actually the lesser of two evils.

It took decades for Israel to clean up its interrogation methods to this degree — decades in which the absence of controls and the blanket justification for ruthless tactics in the war against terror led to a policy of indiscriminate torture of imprisoned suspects.

If not for Israeli human rights organizations and the Israeli Supreme Court, it would still be going on.

 

Every Jew Is on the Front Lines of War


Ilan Halimi’s barbarous murder in France should awaken all Jews to the most significant truth of our times: Today, every Jew in the world is on the front lines of war.

As was the case 70 years ago, every Jew today is a target for our enemies, who shout from every soapbox and prove at every opportunity that their goal is the annihilation of the Jewish people. From 1933-1945, the enemy was Nazi Germany. Today, the enemy is political Islam. Its call for jihad aimed at annihilating the Jews and dominating the world is answered by millions of people throughout the world.

Among the lessons of the Holocaust, there is one that is almost never mentioned. That lesson is that it is possible, and indeed fairly easy, to exterminate the Jews. The fact that the Holocaust happened proves that it is absolutely possible for the Jewish people to be wiped off the map — just as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas leader Khaled Mashal promise.

The story of Halimi’s murder at the hands of a terrorist gang of French Muslims brings to the surface the various pathologies now converging to make the prospect of annihilating all Jews seem possible to our enemies. First, there are the murderers who took such apparent pleasure and felt such pride in the fact that for 20 days they tortured their Jewish hostage to death.

This makes sense. Anti-Semitism in the Muslim-dominated suburbs of Paris and other French cities is all-encompassing.

As Nidra Poller related recently in The Wall Street Journal, “One of the most troubling aspects of this affair is the probable involvement of relatives and neighbors, beyond the immediate circle of the gang [of kidnappers], who were told about the Jewish hostage and dropped in to participate in the torture.”

It appears that Halimi’s murderers had some connection to Hamas. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that police found propaganda published by the Palestinian Charity Committee or the CBSP at the home of one of the suspects.

The European Jewish Press reported that Israel has alleged that the organization is a front group for Palestinian terrorists, and that in August 2003, the U.S. government froze the organization’s U.S. bank accounts, accusing it of links with Hamas.

Halimi’s family alleges that throughout the 20 days of his captivity, the French police refused to take the anti-Semitic motivations of the kidnappers into account. The investigators insisted on viewing his kidnapping as a garden variety kidnap-for-ransom criminal case, which they said generally involves no threat to the life of the captive.

The police maintained their refusal to investigate the anti-Semitic motivations of the kidnappers, in spite of the fact that in their e-mail and telephone communications with Halimi’s family, his captors repeatedly referred to his Judaism and on at least one occasion recited verses from the Quran, while Halimi was heard screaming in agony in the background.

The family alleges that if the police had been willing to acknowledge that Halimi was abducted because he was Jewish, they would have recognized that his life was in clear and immediate danger and acted with greater urgency.

Like the police, the French government waited an entire week after Halimi was found naked, with cuts and burns over 80 percent of his body, by a train station in suburban Paris, before acknowledging the anti-Semitic nature of the crime. According to press reports, the French government was at least partially motivated to suppress the issue of anti-Semitism because it feared inflaming the passions of French Muslims who make up between 10 to 13 percent of the French population and a quarter of the population under 25 years old.

(Now that the French government has acknowledged that the crime was motivated by hatred of Jews, it is behaving responsibly in pursuing the murderers and decrying the attack on French Jewry.)

In addition to the exterminationist anti-Semitism of Halimi’s murderers and the unwillingness of the French authorities to acknowledge the anti-Semitic nature of the crime until it was too late, there is one more aspect of the case that bears note. That is Israel’s reaction to the atrocity. In short, there has been absolutely no official Israeli reaction to the abduction, torture and murder of a Jew in France by a predominantly Muslim terrorist gang that kidnapped, tortured and murdered him because he was a Jew.

No Israeli government minister, official or spokesman has condemned his murder. No Israeli official has demanded that the French authorities investigate why the police refused to take anti-Semitism into account during Halimi’s captivity. No Israeli official flew to Paris to participate in Halimi’s funeral or any other memorial or demonstration in his memory.

The Foreign Ministry’s Web site makes no mention of his murder. The Israeli Embassy in Paris — which has been without an ambassador for the past several months — only publicly expressed its condolences to the Halimi family on Feb. 23, 10 days after Halimi was found — this, when the French Jewish community considers Halimi’s murder to have been the greatest calamity to have befallen it in recent years; when aliyah rates rose 25 percent last year; when Halimi’s mother told reporters that her son had planned to make aliyah soon and was just staying in France to save money to finance his move to Israel.

For its part, as Michelle Mazel previously pointed out in The Jerusalem Post, the French press has noted that the Israeli media has not given the story prominent coverage. Halimi’s murder has not appeared on the front pages of the papers or at the top of the television or radio broadcasts.

Although appalling, the absence of an official Israeli outcry against Halimi’s murder is not the least surprising. Today, the unelected Kadima interim government, like the Israeli media, is doing everything in its power to lull the Israeli people into complacency toward the storm of war raging around us.

Against the daily barrages of Kassam rockets on southern Israel; nervous reports of Al Qaeda setting up shop in Judea, Samaria and Gaza; the ascension of Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority; and Iran’s threats of nuclear annihilation, Israel’s citizenry, under the spell of Kadima and the media, appears intent on ignoring the dangers and pretending that what happens to Jews in France has nothing to do with Jews elsewhere.

Israel’s societal meekness accords well with Kadima’s ideology. Its creed was best expressed by Foreign Minister, Justice Minister and Immigration Minister Tzipi Livni last month at the Herzliya Conference and is best characterized as “conditional Zionism.” In her speech, Livni explained that Israel’s international legitimacy is conditional. Unless a Palestinian state is established in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, she warned, Israel will lose its legitimacy as a Jewish state.

So for Livni, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and the rest of the Kadima gang, unlike every other people in the world, the Jewish people do not have an inherent, natural right to exist as a free, sovereign and independent people in its homeland. For Kadima, the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our land is conditional on our enemies’ acceptance of our right to be here.

Kadima’s conditional Zionism finds expression in its policies in Judea and Samaria. There, the gist of the government’s actions is that the only people with inherent human rights in Judea and Samaria are the Arabs.

Throughout the areas, the government, backed by the post-Zionist courts, prohibits Jews from building on land that Jews own. Today, as Moshe Rosenbaum, the mayor of Beit El explains, even receiving a permit to build an extension on a standing house or additional classrooms in a school is all but impossible.

While Olmert and Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra have repeatedly condemned Jews for allegedly cutting down trees owned by Arabs in Judea and Samaria, the government has said nothing and done nothing to stop the wholesale destruction of Jewish orchards and national forests by Palestinians.

Over the past several months, in the vicinity of Gush Etzion alone, thousands of Jewish-owned trees have been chopped down by Arab vandals. Two national forests have been laid to waste. Busy directing their energies and attentions at delegitimizing the Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria, the government has ignored Israel’s enemies.

And so, as Kassam attacks against Israel multiply by the day and Hamas leaders hold Jew-hating love fests with Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran, Olmert has assured us that Hamas is not a strategic threat to Israel.

When the Israeli government itself is claiming Jewish rights are not inherent but rather defined and granted by others, it can surprise no one that the government has ignored Halimi’s murder.

Luckily for both Israel and the Jews around the world, the current leadership is not our only option. We have other leaders, the most prominent among them being Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and former IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon. Both of these men understand well that the two most important lessons for the Jews from the Holocaust are that we must never grant anyone else the authority, legitimacy or power to define who we are or what our rights are, and we are all responsible for one another.

Recently, Ya’alon, who is currently based at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, came to Jerusalem for the day to speak at a conference on the strategic implications of Hamas’ takeover of the Palestinian Authority. There, Ya’alon explained what he considers to be the key to Israel’s security.

Israel, he said, has the military capability to defeat its enemies. But for Israel to be able to take the steps it needs to take to win the war being waged for our destruction, Ya’alon explained, first we need to accept the fact that we have an intrinsic, unconditional right to our land and our sovereignty.

Once we understand that our rights are unconditional, we will understand that we have an obligation to wage war against those who work for our destruction. That is, Ya’alon explained, that for Israel to survive, we need to return to our unconditional Zionism.

Sir Martin Gilbert, perhaps the preeminent British historian of World War II, has said, “The interesting thing about history is that it always repeats itself.”

As was the case in World War II, today the Jewish people in Israel and throughout the world are being targeted for annihilation by an enemy bent on world domination. Halimi’s monstrous murder is just the latest sign of this disturbing reality. Today, as 70 years ago, the Jews are disserved by poor and weak leaders who refuse to see the dangers.

But if we learn from history and we assess our options, we will see that history needn’t repeat itself. It is within our power to reverse the course of our all too repetitious past.

Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post.

Caroline B. Glick is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.

 

French Rally Against Jew’s Torture Death


Paris — The brutal murder of a young Jewish man in Paris is roiling the community and reviving questions over whether France is a safe place for Jews.

In an incident that has dominated headlines across the country, Ilan Halimi, 23, was lured away from the store where he sold mobile phones on Jan. 21 by a woman, abducted and then held in a suburban housing project for three weeks by a criminal gang, where he was repeatedly tortured, according to French officials. Halimi’s captors allegedly beat, burned, stabbed and poured toxic fluid on him.

He was then dumped, barely alive and reportedly with burn marks all over his body, at a suburban train station on Monday, Feb. 13. Halimi died while being driven to a hospital.

Until last week, officials and detectives investigating the case said they were not linking it to anti-Semitism. But in a turnaround, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told a Jewish communal gathering last week that officials had decided to treat the case as an act of anti-Semitism.

De Villepin said the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s torture and murder be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was among tens of thousands of Parisians, mostly Jews, who rallied last weekend in what was billed as a community march against hate.

“There can be no tolerance of this act of torture and murder and anti-Semitism,” said Sarkozy. “This concerns the Jewish community and all French people.”

Among the marchers was Sandrine Berda, who runs a catering business. “It seems that so much is going on now to try to force us to leave Paris,” Berda said. “I am here to show there are lots of Jews here, and if we leave, Paris will become a pitiful city.”

Police estimated the number of marchers at 33,000, although others put the number much higher.

The question of whether France is still safe for its estimated 600,000 Jews was a major topic of discussion among the demonstrators.

“Many people decide on the safety of Paris by what happens to their children at school,” said Diana Tabbacoff, a psychologist originally from Brazil. “I think everyone believes we must react against ignorance, but personally, my daughter has not suffered for being Jewish. If she did, I would think of returning to Sao Paulo.”

Ironically, officials recently announced that anti-Semitic acts in France dropped by 47 percent in 2005 over the previous year.

The earlier spike of anti-Semitic attacks was largely perpetrated by youths of North African origin, and these incidents had increased in France during the first few years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. This rise had been largely attributed to tensions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The climate for Jews had seemed to improve, however, in recent months, as had France’s relations with Israel. One factor was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Paris last summer and the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

But the recent incident has rocked the Jewish community, with many saying they had felt all along it was a deliberate act against Jews.

“We are here to demonstrate for France, because we live here and we are fed up,” said David Riahi, a student at the HEC business school, marching under the banner of the French Union of Jewish Students. “This is not about calling for people to go live in Israel or the States.”

But one marcher was skeptical that anything could be done to improve the situation.

“Will this really move people to take a look at what is going on or push the government to take more action?” asked Eric Chicheportiche, former head of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “I really don’t know, and I really don’t know what can be done.”

Although most of the marchers were Jewish, there were North African Muslims and blacks in the crowd, and all agreed that this was an anti-Semitic act.

“There are cultured and educated Arabs marching here today who believe we can live and work in peace with Jews [and other French people,]” said Khadidja Cherkaoui, who is finishing a master’s degree in management here. “This was an anti-Semitic act committed by savages.”

Cherkaoui said some typically racist attitudes may come from school.

“I have heard of youngsters being taught by certain teachers that Jews are all rich,” she said. “That is not true and is racist, like saying that all Arabs are terrorists.”

While the statistics show the climate of anti-Semitism has improved in
France during the past few years, Malik Boutih, the former president of the
activist group SOS Racism, who is currently a Socialist Party official, said
the problems of anti-Semitism and racism remain. “We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

“We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

Also noted was the enormous stupidity of the crime.

“These guys are total idiots,” said Audrey Benyoun, marching with friends and her father. “They got absolutely nothing from this except this demonstration. I think a lot of French people are fed up with hearing about such stupid acts.”

While the Jewish community is almost unanimous in its belief that the kidnapping and torture occurred because Halimi was Jewish, many French still want to believe that it was simply a criminal act committed by sick individuals.

Police have made 15 arrests among associates of a gang that apparently called itself the Barbarians. Eleven face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder motivated by anti-Semitism. Those arrested include suspects of North African and black African Muslim origins and of white French background.

French police officials said they originally thought the only motive of the kidnapping was money. After questioning several of the suspects, the police reported that there had been six other kidnapping attempts, four of them against Jews.

Officials said the suspects told police that because Jews were all rich, someone would find the money to ransom them. Only one of those attempts was reported to the police when it took place.

Authorities tracked the accused ringleader, Youssouf Fofana, to the West African country of Ivory Coast, where he was arrested. Extradition proceedings are under way to return Fofana to France.

JTA correspondent Lauren Elkin contributed to this report.

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Dated


You know how Harry Potter has a scar emblazoned on his forehead from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Dan has a big T for Trouble on his, marking him as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Dated.

Let me start in the middle: I go to this party at an awful place in Santa Monica, in some dark and crowded and loud basement bar, and I feel like I’ve accidentally, anachronistically stepped into a college party circa 1992 except that everyone here is old — by old I mean my age — and it’s hard to have a proper conversation.

Of course you don’t go to a bar for proper conversations — I’m not that old — but you can hardly see anybody or anything except the mosh pit of bodies swaying in 2-by-2 dancing/flirting/making-out duets. Maybe it’s just one of those nights when I feel terribly left out of everything no matter where I go. (I’ve just come from a Shabbat dinner with lots of married couples and kids — try finding an outfit that fits both these occasions.) Or maybe it’s Dan.

I met Dan a few weeks ago at an awesome party downtown. It was held on the entire floor of an industrial building on Spring Street, where a dozen or so artists were showing their work — mostly photographs and paintings but with a couple of jewelry and clothing designers interspersed. The lighting and the ceilings were low in a way that made everyone look more scintillating than they might in a retro basement bar in Santa Monica. Of course, it could have been the flutes of wine or the chocolate truffles. Or could it really have been Dan?

I wasn’t even looking to meet someone. I was actually dating someone else.

Which is why Dan and I could talk like normal people, and not single people on the make, dressed up in our best costumes and our most sparkly personalities, working furiously to obfuscate our skeletons beneath endless layers of jaunty jingles. So we talked about — what else? — relationships.

My one-two analysis: Dan has commitment-phobia, candy-store syndrome, and/or model rocket-scientist disorder. The thing is, like with milk or eggs, he can predict the exact shelf life of his relationships, but he goes for it anyway, pretending it’s real because he wants the comfort. He’s the guy that, out of the blue, when things were going perfectly well, says that things are not going well at all and disappears like he’s in the FBI Witness Protection Program. Dan is like many of my male single friends — friends I swear I’m going to dump because of the pain and torture they subject on womankind.

On that particular night, Dan’s problems didn’t bother me, because I had someone else. But then a little while later, I didn’t.

So when Dan called a few weeks later to invite me to this party in Santa Monica. I remembered his periwinkle eyes and his scruffy brown hair and the way he constantly touched my arm for punctuation. I said yes.

I finally locate him among the throngs, and we start talking. The problem is, we continue our conversation where we left off a few weeks ago: He regales me with his dating problems. How this one girl in Northern California is outdoorsy and smart but she lacks passion. How this other girl in Los Angeles is an aerobics instructor with an awesome body but not an intellectual.

“I want someone who is smart and challenging and has interests and is Jewish,” he says. “Is that too much to ask for?”

“Me!” I want to say. “Me! I’m smart, I’m Jewish, I’m passionate, I’m outdoorsy, I’m cool. What’s wrong with me?”

But I know: We’ve entered the friend zone. I’m like the fat girl in high school that boys confided in but never dated. Except that in high school I was the girl that everyone dated and didn’t confide in. So, I don’t know what to say when Dan points out the hot waitress. Okay, it’s hard to ignore her: fake boobs, butt tattoo, nimble waist that is so out of place in this dump — but am I such stuffed cabbage that I have to hear about the next entrée?

I’ve always heard stories of couples who were friends before they started dating, or people who claimed to have married “their best friend.”

But how is that possible? How can you see a person stripped of all their games, their pretensions, their public face, and still go through with it anyway?

Even in the darkness of this alcohol-drenched room, I can see Dan clearly: I’d never get anything more than an extended one-night stand that seemed like a romance. And he’s told me way too much about his technique and the endgame.

So I said my goodbyes and left Dan to go after the hot waitress. That’s what friends are for, right?

 

Torture, Genocide and Jewish Silence


 

Jews around the world have worked hard to give life to the slogan “never again,” but there are painfully abundant signs the world isn’t listening. And, worse, a number of our own organizations have been reluctant to speak out on some of the moral rationalizations that contribute to the genocidal mindset.

An example: America’s bland refusal to bar torture in our treatment of foreign prisoners, while hardly a call for genocide, is a troubling endorsement of an “anything is justified at a time of war” perspective that is the excuse used by every perpetrator of genocide. But few Jewish groups have spoken out as the torture controversy continues.

The message of the Holocaust — indeed, the barest facts about it — have gotten lost in the clamor of world events.

A recent BBC survey in Great Britain revealed that 45 percent of adults in that country had never heard of Auschwitz. The number went up to 60 percent among those younger than 35.

In a study by the International Society for Sephardic Progress, 63 percent of Americans questioned hadn’t a clue about that ultimate death factory; again, ignorance was higher among younger respondents.

So should we be surprised that each new instance of genocide, from Cambodia to Rwanda to Darfur, is met with indifference — especially if the victims are non-Europeans?

In this country, some religious groups have demanded stronger action to end the current genocide in Darfur, but there’s been no hue and cry from the public for their government to do more, despite extensive newspaper coverage of the killings. An outstanding new film, “Hotel Rwanda,” was produced with the hope of generating that kind of mass response, but it will be seen by a miniscule proportion of the population.

The idea that genocide is going on today is a matter of indifference to most Americans, or just one more in a long series of lamentable disasters around the world.

This nation’s political leaders have failed to make preventing or stopping genocide a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

The United Nations, so quick to condemn even the inadvertent shooting of a Gaza child by an Israeli soldier, couldn’t care less about the many thousands of Sudanese massacred under their noses. The recent report of its special commission on Darfur, which under Arab pressure concluded there was no genocide, should be regarded as a war crime in itself.

The Jewish community has been more vocal about Darfur than most; the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience has used its enormous credibility to try to generate concern about Darfur and some Jewish groups have spoken out forcefully.

The communal response has been much more tepid in response to Washington’s decision to carve out big exceptions in our national morality for reasons of “security” when it comes to the treatment of foreign prisoners.

During recent hearings on the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, the issue of torture in U.S. prisons in places like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Abu Grahb prison was front and center because of the nominee’s memo suggesting that the Geneva conventions are “quaint” and our own laws against torture do not apply offshore.

The torture-genocide connection should be obvious: countries that justify torture are, at least indirectly and maybe directly, endorsing a world view suggesting that threats to their nations, real or imagined, justify any act, as long as it can be classified a matter of national security.

In the case of America, the threat of terrorism is real — unlike the threat that Adolf Hitler claimed was posed by the Jews he tortured and murdered.

But tolerating torture undermines civilization and weakens the restraints that prevent genocide; it helps legitimize the ideas that genocidal leaders and tyrants always use to justify their actions.

“The torture of prisoners, or issues of what is the appropriate conduct of soldiers, are issues that should have special resonance for Jews, given our experience in the 20th Century,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ). “We have a special obligation to speak out on these issues; if we don’t, shame on us.”

But few, aside from URJ, have.

Perhaps some Jewish leaders were concerned that any criticism might reflect badly on Israel, which has had its own controversies on torture. Ironically, that country — under a much more immediate terror threat — has acted responsibly, thanks to a ruling by its Supreme Court.

Again, make no mistake; America is threatened and the need for a strong and effective response to the terrorists is undeniable.

But few experts believe torture is a useful interrogation technique, or effective enough to justify the heavy moral costs or the boost our actions will give to those who use the mantra of “security” as justification for murder on a mass scale.

Jewish leaders should look at the worldwide indifference to Darfur, at the appalling lack of Holocaust knowledge in the Western nations and at America’s own casual endorsement of torture when it suits our interest — and see a real connection. Maybe then their silence might be replaced by outrage and genuine leadership.

 

Israelis Question Army Morality


 

After more than four years of the Palestinian intifada, a debate is raging in Israel over whether the rigors of combat against terrorists who exploit and hide among the Palestinian civilian population is eroding the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) moral standards.

The debate follows publication of a number of incidents in which Israeli soldiers are suspected of violating moral norms. But after years in which Israelis lauded their army as the most moral fighting force possible in such difficult conditions, the reports raise a key issue: Are the suspected violations aberrations or do they reflect widespread brutality?

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the IDF remains the most moral army he knows, but critics suggest that the relentless terrorist war has brutalized young soldiers who frequently vent their frustrations on Palestinian civilians.

While insisting that the incidents are aberrations, the IDF is taking the criticism very seriously, and has launched a campaign to root out such conduct.

Four cases have been highlighted over the past few weeks: the deliberate killing of a 13-year-old schoolgirl near an Israeli strongpoint in Gaza, a Palestinian man filmed playing his violin at a checkpoint near Nablus, photographs of Orthodox soldiers posing next to body parts of a Palestinian suicide bomber and naval commandos shooting dead a wounded Islamic Jihad operative.

The girl, Iman al-Hamas, was shot by Israeli soldiers as she strayed from her regular route to school. The commander of the outpost then approached her and fired several rounds into her body at close range to make sure she was dead.

Soldiers said they thought the girl might be a decoy for a terrorist attack or wearing an explosive belt. The commanding officer, an Israeli Druse, is now standing trial.

The Palestinian violinist, Wissam Tayim, says he was ordered to play a “sad tune” at the checkpoint. The incident conjured up images here of Jewish violinists being forced to play for the Nazis.

The soldiers, however, deny that they forced Tayim to play. They say they merely ordered him to open his violin case for inspection — Palestinians previously have transported bombs in music cases — and that he started playing of his own accord and was quickly told to stop.

There is a lack of clarity over the body parts incident, too. An army probe suggests that the religious soldiers did not touch the parts, and that photographs showing them doing so had been doctored. The parts had been touched by police carrying out normal identification procedures.

The fourth incident involves a elite naval commando unit known as 13. Palestinians say the commandos shot dead Mahmoud Qamail, an Islamic Jihad leader, after he had been wounded, and after Palestinian neighbors had dragged him closer to the Israeli force and handed over his gun and cellphone.

The soldiers say Qamail ran out of a house they had surrounded wearing a heavy coat. Though he had been shot and wounded, they had no way of knowing whether he was wearing an explosive belt or concealing another weapon. The unit already had lost six men in close encounters over the past year, including two in incidents where consideration shown to suspects proved fatal.

Sharon rejects any notion of moral decline in the army.

“We should not forget who our soldiers are fighting against — the most depraved killers, who are trying to hit at us without respite,” he told journalists in the Knesset last week. On Sunday he raised the issue in the weekly Cabinet meeting, accusing the media of a “sick drive to publish things even if they aren’t true.”

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, both pointed out to the Cabinet that army orders at all levels are transparent, and that every complaint is thoroughly investigated.

However, in an earlier interview with Ze’ev Schiff, military analyst for Ha’aretz newspaper, Ya’alon was less complacent. He questioned his own position, asked whether top officials were sending mixed messages to soldiers in the field, and spoke of the “scars of war” — of how seeing dead and wounded, manning roadblocks or breaking into homes of terrorist suspects inevitably hardens young hearts.

But, Ya’alon said, the army should not allow that to undermine its moral basis. If there is an erosion of values it is the army’s job to stop it by clearly defining what is and is not permissible, he said.

Opposition legislators expressed concern. Commenting on the naval commando incident, Labor’s Ofir Pines-Paz declared that “this is another shocking case in a string of similar cases, which show that the chief of staff has lost control of the brakes on the army. We are talking about total loss of control in the IDF.” Demobilized soldiers also suggest that the humiliation of Palestinian civilians is far more prevalent than the army admits. A group calling itself “‘Soldiers Breaking Silence” has been holding an exhibition in Tel Aviv showing photographic and other evidence of soldiers harassing Palestinian civilians.

On the whole though, it seems that the extent and nature of the Israeli aberrations pale beside those of other armies in similar situations. There have been no massacres or torture on the scale of the U.S. military in Iraq and Vietnam or the French in Algeria — and many commentators believe that long after the headlines of problematic incidents subside, military strategists around the world will emulate the IDF’s tactics in urban combat and against terrorist organizations.

According to the IDF, since the beginning of 2004, 29 Palestinian civilians were killed in crossfire or accidents. Of the 267 Palestinians killed this year, 119 were terrorists and 119 were civilians involved in attacks on soldiers.

Nevertheless, the IDF is doing all it can to make sure the message now is clear. Mofaz says he has issued orders to senior officers to severely punish any soldier who violates the norms, and Ya’alon is going from unit to unit to clarify the IDF’s rules of engagement and its moral code.

 

Buck Stops at Prisoner Torture


Why am I not surprised at the news of the mistreatment of Iraqis in an American version of Saddam Hussein’s prisons, crimes, which in fact, occurred in the very same Baghdad prison that was notorious as a torture center in pre-occupation Iraq?

Take a group of American men and women in their 20s, mostly with high school educations, move them thousands of miles from their families, place them in dangerous situations amid an alien culture, provide them with little understanding of why they are there other than patriotic platitudes, surround them with a population that apparently hates them on sight and you have all the necessary conditions for what has been going on for some time behind the razor wire and the sandbags surrounding Abu Ghraib.

This is not intended to condone such conduct, but to explain it. Before joining in the deserved and universal condemnation that greeted the photographs and reports from Baghdad, it would behoove us to place them in context. And the most important context is that of war itself.

The purpose of war is to destroy the enemy by any means possible. It is not to die for your country but to make the enemy die for his. To this end, you bomb, shoot, explode, kill, maim and, in general, act in ways that would get you imprisoned or worse as a civilian.

Now, suddenly, you are expected to break all of the laws you were taught to respect back home and to do so with the full backing and approbation of the state, your friends and family.

The condition of war, in short, creates serious problems of cognitive dissonance in citizens of democratic societies. One of the reactions to this conundrum is to lash out in anger at the nearest targets available for blaming for the situation.

If they are helpless to strike back, and your superiors ignore or even encourage such behavior, so much the easier. My guess is that the offending troops slept well at night, much relieved of their anxieties.

I recall one incident from Israel’s War of Independence that occurred a few days after we wrested Beersheba from the Egyptians. Some of the Egyptians we had captured were kept in the courtyard of a mosque, and suddenly, one of our soldiers started tossing hand grenades over the fence and into the crowd.

No one moved to stop him, and when he used up his grenades, he walked away. I don’t know the toll of dead and wounded, but it must have been considerable.

It turned out that his brother, in another unit, had been captured by the Egyptians, cut up into pieces and left on a road for us to find. However inexcusable, one can understand the context of his action. I don’t think he was ever punished for it, and he was quietly discharged from the service.

The same happens in all armies. You need only read of the constant humiliations suffered by Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, or the willful physical damage caused by soldiers breaking into Palestinian homes (the same complaint voiced by many Iraqis) to understand the mindless cruelties that even the most disciplined military units commit against the enemy, deserving or not.

The media are quoting the parents of the accused soldiers as refusing to believe that their sons and daughters could commit such atrocities. That is an understandable reaction, and they are probably right.

At home, they would never have acted in that way. They live in communities where everyone knows everyone else, community norms are respected, religion acts as a damper on aberrant behavior and from which they escaped by joining the military.

As of this writing, the Army has scheduled courts-martial for some of the easily identified of the troops and reprimands for others.

Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk that read "The buck stops here." In these situations, the responsibility for such behavior lies first with those who committed the indecencies. More goes to the unit’s commanding officers who condoned them. But beyond that, the blame must be shared by those political leaders who sent men and women into situations for which they were culturally unprepared, poorly motivated and badly trained.

The rest of us should be asking ourselves how we elected such people to office. In the end, the buck stops with us.


Yehuda Lev is a former associate editor of The Jewish Journal.

Taking Stock of Post-Saddam Iraq


These are interesting times for those of us who supported President Bush’s decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Not only have no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) been found, but it appears that Bush exaggerated the evidence of WMDs to gain congressional and popular support. Not only did we underestimate post-“victory” Iraqi resistance, but tapes of Saddam calling for revenge keep popping up. Not only has democracy not swiftly taken root in Iraq, but Syria and Iran still sponsor terrorism, refusing to behave like proper dominoes.

And the cost in American blood and money continues to mount.

Nevertheless, this is not an opportunity to admit that we were wrong (character building though that would be). The Iraq war was a good idea and remains so for a simple reason: more good than harm has come of it.

Human Rights

Iraq was a vast slaughterhouse. No one was safe from the blood-soaked grasp of the tyrant. Tongues were cut out for telling jokes about Saddam. Infants were tortured and killed to elicit confessions from their parents. Meat grinders, vats of acid and starved dogs were reported methods of execution. Thousands of prisoners were killed just to make room for new prisoners.

All this has stopped. The torture chambers are silent and empty. Iraqis are uncovering mass graves (more than 60 so far), identifying the victims and giving them religious burials. The war’s opponents never seemed to take to heart the grotesque agony of the Iraqi people under Saddam.

Terrorism

Bush’s claim of a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda has not been proved. But that isn’t very important, because Osama bin Laden isn’t the only fish in the sea. There is insufficient appreciation of the intertwined web that is Islamist terrorism. Hamas, Hezbolla, Islamic Jihad, al-Aksa Brigade, and Al Qaeda all communicate and cooperate. Saddam’s direct connections with Palestinian terrorists are well-documented, from sheltering Achille Lauro killer Abu Abbas to paying thousands of dollars to the families of suicide murderers. There is no doubt that the destruction of Saddam’s regime was a blow to international terrorism.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Saddam certainly had WMDs in the 1980s — for example, he used poison gas to murder thousands of people in Halabja and other Kurdish villages. And let’s not forget Osirak and how close Saddam came to acquiring nuclear weapons. But perhaps it’s true that by this year his WMD capacity had decayed. Postwar interviews with Iraqi scientists reveal a picture of technicians unable to manage the tricky business of weaponizing germs, but too afraid of the dictator to tell him. This fear of speaking the truth is familiar from other totalitarian regimes.

Perhaps Saddam, who ruled through violence and intimidation, feared Shia or Kurdish revolts if he admitted that he had no WMDs. Or it may just be that in a country the size of California, the WMDs remain concealed, still to be found.

What is beyond doubt is Saddam’s obsession with WMDs, and his willingness to use them. It never made sense to wait until Saddam became fearsomely dangerous — perhaps undeterable — before trying to overthrow him.

Democracy

Iraqi resistance continues. It has come into focus that the Sunni minority, which dominated Iraq for generations, does not wholly welcome a new democratic order that means the end of its privileged status. Some Iraqis are conflicted: happy to be liberated, angry at being occupied. Some would prefer theocracy to democracy.

America now must be cool and steady. Saddam will be captured and resistance will fade. Democracy will take root, if it is nurtured and its enemies are dealt with firmly. Syria and Iran will draw conclusions. The mere possibility of an Arab democracy holds out the chance of radical betterment for the Iraqis, for the whole Middle East (not least Israel), and the world, and is worth taking risks for.

The picture painted by Bush has not been fully confirmed. As a Democrat, I’m happy to pummel Bush about the discrepancies (and don’t get me started on the budget deficit). But we have to be honest. In Jewish law, sometimes an action that would not be permitted initially (l’chatchila) may be ratified retrospectively (b’dieved). Similarly, even if Bush’s various justifications for war didn’t all hit their mark, Iraq, the Middle East and the United States are better off with Saddam gone.

If you do the right thing for the wrong reason, it’s still right.


Paul Kujawsky is the president of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles (DFI-LA). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of DFI-LA.

Holocaust Exploited


An emaciated death camp survivor stares blankly alongside a
gaunt steer. “During the seven years between 1938 and 1945, 12 million people
perished in the Holocaust,” the image declares. “The same number of animals is
killed every 4 hours for food in the U.S. alone.”

The poster forms the heart of a new national campaign
launched last week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that
compares the Holocaust and the meat industry — and that is ruffling Jewish
feathers.

Dubbed “The Holocaust on Your Plate,” PETA’s campaign and
its companion Web site,

A Kabbalistic Material Girl


LMadonna doesn’t like to explain her music videos, but in her newest one, "Die Another Day" (the title track for the soon-to-be-released James Bond movie), while wearing a dirty, white tank top she sneeringly sings to the camera, "Analyze this, Analyze this." So we will.

The video features a defiant and limber Madonna being tortured by nasty-looking interrogators, and a black-suited Madonna fencing with a white-suited Madonna in a glass shop. Throughout the video, Madonna has a prominently displayed tattoo of the Hebrew letters Lamed, Aleph and Vav on her right forearm. At the end of the video, when Madonna has somehow miraculously evaded being fried in an electric chair, her body disappears, but the letters smolder in the chair, much to the bewilderment of those evil interrogators. At another point in the video, Madonna wraps a black leather strap around her left arm, and although there is no phylactery attached to it, it is clear that she is going through the motions of putting on tefillin, because she wraps the strap carefully around her fingers.

It’s well-known that the 44-year-old singer-actress fancies herself a kabbalist, thanks to her involvement with the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles. Billy Phillips, the center’s director of communications, refused to say whether the Kabbalah Centre had any conceptual involvement in the video, but he did confirm that Madonna was learning there. He also sent The Journal a copy of "The 72 Names of God" (Jodere Group, $17.95), a book by Rabbi Yehuda Berg, which Phillips said had been given to Madonna before she made her video.

The book says that the letters Madonna was wearing on her arm actually spell out one of the names of God (which are not meant to be said aloud), and it is a name that refers to "the great escape … escape from ego-based desires, selfish inclinations and the ‘mefirst’ mentality. In their place, you gain life’s true and lasting gifts — family, friendship and fulfillment."

"Tefillin is a tool to help us bind [as Abraham bound Isaac] our negative desires. Tefillin is an antenna that draws down powerful spiritual forces that help us purify our evil inclination," Phillips said.

So in the video, Madonna gets to escape from those interrogators, who, perhaps, represent "ego-based desires." Sometime after Madonna has wrapped the tefillin strap around her arm, the white-suited Madonna kills the black-suited Madonna, which could be analogous to the singer "purifying her evil inclination."

Who knew pop music could be so holy?

Art of Imprisonment


Alexander Deutsch secretly painted watercolors in an Argentinian political prison after he was kidnapped, tortured and incarcerated by the paramilitary regime in the late 1970s.

His disturbing, meticulously detailed work, now on display at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, was rendered on flattened cigarette packages or paper stolen from the jail’s infirmary. In some of the paintings, half-naked prisoners slump in a dark corridor or use the pail that serves as a common latrine. In others, they are beaten or searched. One sketch depicts inmates unraveling socks to make a rope to smuggle contraband from a neighboring jail cell.

"That is how my watercolor set was sneaked into the jail," says the 80-year-old Jewish artist, who now lives in a sunny duplex in Los Angeles.

During seven months in custody, Deutsch completed more than 80 watercolors, half of them portraits of fellow prisoners. During the day, he painted when the guards weren’t looking; at night, he hid his art supplies in a crumbling brick wall. Had they been discovered, the penalty would have been torture, or worse.

"But I felt compelled to keep working," says Deutsch, who believes his experience in prison made him a stronger person. "The jailers wanted to break my spirit, but my painting cheered me. My body was imprisoned, but my work allowed me a freedom of mind."

Not long after the 1976 military coup, the Hungarian-born Deutsch learned that Jews were disappearing from his upper-middle-class neighborhood in the mountain resort of Cordoba, Argentina. The anti-Semitic regime was targeting Jews, among others, for covert arrests on trumped up charges of "subversive" activities. At Around 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 27, 1977, they came for Deutsch, his wife and three daughters.

Policemen broke into their home, blindfolded and handcuffed the family, then drove them to a camp where they lay on a cold concrete floor — still cuffed and blindfolded — for days. "I heard crying and screaming coming from the torture room," the artist says. "One night we heard them dragging someone across the floor in a canvas bag."

When it was his turn, Deutsch was interrogated about his alleged political activities and subjected to torture by electrical shock. "They told me to take off my pants," he says of his inquisitors, who attached electrodes to his legs. "The electricity burned like a fire."

After his transfer to a penitentiary in Cordoba, Deutsch was forced to share a tiny, lice-infested cell with eight fellow prisoners. For two months, the pajamas he had been wearing when he was arrested were his only clothing.

Meanwhile, relatives in the United States were waging a fierce campaign to free the artist and his family, rallying the support of congressmen and Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League. Eventually, President Jimmy Carter asked the Argentinian president to release the Deutsches in the name of human rights.

The request apparently worked. By late 1978, all the Deutsches were free and en route to a new life in the United States. But memories of the horror lingered. During the long airplane flight to Los Angeles, the artist’s then 19-year-old daughter, Liliana, described how she had been subjected to "the submarine treatment" — a form of water torture. "The guards kept pushing her head into a bucket of water until she passed out," Deutsch says in a hushed voice. While she was telling him the story, he couldn’t help but cry.

After moving to Los Angeles, the artist says he painted grotesque, stylized memories of jail to "help liberate myself from the nightmare."

"The Prisoner of Rivera" recounts the time he peered out of a window and saw an anguished woman behind barbed wire in a lush, green field. In the painting, the prisoner appears as gaunt and tormented as a medieval saint.

"The Submarine" shows Liliana in the torture room, nude, blindfolded and gasping for air. A large, disembodied hand grasps her blond curls, ready to submerge her again into the water barrel.

Painting his daughter enduring torture was one the most difficult endeavors of Deutsch’s career. "But I felt compelled to document the cruelty," he says. "This kind of thing is still happening around the world. My work bears witness to man’s inhumanity against his fellow man," Deutsch says.

Deutsch’s "Prisoners Without Cause" and "Synagogues of the World" exhibits are running through Aug. 3. For more information call (818) 464-3257.

Arafat’s Dictatorship


Charges that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are running a corrupt, brutal police state are no longer being voiced only by the Israeli right wing; they are now coming from Palestinian nationalists who, before the Oslo Accord, fought the Israeli occupation.

Bassem Eid, who, in the past, exposed Israeli torture and human rights abuses as lead investigator for the B’tselem organization, recently held a news conference in which he accused Palestinian security forces of torturing dozens of Palestinian businessmen accused of tax offenses, and extorting nearly $2 million from them. In the last couple of years, Eid has exposed Palestinian torture in jails and Arafat’s commandeering of the PA’s official television station for his election campaign. That last charge got Eid kidnapped and imprisoned for a day before pressure from international human rights organizations won his release.

Using the term nakba — Arabic for catastrophe — which is how Palestinians refer to the 1948 war with Israel in which they lost their country and saw some 700,000 of their people dispersed, Eid said: “The PA has inflicted a third nakba on the Palestinian people. The first was in 1948, the second was in 1967 [when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War], and the third was in 1994 [when the PA first came to power in Gaza and Jericho].”

Professor Fathi Sobh, who teaches education at Gaza’s Al Azhar University, tells how he was imprisoned and tortured for more than six months by the PA’s feared Preventive Security Service after he included a question about PA corruption on an exam. He said that, during the days of Israeli rule in the 1980s, he was arrested “15 or 20 times” by Israeli authorities, and that the torture techniques used by the Shin Bet — such as hanging prisoners from the ceiling in excruciating positions, and sleep deprivation for days on end — were also employed against him by the PSS.

Noting that most PSS officers also spent time in Israeli jails, Sobh said dryly, “They were very good students of the Israelis.” Comparing Palestinian and Israeli abuse, he said that there was little physical difference, but the Palestinian brand was far more demoralizing.

“When the Israelis tortured us, we knew they were the enemy and that we were fighting against them. But when the Palestinians torture you, then it’s being done by your own people,” he said.

Brutality is one major theme of Arafat’s tyranny; lawlessness is another. The two elements came together last Sunday, when two former Palestinian policemen were shot to death by a firing squad on Arafat’s orders — three days after they were arrested. The “trial” before a PA military “court” reportedly took a half-hour. The convicted men had no counsel or right to appeal. They had killed two brothers of a rival clan, and the firing squad was said to be a message from Arafat that Wild West tactics would not be tolerated in the Palestinian Police.

Nevertheless, Eid said that he hadn’t lost hope. He pointed out that the PA has only been around for a little more than four years, and that the whole fight against Israeli occupation has only been going on for a little more than 30 years. “Even 30 years,” he noted, “is a short time.”