It has long been a conviction of Israeli leftists that if they bend over backward far enough, Palestinians and other Arabs will respond in kind, resigning themselves to the idea of peace with the Jewish state. If a historic reconciliation with the Arabs could not be achieved through a policy of military deterrence, might not a new start be made by taking positive steps to accommodate Arab demands? By acknowledging Israeli guilt for Arab suffering? By striving, through political and territorial concessions, to mitigate the “original sin” of the Jewish state’s very existence?
Paradoxically, for proponents of this thesis, the launch of the Palestinian war of terror in September 2000 made it more necessary than ever to cling to the idea of Jewish culpability. Speaking in June 2002, three months after Israel had experienced the bloodiest terror assault in its history, with 126 citizens massacred in near-daily suicide bombings, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua blamed Israel for having driven the Palestinians to “a situation of insanity.”
The much-deserved tributes to the late cellist Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich (1927–2007) stopped short of examining the future of the instrument that he loved so well. Rostropovich was so determined that the cello should flourish as a solo instrument that he commissioned (and inspired) literally hundreds of new works, many of permanent value, by major composers like Witold Lutosławski (1913–1994), Henri Dutilleux (b. 1916), and Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953), among many others.
The cellist who will, for good or ill, inherit Rostropovich’s public mantle is Yo-Yo Ma, a technically adroit and charming artist and a fixture in the popular imagination. A young cellist pointed out to me recently that a cello soloist is required for about 120 symphony orchestra concerts per year in America; of these, almost 100 are performed by Ma. Although Ma is a highly accomplished musician, this situation is clearly inequitable.
This month Beijing is sending one of its largest delegations ever to visit America. Headed by the “Iron Lady of China,” Vice Premier Wu Yi, the group will participate in the second round of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s Strategic Economic Dialogue, which begins in Washington next week.
In the last two weeks, Paulson has been trying to lower expectations for the upcoming discussions with the Chinese. That’s smart strategy. The first round of the dialogue, held in Beijing last December, was an abysmal failure. And the talks later this month are bound to be contentious: the Bush administration in March announced it would reverse decades of trade policy by imposing countervailing tariffs on products from non-market economies. The U.S. has also filed a series of World Trade Organization complaints against China: one in February and two more last month. The February case complains of nine discrete sets of manufacturing subsidies. The cases last month target both Chinese piracy of American intellectual property and China’s internal restrictions on the distribution of foreign films, music, books, and journals.
The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.
Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”
I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.
In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.