Books: Former CIA analyst details failures in agency actions


“Failure of Intelligence, The Decline and Fall of the CIA” by Melvin A. Goodman (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

In the fall of 1973, Melvin Goodman and some other analysts at the CIA noticed something strange: Intercepted secret communications indicated that the Soviets were removing families and other nonessential personnel from Egypt and Syria.

This kind of evacuation, Goodman said, “is a classic indicator of war.”

Goodman and other analysts in the Soviet department brought this up to their supervisors at the CIA, but no one followed up. Goodman — a CIA analyst from 1966 to 1991 — said that it was a classic intelligence failure, letting assumptions, rather than facts, drive conclusions, since the intelligence clearly showed something was afoot.

What followed was the Yom Kippur War. Goodman said both U.S. and Israeli leaders “assumed that Egypt and Syria wouldn’t attack a stronger power, couldn’t work together, couldn’t unite…. Sometimes the facts are there, but the assumptions are so strong, so viscerally adhered to, that you can’t change anyone’s opinion.”

A different type of failure also rankles Goodman in his new book, “Failure of Intelligence, The Decline and Fall of the CIA.”

This other type occurs, Goodman writes, when the CIA loses sight of its proper function: to gather and analyze intelligence, then provide information and analysis to those in power. During the run-up to the Iraq War, Goodman writes, the CIA acted instead as “the handmaiden to power,” telling the Bush administration what it knew they wanted to hear.

“The CIA is not intended to be the personal weapon for the political use of the White House,” Goodman writes. “The CIA director has no business taking part in a White House effort to make the public case for war.”

Since leaving the CIA in 1991, Goodman — who’s Jewish — has worked for the Department of Defense and Department of State, been a fellow at think tanks and taught at universities. In an interview, he discussed his book and his experiences as a foreign policy analyst for more than 40 years.

Goodman said that every time he gives a lecture, especially in front of Jewish audiences, he’s asked about Jonathan Pollard.

“It always comes up,” Goodman said, “and I make people very nervous when I tell them that Pollard is where he belongs because he was stealing documents wholesale…. He was not only giving away intelligence, he was giving away sources and methods for money to Israel. I don’t think that … Zionism had anything to do with what Pollard did. He was buying necklaces and bracelets for his wife.”

In the wake of the Pollard case, was there a backlash against Jews working at the CIA?

“No, never,” Goodman said. “In fact, I never saw anything like that in my career…. I don’t think the Pollard affair created a problem for the Jews working at the CIA; I doubt if it meant anything to recruitment.”

Asked about the large number of Jewish neocons pushing for policies that may have prompted the war in Iraq and the unrest in the Middle East, Goodman said, “It’s had a personal effect on me. It’s something that comes up whenever I speak, because there are a significant number of people in this country who believe that we went to war for Israel. That we went to war to protect Israeli national security, which I don’t agree with at all.”

“But the fact that you can’t run from is that when you look at the list of the leading neoconservatives, there’s a huge number of Jews,” he said. “I know some of them, and I’ve debated David Wormser and know where he’s coming from. You really feel that [they think] they’re advancing Israeli security by using military power in the Middle East.”

“I think that what Bush has done is to weaken Israeli national security,” Goodman said. “The introduction of that kind of force in the Middle East has made it harder to get Iran back into the community of nations; it’s made [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad a very popular figure in Iran. There had been great opposition building against him, but U.S. actions have extended his tenure as leader in Iran.”

“It’s weakened Iraq, because it’s permitted terrorist organizations to operate,” he continued. “Before, Iraq never had any ties to Al Qaeda, and this self-fulfilling prophecy that Iraq is the center of the war on terror, it never was until Bush deployed force there.”

Goodman believes the Bush administration’s attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East have been disastrous. That policy, Goodman said, has “undermined countries like Jordan, where we need a stable monarchy. I think that the emphasis on democracy is totally misplaced. To the extent that places in the Middle East become democratic, they become anti-American, almost by definition.

“Democracy won’t lead to stability,” he said. “What the U.S. should be concerned about is the stability of these places and predictability of the actions of these places. And we had that to some extent, but once you use military force, you have to start over again, and Israel makes its own unwise decisions about the use of force. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, then all your problems become nails.

“It’s ironic to me,” Goodman continued, “that if you look at two of the most powerful nations on earth — Israel in a regional context, the United States in an international context — it’s all about power…. [But] all of their military power and all their arsenal have not given them peace of mind.”

The other refugees



Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Segway inventor Dean Kamen brings his high-tech vision to Israel


Dean Kamen, the multimillionaire inventor renowned for the Segway personal transporter, traveled to Israel with a message for teenagers: Careers in science will help make them the rock stars of their generation.

Taking a break from his current innovations, which include developing a robotic arm for U.S. war veterans injured in Iraq, Kamen brought his acclaimed international robotics competitions for high school students to Israel at the invitation of Israeli President Shimon Peres.

At the recent finals in a Tel Aviv stadium, rock music pounded through giant loudspeakers, while an announcer on roller skates introduced the competing teams. The teams’ homemade robots zoomed across the floor, competing with one another for the number of times they could lift a huge foam ball over a bridge.

“Whether it’s curing diseases or building engines or purifying water, there’s just no limit to the number of huge opportunities there are out there for kids to do good while they are creating careers and making the world a more sane, livable place,” said Kamen, 57.

“But it requires at a younger and younger age that kids develop skills and a passion to be able to create solutions to problems,” he said. “They need mentors besides Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Shaquille O’Neal.”

He hopes to hook teenagers on the power of science through robotics competitions run by an organization he founded called FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

Kamen said a quarter of a million students in the United States, Canada, Brazil and Israel have taken part in the competitions, which they prepare for over the course of six weeks, together with a mentor who is an engineer.

For Kamen, who is Jewish, bringing his work to Israel has special meaning. He grew up hearing about Israel mostly from his grandmother, a dedicated Zionist.

“She was an Israel fanatic,” Kamen said, laughing.

Kamen may have created the Segway, but most of his innovations are biomedical devices. In college, he created the first portable infusion pump for administering drugs, giving patients the freedom to be medicated without indefinite hospital stays.

With his engineering company, DEKA Research and Development Corp., Kamen has gone on to create dozens of other inventions, including a portable dialysis machine and a vascular stent.

Inventing has proved lucrative: Kamen lives in an estate with its own softball field and pilots his private jet to business meetings.

Currently, he’s working on developing off-grid electricity and a water purification device for developing countries.

During his Israel visit last month, Kamen encouraged the tiny, resource-barren country to aggressively harness its intellectual resources.

“Israel’s got to become a place that creates value based on intellectual achievement, not physical resources,” he said. “The fact is that through technology, it has turned it into a garden. But now I think Israel has to stay ahead of the world of technology because it’s the only shot you’ve got. You have to create wealth by creating among the children intellectual giants.”

The robotics team of Coral Sofer, 16, from the northern Israeli town of Misgav, gathered around its robot during a break in the competitions, tightening screws and checking its mechanical limbs.

“This has been about using a different kind of thinking and really stretching our minds,” she said.

Coral’s team was one of six that scored well enough in the competition to advance to the international finals in Atlanta.

Kamen said he was inspired as a boy by the story of David and Goliath — not for the traditional moral of the little guy taking on the giant, but because David found success through technology.

“He was this little guy David, and he had this really big problem, Goliath, and he took him out because he had a little piece of technology,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, technology is cool.'”

Iran, Israel and the 2008 election


When presidential candidates compete in an election with an open seat in the White House, they are prisoners of events. The White House controls the agenda, and the candidates must adapt.

Vice President Richard Nixon was badly hurt by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s refusal to stimulate the economy in 1960 and lost the election to Sen. John F. Kennedy, who had promised to “get the country moving again.” Vice President Hubert Humphrey nearly beat Nixon in 1968, but only after a stubborn President Lyndon B. Johnson finally signaled a change in Vietnam policy near the end of the campaign. President Ronald Reagan’s recovery from Iran-Contra and numerous agreements with a Democratic Congress and with the Soviet Union immeasurably helped Vice President George Bush win the presidency in 1988.

And so it will be. The Republican Party has a two-sided albatross around its neck, an unpopular president who is trying desperately to keep an unpopular war going past Election Day so that its disastrous ending can be on the next president’s watch. The chemistry of this election is toxic for Republicans. To hold the Republican base, the candidates have to be upbeat about both the war and Bush, as the country increasingly turns against both.

Bush is unlikely to change policy in Iraq unless forced to, and he is most likely to only hint at troop pullbacks before the election. But will Bush temporarily change the chemistry by launching an attack on Iran?

The Bush world tends to follow its own quirky calendar. August is the month for gathering themselves together, the famous Bush vacations. Unfortunately for us, one of those vacations fell in August 2001, and therefore the warnings of an imminent attack were ignored. By Sept. 12, though, Bush was a national hero.

The Iraq War push started in September 2003, and as Bush adviser Andrew Card noted, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Right now, September is looking very bad for the administration, with negative reports from Iraq and festering anger at the war on Capitol Hill, even among Republicans.

Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be mobilizing his forces in a skeleton administration depleted by resignations toward confrontation with Iran. The neoconservatives, so hell-bent in their rush to war with Iraq, are now on the Iran warpath. So now we have a new Hitler-for-a-day. (Remember when Saddam Hussein was Hitler, or was it Kim Il Sung?)

What will be the reaction of congressional Democrats, especially Jewish Democrats who are deeply concerned about Iran’s threat to Israel? Does one support an administration that has managed to at least identify a serious enemy but can’t be trusted to do anything sensible about it?

The Bush administration is counting on these Democrats to be at least ambivalent about an attack on Iran. Tired of being called Defeatocrats, top Democrats would be tempted by a confrontation they could wholeheartedly endorse, at least in theory, especially one that is sold as bolstering Israel’s security. Unlike with the administration’s invention of the prewar Iraq threat, there is bipartisan agreement that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a major strategic danger.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) demand for a congressional vote on war over Iran is unlikely to impede Bush. In fact, if the White House calls that bluff as it did on the Iraq War, the vote might pass, and those Democrats who voted against it would be vulnerable. The party will once again split between its anti-war base and its leadership.

Leading Democratic presidential candidates will have a difficult time flat-out opposing an attack on Iran. They have been placing themselves to the right of the administration on Iran for some time and now may find it hard to backtrack. The two top candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, have been criticizing Bush for not being firm enough with Iran.

They would instead raise tactical questions or call for diplomacy, arguments that were easily dismissed in the run-up to the Iraq War. The most compelling and credible case against war with Iran will likely be made by military leaders disturbed by the state of American forces as a result of the Iraq War.

For the Republican presidential candidates, an attack on Iran may help in the near term, but they should be careful about what they wish for. Right now, the Iraq War is long past the rosy beginning stage and into full fiasco mode.

Anything that changes the chemistry will seem better than where they are now. The start of war is generally popular and causes a rallying effect around the incumbent and his or her party. But having another war to defend in November 2008 cannot be good for Republicans. War and fear of terrorism got them through in 2004, but voter fatigue is palpable. What won in 2004 may destroy their 2008 prospects.

From Israel’s standpoint, there must be a sense of vertigo. All along, Israel has seen Iran on the horizon. Israelis are now putting out the word publicly that they warned Bush not to attack Iraq and urged him to instead keep his focus on Iran.

Israel has the same dilemma as Jewish Democrats in the United States. Now that Bush and Cheney are focused on the right challenge, can they be trusted not to make the same hash of this that they have of everything else? Like the Democrats, having so long said that Iran was a greater threat than Iraq, what leverage do they have to influence how Bush deals with it?

Israel is also very concerned about the United States being seen as fighting a war for Israel, given how quickly American domestic opinion changes. That concern may underlie the release of its earlier warnings about Iraq. While Israel wants Iran weakened, it does not want to be blamed by American voters for another failed military adventure. Bush and Cheney, meanwhile, have an interest in using the protection of Israel as a way to de-fang potential Democratic opposition.

The Bush administration may or may not attack Iran. It foolishly invaded Iraq but after years of saber-rattling, made a deal with North Korea. In the long run, it would be better for the Republican ticket if the administration found a way to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions without war. It would be even better if Bush wound down the Iraq War before next November. Voters have short memories and can be forgiving when the main irritant is removed. Those two steps would make today’s one-sided Democratic edge a thing of the past.

Bush flirts with peace talks but won’t commit to Palestinians


The rug that Syrian President Bashar pulled out from under his widely reported but vaguely defined peace offensive last week was a Persian weave.

He had been talking for months about unconditionally resuming negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights, and it seemed like Israel, under American pressure, was the disinterested party. Then roles were quickly reversed in a week filled with feints and false starts, but so far there’s been more motion than movement.

President George W. Bush kicked off the week by reaffirming his vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it was widely seen as an attempt to divert attention from his debacle in Iraq rather than a commitment to sustained diplomacy.

That view was reinforced by a White House mailing to Jewish leaders recommending an article by historian Michael Oren quoting Israeli officials as satisfied “there were no changes in Bush’s policies.”

White House aides also quickly shot down any notion that the “international meeting” Bush announced would be a peace conference. Just a meeting, they said, chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Bush may not even show up. And don’t look for many Arab leaders to be there, either. The price of admission will be recognition of Israel, Bush said. That leaves out all those who should be there, like Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Iraq.

That’s right, Iraq. Bush’s icon of Arab democracy where leaders have repeatedly denounced the Zionist enemy and have no more interest in peace than that other benefactor of Bush’s democracy crusade — Hamas.

Assad’s shift hardly seemed coincidental, coming on the eve of a visit by his Iranian benefactor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to a London-based Arabic newspaper, Ahmadinejad signed a strategic agreement with Syria promising increased military, political and economic assistance conditioned on a refusal to make peace with Israel.

To press his point, Ahmadinejad also met in Damascus with leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups, encouraging them to unite in armed struggle against Israel, and he pledged Iran’s support.

Reversing his recent rhetoric, Assad announced he would resume talks with Israel only through a third party and only with advance written Israeli “guarantees” to meet all his demands, including a full return of the Golan Heights.

That came on the heels of a tactical shift by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who after months of dodging Assad’s probes, told Al-Arabiya television last week that he is ready for direct talks without preconditions.

Olmert had been under pressure from Washington to rebuff Assad’s peace feelers on the assumption the Syrian leader was just trying to deflect American pressure to stop aiding the Iraqi insurgents. As a condition for talks, Olmert had demanded Assad withdraw his backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other anti-Israel Islamic extremist groups prior to any talks.

American sanctions have had little impact on Assad’s behavior, and the Syrian dictator apparently concluded threats of military action were a bluff in light of American problems in Iraq and Israel’s poor performance against Hezbollah in Lebanon last year.

Iran, according to Israeli analysts, has been trying to raise regional tensions by telling Assad that Israel is planning a war against Syria to block Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon and to erase last year’s failures. Ahmadinejad’s real goal may be to discourage American or Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, they say.

The other prominent visitor to the region this week, with a totally opposite agenda, is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the new Middle East envoy for the Quartet (United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia). His assignment is to help the Palestinians rebuild their institutions and economy, but he’d like to expand that and be an active peace negotiator as well.

That’s not what President Bush had in mind when he outsourced Middle East diplomacy to his old friend and loyal Iraq war partner. Blair has been a longtime advocate of accelerating the peace process and has the backing of three quarters of the Quartet.

His greatest obstacle might be Rice, who doesn’t want him treading on her turf. She’s made it clear that he should stick to his official mandate. That’s the way Ehud Olmert wants it, too; he’s no more ready than the Americans for the final status negotiations that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants.

But it’s more than just territorial for Rice; her boss likes to talk about peace but has been unwilling to do the heavy lifting needed to get negotiations off the ground.

Initially he didn’t want to be seen following the failed footsteps of his predecessors –Poppy and Bill Clinton — but Iraq overtook that. Bush paid lip service to Middle East peace because the Arabs, his allies and the Baker-Hamilton Commission said showing movement on that front was essential to convincing others to help rescue him from his Iraq morass.

Bush will hear that again this week when Jordanian King Abdullah II comes to the White House to tell him he’s not moving aggressively enough on the Palestinian front. The president will assure his royal visitor of his sincere desire for peace, but the reality is Bush’s desire to be the father of Palestinian statehood hasn’t gone beyond the flirtation stage. Wishes don’t beget results.

From Damascus to Jerusalem to Ramallah to Washington, these days of summer sizzle are looking like a time of peace fizzle.

Douglas M. Bloomfield, a former staff member of AIPAC, writes about the Mideast and politics of Jewish life in America.

Aye, there’s the barb!


Many guests at AIPAC event, but one is unwanted — Iraq


AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., is truly a come-one, come-all event, with a “roll call” at the gala dinner announcing the hundreds of VIPs in attendance. But this year, one uninvited guest kept turning up — the Iraq war.

No matter how hard the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tried to keep the 6,000 activists at its conference focused on the consensus issue of Iran’s nuclear threat, Republicans and Israeli officials kept bringing up what is likely the most divisive issue of the day.

The equation promoted by those who support continuing the war is simple: Israel’s security requires a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, and questioning President Bush’s policy is tantamount to undermining Israel and the United States.

“When America succeeds in Iraq, Israel is safer,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said late Monday in a live satellite address from his Jerusalem home that capped the gala dinner. “The friends of Israel know it, the friends who care about Israel know it. They will keep the Americans strong, powerful and convincing.”

Vice President Dick Cheney was even more blunt.

“Friends owe it to friends to be as candid as possible,” he said. “My friends, it is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace that is posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave Israel’s best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened.”

The equation infuriated Democrats.

The sniping on Iraq — at one point it devolved into scattered boos for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives — ran counter to AIPAC billing that the event would be an unmatched show of bipartisan support for Israel.

But a spokesman for the pro-Israel lobby powerhouse said the Iraq issue did not detract from the conference’s focus.

“Our focus is on the things we’re lobbying on,” Josh Block said.

The March 12 gala dinner drew half the U.S. Senate and more than half the House. It featured addresses by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), its minority leader.

The next morning, Pelosi and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, headlined the traditional Tuesday-morning sendoff to the Capitol for a day of lobbying.

McConnell and Boehner also attempted to build support for the administration’s recent deployment of more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) made it the centerpiece of his speech.

“There is something profoundly wrong when, in the face of attacks by radical Islam, we think we can find safety and stability by pulling back, by talking to and accommodating our enemies, and abandoning our friends and allies,” Lieberman said to a group that he likes to call “family.”

“Some of this wrong-headed thinking about the world is happening because we’re in a political climate where, for many people, when George Bush says yes, their reflex reaction is to say no,” he said. “That is unacceptable.”

Democrats, speaking on background, said they were unsettled by how Iraq kept intruding into an event dedicated to securing Israel.

Some top AIPAC officials also appeared appalled by the advocacy for Bush’s plan to increase troop levels in Iraq.

Amy Friedkin, a past AIPAC president who is close to Pelosi, stared stonily at Cheney’s back as he delivered his warning.

The reception to Cheney’s speech was lukewarm at best; he earned no more than three standing ovations, and applause was mostly polite.

The attempt to force the Iraq issue into the AIPAC conference appeared coordinated in part by the White House. AIPAC closed Lieberman’s session Monday to the press, though it had been touted as being open. That kept his message of support for the troop surge out of the headlines — for 24 hours.

Lieberman’s office distributed the remarks Tuesday, and within minutes they were forwarded to Jewish leaders by the White House liaison to the Jewish community with a note labeling them as “important.”

It did not help AIPAC’s case for bipartisanship that the lobby this week successfully pressed for the removal of a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have required the president to get congressional approval for war against Iran.

Many Democrats favored the provision because it reasserted Congress’ constitutional role in declaring war, which some charge Bush has eroded in Iraq. AIPAC and some other Democrats close to Israel feared the clause would restrain Bush as he pushes Iran to come clean about its nuclear program.

“I don’t know that you need to put in a supplemental budget bill that you believe in the U.S. Constitution,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a Jewish congressman who supported leaving out the Iran provision. “That should be obvious.

“If you’re trying to get a terrorist rogue regime to give up its weapons,” he said, “you should get them to think maybe we’re as crazy as they think we are.”
California Democratic Reps. Howard Berman, Henry Waxman, Brad Sherman and Jane Harman echoed similar sentiments during a session with state AIPAC delegates.

In total, 1,200 Californians attended the AIPAC conference. The Los Angeles delegation drew 750 attendees, up 50 percent from 2006, said AIPAC Western States Director Elliot Brandt, who added that it was the largest single-city delegation in the country.

On Monday night, Olmert appeared to be making a pitch for removing the Iran provision.

“President George W. Bush is the only leader and the United States is the only country that can be of enormous influence on what the Iranians will do,” he said. “They are the only ones that can confront effectively the aggressiveness of the Iranians in their plans to build up nuclear capacity.

“I know that all of you, friends of the State of Israel, well-wishers of the State of Israel, all of you who are concerned about the security and the future of the State of Israel, understand the importance of strong American leadership addressing the Iranian threat, and I am sure you will not hamper or restrain that strong leadership unnecessarily.”

Faith-based foreign policy faces perils ahead


Ideology is fine for campaigners, bloggers and talk show hosts, but it often wreaks havoc in the real world, where effective policy requires flexibility, not rules dreamed up in think tanks and advocacy groups.

That lesson has defined Israeli policy for decades, but it is being eroded by Jerusalem’s acquiescence to a U.S. administration that has implemented a foreign policy based more on faith than pragmatism.

A stubbornly ideological administration has put the United States in a deep hole in the international arena — and a vulnerable Israel could pay a big price for playing along with the true believers in Washington.

While Israel has always taken a hard line on terrorists and front-line adversaries, it has traditionally remained open to peace feelers, however tenuous.

It wasn’t just U.S. pressure that caused the hard-line Yitzhak Shamir government to start talking to a blood-drenched PLO or to engage in the Madrid peace process in the early 1990s. Yitzhak Rabin, a celebrated general who could hardly be called a peacenik, signed the Oslo agreement and shook Yasser Arafat’s hand in 1993, not because he believed the old terrorist leader had suddenly developed a love of Zion but because of a conviction that Israel’s future was dependent on finding some way to talk to its enemies.

Syria has long been a fomenter and supporter of terrorism and a source of regional instability. But the Jewish state has never shrunk from talking to Damascus whenever its leaders believed there was even a glimmer of hope to advance negotiations and avoid war.

Israel has even maintained backchannel contacts with Iran, despite the fanaticism of its leaders, in the belief that such contacts could someday pay important dividends.

Israeli governments representing both the left and the right understood that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends, and that in the Middle East, every chance for peace is a long shot. That has been the U.S. view of the region as well — until now.

An administration driven by rigid ideology expects Israel to play by the same rules. Current U.S. doctrine says you never talk to terrorists or terror-sponsoring countries; therefore Israel must do the same, regardless of its very different circumstances.

When Syrian president Bashar Assad sent out tentative peace feelers last year, the Bush administration laid down the law to Israel: don’t respond, even though some analysts in the Israeli government believed there might be slight shifts in the Syrian position that were worth exploring.

Last week, those instructions became even more explicit; according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her recent Mideast visit, demanded that Israel avoid even exploratory contacts with the Assad regime.

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not particularly inclined to start new talks with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, but there, too, the Bush administration has made its demands clear: don’t give Hamas or anybody connected to it the time of day.

Israel is in a straitjacket of American design, barred from employing its traditional hard-headed pragmatism, prevented from exploring possible new routes to peace. It is treated as a client state, not an ally; its politically weak leaders, afraid of angering a senior partner in Washington that believes talking to enemies is tantamount to endorsing them, meekly complies with U.S demands.

Jerusalem should look more closely at what these policies have done to U.S. interests and influence around the world.

President Bush’s black-and-white, good-versus-evil view of a complex world and his refusal to negotiate with those he deems unworthy have left the United States with almost no allies and little credibility.

That isolation has undercut U.S. efforts to deal with weapons of mass destruction in the hands of extremists and increased, not decreased, the armies of terrorists eager to lash out against enemies real and imagined.

The Iraq war he started on the basis of ideology, not intelligence, has spread instability across the Middle East and strengthened Iran, according to U.S. intelligence estimates.

Washington’s refusal to talk to Iran hasn’t slowed its quest for nuclear weapons, and may have rallied a restive populace behind an increasingly unpopular leadership. It’s refusal to talk to Syria hasn’t changed Syrian behavior for the better, and may have pushed Damascus deeper into the Iranian orbit.

So shouldn’t Israel’s leaders be alarmed that on key matters involving their nation’s security they are being dictated to by a government in Washington whose ideology-driven foreign policy has undercut vital shared priorities and added to the dangers Israel faces in a seething Middle East?

Faith-based foreign policy hasn’t worked for Washington, and now it threatens to compound the problems facing a Jewish state that once based its foreign policy on tough pragmatism, not theories and beliefs. Israel can’t afford to thumb its nose at its only real ally — but there could be a big cost to continuing to follow the dictates of an administration that remains pure in its beliefs but increasingly alone in its policies.

Time for Jewish leaders to end their silence on Iraq


“One who is able to protest against a wrong that is being done in his family, his city, his nation or the world and doesn’t do so is held accountable for that wrong being done.” (Talmud Bavli Tractate Shabbat 54b)

There is no longer any doubt that the invasion of Iraq is an utter catastrophe. Former Vice President Al Gore has called it “the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of
the United States.”

The Bush/Cheney war, launched on the basis of false premises, selective intelligence and outright lies against a country that posed no threat to the United States and which (as all government intelligence agencies concur) had no connection to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, has caused the deaths of more than 3,000 American soldiers and injured 47,000.

At least several hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have died as a direct result of the war (according the most respected medical journal in Great Britain, The Lancet, the figure is more than 600,000), more than 2 million refugees have fled the country and there are 1.5 million displaced people within the country.

All 16 government intelligence agencies recently concluded in a national intelligence estimate that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has strengthened Al Qaeda and increased the threat of terrorism in this country. It has strengthened Iran, inspired hatred of the United States across the globe and has already cost more than $400 billion (the ultimate cost will be more than a trillion dollars).

According to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), that $400 billion could have provided health care coverage for all of the uninsured children in America for the entire duration of the war, new affordable housing units for 500,000 needy families, all the needed port security requirements to keep America safe or complete funding for No Child Left Behind program.

Many leading generals (whose pensions are protected in retirement) have strongly criticized the war and called for a gradual U.S. withdrawal, and almost 1,000 active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, rank-and-file enlistees, noncommissioned officers, along with high-ranking officers, have submitted a petition to Congress (which they call an Appeal for Redress) demanding that the troops be brought home.

According to all available polls, a large majority of Americans want to bring our involvement in Iraq to an end, and an overwhelming majority of Iraqis themselves are opposed to the continued American occupation of their country.

Given these facts, it is difficult to understand the organized Jewish community’s silence. Our country is mired in a catastrophic, immensely unpopular war, a sectarian conflict that has caused untold damage to our country’s security and exacted an extremely high price in blood and treasure, and the great majority of American Jews are opposed to the war (87 percent of the Jewish community voted for Democratic candidates in the last elections) and yet little is heard from prominent rabbis, teachers and important lay leaders.

Prominent Jewish figures played an important role in protesting against the Vietnam War, supporting the struggle for civil rights in the South and in other important causes but have stayed on the sidelines in the face of the current calamity.

This silence is particularly mysterious, given the damage that the war has done to Israel’s interests (as many scholars, military officers and political leaders there have pointed out) by creating the conditions for the emergence of a radical, fundamentalist Shiite state among the ruins of Iraq; eliminating a counterweight to Iran, and increasing the strength and influence of that country, Israel’s most dangerous enemy.

Whether the reticence of Jewish communal leadership can be attributed to anxiety in the face of serious threats from Iran, an unwillingness to enter the public fray on a controversial issue or the uncomfortable fact that important Jewish organizations lent their support to war in Iraq before it began, the time for silence is over. It is time for our community’s rabbis, teachers and lay leaders to acknowledge that we were lied to, our politicians failed us in their oversight responsibilities and we have been timid in voicing our opposition.

The Talmud teaches that silence is akin to assent. We now need to proclaim our opposition to the current administration’s disastrous policies: Bring the troops home. Stop the cycle of killing and being killed. Apologize to the American people and the Iraqis for the invasion. Let the Iraqis heal Iraq. And let us protest a wrong that is being done in our name.

Adam Rubin is assistant professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Aryeh Cohen is associate professor of rabbinic literature at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles

Analysis: Jewish silence on Iraq continues


Congressional Democrats and President Bush are on a collision course over plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in the conflict, an issue that will dominate the 110th Congress and the early days of the 2008 presidential race.

But don’t look for much of a response from the organized Jewish community.

The reasons normally talkative Jewish groups have been struck dumb are varied. But one potential consequence is becoming clearer by the day: Israel, smack in the middle of a destabilized Middle East, could pay a big price for U.S. failures in the war — and for the failure of Jewish leaders here to speak out against those policies.

There’s never been doubt about where the Jewish grass-roots has stood on the war. Even before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, polls showed majority opposition to military action in Iraq, and that opposition has only grown since Saddam Hussein was toppled and Iraq began its sickening descent into civil war and sectarian mayhem.

But no major Jewish group spoke out against Bush administration policy until November 2005, when the Union for Reform Judaism passed a cautiously worded resolution calling for troop pullouts to begin a month later and for a clear exit strategy by an administration that didn’t seem to think it needed one.

Even in the Reform movement, though, activism lagged, reflecting the nation as a whole; despite widespread doubts about administration policy, the antiwar movement failed to gain traction in Middle America.

In part, that was a function of the inability of war opponents to offer plausible policy alternatives. And the antiwar movement seemed dominated by radical forces with other agendas, including the neo-Stalinist, anti-Israel International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).
Among Jewish leaders, there was also uncertainty about where Israel’s leaders stood on the war.

In 2003, some Israeli officials privately expressed qualms that a U.S. invasion could create new fault lines in the region. But others insisted the removal of Saddam would only help Israel, and last November Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Washington and said that U.S. policy is bringing “stability” to the region — despite U.S. intelligence estimates saying just the opposite.

The administration boxed Jewish leaders in by repeatedly saying the war was being fought, in part, to protect Israel. Jewish leaders here never bought that argument — but it made it harder for them to publicly challenge the policies of an administration that said it wanted to help Israel.

Some Jewish leaders also feared that criticizing an embattled Bush could cool his pro-Israel ardor and lead to retaliation against the Jewish state.

For all those reasons and more, Jewish groups, with the exception of the Reform movement, have remained mute. But with the debate over the war moving into a new phase as the new Democratic Congress looks for ways to force a change in administration Iraq policy, that silence has created problems on two levels.

At home, it has strained relations between Jewish groups and their traditional liberal coalition partners, which see Iraq as the seminal issue of our era.

The fact that a large majority of Jews opposes the war but their communal representatives refuse to speak out may accelerate the estrangement of so many from organized Jewish life, especially among younger Jews.

And that reticence can only reinforce the false charge that Israel and the Jewish community actively lobbied for the war, a conspiratorial perspective that is gaining traction in the political mainstream as the Iraq death toll mounts.

The refusal of even liberal groups to speak out may also be setting the Jewish community up for a worse backlash if President Bush decides to pursue military action against Iran.

On the broader world stage, the eerie silence, viewed by some as a way to protect Israel, may actually have the opposite effect by encouraging policies that threaten the Jewish state.

As last year’s National Intelligence Estimate revealed, U.S. policy in the war is increasing Mideast stability, breeding new terrorism and strengthening Iran, Israel’s most dangerous adversary.

“We’ve already gravely damaged Israel’s security; the war has done that,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the strongest House opponents of administration policy and a leading pro-Israel voice in Congress. “We took away the balance of power in the region, liberated Iran to be an even greater menace.”

Privately, some top Jewish leaders concede that even if going to war with Iraq was a good idea, the way it has been conducted has resulted in a more dangerous Middle East. But these leaders refuse to speak out, even though their silence is, in effect, a de facto endorsement of administration policies that may be hurting the Jewish state.

That silence may also be read by a besieged administration as support for U.S. military action against Iran — action that could be even more damaging to Israel if it turns out as badly as the war in Iraq.

The Importance of Accessibility


Although this was my third visit to the White House, the novelty does not easily wear off. My first invitation was to a prayer breakfast toward the end of the Clinton administration.

The
second time, I wasn’t actually invited. I just hitched a ride as the guest of my close friend, Rabbi David Wolpe. Then, the occasion was a dinner to mark the opening of the Anne Frank exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

My most recent presidential encounter began with a call from the official liaison to the Jewish community. He explained that the president wanted to convene a small meeting to discuss Jewish higher education. The gathering was to take place on the morning of Dec. 18 in order to coincide with a Chanukah party at the White House later that same evening.

I was still a bit uncertain about the purpose of the meeting, but at 10 a.m. on the appointed day, I presented myself in the lobby of the West Wing.

I was part of a small group that included six presidents of Jewish universities and seminaries, as well as a few students and representatives of B’nai B’rith Hillel.

Soon we were joined by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten (who is Jewish), Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and, finally, by the president himself.

President Bush made a point of going around the table and greeting each of us personally before the “formal” meeting began. But herein lies the curious part. There really was no formal meeting. For almost an hour, the president discoursed on a variety of themes, including Iraq, the nuclear threat emanating from Iran, global terrorism, Darfur and, of course, Israel. Little was actually said about higher education.

At one point, Bush reminded us of his trip to Graceland with his friend and fellow Elvis fan, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, as an example of how former enemies can, in time, become friends. Unable to restrain myself, I raised my hand and asked whether he had considered a trip to Graceland with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

My question evoked the anticipated laughter from those seated around the table, but I think the president may have taken me a bit too seriously. He stressed that it would be inappropriate for an American president to “reach out” to a leader who currently poses a potential nuclear threat to other nations of the world.

This very serious response to a very unserious question provides an insight into Bush’s view of his presidency. He is exceedingly concerned about his legacy, and he measures that legacy in terms of his own willingness and ability to protect us from the perceived threats leveled against the United States. Simply put, he does not want to be remembered as the president who ignored any encroaching danger.

Bush argued that the Islamic extremists could not possibly be religious people. After all, he reasoned, religious people do not murder others.

Had I not already squandered my one chance to speak on a joke, I would have begged to differ with him on this point. Perhaps a committed Christian in today’s America sees religion primarily in terms of love, but periods of “killing the infidel” have historically been a part of Islam, Christianity and even biblical Judaism.

Often, the theory is advanced that important White House policy decisions are made by someone other than the president himself. However, the Bush we encountered is a man who appears to know his own mind. He may not always be highly articulate, even in a small group, but the moral clarity of his message came through.

The meeting concluded with a photo op in the Oval Office. In the evening, my wife, Hana, and I returned to the White House, where we were greeted by a blazing menorah and a military band playing a medley of Chanukah songs. (Of course, since the Chanukah repertoire is a bit meager, they did add a few generic holiday classics, like “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells.”)

Earlier that day, the White House kitchen had been made kosher so that the dietary needs of all 500 Jewish dinner guests from around the country could be accommodated.
Hana is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and as our evening at the White House drew to a close, she could not help comparing what we had just witnessed with the experience of her parents in Eastern Europe before and during World War II. I agreed that the event was remarkable, but I asked her if this whole affair had any practical significance for the Jewish community. Hana thought it did.

“Just think about it,” she said. “If Jews had enjoyed this kind of access to the president during World War II, our history might have taken a very different turn.”

Dr. Robert Wexler is the president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles

Iraq war conspiracy — you can’t blame the Jews


Did the Jews do it?

I mean, after killing Jesus, did the Elders of Zion manipulate the government of the United States into invading Babylon as part of a scheme to abet the expansion of greater Israel?

The question was first posed to me in 2004, when I was speaking at a meeting of Mobilization for Peace in San Jose. A member of the audience asked, “Put it together — who’s behind this war? Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams and the Project for a ‘Jew’ American Century and, and, why don’t you talk about that, huh? And ….”

But the questioner never had the full opportunity to complete his query because, flushed and red, he began to charge the stage. The peace activists attempted to detain the gentleman — whose confederates then grabbed some chairs to swing. As the Peace Center was taking on a somewhat warlike character, I chose to call in the authorities and slip out the back.

Still, his question intrigued me. As an investigative reporter, “Who’s behind this war?” seemed like a reasonable challenge — and if it were a plot of Christ killers and Illuminati, so be it. I just report the facts, ma’am.

And frankly, at first, it seemed like the gent had a point, twisted though his spin might be. There was Paul Wolfowitz, before Congress in March 2003, offering Americans the bargain of the century: a free Iraq — not “free” as in “freedom and democracy” but free in the sense of this won’t cost us a penny. Wolfowitz testified: “There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money.”

A “Free” Iraq

And where would these billions come from? Wolfowitz told us: “It starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…. The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the next two or three years.”

This was no small matter. The vulpine deputy defense secretary knew that the number one question on the minds of Americans was not, “Does Saddam really have the bomb?” but, “What’s this little war going to cost us?”

However, Wolfowitz left something out of his testimony: the truth. I hunted for weeks for the source of the Pentagon’s oil revenue projections and found them. They were wildly different from the Wolfowitz testimony. But this was not perjury.

Ever since the conviction of Elliott Abrams for perjury before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings, neither Wolfowitz nor the other Bush factotums swear an oath before testifying. If you don’t raise your hand and promise to tell the truth, “so help me, God,” you’re off the hook with federal prosecutors.

How the Lord will judge that little ploy, we cannot say.

But Wolfowitz’s little numbers game can hardly count as a great Zionist conspiracy. That seemed to come, at first glance, in the form of a confidential 101-page document slipped to our team at BBC’s “Newsnight.” It detailed the economic “recovery” of Iraq’s post-conquest economy. This blueprint for occupation, we learned, was first devised in secret in late 2001.

Notably, this program for Iraq’s recovery wasn’t written by Iraqis. Rather, it was promoted by the neoconservatives of the Defense Department, home of Abrams, Wolfowitz, Harold Rhode and other desktop Napoleons unafraid of moving toy tanks around the Pentagon war room.

Nose-Twist’s Hidden Hand

The neocons’ 101-page confidential document, which came to me in a brown envelope in February 2001, just before the tanks rolled, goes boldly where no U.S. invasion plan had gone before: the complete rewrite of the conquered state’s “policies, law and regulations.” A cap on the income taxes of Iraq’s wealthiest was included as a matter of course. And this was undoubtedly history’s first military assault plan appended to a program for toughening the target nation’s copyright laws. Once the 82nd Airborne liberated Iraq, never again would the Ba’athist dictatorship threaten America with bootleg dubs of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.”

It was more like a corporate takeover, except with Abrams tanks instead of junk bonds. It didn’t strike me as the work of a kosher cabal for an imperial Israel. In fact, it smelled of pork — pig heaven for corporate America looking for a slice of Iraq, and I suspected its porcine source. I gave it a big sniff and, sure enough, I smelled Grover Norquist.

Norquist is the capo di capi of right-wing, big-money influence peddlers in Washington. Those jealous of his inside track to the White House call him “Gopher Nose-Twist.”

A devout Christian, Norquist channeled $1 million to the Christian Coalition to fight the devil’s tool, legalized gambling. He didn’t tell the coalition that the loot came from an Indian tribe represented by Norquist’s associate, Jack Abramoff. (The tribe didn’t want competition for its own casino operations.)

I took a chance and dropped in on Norquist’s L Street office, and under a poster of his idol (“NIXON — NOW MORE THAN EVER”), Norquist took a look at the “recovery” plan for Iraq and practically jumped over my desk to sign it, filled with pride at seeing his baby. Yes, he promoted the privatizations, the tax limit for the rich and the change in copyright law, all concerns close to the hearts and wallets of his clients.

“The Oil” on Page 73

The very un-Jewish Norquist may have framed much of the U.S. occupation grabfest, but there was, without doubt, one notable item in the 101-page plan for Iraq which clearly had the mark of Zion on it. On page 73, the plan called for the “privatization…[of] the oil and supporting industries,” the sell-off of every ounce of Iraq’s oil fields and reserves. Its mastermind, I learned, was Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.
For the neocons, this was the big one. Behind it, no less a goal than to bring down the lynchpin of Arab power, Saudi Arabia.

It would work like this: The Saudi’s power rests on control of OPEC, the oil cartel which, as any good monopoly, withholds oil from the market, kicking up prices.

Regime Change


I’m at a stunning house in Beverly Hills. The hosts are pillars of the Persian Jewish community. The food is incredible. Milky raw almonds and walnuts floating insilver bowls of ice water. Candied kumquats on gilt platters. Fragrant rice pilafs beribboned with dried cherries and pistachios, and uniformed waiters offering hillocks of grilled lamb chops.

But — and this often happens — the sumptuousness of the food is in direct proportion to the grimness of the topics under discussion.

I’m here with 30 or so other guests to meet Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Some hail him as a visionary, and others dismiss him as a thug for his call to demand loyalty oaths of Israeli Arabs and cut loose Arab areas of the country.

But what interests me tonight is not Lieberman’s idea for disenfranchising 20 percent of Israel’s citizens, a Kahane-esque ploy that would spell the end of American support for the Jewish state. As much as Lieberman, in his heavily Russian-accented English, pitches that dystopian idea, his audience — most of them from the Persian Jewish elite — express more concern over what Israel will do about Iran.

For this group, of course, it’s personal.

They share a language and a homeland with the mullah-run regime in Teheran. They understand the threat a nuclear-armed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could pose to Israel, and they are anxious over the fate of some 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.

This group wasn’t even that worked up about the Holocaust denial conference Ahmadinejad was sponsoring beginning that very day. Why focus on the man’s minor lunacies when his main one — his quest for nuclear weapons and his vow to destroy Israel — are so much more urgent? What these very elegant, very serious guests want is the bottom line — what can Israel do now? — to counter the Iranian threat.

Lieberman’s answer was not surprising. He spoke of tough sanctions — which no one in the audience seemed to put much faith in — followed by “harsher measures.” It wasn’t hard to guess what the deputy prime minister meant by that. If Israeli leaders haven’t issued an outright call for a military response to Iranian nuclear threat, they’ve sure been hinting hard.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — all have spoken in Los Angeles recently on the need to confront the Iranian threat immediately and forcefully.

But I’m wary.

If the Iraq debacle has taught us anything, it’s to distrust those who promote preemption. The same Israeli and the same Americans who said attacking Iraq was the best option are arguing that now, or soon, is the time to plow our bombs into the bunkers and factories of Iran.

Ahmadinejad has certainly earned the right to be bombed, but is that Israel’s — and America’s — best and only option?

For one, our leaders are perfectly capable of screwing up a military response. If Olmert couldn’t destroy Hezbollah in their Iranian-funded bunkers, how certain is it Israel can destroy Iran’s much more safely guarded nukes? Also, perhaps the Iranian regime is vulnerable in other ways.

“Iran is in a state of upheaval,” the Iranian-born columnist Amil Imani wrote me by e-mail.

“It is prudent that the West does not embark on a trigger-happy policy. The mullahs’ lease on life is just about over. A concerted economic and moral support should be all that is needed for the Iranian people to put an end to the shameful and hate-driven ‘monkey’ and his ilk.”

Imani is a Muslim and an active — and brave, considering the international reach of Iranian agents — opponent of the regime. As much as he hates the mullahs, he doesn’t believe the military option is even necessary at this point. He wants Americans to understand that Ahmadinejad — whom a good portion of the population refers to as “the monkey” — has a less-than-solid grip on power, and the same goes for the mullahs.

But Ahmadinejad can use our saber rattling to rally Iranians around the flag, and extend his otherwise numbered days. Otherwise, their discontent becomes more and more apparent. Local elections throughout Iran on Dec. 16 demonstrated an “overwhelming defeat” for Ahmadinejad and his candidates, Imani said. The winners were a coalition of conservatives and reformers.

Perhaps a better strategy for Americans and Israelis is to do all we can to support Iranian voices of reform and dissent. We’re terrible at that. Seven years ago, on Dec. 9, 1999, thousands of students rallied against the regime. Government troops crushed the spreading protest, killing at least 19 students.

The Disaster of the University Dormitories, as it is known in Iran, received four mentions in major American newspapers, including a small article a week after the fact in the Los Angeles Times. Talk about moral support.

One step we can all take these days is to sign a petition now circulating on the Web calling on incoming U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to hold Iran’s president accountable for inciting genocide under Articles III and IV of the United Nations’ own Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

That’s the least that august body can doAdditionally, both Tel Aviv and Washington can fund television, radio and Internet broadcasts into Iran and offer Iranian dissidents real moral and financial help. Our media can tell stories of these dissidents and track their progress, to enable us not just to gawk at the monkey, but to actually help his opponents.

“Many people have asked me: How long will the present Iranian regime last?” Imani wrote. “No one exactly knows. Who among us expected that when President Reagan said in Berlin, ‘Tear down this wall,’ it would indeed fall within a few years? So, too, it is not possible to tell when change will come to Iran, although it is quite clear that the Iranian people detest the present system and are ready for change.”

U.S., Israeli officials see conflicting Iraq study ideas


American and Israeli government officials agree on two things: Iraq has nothing at all to do with Israeli-Arab issues.

Except when it does.

From President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on down, the leadership of the Israeli and U.S. governments are simultaneously embracing and rebuffing last week’s conclusions of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, which makes Israeli-Arab peace progress a linchpin of a successful outcome in Iraq. The crux of their argument is that while it is wrong to blame the Israeli-Arab impasse for any part of the crisis in Iraq, actors in that crisis — chief among them Iran and its allies — are successfully using Israel as a justification for raising the stakes in Iraq.

“We do this not because we are persuaded by some linkage or another, but because it is in the U.S. national interest,” David Welch, the top U.S. State Department envoy to the Middle East, said Friday of U.S. involvement in Arab-Israeli peace when he addressed the Saban Forum, an annual colloquy of U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Another Bush administration official put it more bluntly: “Palestine is not a relevant issue to Iraq, but it is an issue exploited by Iran and extremists throughout the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arab-Israeli peace talks would have a “positive, emboldening effect,” the official said. “If progress among Israel and the Palestinians is manifested, then moderates throughout the region win and extremists lose.”

Conversely, the official said, “We believe that a success in Iraq, a success for moderates against forces of extremism, whether secular or religious, will have a very significant impact in the region, in Syria, in Lebanon, as well as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Bush administration has welcomed Olmert’s recent overture to the Palestinians, in which he promised a release of prisoners and increased mobility, should a cease-fire hold and the Palestinians prove themselves able to present a negotiating team that renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s existence.

Mahmoud Abbas, the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority president, has all but given up on such concessions from the Cabinet, led by the terrorist Hamas group, and has proposed new elections.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, said at the Saban Forum that Israel and the West should encourage alternatives to the Hamas government, although she did not elaborate.

Bush launched a weeklong review of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations on Monday, starting with meetings with top State Department officials. Later in the week he was to have met with outside experts, top U.S. diplomats in the region and top military brass.

His primary concern about the report is its deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the first quarter of 2008. Bush has steadfastly resisted timetables until now. However, after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is scheduled to tour the region, Bush suggested that he embraces the report’s Iraq-Israeli-Palestinian linkage, counting it as one of three ways to move the Iraq process forward.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to be solved,” the president said.

That’s music to the ears of Blair and other Europeans. They enthusiastically welcomed the recommendations of the commission headed by James Baker, secretary of state for Bush’s father, and Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana Democratic congressman.

“The German government shares many of the political observations in the report,” a statement from the German Embassy in Washington said last week on the eve of a U.S. visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The entire Middle East region must move into the international community’s scope. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of central importance.”

Such views were hardly welcome at the Saban Forum, where the Iraq Study Group’s report lent an anxious irritability to the weekend proceedings. The Saban Center, a Brookings Institution subsidiary funded by American-Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban, attracts top names to its annual colloquies. Last year’s was in Jerusalem.

“The Iraqi conflict has very little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis,” Yuli Tamir, Israel’s education minister, said during a break from the conference’s closed sessions. “I don’t think it’s relevant — it’s a good justification but not a reason.”

On Sunday, Olmert, who had earlier suggested that he disagrees with the report’s conclusions, ordered his Cabinet not to comment on it, saying it was an internal American affair.

Livni did not mention the Baker-Hamilton report by name, but its conclusions were clearly the focus of her keynote address at a gala State Department dinner last Friday.

“There is a commonly mistaken assumption that I sometimes hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core of the trouble of the Middle East; that somehow if this conflict could be resolved, so the situation could be different, and we can face a totally different region,” Livni said. “So, this is wrong. This view confuses symptom and cause. The truth is that the conflicts in the Middle East are a consequence, not a cause, of radicalism and terrorism.”

Nevertheless, in the same speech Livni was preoccupied by how Iran would fare in the Iraq crisis — and what a success by its Shiite Muslim protégés in Iraq would bode for Israel and the region.

“The idea of spreading Shiism all over the region is a threat not only to Israel but the region itself,” she said, citing efforts by the Hezbollah terrorist group to topple Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Bush expressed wariness about the commission’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria. He was adamant that those countries are out of bounds until they stop backing terrorists. If Syria and Iran are “not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up” to a regional conference on Iraq, he said after meeting with Blair.

Iran’s ambitions dominated much of the Saban Forum. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke darkly of the possibility of war in a Saturday panel with former President Bill Clinton.

“Iran’s strength derives from the weakness of the international community,” Peres said. “If there was an international coalition, there would be no need to go to war against Iran, and Iran would return to its natural dimensions.”

Israel backs U.S. and European efforts to sanction Iran until it gives up enriching uranium, a step toward manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Peres described a range of options to prevent Iran’s nuclearization: monitoring its missiles with nuclear warhead capability, economic sanctions, limiting its oil production and assisting regime change.

Jimmy Carter Mideast book shows his anti-Israel bias


I like Jimmy Carter. I have known him since he began his run for president in early 1976. I worked hard for his election, and I have admired the work of the Carter Center throughout the
world. That’s why it troubles me so much that this decent man has written such an indecent book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His bias against Israel shows by his selection of the book’s title: “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” The suggestion that without peace Israel is an apartheid state analogous to South Africa is simply wrong. The basic evil of South African apartheid, against which I and so many other Jews fought, was the absolute control over a majority of blacks by a small minority of whites. It was the opposite of democracy.

In Israel majority rules; it is a vibrant, secular democracy, which has just recognized gay marriages performed abroad. Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court and get to vote for their representatives, many of whom strongly oppose Israeli policies.

Israel has repeatedly offered to end its occupation of areas it captured in a defensive war in exchange for peace and full recognition. The reality is that other Arab and Muslim nations do, in fact, practice apartheid.

In Jordan, no Jew can be a citizen or own land. The same is true in Saudi Arabia, which has separate roads for Muslims and non-Muslims. Even in the Palestinian Authority, the increasing influence of Hamas threatens to create Islamic hegemony over non-Muslims. Arab Christians are leaving in droves.

Why then would Jimmy Carter invoke the concept of apartheid in his attack on Israel? Even he acknowledges — though he buries this toward the end of his book — that what is going on in Israel today “is unlike that in South Africa — not racism but the acquisition of land.”

But Israel’s motive for holding on to this land is the prevention of terrorism. It has repeatedly offered to exchange land for peace and did so in Gaza and southern Lebanon, only to have the returned land used for terrorism, kidnappings and rocket launchings.

I don’t know why Carter, who is generally a careful man, allowed so many errors and omissions to blemish his book. Here are simply a few of the most egregious.

Carter emphasizes that “Christian and Muslim Arabs had continued to live in this same land since Roman times,” but he ignores the fact that Jews have lived in Hebron, Tsfat, Jerusalem and other cities for even longer. Nor does he discuss the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries since 1948.

Carter repeatedly claims that the Palestinians have long supported a two-state solution, and the Israelis have always opposed it. Yet he makes no mention of the fact that in 1938, the Peel Commission proposed a two-state solution with Israel receiving a mere sliver of its ancient homeland and the Palestinians receiving the bulk of the land. The Jews accepted, and the Palestinians rejected this proposal, because Arab leaders cared more about there being no Jewish state on Muslim holy land than about having a Palestinian state of their own.

He barely mentions Israel’s acceptance and the Palestinian rejection of the United Nation’s division of the mandate in 1948.

He claims that in 1967, Israel launched a preemptive attack against Jordan. The fact is that Jordan attacked Israel first, Israel tried desperately to persuade Jordan to remain out of the war and Israel counterattacked after the Jordanian army surrounded Jerusalem, firing missiles into the center of the city. Only then did Israel capture the West Bank, which it was willing to return in exchange for peace and recognition from Jordan.

Carter repeatedly mentions U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which called for return of captured territories in exchange for peace, recognition and secure boundaries, but he ignores the fact that Israel accepted, and all the Arab nations and the Palestinians rejected this resolution. The Arabs met in Khartoum and issued their three famous “no’s”: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiation,” but you wouldn’t know that from reading the history according to Carter.

Carter faults Israel for its “air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor” without mentioning that Iraq had threatened to attack Israel with nuclear weapons if it succeeded in building a bomb.

Carter faults Israel for its administration of Christian and Muslim religious sites, when, in fact, Israel is scrupulous about ensuring every religion the right to worship as they please — consistent, of course, with security needs. He fails to mention that between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Hashemites destroyed and desecrated Jewish religious sites and prevented Jews from praying at the Western Wall. He also never mentions Egypt’s brutal occupation of Gaza between 1949 and 1967.

Carter blames Israel and exonerates Yasser Arafat for the Palestinian refusal to accept statehood on 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, pursuant to the Clinton-Barak offers of Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001. He accepts the Palestinian revisionist history, rejects the eye-witness accounts of President Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross and ignores Saudi Prince Bandar’s accusation that Arafat’s rejection of the proposal was “a crime” and that Arafat’s account “was not truthful” — except, apparently, to Carter. The fact that Carter chooses to believe Arafat over Clinton speaks volumes.

Carter’s description of the recent Lebanon War is misleading. He begins by asserting that Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. “Captured” suggest a military apprehension subject to the usual prisoner of war status. The soldiers were kidnapped, and have not been heard from — not even a sign of life. The rocket attacks that preceded Israel’s invasion are largely ignored, as is the fact that Hezbollah fired its rockets from civilian population centers.

Carter gives virtually no credit to Israel’s superb legal system, falsely asserting (without any citation) that “confessions extracted through torture are admissible in Israeli courts,” that prisoners are “executed” and that the “accusers” act “as judges.” Even Israel’s most severe critics acknowledge the fairness of the Israeli Supreme Court, but not Carter.

Brotherhood in a Sukkah … in Iraq


Three long, narrow white boxes with Hebrew and English writing were laying on the chapel floor at my Air Force Base in the Persian Gulf.

“What’s this?” I wondered aloud. When I looked closer, I noticed the words “Sukkah” and “U.S. Government” stamped on each package.

“A sukkah kit for the Jewish service personnel at our overseas American Air Force base!” I exclaimed. “It’s not often one comes across these sorts of things in an Arab country!”

As the sole Jewish chaplain at the base, I eagerly shared the news with the Jewish personnel who serve here. We agreed to meet late Friday afternoon, before Sukkot began, to erect the booth.
Due to busy schedules, only two of us showed up. Determined to get the help I needed, I asked the chapel staff for volunteers. A Catholic chaplain and a Protestant chaplain offered to assist.

The three of us, accompanied by the Jewish airman, picked a spot for the sukkah in front of the chapel. We felt the location was perfect because the outer chapel walls would protect the sukkah from the high desert winds.

We hastily opened the boxes and pulled out the disassembled white metal frame, the white-and-navy nylon tarp used for the walls and the reed mat for the roof.

As the Jewish airman read the assembly directions to us, the other chaplains and I interlocked the floor frame, and I used a rubber mallet to hammer the corner wall pieces into the slots of the floor frame.

We stabilized the sukkah with four bungee cords, then stretched the tarp around the perimeter of the structure. Two parallel wooden beams were laid for roof support, and the reed mat was unraveled on top of the beams.

To prevent the schach, as the roof is known, from blowing away, we tied it to the frame. We completed the project by placing a wooden pallet outside the front door as a makeshift “welcome mat.”

The airman, Protestant chaplain, Catholic chaplain and I stepped back, wiped the sweat from our brows and admired our handiwork.

What a beautiful sukkah! And probably the only one in this entire Muslim country.

We first used the sukkah that night. After participating in Shabbat/Sukkot services in the chapel, we walked outside and made Kiddush over grape juice and made the blessing over the bread in the sukkah.

Together we recited the blessing “Lashev b’sukkah,” blessing God for commanding us to dwell in the sukkah, and sat down on metal folding chairs.

While feasting on brownies, cookies and pecan pie, we discussed how lucky we were to have such a beautiful sukkah. We continued to talk throughout the evening until the others excused themselves for bed.

Before leaving the sukkah, I looked through the roof at the stars above.

“How appropriate it is to observe Sukkot in the Middle Eastern desert,” I thought.

Being a service member in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I also realized that life, like the sukkah, is temporary. One never knows how long one might live or when one might die.

For this reason, we must truly make the most of each day that God grants us. As the Psalms say, “Teach us to count our days wisely so we may attain a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12).

With this in mind, I stood up to leave the booth. As I walked out into the warm, moonlit night, I smiled at the thought that Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chaplains had worked together as brothers-in-arms and friends to build a sukkah.

Before joining the Air Force in 2004, Rabbi Gary Davidson served as rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach. Security precautions prohibit identifying the air force base where Davidson is currently stationed. He can be reached by e-mail at Mensch613@msn.com.

Jews in the Military: High Holidays Under Fire


Who shall live and who shall die.
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not.

Ralph Goodman recited those words in a hillside tent in southeastern Belgium. Warren Zundell’s “shul” was a patch of no-man’s-land somewhere in North Korea. For Robert Cirkus, it was a jungle clearing in the bug-infested Central Highlands of Viet Nam. And for Lee Mish, it was Saddam Hussein’s former palace.

The four men have never met, but they share an uncommon bond. They represent four generations of Jewish servicemen for whom the High Holidays — and their signature Unetanah Tokef prayer — took on new meaning.

For all Jews, the words of the emotionally charged Unetanah Tokef are a powerful reminder of mortality. All the more so for Jews serving their country in wartime — such as Goodman, Zundell, Cirkus and Mish — where every day is Judgment Day and where prayer, righteousness and repentance can’t always avert a decree of death.

Here are the stories of these American servicemen who observed the High Holidays not in conventional synagogues, but on far-flung battlefields. The worship services they participated in were often improvised and incomplete. But the jarring juxtaposition of war and prayer, faith and fear, continues to resonate with these men.

A Tent on the Side of a Hill
A Tent on the Side of a Hill
Fays, Belgium
September 1944

“Colonel, the Jewish community wants to observe Yom Kippur. What can you do to help us?”

Ralph Goodman, attached to the 1st U.S. Army’s Headquarters Commandant in Belgium, was unable to celebrate Rosh Hashanah because his unit was traveling.

But Yom Kippur was fast approaching, and the 24-year-old enlistee from Pittsfield, Mass., was determined that the Jewish servicemen, now encamped at a temporary base near Verviers, Belgium, be given a place to pray.

He had already approached the 1st Army’s chief chaplain, who offered nothing except a few prayer books. But Goodman’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Harry F. Goslee, was more accommodating. He ordered a large blackout hospital tent set up on a hillside, with chairs and a portable electric generator.

On Yom Kippur, Sept. 27, 1944, about 25 soldiers and airmen congregated in that tent. Two Orthodox laymen acted as cantor and rabbi.

Goodman sat by the tent flap opening, his gun on his lap. He was juggling several different prayer books, trying to find the correct pages for Unetanah Tokef. He finally located the prayer and recited the words. But what he really was saying that day was, “Please, God, bring my buddies and me home.”

Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to see a chaplain he didn’t recognize, a fresh-faced, sandy-haired man about 30, who asked permission to address the troops.

“How lovely are your tents, Oh Jacob,” he began, intoning the words to a prayer Jews say each morning.

He talked about five minutes, thanking the men for allowing him to speak and commending them for assembling a service.

Goodman, who still lives in Pittsfield, thinks about that service often, proud that he and his buddies were able to make it happen. He wishes he could share another Yom Kippur with them.

But 62 years later, he still regrets that he never asked the name of that fresh-faced Christian chaplain who reached out to a group of Jews on the holiest day of their year.

“God bless that man,” he said.

Above the 38th Parallel, North KoreaAn All-Jewish Convoy
Above the 38th Parallel, North Korea
October 1951

Warren Zundell, an orthopedic surgeon with the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Wonju, South Korea, wasn’t eager to attend Rosh Hashanah services. It meant traveling 40 miles on an unpaved, mountainous road to 10th Army Corps headquarters, over the border into North Korea. Zundell, 27, had a baby daughter back in Fall River, Mass., whom he had never seen, and he didn’t want to risk encountering snipers or land mines.

But Zundell was the unit’s only Jewish officer, and the Catholic chaplain on his base was insistent that Zundell escort the convoy.

“There are about 30 Jewish boys around here who want to go,” said the priest, who planned to remain in Wonju at the hospital.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 30, 1951, in the priest’s jeep with a white cross painted on the hood, Zundell led the way. A few truckloads of Jewish soldiers, all heavily armed, followed. Perhaps the only all-Jewish convoy ever to travel into North Korea, they arrived safely several hours later at the camp, a war-scarred patch of ground that sported some tents and housed perhaps a few hundred soldiers.

The next morning, a rabbi conducted services in a large tent, with about 300 soldiers, many who had traveled there from other units, sitting on the ground or on boxes. There was no ark, no Torah and no prayer books, except for the rabbi’s.

“I just sat there and listened,” Zundell recalled. “I didn’t think about where I was.”

After services, he traveled back to Wonju with the same soldiers.

Even less enthusiastic about observing Yom Kippur, Zundell was again induced to return to the prayer site. On Yom Kippur day, the convoy again traveled above the 38th Parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea. The scene was identical to what Zundell remembered from Rosh Hashanah, except, instead of 300 soldiers in the tent, there were now 150.

“Where are the other boys?” Zundell asked the servicemen sitting near him.
“Heavy casualties during the week,” one of them replied.

Zundell doesn’t remember his exact reaction; he imagines the service was pretty sad. Afterward they loaded up the trucks and headed home.

Since then, every Rosh Hashanah, the Coral Gables, Fla., resident sits in temple and remembers Korea.

“It never leaves my mind,” he said. “I think about those boys who didn’t make it back for Yom Kippur.”

Central Highlands, Vietnam

A Jungle Clearing
Central Highlands, Vietnam
September 1966

While stationed in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry, Army Spc. 4 Robert Cirkus often didn’t know what day it was. But somehow the 21-year-old draftee from Passaic, N.J., knew the High Holidays were coming. And he knew he wanted to attend services.

A rabbi was dispatched to the forward base camp in the Central Highlands where Cirkus was working as a weapons repairman. Around noon on Rosh Hashanah day, Sept. 15, 1966, Cirkus, three infantrymen and a medic, all strangers to one another, gathered together in a cleared-out jungle area.

The rabbi set up a small ark on a bench in the back of his open Jeep. Inside was a traveling Torah. Cirkus and the others sat on the ground in the hot sun, the air muggy and bug-infested. He wore a tallit over his uniform, holding his submachine gun and his prayer book on his lap.

Cirkus, who now lives in Clifton, N.J., remembers that the service was truncated and that he and the others were not really at ease. They were praying, but they were also alert to every sound, especially gunshots off in the jungle. He knows he wasn’t thinking about life and death. Or about Judgment Day. He didn’t want to think about what was really going on.

Afterward, the rabbi handed out cans of tuna fish, bread, wine and kosher C rations.

“We sat, we chitchatted and we went our separate ways,” he said. “But we knew we were all Jews.”

Until 10 years ago, Cirkus was too traumatized to discuss his Vietnam experience at all. Even now, he can’t talk about all of it. But he’s able to look back on that Rosh Hashanah in the Central Highlands, where, for a short time, five Jews who didn’t know each other sat around together with a rabbi praying.

“I don’t want to say it like it’s jerky, but you felt like you were being watched by God,” he said.

Saddam's Palace

Saddam’s Palace
Tikrit, Iraq
September 2004

September 2004 was a tense time in Tikrit, Iraq, where Special Agent Lee Mish was stationed. Roads were impassable, bridges were blown up and food and water were rationed. Plus, with flights grounded, the rabbi assigned to Tikrit couldn’t leave Baghdad.

Despite these obstacles, erev Rosh Hashanah services were held on Sept. 15. And Mish, 27, a Conservative Jew from Sharon, Mass., who enlisted in the Army nine years ago, walked to Saddam Hussein’s former palace, now under control of the U.S. military.

There, in a large room with marble floors and ceilings and a gold chandelier, a room once used by Saddam’s servants, Mish encountered three other Jews. They included a captain who served as the Jewish lay leader, a sergeant and a civilian contractor.

Wearing kippot, the uniformed men sat around a card table on folding chairs, their guns by their sides. For about 20 minutes, they read from prayer books sent by Hebrew school students in Wisconsin. Mish doesn’t remember the specifics, but he recalls saying prayers for all the soldiers and being aware of Rosh Hashanah’s message of mortality.

“When you’re in a situation where your friends are dying, where people all around you are dying, any time you pray, it hits home more,” he said.

Afterward they shared a bottle of wine and ate some “normal food,” including bagels with jelly. They also read Rosh Hashanah cards that the students had decorated with honey pots and apples and inscribed with messages such as “Be safe” and “Hope you come back soon.” Inside the holiday cards, the students had placed prepaid phone cards.

Despite its informality, that service resonated with Mish, now stationed in Wurzburg, Germany. Rosh Hashanah had always been important to him, a way of confirming his Jewishness. But being in Iraq had given him more time to reflect on death and destruction, and he was feeling more religious while stationed there. Also, he had recently learned from his Iraqi translator, who was born and raised in Mosul, Iraq, that during Saddam’s reign, the Jews in that area were barred from observing holidays in public and were forced to celebrate secretly in their homes. That day, however, Jewish soldiers were praying openly in Saddam’s palace.

“I felt honored,” Mish said.

Freelance writer Jane Ulman lives in Encino.

To learn more about today’s Jews in uniform, visit Jews In Green, the”ultimate resource for Jewish service members.”

Saddam Hussein’s palaces have also been the site of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Pesach and other Jewish celebrations, as this Jewish Journal story from 2004 relates.

An (Israeli-American) Voice in the Wilderness


Jonathan Tasini’s name, in Israel, would be pronounced more like Tazini. It’s related to a command in classical Hebrew that Moses uses with his people: Ha’azinu. That is: You should listen.

And at the very least, Tasini wants voters to get a chance to listen to him. He offers himself up as a new kind of Jewish American anti-war candidate for Congress, the only one who, as this summer’s news about the miseries of Iraq merged with that of the Lebanon blow-up, critically addressed both situations. He’s using his small corner of New York’s political stage to speak about these two wars of vital interest to Jews, even as it goes scarcely noticed that Tasini is the closest any candidate has come to being an Israeli American running for the U.S. Congress.

Tasini
His full name is Jonathan Yoav Tasini, and he’s challenging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York’s Democratic primary on Sept. 12. He’s asked Clinton to debate him — an event that, following Ned Lamont’s win against Sen. Joe Lieberman, would likely be a national story — but so far she hasn’t accepted. Publications as different as The New York Times and the New York Post recently urged Clinton to engage the 49-year-old Tasini, the articulate former head of the National Writer’s Union, saying that a Tasini-Clinton match-up would give her a chance to clarify her muddled position on Iraq.

On Iraq, Tasini — along with a broad range of progressive positions — favors an immediate pullout. On Lebanon, as recent violence surged, he quickly echoed calls elsewhere for a cease-fire and joined in criticism of Israel’s bombing campaign in civilian areas. Tasini spurred a midsummer ripple of controversy with remarks that included his lament of Israel’s “many acts of brutality and violations of human rights.” He didn’t back down, reminding his critics that his comments did not stray from civil rights reports and charges by Israeli leftists.

Still, many people haven’t heard of Tasini, and the Jewish world has barely taken note. His Italian-sounding name stops even some supporters from realizing he’s Jewish, although he’s clear enough about it on his Web site, TasiniforNewYork.org. The New York media — including the Jewish press — have also not covered him with anywhere near the interest accorded Lamont, who bought his share of outsider glamour for $4 million.

Tasini’s raised about $200,000 so far, compared to Clinton’s $22 million. After a recent boomlet of press, he’s polling at 15 percent of New York Democrats. Few think he’ll win. But his positions on the Middle East distinguish him as part of a new generation of Democratic mavericks who reflect this country’s sense of political crisis over Iraq and a measure of disillusionment about Israel’s conduct in the Lebanon War. One could even call his campaign groundbreaking, given the freshness of his views and the novelty of his biography.

“I absolutely view him as an Israeli American,” said Joel Schalit, managing editor of Tikkun Magazine. “He certainly spent enough time in Israel and he certainly has enough connections there.”

Born in Houston, Tasini has two families: an American one from the marriage of his father, Betsalel Tasini, to a woman who lives now in Los Angeles, and an Israeli side, stemming from his father’s second marriage to a New Yorker who emigrated to Israel in 1968. Tasini, a UCLA graduate, lived with his father and stepmother in Israel for seven years and speaks fluent Hebrew.

I recently talked to Rita Tasini, the candidate’s stepmother, by phone as she sat in her home in Ra’anana, north of Tel Aviv, a few days after a Hezbollah missile had fallen in Hadera, not far away.

“He has roots in Israel that are very, very deep,” she said of him. “He was here, not last year, but the year before. He was here for Pesach.”

Tasini, she said, “was left wing at 16. He was always left.”

And his support for a two-state solution for the Palestinians, his objections to the Jewish settlement movement reflected familial views.

“Jonathan’s father was against it,” said his stepmother, “and so was I; none of us believed that they should be living over there.”

Tasini’s late father, a computer scientist, was born in Palestine, and fought in the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state army, and its strike force, the Palmach, his widow told me. He lived for a time in the United States during his American-born son’s early years, then returned to Israel. Rita Tasini described how a teenaged Tasini, having joined his father, volunteered in a hospital, helping wounded Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War.

Yet Tasini told me it was the Vietnam War and the perspective of his father, the independence fighter, that largely shaped his anti-war views. “I remember very specifically watching the news of the Vietnam War and every week they’d have the body counts,” Tasini said, as we talked near his tiny office in New York’s West Village. “This one week, the number of Viet Cong killed were more than Americans and I said, ‘Good,’ and my father said, ‘Why is it good?’ I said, ‘It is better that more of them die than Americans,’ and my father said, ‘It is about much more than that.’ He said that no country wants to be occupied by another country, and liberation movements are very strong. My father was not a deep ideological left-winger, but it was based on his history of having fought against the British.

“Gandhi means a lot to me, Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” he added.
While he said he believes fighting is sometimes necessary, and firmly deplored Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the recent crisis, he questions why, given previous deals Israel made to release Palestinian prisoners for captives, it wasn’t done this time.

The openness of such skepticism may make Tasini seem foolishly bold (or boldly foolish) in the context of a New York political race. But it is of a piece with his controversial past as president of the National Writer’s Union, a time that included taking The New York Times to court to win payment to freelance writers for electronic reuse of their work. He won in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But critics say he misapplied his chutzpah this summer in the middle of the fighting in Lebanon. In an interview with the political blog, Room 8, Tasini was asked whether he believed Israel was a terrorist state. He answered: “It is painful to say that, but when you fire missiles from sophisticated aircraft on unarmed civilians in Gaza, those are again, the definition to me of….” He paused, searching for the next words.

“Terrorism is a very heavily laden word. But to me, what the key thing is, what are you doing? Are your actions in violation of the international norms of the Geneva Convention, and so on? And I think it’s sad to say, but it’s clear, yeah.”

While he quickly stated, on his campaign Web site, that did not view Israel as a terrorist state, he held to his critical stance. The Clinton campaign denounced the remarks, and several Jewish organizations fired back. The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), a Jewish Democratic group in Washington, called the remarks “outrageous” and “downright offensive.”

I asked NJDC Executive Director Ira Forman what made the remarks so wrong — beyond the “terrorist” label, which was pushed at Tasini and about which he wavered — given that human rights groups have issued reports saying more or less the same things.(Amnesty International has just issued a report critical of the Israeli bombing of civilians during the Lebanon conflagration.) Forman said the comments were “inappropriate,” and then added: “Inappropriate may not be the most accurate statement. The accurate statement is ‘very much out of the mainstream for the American Jewish community.'”

Forman’s objection — he was one of those who said he could not remember another congressional candidate who had as full an Israeli background as Tasini — goes to the heart of what makes Tasini an interesting new presence.

Said Tikkun’s magazine’s Joel Schalit: “If Israel comes across as being more fallible, dysfunctional and morally-in-trouble than previously perceived, then American Jewish opinion is going to have some kind of crisis. I think it is about time that an Israeli American entered the process. His timing couldn’t be better.”

Tasini has a political example to aim for in Los Angeles.

“I thought he was courageous to be critical of the Israeli actions in Lebanon, given Hillary’s gestures to win out the Jewish vote,” said Marcy Winograd, a Jewish anti-war progressive who took 38 percent of the vote in her recent primary run against Jane Harmon in California’s 36th Congressional District.
Tasini called the West L.A. campaign “the model” for his.

Tasini pointed out that critics of the Zionist Left who live in Israel tend to feel stronger in their right to question policies there than American Jewish critics in this country because their devotion to the survival of the state stands beyond reproach.

“American Jews feel they are living here in comfort and protection,” he said, “and they don’t really know what is going on, and they can’t criticize Israel. I have never had that. I can say what I say with authority, and I say it because I have a stake there.”

But interesting positions alone won’t get him into the same room with Hillary Clinton. At campaign stops recently she has dodged reporters who more and more often ask whether she’ll debate Tasini. She would only tell a CBS reporter, “We’ll see how the campaign develops over the next weeks.”

Of course Moses, with whom Tasini shares a linguistic legacy, sometimes had problems getting people to listen. But even he didn’t face the mighty logic of American incumbency — that you can deny an under-funded opponent a chance to be heard, if you simply don’t respond.

Allan M. Jalon is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Letters to the Editor


Rabbi Baron

Interesting that Rabbi David Baron said his invitation to Mel Gibson to speak at his temple on Yom Kippur was not a publicity stunt (“Three Groups Respond to Gibson’s Request for Meeting,” Aug. 11). Why then did I receive a form letter within two hours of sending the rabbi an e-mail expressing my aggravation at that very invitation? The form letter is addressed not to me, but “To Those Who Are Concerned About the Mel Gibson Invitation to Apologize.” Baron obviously hoped, and anticipated, that this handout to Gibson would bring a lot of attention; otherwise, why would he have had a form letter at the ready before there had yet been any response at all? And how was the invitation to Gibson made public in the first place? Baron wanted all the attention, which he got, without having to face the music, so he fled.

Jeff Weinstock
Encino

Ed Note: See Rabbi Baron’s op-ed column in this issue.

Star Power

Great article, but you may want to exercise a little more control over your cover art (“Star Power,” Aug. 26).

When did The Jewish Journal decide to “unilaterally” give back the West Bank and the Golan Heights?

It may be a subtle “mistake” in art direction, but the hash marks across the vibrant communities in the West Bank and the omission of the Golan are particularly insensitive as Israel continues its fight for it’s very existence. Recent events should have taught us all that the fight is not about “the territories.”

Hopefully your artist was being “creative” and not putting forth a political opinion that represents the editorial stance of The Jewish Journal.

Barry S. Weiss
Valley Village

RJC’s Israel Ads

I want to compliment the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for their recent ads in The Jewish Journal (Aug. 18 and Aug. 25). The first correctly thanked President Bush for his stalwart support of Israel which was then under vicious attack by Iranian supplied Hezbollah terrorists.

The second pointed out that the Democratic Party has growing and influential leftist voices who not only rejected pro-Israel leader Sen. Joe Lieberman, but are increasingly hostile to bipartisan consensus in support of the Jewish state.Votes and polls do not lie. The vast majority of dissenters from congressional resolutions in support of Israel are Democrats. The majority of anti-Israel voices today on college campuses, in blogs and in our communities are left/liberal, not right/conservative. I have no doubt that American Jews will increasingly reward the GOP.

David Shacter
Los Angeles

The ad on your inside cover from The Republican Jewish Coalition disgusts me. Joe Lieberman was not defeated because of his support for Israel, but because of his continuing support of the most incompetent and corrupt president in the history of the United States.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party supported Lieberman. It was the voting public, fed up with the disastrous war in Iraq and Lieberman’s blind support for it, that led to his defeat.

The “radical left” has hardly taken over the Democratic Party, and Cindy Sheehan is not a spokesperson for party policy.

No Democratic president would stand by and allow Hezbollah rockets to rain down on Haifa. Nor would they have started a war with Iraq that has ended up strengthening Iran and weakening both the United States and Israel.

Finally, it is the Republican Party that envisions the United States as a Christian theocracy. I cannot understand how any Jew could proudly align themselves with these people.

Barry Wendell
North Hollywood

Bill Boyarsky

I was at the event where Bill Boyarsky and David Lauter spoke for the Woman’s Alliance for Israel Program (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18). However, Boyarsky is incorrect in his assumptions about us going after Lauter’s scalp.We wanted much more from Lauter. We wanted an explanation on why the Los Angeles Times has difficulty in using the word terrorist, instead of “militant.” Instead of giving us a logical answer, he bored us with his explanation of the “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” jive, and that the L.A. Times assumes that its readers can discern the difference.

We booed because we are not the radical “right-wing” DEBKA readers, as Boyarsky implied. This was a slap in the face to any Republicans that were in the audience. We booed because we are not stupid. We expected an intellectual dialogue, but we were hit with criticisms of the Bush regime, a “not my president” attitude, and the moral explanation that because reporters put themselves in the line of fire they do a good job.

Well, my son is in the army in Israel; he puts himself in the line of fire, and he has no problems distinguishing between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. And to top it off, to make comments about FOX — the one channel that does not make excuses for suicide bombers — and assume this as our only source of information was a slap in the face to the many activists who work hard daily, educating, discussing, working and fighting for Israel. I am one of those people who was insulted by the attacks on the right, the convoluted answers and the lack of respect that Boyarsky gave us that night and in his column.

This is the reason why I find the L.A. Times irrelevant in their reporting. They refuse to listen to more than 400 subscribers and former subscribers, and the stats on their readership should be a wake-up call, not an excuse to use their political bias to win arguments.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Associate Director
American Jewish Congress, Western Region

Israel P.R.

Are there any Jews in advertising? It’s a silly question, but given the pathetic state of Israeli public relations, one might wonder. Israel desperately needs a top-notch public relations campaign immediately, to reinforce the support of sympathetic Americans and win over those who are apathetic or ignorant regarding the Jewish state.

Remember the old ad campaign, “Come to Israel, come stay with friends…”? In those halcyon days, Israel just needed tourism; now, Israel needs renewed American commitment to its survival against the dedicated, dug-in Hezbollah and Hamas armies, who threaten its existence like a growing pack of wolves. America is Israel’s only reliable friend in the world, but it might not always be so.Most American Jews take Israel’s righteousness and survival for granted, but our stoic, fatal silence about Israeli greatness and appeal must end; Israel’s very survival may depend on it.

We know that Israel is the only multicultural nation in the Mideast, where all religions are respected (Muslims are elected to Parliament), where women are treated equally to men, and gays enjoy tolerance, but many Americans, and others, do not. Some great Jew, with the talent, influence and connections of, say, a Steven Spielberg or Rabbi Marvin Hier, or others of equal capability, must take the helm and reverse this public relations defeat.

Why is Hezbollah enjoying the laurels of victory for such a ruinous fiasco? Partially, it’s because they did win. Little Israel never before had to fight an army with such a death-wish commitment. What will happen when other young Arabs, anxious to die for their cause, join their ranks? How many rockets can Israeli cities endure before they become unlivable? The northern third of Israel is already a mess. But Hezbollah’s most important victory was in publicity. Israel has failed to make the case against Hezbollah tactics and for its own existence to America and the world! We must convince our fellow Americans that Hezbollah represents Arab terrorism and Israel is the front line against it. I would love to do it myself, and I’m anxious to be part of the team, but I’m just an anonymous high school teacher; all I can do is convince a person of stature to rise to the task now!

It will be a horrible irony if Israel loses in the court of public opinion, if Jews fail to make their case, the one field in which no one denies them proverbial brilliance. Some great Jew must pick up the phone, call the Israeli embassy, and offer their services to establish the team and organize the public relations effort. It is not hyperbole to suggest that this is a call of biblical proportion. All Jews know in their guts that young Israel is existentially threatened like never before.

The great Persian Empire has risen up and told the world its plan. We must rally our fellow Americans now.

We need a leader.

Rueben Gordon
North Hollywood

Truth in Media

Josef Goebbels, Nazi minister of information, astutely observed that, if you tell a big enough lie, long enough, people will believe it — for no alternative report is provided. American news media daily bombard us with the nonexistent expertise of journalists and consultants — who concur with the media’s editorial position. They state that it is the very existence of Israel and/or U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is the source of Islamist animus to the west. Rudimentary knowledge of history readily dispels such tripe.

The first U.S. interaction with Islamists occurred in 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson dispatched troops to Morocco to stop Barbary Pirate attacks on Americans (“The Pirate Coast” by Richard Zacks, 2006).

The Islamic Brotherhood, founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassa al-Banna, espouses global Muslim conquest, supports violence against civilians and is the philosophical father of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

This reality long pre-dates the existence of Israel or modern-day U.S. policy in the Middle East, but you will never learn that from our news media. Certainly the media can be a valuable check against the tyranny of the government, but who will protect us from the tyranny of the press?

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

Jewish Journal September 1, 2006

Drive Sends Love, ‘Gratitude’ to Troops


As Carolyn Blashek knows only too well, good things come in small packages. The founder and motivating force behind Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit organization that sends care packages to American troops overseas, Blashek serves as an inspiring testimony to one woman’s dedication to provide faith and hope to lonely soldiers.

Blashek is a Jewish mother in Encino who, like most Americans, was horrified by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. However, her reaction was slightly different than that of the average Jewish mother — she tried to enlist in the military. She soon discovered that, at 46, she exceeded the age limit of 35, and “as a civilian there were very few opportunities to show your support to the military.” She began volunteering at a dilapidated military lounge at LAX, until one day in March 2003 (the outset of the war with Iraq), a heart-wrenching talk with a despondent soldier inspired her to create a system to show soldiers that she cared.

“I’m going back to a war zone,” she recalls him saying. “I just buried my mother, my wife left me and my child died as an infant. I have no one in my life. For the first time I don’t think I’ll make it back, but it really wouldn’t matter because no one would even care.”

Blashek was devastated as she realized that many of the soldiers are fighting in foreign countries without support systems.

“What gives someone the strength to survive when bullets are flying?” she wondered. “The belief that someone cares about you.”

She decided to express her compassion by sending food, entertainment, and personal letters in packages.

“The Jewish mother in me had this need to communicate concern and love and appreciation,” she said with a little laugh. “It’s that sense of nurturing… the Jewish mother element.”

Primarily through word of mouth, the project snowballed. What began three years ago as a humble living room project financed and organized by her alone exploded into an organization that coordinates donation drives for packages across the country.

“Now I’ve sent over 111,000 packages in three years,” she said.

After Operation Gratitude’s third annual Patriotic Drive, which is to take place at the end of this month, she hopes to reach 150,000.

Blashek vividly recalls an emotional encounter she had with Kayitz Finley — the son of her local rabbi, Mordecai Finley of Congregation Ohr HaTorah — to whom she sent packages while he served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both a soldier serving in a distant land and a member of her local community, he became her inspiration. “The first most emotional experience I had through all this was when he came home and he and I got to meet in person for the first time,” she said. “It was at a Saturday morning service. We saw each other, threw our arms around each other and couldn’t stop hugging. Neither of us could get any words out. We both just kept saying ‘thank you’ to each other. It was very powerful.”

Operation Gratitude’s Third Annual Patriotic Drive continues at the California Army National Guard Armory, 17330 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys on June 17-18. Items requested for donation can be found on the website

Critics Pound Paper Panning Israel Lobby


Two weeks after two prominent political science professors published a paper that they promised would expose the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, the collective reaction so far suggests they get a “D” for impact.

“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard’s John. F. Kennedy School of Government, has been the subject of numerous Op-Eds — which generally have discredited it — but has been all but ignored in the halls of Congress, its purported target.

Among other assertions, the paper suggests that the pro-Israel lobby (especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has helped make the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, steered the country into the Iraq war, silenced debate on campuses and in the media, cost the United States friends throughout the world and corrupted U.S. moral standing.

Walt and Mearsheimer portray as interchangeable the pro-Israel lobby and the neo-conservatives who have developed Bush’s foreign policy. Not surprisingly, this report got negative reviews from pro-Israel groups. The paper’s “disagreement is not with America’s pro-Israel lobby, but with the American people, who overwhelmingly support our relationship with Israel,” said an official with a pro-Israel lobbying organization in Washington.

The Anti-Defamation League called the paper “an amateurish and biased critique of Israel, American Jews and American policy.”

Especially outrageous, some said, are the paper’s insinuations that Jewish officials in government are somehow suspect.

“Not only are these charges wildly at variance with what I have personally witnessed in the Oval Office, but they also impugn the unstinting service to America’s national security by public figures like Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and many others,” David Gergen, Walt’s fellow academic at the Kennedy School and a veteran of four administrations, wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Daily News.

One of the few positive reviews came from white supremacist David Duke, who said the authors reiterate points he has been making for years.

The controversy passed almost unnoticed on Capitol Hill. A statement from Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) was typical of the few who bothered to pay attention to the paper, which Nadler called “little more than a repackaging of old conspiracy theories, historical revisionism and a distorted understanding of U.S. strategic interest.”

U.S. support of Israel was no mystery, Nadler said: “Israel is our only democratic and reliable ally in an extremely volatile and strategically important region. It is in our nation’s best interests to maintain that alliance.”

The authors said that they anticipated silence, arguing that the Israel lobby is “manipulating the media [because] an open debate might cause Americans to question the level of support that they currently provide.”

The problem with that theory is that some of the harshest criticism of the paper has come from individuals and groups who have long called for changes in how the United States deals with Israel.

“It was a lot of warmed-over arguments that have been tossed about for years, brought together in a rather unscholarly fashion and presented as a Harvard document, clearly not deserving of the title,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now, a group that has argued for increased U.S. pressure on Israel to achieve a peace agreement.

In fact, Mearsheimer and Walt have quietly removed the imprimatur of the Harvard and Kennedy schools that originally appeared on the paper. Walt holds the Robert and Renee Belfer professorship at the Kennedy School, and the paper appalled Robert Belfer, a major donor to Jewish causes, according to a report in the New York Sun. The chair is the equivalent of an academic dean at the Kennedy School, one of the most influential foreign policy centers in the United States.

“It read more like an opinion piece than serious research, and even as opinion it was so overreaching in some of its claims,” Roth said. “It didn’t have a lot of utility.”

One of the harshest critics of the paper was Noam Chomsky, the political theorist who routinely excoriates the U.S.-Israel relationship. He ridiculed the paper’s central “wag the dog” thesis, that the United States has “been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state.”

Walt and Mearsheimer “have a highly selective use of evidence (and much of the evidence is assertion),” Chomsky wrote in an e-mail to followers.

One example, he says, is how the paper cites Israel’s arms sales to China as evidence that the Jewish state detracts from U.S. security interests.

“But they fail to mention that when the U.S. objected, Israel was compelled to back down: under Clinton in 2000, and again in 2005, in this case with the Washington neo-con regime going out of its way to humiliate Israel,” Chomsky noted.

One of the paper’s more curious conclusions is that “what sets the Israel Lobby apart is its extraordinary effectiveness. But there is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway U.S. policy toward Israel.”

If so, it begs the question of why Walt and Mearsheimer set out to write the paper. Mearsheimer did not return a call for comment.

In other areas, the paper gets facts wrong, for example when it says Israel wanted to sell its Lavie fighter aircraft to the United States, when it was strictly a domestic project.

According to the writers, “pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element.”

Off the record, Jewish officials here reverse that equation, saying their support for the Iraq war was necessary in order to curry favor with a White House that was hell-bent on war. In fact, the adventure unsettled many Israeli and Jewish officials because of concerns that the principal beneficiary would be Iran.

“That really jumped out at me,” Roth said. “Among nasty neighbors, Iran was clearly the greater threat.”

Jewish groups and individuals at first were reluctant to react to a paper they saw as impugning their patriotism, but in time they could not resist. Detailed debunkings of Walt and Mearsheimer have proliferated.

Some of these, notably by fellow Harvard professors Ruth Wisse and Alan Dershowitz, have likened the writers to Duke — a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan — and other anti-Semites.

For some Jews, however, the criticism proved that despite the paper’s flaws, it correctly identified a symptom afflicting discussion of Israel: a tendency to dismiss all criticism as anti-Semitism.

“Even if the paper is as bad as its critics say, that does not obviate the need to respond to the points it makes,” said Eric Alterman, a media critic for The Nation. “So far, most of what I am seeing is mere character assassination of exactly the kind I, also, experience whenever I take up the issue. This leads me to conclude the point of most — but not all — of the criticism is to shut down debate because AIPAC partisans are wary of seeing their arguments and tactics subjected to scrutiny of any kind.”

Did Feith Cross the Pro-Israel Line?


However the sordid facts play out in the current FBI investigation of a senior Pentagon analyst’s alleged spying on Israel’s behalf, they raise a raft of nettlesome questions — and memories.

Recall, for example, that the heart of Jonathan Pollard’s self-justification was that he passed on to Israel information regarding Iraq’s evolving capabilities for hurting Israel; information to which Pollard claims Israel was entitled, but to his knowledge was not being shared with Israel.

Intelligence sharing between America and Israel goes on at the highest levels and is remarkably intimate — but it is not, nor can it be supposed it ever will or even should be, complete. Each nation, sometimes for good reason, sometimes for bad, shares what it knows — or thinks it knows — selectively. In the case at hand, the classified information that was allegedly passed on to Israel was less about Iranian capabilities, more about America’s assessments and intentions. Providing Israel with that kind of secret information is an invitation to the Israelis to focus their diplomatic efforts on persuading America to alter its course — whether by force of argument or by adding new "intelligence," actual or manufactured, to the shared mix.

Over the years, my own inquiries into the Pollard case have included conversations with people intimately familiar with the entire body of evidence. I am persuaded that what is publicly known regarding Pollard’s betrayal is only a part of its extent. But Pollard himself, miserable though he might be, languishes in his cell not only because of his crimes but also because of Israel’s inadequate response to those crimes. In the aftermath of Pollard, Israel solemnly undertook to make available to the Americans the full dossier regarding what Pollard had stolen and transmitted to his Israeli handler. This undertaking was not honored, and the consequent resentment lingers — and may account for the FBI’s sudden leak of the latest allegations (for more on this story, see p. 14).

In the days ahead, we will perhaps learn whether the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was, as is alleged by the FBI tattlers, involved. One hopes it was not, lest AIPAC be found to have damaged itself beyond repair, and the Jewish community therefore be required to invent and laboriously build a new lobbying capability to replace it. As a general rule, it would be a mistake to count AIPAC out this early, not only because the allegations are, for the time being, merely allegations, but also because AIPAC is remarkably resilient. Still, there are not a few people in Washington who would delight in an AIPAC rendered at last more modest, if not downright ruined.

The far more serious threat presented by the unfolding scandal goes to the question of involvement by the pro-Israel community in shaping American Middle East policy. One can be "pro-Israel," however defined, as part of a general theory of American Middle East interests. If one honestly believes, for example, that Iraq can be transformed into a democracy, or even just a law-abiding state, and that such a transformation would create a domino effect throughout the region — rather fantastical beliefs, but just this side of utterly preposterous — then the fact that such a development would be "good for Israel" is an incidental benefit. If, however, one begins with a pro-Israel commitment and from that backs into a policy that calls for an American "war of liberation" in Iraq, that’s another matter entirely. The distinction between the two approaches is sometimes difficult to make — but it is a distinction with a very considerable difference.

There has been a steady undercurrent of concern in the current war on Iraq regarding the central role in the rationale and run-up to the war played by so-called Jewish intellectuals in and near the Bush administration — principally, in Dick Cheney’s office and in Donald Rumsfeld’s. In the current case, Larry Franklin, the alleged wrongdoer, is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve who served in the past as an attaché at the U.S. embassy in Israel; he works for Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and a leading proponent of America’s war on Iraq. Feith, who together with Richard Perle, David Wurmser and Meyrav Wurmser, were the key authors of a 1996 briefing paper for then Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," was critical of Israel’s 1978 peace with Egypt and opposed Oslo, Wye and every other agreement remotely based on "land for peace" or a "two-state solution." The 1996 paper fully reflects that opposition; it calls for a far more aggressive American policy toward both Saddam Hussein and Syria. Feith himself (whose name has repeatedly surfaced in connection with the scandals at Abu Ghreib prison) is one of those connected insiders who seem to outlast scandal (Elliot Abrams being the current poster boy for that talent) and, largely hidden from public view, exercise outsized influence on affairs of state.

As the United States now stumbles its way toward a coherent policy regarding Iran, with the awesome dangers that an ill-chosen policy would involve, it becomes critically important that we know for a fact that government policy has been developed exclusively on the basis of America’s perceived interests. That cannot, however, come to mean that American Jews, presumptively pro-Israel, are inherently ineligible to participate in such policy formulation or even that they be subjected to more stringent controls. Yet if, in their right-wing, pro-Israel zealotry, Feith or any of the others have in any way suggested to their aides that the sharing of classified information with Israel is acceptable, that is a plausible outcome of this mess. Pro-Israel? Hardly.


Leonard Fein is the author of “Against the Dying of the Light: A Parent’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope” (Jewish Lights).

Iran Nuclear Cooperation Must Be Pushed


The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has given the Islamic republic of Iran a firm warning to cooperate on its nuclear issue or face trouble. After running a nuclear program in secret for 20 years, Iran has been put under the spotlight.

Last month, a resolution approved by the 35-member board of directors of the agency clearly expressed unease with Iran’s foot-dragging in meeting its Nuclear Proliferation Treaty obligations. Most important is that the warning comes from a broad consortium, including European countries not considered particularly in line with U.S. Middle Eastern policies, notably France and Germany, with Russia and China going along with the others.

Externally, the clerics ruling Iran tried to split the ranks inside the IAEA with no success. They even were not able to count on American internal conflicts, with Sen. Ted Kennedy pointing on June 22 to the “real threat of Iran’s nuclear program,” adding that John Kerry “has pledged to make preventing nuclear terrorism an absolute priority.”

Internally, Iranian clerics try to play at the same old game of the region. Acting in concert, prominent leaders of the regime, including the spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami and Chief Justice Mohammad Shahroudi, have insisted that they were not going to abandon their “legitimate right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

Occasionally, lower-ranking mullahs go a bit further, claiming that while Israel keeps a big stockpile of nuclear weapons, Muslim countries such as Iran should have the right to do the same. Both approaches are mainly for domestic use, but none has gained any significant momentum inside.

When the government tried to organize “popular” demonstrations around nuclear research centers to show popular support for such projects, the whole issue did not gather more than a hundred Bassij — paramilitary forces of the regime — students in the city of Arak to cry out old, rusty anti- Western slogans.

On the other hand, on June 22, a general strike broke out at the very controversial Bushehr nuclear center under construction by the Russians. Although internal difficulties concerning payments and union rights were put forward by the regime as the reason, the mere fact showed there were no patriotic or nationalistic feelings toward the nuclear program.

Generally speaking, the regime’s nuclear endeavor has very little, if any, support among the Iranian people. In fact, the whole secret program came to light in August of 2002, thanks to the Iranian opposition, which, for the first time, revealed precise information of the then-unknown — now well-known — Natanz and Arak enrichment and heavy-water facilities.

Just compare this cold-shoulder attitude inside the country to the million-strong demonstrations in Pakistan in May 1998, after the nuclear arm-wrestling between Pakistan and India, when Pakistani nuclear scientists were greeted by the people as “national heroes” challenging “infidels” in the nuclear arena.

Politically, Iran has clearly moved toward a more radical, hardened and conservative rule of the clergy. Last February’s parliamentary elections turned into the goodbye party for President Khatami’s supporters, the man once seen as West’s favorite in Iran.

The die-hard Revolutionary Guards Corps, set up more than two decades ago as a counterweight to the regular army inherited from the shah, has obviously acquired a lot more authority in the country. This seems more a lineup for confrontation, not concession.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton told U.S. lawmakers that “the government of Iran has informed the United Kingdom, Germany and France that it is resuming production of uranium centrifuge parts.”

The mere resolution by the board, although a positive step, is not sufficient. Iran should clearly be told that the issue would go beyond the U.N. Security Council for the harshest possible sanctions.

There is more to the issue than just making a rogue state comply. On the international scene, this is an unprecedented occasion for the world community to make international treaties work.

With the Iraqi experience not yet having played out to its full extent, unilateral military action can hardly be considered a solution for such problems. Contrary to President Bush’s belief that military action in Iraq will intimidate Iran’s clerics into compliance, the presence of U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq has left the United States vulnerable to Iranian efforts aimed at sowing instability in Iraq.

Back at home, the Iranian people see this peaceful challenge as a first step for containing a regime which has no respect for its own people and internationally recognized conventions on a variety of rights.

Unlike the Iraqi situation before the war, there is worldwide consensus on standing firm in the face of the regime’s wrongdoings. The world should not let the dangerous 20-year pattern continue, with the cunning mullahs slipping away, albeit with the bomb.

Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.

Israel Backs Tough U.N. Line on Iran


These days, it’s unusual to get the United States and Britain to agree with France and Germany on any Middle East-related U.N. resolution.

When Israel also is on board, it’s downright extraordinary.

Israeli officials are elated at the tough language in a resolution passed last week by the board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog rebuking Iran for not cooperating with nuclear inspectors. Last week’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution "deploring" Iranian stonewalling of IAEA inspectors has far-reaching implications for containment of a radical Islamic regime that successive Israeli administrations have called the greatest threat to the Jewish state.

The resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, expresses special concern about Iran’s refusal to end its uranium-enrichment activities, a condition for European assistance to Iran in developing a peaceful nuclear program.

Adding to U.S. and European frustration was confirmation this year that Iran tried to buy black market magnets necessary for the centrifugal process that enriches uranium.

The single area of disagreement between the United States and the European nations was over a deadline for Iranian compliance. The Europeans kept mention of a deadline out of the resolution, but Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director-general, suggested that Iran does not have an endless amount of time to come clean.

"I have been asking, as the board also has been asking, Iran to become proactive, to become transparent and to be fully cooperative, and I hope I’ll see that mode of cooperation in the next few months," ElBaradei said Monday after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. "I think the international community is urgently seeking assurance from the agency that Iran’s program is exclusively for a peaceful purpose."

The IAEA board is set to meet again in September, and U.S. officials have suggested that it could decide on further action if Iran doesn’t give way.

The resolution was a success for the Bush administration, which has been urging greater scrutiny of Iran. A number of congressional initiatives also are under way.

Getting on board the same wealthy Western European states that Iran hopes will sustain its faltering economy means that the Islamic republic is spending time fighting diplomatic battles that divert its attention from backing terrorist operations against Israel.

Not that Ariel Sharon’s government wants to make a lot of noise about the IAEA resolution — a high Israeli profile in any rebuke of Iran could galvanize Arab support for a regime that most Arab leaders revile — but much of Israel’s defensive activity is taken with Iran in mind.

Israel is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand its Arrow missile defense program to cover the entire country by the end of the decade, primarily because of Iranian missiles that are capable of delivering nonconventional materials to the Jewish state.

Israel long has taken such long-term threats into account in dealing with Iran. In recent years, however, Iran’s influence has seeped into even the day-to-day threats Israel faces.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have looked to Iran for greater support now that their traditional sources of funding in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have dried up because of tough scrutiny of terrorist financing and an increased willingness, after Sept. 11, to avoid groups the U.S. government deems as terrorists.

Israeli intelligence believes Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist militia that gets strong Iranian support, now is behind up to 80 percent of terrorist activities against Israel, and is particularly active in recruiting Israeli Arab citizens — a development Israeli officials consider especially troubling.

Of course, not all the impetus for the tough language has to do with the threat Iran poses to Israel.

Bush administration officials increasingly are frustrated with the support Iran has given to Shi’ite Muslim insurgents in U.S.-occupied Iraq, and working for a nuclear-free Middle East long has been part of European strategy.

Still, it’s significant that Iran’s nuclear potential is seen as posing a greater threat than Israel’s, and that this realization is penetrating even international forums, which traditionally are bastions of moral equivalence.

Hans Blix, the former top U.N. arms inspector, suggested that Israel’s reported nuclear arsenal could prove to be an important element in the effort to get the Iranians to back down.

"Looking at the rationales and incentives at work, it must be assumed that Tehran is aware not only that Israel has nuclear weapons and that a sovereign Iraq would inherit the know-how to make them, but also that Iranian enrichment, even if it were to remain consistent with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, would further exacerbate the situation," Blix said Monday at a Carnegie Endowment conference he attended with ElBaradei, his old friend.

For the moment, Iran is hardly acting conciliatory.

Learning of the draft resolution last week, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami warned that "if Europe has no commitment toward Iran, then Iran will not have a commitment toward Europe."

Iran appeared to back up the threat Monday when it seized three British naval vessels and eight crewmen who were in the area to help train Iraqi police.

Given the toughness of the IAEA resolution, such grandstanding is unlikely to have much impact. The United States is maintaining its pressure, as President Bush heads to NATO meetings in Europe this weekend, where he is likely to make containment of Iran a priority, backed by a letter signed by 66 senators and 208 House members.

The message from the West is clear, Powell said Monday.

"With respect to Iran," he said, "they have been put on notice once again rather firmly and strongly in this new resolution that the international community is expecting them to answer its questions and to respond fully."

Bush or Kerry?


America’s Jews face a difficult choice in this year’s election. For many, the Bush administration symbolizes the kind of yahoo Republicanism — shaped by evangelical Christianity and the South — that grates on the sensibilities of a highly urbanized and socially liberal community.

Yet on the other side, we have a Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, whose foreign and defense policy record is, at best, questionable. Although he has been pro-Israel throughout his career, his wobbliness on the larger and related issue of the war on terror is cause for concern.

Kerry’s foreign policy proclivities, from what can now be gleaned, are largely those of the liberal Northeastern establishment, anchored in the media and academic elite. It is a policy shaped, more than anything else, by the 1960s experience with the Vietnam War, a general abhorrence of unilateral action and a deep unwillingness to confront adversaries.

The experience of Vietnam, particularly for a discontented veteran like Kerry, has created a mentality that is fundamentally hostile to U.S. assertiveness. This can be seen in his mid-1990s move to cut into CIA funding and his decision this year to withhold funds for the reconstruction of Iraq. And finally, it is manifest in his desire to fit U.S. policy in the terror war to fit the proclivities of our erstwhile European "allies" such as France and the new Spanish government.

When American foreign policy was focused primarily on the Cold War, Jews within the Democratic Party divided along ideological lines. A large proportion saw the struggle against communism as inherently flawed, while a significant portion favored the more hard-line approach pioneered by Harry Truman, followed by John Kennedy and most recently by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

The hard-line Democrats reflected notions of an expanding, fundamentally optimistic nation that seemed capable of accomplishing what others — whether the British Empire, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union — could not achieve. Although Democrats became more oriented to government action in the 20th century, the traditional core of the party, including organized labor, never lost sight of American exceptionalism and the nation’s destiny.

Compare this now with the Democratic Party today. With the only Democrats of the old school — Lieberman and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt — out of the race, we now confront a Democratic Party that tends to favor a less aggressive, more accommodating view of the terror war. In these attitudes lie many grave dangers for the terrorists’ prime targets: the Jews and Israel.

Rather than identify with American greatness, Democrats like Kerry have become the party of American unexceptionalism — more likely to blame the United States for the world’s problem than even our worst enemies. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, in particular, has supported such groups as the Tides Foundation, which has lent backing to groups such as Council for American Islamic Relations and the National Lawyers Guild, both of which have backed jihadists opposed to both America and Israel.

To be sure, it seems likely that a wealthy heiress like Heinz Kerry is simply too busy to know where her money goes. We also can not be sure that the couple shares all their same ideas; that would certainly not be a news flash. But her support for such groups does suggest, at the very least, a broader shift in Democratic attitudes toward the war on terror.

More troubling, however, oft-stated proclivity of Kerry and his backers to seek a closer accord with the European Union and the United Nations. Both have proven themselves to be strongly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Kowtowing toward Paris and Brussels — growing centers of Europe’s leftist and pan-Arabist anti-Semitism — will shift our policy focus in ways not friendly to either Jewish or Israeli interests.

This matters directly to Jews in a way far more profound than the arguments over Cold War policy. Although that conflict also impacted Jews, we are in the ultimate crosshairs of the terror war.

The conflict over terror centers in large part about the right to exist for Jews — or Christians or even dissident Muslims — in the Middle East and elsewhere. The terrorists who attack Israel also want to kill Jews everywhere. One does not have to favor the often-destructive policies of Ariel Sharon to know this is a basic truth.

Given these forces, the foreign equation should lead most Jews to support President Bush. But here the other side of our identity comes in: We are also Americans who would like to see a more unified country, with greater concern for the poor, the middle class and for outsiders in general.

In all these areas, Bush has been a horrific failure, particularly given his earlier self-identification as a "compassionate conservative." No president since Richard Nixon has done more to exacerbate divisions within the country.

Bush has failed on some of the basic elements of domestic leadership. He has made little effort to reach out to those who doubt his policies and done little to rally anyone but his own conservative base. Even worse, he has taken to pandering to that base, most notably with his endorsement of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Whole parts of the country — particularly many among gay people, working women, residents of the great cities — feel totally abandoned and alienated. Such divisions are always bad for the Jews; the last time the threat of anti-Semitism was greater was back in the divisive period around the Great Depression.

This domestic policy approach is likely to backfire on the Republicans, at least among Jews. We may have become notably more conservative on fiscal issues and foreign policy, but Jews have a peculiar stake in the idea of tolerance.

One does not have to agree with the extralegal marriages in San Francisco to see that the issue of gay marriage should be worked out at the state, or even community level. A proposed constitutional amendment seems totally uncalled for and unnecessarily divisive.

Similarly, many Jews are likely to remain concerned about other Bush administration foibles, such as the depriving of constitutional rights to U.S. citizens under Attorney General John Ashcroft or the gross abuses by Texas oil firms in the Iraqi reconstruction. The wisdom of tax cuts and changes in environmental laws may also bother some.

As a result, what could have been a major realignment election for Jews to move toward the GOP now seems unlikely. Although Bush will win some Jewish votes, Kerry seems certain to capture the vast majority, something that could help him in several critical states.

Yet this is not a result that should get anyone dancing the hora. The movement of Kerry-style Democrats into the White House might be good for our social values but could prove bad news for the kind of foreign policy that gives Israel a chance to exist and Jews around the world a greater sense of security.

Bush Expands Mideast Agenda


With the death toll mounting in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian "road map" plan in tatters, the Bush administration and Congress want to put out other Middle East fires before they get out of control.

Administration officials and lawmakers recently launched initiatives to sanction Syria and Iran for links to terrorist organizations and plans to develop and obtain weapons of mass destruction. Lawmakers also have focused on Saudi Arabia, accusing it of supporting Hamas and other terrorist groups. Officially, the Bush administration regards the kingdom as an ally in the war on terrorism.

The United States has been keeping an eye on these three countries for years, but attention on them has increased in the wake of U.S. military action against Iraq.

"I think it’s all wrapped up with the Iraq war and concern about the riffraff of the world assembling in Iraq to attack American forces," said Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Walker said some Bush administration officials want to take severe actions against Iran and Syria, including new sanctions made possible by the Patriot Act, passed over Sept. 11, 2001. The new actions could include cutting sources of funding for the three countries and their interests in the United States.

Lawmakers are already highlighting their concerns in Congress. A number of congressional hearings last week produced dire predictions about Iranian and Syrian capabilities and what could be the result if the United States fails to act.

Israeli and U.S. legislators said Wednesday during a committee hearing that Iran could be "weeks away" from achieving nuclear-weapon capabilities.

"If not efficiently tackled, in one year from now we may face a new world, a very dangerous Middle East and a very dangerous world," said Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee.

Pressure on Syria has been mounting as well. John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a House subcommittee Tuesday that Syria is a dual threat because of its support of terrorist groups and the possibility that Syria could arm the groups.

"While there is currently no information indicating that the Syrian Government has transferred [Weapons of Mass Destruction] to terrorist organizations or would permit such groups to acquire them, Syria’s ties to numerous terrorist groups underlie the reasons for our continued anxiety," Bolton said.

Bolton also appeared to soften Bush administration opposition to the Syria Accountability Act — legislation backed by pro-Israel groups that would sanction Syria for harboring terrorists, seeking nuclear weapons and occupying Lebanon.

Bolton said Tuesday that the administration has no position on the legislation. The White House had previously claimed the legislation would tie up the administration’s hands in foreign policy. Sources say the State Department is using support for the sanctions act as leverage in discussions with Syrian officials.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Bush on Tuesday calling for the United States to downgrade relations with Syria.

"Unless Syria changes its policies, no United States ambassador should be sent to Damascus, and the president should refuse to accept the credentials of any proposed Syrian ambassador to the United States," Ackerman wrote.

Walker said unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran and Syria would have little effect.

"We already have unilateral sanctions against both countries, and it hasn’t really stopped them," said Walker, now president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank. "Sanctions will only hurt American companies."

In Saudi Arabia’s case, the Bush administration and lawmakers remain miles apart. Lawmakers emphasize the link between the Saudis and terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda; the Bush administration says Saudis are aiding the fight against terrorism.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that American law enforcement officials estimate that 50 percent of Hamas’ budget comes from people in Saudi Arabia.

The Bush administration dismissed the report.

"The Saudi government has committed to ensuring that no Saudi government funds go to Hamas," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We know that private donations from people in Saudi Arabia to Hamas are very difficult to track and stop, and we continue to work closely with Saudi officials to offer expertise and information that can assist them in that regard."

Terrorism Link in Davis Recall


I’m a proud conservative Republican from Michigan, but I’m appealing to Californians of all political stripes not to support the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) — funder of the recall effort and the only announced candidate to replace Davis — might be the contemporary, real-life version of Frank Sinatra’s "Manchurian Candidate." Instead of communists, Issa’s allies are radical Islamists and supporters of terrorism against Americans, Israelis, Christians and Jews.

In a short political career, Issa’s statements and actions consistently defend terrorists, terrorist groups and terrorist sponsor states.

Saudi Arabia’s longtime lobbyist, James Gallagher, contributed to Issa’s campaign in November 2002, and Issa tried to overturn key classified evidence portions of President Bill Clinton’s 1995 counterterrorism bill. Issa is also credited with "declawing" the Patriot Act.

Then, there’s Issa’s dance with Hezbollah, an organization that is on the State Department’s terrorist list and one of the largest components of Al Qaeda. In the 1980s, Hezbollah — which means "Party of Allah" — murdered more than 260 U.S. Marines while they slept in Beirut and tortured to death Col. Richard Higgins (in 1990) and CIA attache William Buckley.

Hezbollah endorses "the use of hostages," "suicide in jihad operations" and "the duty of all Muslims to engage in Islamic jihad if it ensures the ultimate goal [of] inflicting losses on the enemy."

Less than a month after Sept. 11, Issa visited Syrian President Bashar Assad, praising Hezbollah and lauding Assad’s policies (Syria is on the State Department’s terrorist list).

The Tehran Times and IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency, the official Iranian news agency) quoted Issa’s statements to Assad in Damascus: "Hezbollah acts legitimately and has never been involved in terrorist activities…. Hezbollah and any other Lebanese group has the right to resist the occupation of its territory…. Hezbollah’s humanitarian and governmental actions were legal…. Such behavior would be customary in any country."

Issa denies the statements, but as a recent Los Angeles Times cover story demonstrates he has a record of stretching the truth — about his military record, his criminal history, his business affairs and his political positions.

In November 2001, for instance, Issa told syndicated columnist Debra Saunders he was vehemently against Arabs suing the airlines and government over profiling. At the same time, he told the rest of the press of his plans to introduce legislation to make it easier for Arabs to collect monetary damages for airline and government profiling.

And Issa’s other statements and actions corroborate their veracity:

  • Less than a month after Sept. 11, in an Oct. 9, 2001, interview with the Beirut Daily Star’s Ibrahim, during a trip to Lebanon, Issa said, "It is Lebanon which will determine whether the party’s [Hezbollah’s] activities constitute terrorism or resistance … If [Hezbollah] wants the world to understand that its activities are legitimate, they should say it…. Resistance is a legitimate right recognized [by the U.N.]…. I have a great deal of sympathy for the work that Hezbollah tries to do." He expressed hope that Hezbollah would "reform" and become a "government" like the P.L.O.

  • Assad’s state-run SANA (official Syrian news agency) covered Issa’s November 2001 meeting with Assad, quoting Issa as saying: "Hezbollah or any other party has the right to resist occupation."

    Occupation? Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon at least a year before, and the U.S. withdrew over a decade earlier.

    Issa’s January 2003 actions regarding Israelis captured by Hezbollah asserted the terrorist group’s moral equivalence with Israel. According to The Guardian of London, per Hezbollah’s demand, Issa asked Israel to allow the Red Cross to see captured Hezbollah terrorists in exchange for interceding with Hezbollah to allow the Red Cross to see four Israeli prisoners held by the group.

  • On Oct. 31, 2001, the London Arabic newspaper, Al-Hayat, reported, "U.S. Congressman of Lebanese origin Darrell Issa, during his recent visit to Beirut in the mid of October," conveyed a proposal to Hezbollah leadership to remove Hezbollah from the State Department’s terrorist list and "normalize U.S. relations with" the group. Hezbollah refused the offer.

  • On May 31, 2003, Issa publicly made a similar proposal to legitimize Hezbollah by giving Lebanon $500 million of taxpayer money to disarm the group and turn it into a political party.

  • On May 9, 2001, during a House subcommittee discussion of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Extension Act of 2001, Issa praised Hezbollah, "in all candor, for the good things they do, too, the humanitarian, the hospitals, the schools they pay."

  • On April 14, 2002, Issa told Fox News Channel’s Rita Cosby that Hezbollah has done "some good things" (and he also praised Yasser Arafat).

  • In November 2001, Issa told the Financial Times of London, "Hezbollah does in fact have a limited scope. You must differentiate … from other organizations that might have a global reach."

    Global? Hezbollah murdered 86 Jews and wounded hundreds of people in Buenos Aires in July 1994, in addition to murdering Israelis and U.S. Marines and civilians in Lebanon and Iran.

  • In a Sacramento radio interview, Issa said, "They do supply little old ladies with heating oil in the winter and all kinds of other activities," characterizing terrorist Hezbollah as a mere "political party" and "farmers," and adding, "I’d like to see a lot of them just go back to their farms, go back to some honest living."

    Then there’s Issa’s strange respect for Arafat and Palestinian terrorists.

  • Days after Sept. 11, Issa, during his House International Relations Committee’s discussion of fighting terrorism, tried to draw a distinction between "Palestinian groups that are resisting Israeli occupation" and Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

  • During his November 2001 trip to the Middle East, Issa told his hometown newspaper, the North County Times, that he was "particularly impressed with Arafat."

    "He is quite a charismatic individual, despite being a very small man and very old," the congressman said. "He has a wry sense of humor. He gives you food off his plate if you sit next to him."

    Arafat’s personal food taster as your next governor?

  • In April 2003, Issa spoke of Arafat’s "charm" (also in the North County Times).

    Issa’s softness on Syrian-sponsored terrorism is legendary, too. Syria is home to several fugitives, including Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner, Hamas political director Moussa Abu Marzook, Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Abdullah Shallah and Jamil Al-Gashey, the only surviving perpetrator of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre — all wanted and/or indicted in the United States. However, Assad refuses their extradition.

  • Issa vehemently opposes the Syrian Accountability Act, which imposes sanctions on Syria until it stops sponsoring Hezbollah and other terrorists. Issa said Syria is "cooperative."

  • The Reform Party of Syria said Issa "helps Syria with [its] propaganda campaign" and "objects to Mr. Issa’s presence in Syria. The Baath Party of Syria is duping Rep. Issa and using him as a propaganda tool."

  • In June 2003, Issa attended the Beirut signing of a major oil deal between Syria and two U.S. firms. The contract states the companies will spend $29 million in Syria and train the state-run Syrian oil company.

  • Issa hosted a pro-Syrian Capitol Hill event with a pro-Syrian Arab business group. The event was organized by former staffers to Reps. David Bonior and John Dingell, who now lobby for a "change" to U.S. Middle East policy.

  • After the Iraq War, during one of several frequent Syrian trips, Issa praised Assad, saying, "His word seems to be good."

Darrell Issa wants to be governor of California and ultimately president. With a record like this, do you want to help him?


Debbie Schlussel, a Detroit-based attorney, radio talk-show host and conservative political commentator, was the 1987 Outstanding Teen Age Republican in the Nation. She can be reached at dschlussel@yahoo.com.

Sharon, Abbas Court White House


As the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process inches forward, leaders of both sides are looking to upcoming audiences with President Bush to exert pressure on the other and give the "road map" peace plan some momentum.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, each will seek to persuade the American leader to lean on the other side to move faster — and Bush will be ready to lean on both, Israeli analysts believe.

With domestic criticism growing regarding America’s imbroglio in Iraq, Israeli analysts believe Bush wants progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to help justify the strike against Saddam Hussein. If toppling the Iraqi dictator is seen to have paved the way for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation — and, with it, a better chance of pacifying the Middle East as a whole — the administration can argue that the war was worthwhile, the argument goes.

Bush, therefore, will want to resolve as many of the disputed issues on the table as he can. For the Palestinians, most important are releasing prisoners, dismantling settlement outposts, freezing construction of Israeli settlements and Israel’s West Bank security fence and easing restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

Israel will ask Bush to demand that the Palestinians dismantle terrorist groups and decommission their weapons and not make do with the groups’ tenuous cease-fire.

Most analysts agree that little progress will be made without concerted American intervention.

More importantly, in their strategic thinking, both Abbas and Sharon put a premium on ties with America. Even before he took over as prime minister, Abbas advocated the use of American and international pressure on Israel, rather than terrorism, to achieve Palestinian goals.

Sharon, who is to meet with Bush on July 29, sees American support as the key to Israel’s position in the world. He believes that ties with the Bush administration must be carefully nurtured and that Israel should seek prior coordination with Washington whenever appropriate, especially in dealing with the Palestinians. In Sharon’s view, it is absolutely vital that the Palestinian issue not be allowed to erode Israel’s ties with Washington.

Of course, there will be tactical maneuvering by both prime ministers, but their meetings with President Bush should be understood in a wider strategic context.

Abbas reportedly will highlight two key issues in his White House meeting on Friday: getting more Palestinian prisoners released and stopping construction of the security fence. He will argue that if Israel is really serious about turning over a new leaf, it should release all Palestinian prisoners, even those with "blood on their hands," i.e., those involved in terror attacks.

On the security fence, the Palestinians have noted the recent sharp differences between Israel and the United States. Israeli officials believe Abbas hopes to use the issue to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States and get the Bush administration to pressure Israel to stop building it, on the grounds that it takes in large swaths of the West Bank and thus prejudges a final territorial accommodation.

Abbas also reportedly will urge Bush to pressure Sharon to put more West Bank cities under Palestinian security control. He argues that unless he has real achievements to show the Palestinian people, his shaky position as prime minister in P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s shadow will be further weakened. Indeed, Abbas hopes his high-profile meeting with Bush will itself give him more standing and credibility on the Palestinian street.

Abbas also apparently intends to use his American sojourn to win support in Congress, the media and the American Jewish community, and has scheduled meetings with key figures in all three groups.

According to aides, Sharon’s main goal will be to convince Bush that the Palestinians must be held to their commitments in the fight against terror. Sharon, they say, will suggest linking further prisoner releases to Palestinian dismantling of militia groups and the collection of illegal weapons.

Sharon will point out that two months have elapsed since the road map was launched at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan, in early June. During that time the Palestinians have not taken serious action against Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and Israeli intelligence sources say the terrorist groups continue to arm themselves under cover of the cease-fire. It is time for the Palestinians to act, Sharon will insist.

Sharon hopes to deflect American pressure on Israel by releasing a large group of prisoners and dismantling more illegal West Bank settlement outposts before his meeting with Bush.

As for the fence, Sharon will repeat what he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week: "I am a simple farmer, and I tell you plainly the fence is only a security obstacle to stop suicide bombers, and not in any way a political border."

Sharon has agreed to Palestinian demands to set up a joint Israeli-Palestinian team to agree on a list of prisoners to be released. Though the terrorist groups have made the prisoner release a condition of their cease-fire, it is not one of Israel’s obligations under the road map. However, Israeli officials believe that releasing prisoners may help Abbas’ public stature.

Out of sensitivity to the pressures on Abbas, Sharon has agreed to release some detainees who are members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In deference to Israeli public sentiment, however, he is refusing to release prisoners with blood on their hands.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Your Letters


Women Suffer Blow

I write to express my hurt and outrage at your recent article, “Women Suffer Blow on Praying at the Wall,” (April 11). To which women, exactly, are you referring? Surely not the thousands of women, secular as well as religious, who come year round to pour their hearts out to the Almighty at all hours of the day and night.

I have never been to the Kotel without being overcome by emotion — partly because I am praying in a spot so drenched in sanctity, but also, invariably, because of the sight of my fellow daveners. No matter what time of day or what season of the year at the Kotel, any Jewish woman can experience a sublime connection to our foremothers — we watch all around us the devotion of living embodiments of our Mother Rachel, weeping for her children. These are the real Women of the Wall, and they come to worship and beseech God’s mercy every day, not once a month with fanfare and advance press releases.

Nowhere in your article do I sense any concern for the sensitivities of these women who are hurt and offended by the strident, politically based activities of Women of the Wall, which disturb their prayers and marginalize their devotion to the peace and holiness of the site. Please, the next time you choose to address this issue, take into consideration the feelings of the real Women of the Wall.

Shana Kramer, Director Creative Learning Pavilion of Torah Umesorah Los Angeles

Rome and Baghdad

Reuven Firestone’s article on Islam modernization through defeat oversimplifies the issue. Islam did lose many wars, and its confidence was shaken (“Rome and Baghdad,” April 11). The losses to the Turks and Mongols were the greatest of such disasters. These did not just fade the caliphate away, but brutally overwhelmed it in worse ways than the American victory over Baghdad. That which Firestone claims did not happen happened.

The reason why a “softer Islam” did not emerge after such debacles is because the invading hordes took up the religion and even infused it with new fervor. Islam did soften somewhat during various periods in history, and often when its confidence had been high for centuries.

It was the defeats, upheavals and ease of interpreting the Koran in belligerent ways that seems to have always led to a new wave of fundamentalist Islam. Professor Firestone generously praises the value of humble pie to Islam, but his historical analysis of cause and effect in this case entitle him to a slice.

Andrei L. Doran, El Segundo

A Letter of Thanks

This is a note of a sincere, warm “Thank you.”

We are residents in a retirement facility, which has a number of Jewish residents. Receiving The Jewish Journal each week keeps us in touch with what’s happening locally and internationally within the Jewish communities. While physical conditions don’t permit being active anymore, as we once were, just reading and seeing photos as to what is going on helps keep our interest “upbeat.”

To enjoy all of this and not say, “Thank you,” would be remiss on my part. My wife and I wish you and your entire, so capable staff a very happy Passover holiday.

Jack and Cecily Flamer, Chatsworth

The War at Home

Just wanted to let Rob Eshman know that he wrote a great article on “The War at Home” (April 18). Three-hundred and fifty people killed in one year in Los Angeles alone? It is amazing how many problems go unreported by the major news media.

Thanks for reporting on the extremely high murder rate here in Los Angeles, which has been invisible by the major news media. Your article helps create the first step — awareness. Hopefully, enough people read it.

What’s the next step? Your suggestion for individuals — community leaders and anyone who is willing to make contact with L.A. leaders — was that speaking out is key. I hope your message is heard.

Mike Cohen , Sherman Oaks

Between 1997 and 2001, a total of 5,960 Los Angeles County residents were killed by guns. Where is the outrage? “The War at Home” echoes a message we at Women Against Gun Violence try hard to share.

Those who protest the war in Iraq need also to turn their energies to protesting this war at home. Support Sheriff Baca and Chief Bratton’s request for resources.

Ask them, and all law enforcement, to focus their attention on where the guns are coming from. How do they so easily get into the hands of young people and those with criminal records? Are there enough resources in programs which trace confiscated guns to help identify gun dealers who sell out the back door? Do legal gun owners lock up their guns so that they cannot be stolen?

By all means send support to the sheriff, and for moreinformation and ways to get involved, contact us at info@wagv.org, or phone (310) 204-2348 and checkout our memorial Web site, with pictures and tributes to victims of gunviolence, at www.wagv.org . Those stories should be enough to help you feel the outrage.

Ann Reiss Lane, Women Against Gun Violence

The Challenge of Pluralism

In Julie Gruenbaum Fax’s piece, “The Challenge of Pluralism in Israel” (April 11), Ehud Bandel is quoted as saying, “The sad reality about religious life in Israel is this unholy alliance between the Orthodox and the secular that says that Judaism is a matter of everything or nothing at all.”

While I agree entirely that Jews are best searching for spirituality “at home,” I find it difficult to understand how Bandel sees Orthodoxy as monolithic or “everything or nothing.” It is clear that no Jew, no matter how righteous or pious, is “all”; no one has reached perfection. Even Moses was denied entry to the Holy Land for his lack of perfection.

Judaism teaches that each and every adherent should strive to the best of his or her ability and to make the greatest possible use of the unique gifts that God has bestowed upon him or her. An Israeli Jew can go to a Sephardi, Azhkenazi, Charedi or Mizrachi community to find like-minded strivers and together create a better Israel, and a better Jewish people.

Manny Saltiel, Los Angeles

Birthright Continues BirthrightIsrael

I was excited to read the features on Birthright Israel in your April 4 issue (“Birthright Continues Despite Setbacks”). As an alumna of the winter 2000-2001 trip, the articles brought back wonderful memories. Birthright Israel provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit Israel (free of charge) with people my age, all experiencing the same wonder and excitement together.

I went on my trip with peers from all over the United States, but when I returned, I was anxious to meet people locally that had shared in my experience. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is helping to make this possible. The Federation is currently planning ways for Birthright Israel alums to stay involved and connected through social gatherings, and give back to the community through tzedakah and tikkun olam.

When you hear about the generous financial support The Federation provides for these trips and others like them, you think “Dayenu.” But it’s when you really begin to take advantage of these programs that give you an opportunity to be part of a community, you realize The Federation is doing much, much more.

I hope people will call The Federation’s Israel connections/experiences department at (323) 761-8342 to learn more and get involved.

Kimberly Gordon , Birthright Israel alumna

Helluva Ball Club

I had no idea that baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg was also an outstanding executive in his chosen sport until I read Richard A. Macales’ informative and entertaining article, “Helluva Ball Club.” (April 4). Greenberg’s work in the front office was sadly omitted from the acclaimed documentary film on his life The Journal reviewed some time back.

After I read Macales’s article, I checked the record of Greenberg’s Cleveland and Chicago teams. In 10 years as general manager and/or part owner, his clubs finished first three times and second five times. They never had a losing season and won a then-league record 111 games in 1954.

His son, Steve Greenberg, was deputy commissioner of baseball. It is too bad, as Macales correctly writes, that Greenberg didn’t get the Angels franchise. The Dodgers should have never moved out of Brooklyn. Shame on you for what you did to Brooklyn’s loyal fans and to the Angels team, Walter O’Malley!

Dr. Melvin Myers, Chatsworth

Defining Moment

Your cover story referring to “The American Empire” (“War Marks Defining Moment for Jews,” April 4) was highly inappropriate. An empire as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.”

Has The Jewish Journal now joined the Arab propaganda machine (along with some naive members of the political left wing) in suggesting that the United States plans permanent sovereign rule over the Iraqi people?

I could not have imagined a more inflammatory cover page feeding into the misplaced rage of those who really wish to hurt us all. What’s next? Perhaps a cover story with an expose detailing the Zionist conspiracy behind the empire?

Edith Ellenhorn , Beverly Hills

Your choice of headlines, “Will the American Empire Be Good for the Jews,” on the April 4 issue disturbs me. Without question, I want what is best for the Jews throughout the world, but to put it on the front cover in reference to this war and show concern only for the Jews is wrong. What about Christians and Muslims, will it be good for them? I am fearful that this type of headline will only bring out more anti-Semitism.

Phoebe Reff , Tarzana

Correction

In the Friday listing for the April 4, “7 Days in the Arts,” the “Strange Fruit” songwriter adopted the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Baklava and Bombs


Sami Michael, an Iraqi-born novelist who writes about the clash of Arab and Jewish cultures, knows what it’s like to be a part of a beleaguered minority. In Iraq, he was always labeled a Jew; in Israel, he is still known as a Jewish writer from an Arab country. The irony is hardly lost on him.

Born in Baghdad in 1926, Michael became active in the communist underground and was forced to flee to Iran in the first year of his university studies. In 1949, he was able to make his way to Israel, where he has lived ever since. To date, he has written nine novels, the latest of which is titled "Water Kissing Water" (Am Oved, 2001). Other books have included "Refuge," "A Handful of Fog," "Trumpet in the Wadi," and his best-selling novel, "Victoria," which depicted a family saga set in Baghdad and was translated into several languages. he writes all of his novels in Hebrew. In addition to three honorary doctorates, Michael has also been awarded numerous prizes, including the Ze’ev Prize, Kugel Prize and (twice) the Prime Minister’s Prize.

The following is excerpted from a recent interview, conducted in Hebrew in his apartment overlooking Haifa’s bay.

F.M. Black : As a Jewish writer born and brought up in Iraq who now lives in Israel, how do you see the situation today?

Sami Michael: It’s very bad. It’s quite dangerous, especially since we are emphasizing that we are bringing European culture to the Middle East when the Middle East has suffered so much from colonialism and they really see us like a part of the Crusaders. The two sides have really been poisoned by a century of conflict, of bloody conflict. We look at them as monsters and that’s the same way they look at us.

F.B.: Have you gotten used to this, to both sides pummeling each other?

S.M.: The truth is that it’s not a matter of my getting used to it. I foresaw it 50 years ago. If I took out articles that I wrote in Baghdad in the mid-’40s, it’s like I wrote them today. The Middle East is not ready yet, not ripe yet to accept both a Jewish and a democratic state at the expense of some of its territory. I knew it long ago. It’s not a surprise for me.

F.B.: How do you deal with it?

S.M.: I’m not in a good frame of mind. I’m not a youth anymore. I already have children here. I have a house here and this is my homeland today. We’ve created a lovely country, a delightful place, and there’s a danger that it will all be lost, if not through warfare, then through an economic collapse because of the conflict.

F.B.: Do you think that the writer has an obligation to take a political stand?

S.M.: That would be a disaster. That’s what happens in the Arab countries; it kills literature. As soon as a writer writes out of an obligation, he becomes a politician, not a writer. I think that the only obligation of a writer is to be honest with himself and to obey the unknown masters and not the known masters. The known masters are the prime minister, the secretary of the Communist Party, Arafat and so on. But, on the other hand, one can’t be divorced or disengaged from the place where one’s living.

F.B.: Tell me, do you feel part of the majority or the minority in Israel?

S.M.: I’m not only part of the minority, I’m alone.

F.B.: How’s that?

S.M.: Because the Israeli left is ridiculous. The Israeli left talks for the television cameras and radio, but it has no roots among its own people. It always claims that it’s part of European culture and there’s nothing that Arabs hate more than European influences. From Europe came the Crusaders and the British, French and Italian imperialists who committed atrocities in the Middle East. And we proclaim morning, noon and night that we’re part of Europe, knowing what the fate was of the Europeans who came to the Middle East.

F.B.: So you don’t feel a part of the left?

S.M.: I can’t define myself as a part of the Israeli left because it’s a left of cliques and salons. After a month in Israel, I said to myself that I’m going to establish a country of one.

F.B.: Of one?

S.M.: I have my own personal opinions and I say to every party when it puts on a show, "Bravo." I’m very glad that my wife, Rahel, has joined my country of one. It’s a small island, very small.

F.B.: What’s holy to you?

S.M.: Human life. That’s the holiest thing. Life itself. And, unfortunately, human life is the cheapest thing here in the Middle East.

F.B.: You’ve written that you’re both inside and outside of the Israeli reality at the same time.

S.M.: That’s right. Because I came from another place, from across the border of the war. Once I saw the war between Israel and the Arabs while I was on the Arab side, as a Jewish Iraqi citizen; and now I’m in Israel and see the war from the perspective of the Jewish Israeli.

F.B.: Does it look different from here?

S.M.: I see how idiotic both sides are.

F.B.: How so?

S.M.: This is one of the richest parts of the world — in oil and minerals and quarries and what are we fighting over? Over the most idiotic things. It’s as though we’re living in the past and want to reestablish former empires — from Saddam Hussein to the rebuilding of the Second Temple, and back again. It’s the stupidest thing that could ever be. Under conditions of peace, this could be one of the most flourishing places in the world.

F.B.: Do you think that the Israeli, the sabra, is a ‘new’ Jew?

S.M.: That’s the disaster of the so-called ‘new’ Israeli and the ‘new’ Arab. The new Arab is an Arab whose ideal is a Muslim who existed 1,500 years ago and the ideal of the new Jew is the Maccabees from 2,000 years ago or 1,500 years ago. There is no such thing as a ‘new’ Jew.

F.B.: But doesn’t being a ‘new’ Jew or an Israeli mean, in part, that Jews now have the means to defend themselves? That Israel will be a refuge from anti-Semitism?

S.M.: Is it possible? Is it possible? I think that the Israeli experience shows more than anything else that this is impossible. Why? Because you are not living alone in the world. Our security doesn’t depend on our mightiness, on our force or on our ability to defend ourselves, but it … depends on our relations with our neighbors.

F.B.: So Israel has failed to provide a place of refuge?

S.M.: I think that we achieved the exact opposite of what we said, of what the founders were trying to achieve: the most dangerous place for a Jew to live today is in Israel. The difference is that here you have the freedom to die proudly! But a secure place here? That’s the biggest lie.


F.M. Black was a reporter in the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times from 1988-1991. He now contributes to The Los Angeles Times, The Forward, Chicago Tribune and Archaeology Magazine, among other publications.