Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 16, 2007

Amos Oz’s Nostra Culpa

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.”

Read More

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.”

Now, Amos Oz, perhaps Israel’s most prominent living novelist, has taken up the same theme. “The time has come to acknowledge openly that Israelis had a part in the catastrophe of the Palestinian refugees,” he wrote last Saturday in Canada’s Globe and Mail:

We do not bear sole responsibility, and we are not solely to blame, but our hands are not clean. The state of Israel is mature and strong enough to admit to its share of the blame, and to reach the necessary conclusion: It behooves us to take part in the effort to resettle the refugees, in the framework of peace agreements, and outside Israel’s future peace borders.

Oz fails to explain why Israel should be culpable for the adverse consequences of the violent attempt to destroy it at its birth. (Had there been no such attempt, there would have been no refugee problem in the first place.) Nor does he seem to realize that his proposed resettlement of the refugees “outside Israel’s future peace borders” falls far short of offers made by various Israeli governments during the past sixty years (e.g., the 1949 offer to take back 100,000 Palestinian refugees—equivalent to some 2 million refugees in today’s terms).

Why should the Palestinians settle for a worse solution than the ones they have adamantly rejected for decades? According to Oz,

Israel’s admission of its share in the blame for the Palestinian refugee catastrophe, and its expression of willingness to bear part of the burden of a solution, are capable of causing a positive shiver to run through the Palestinian side. It would be a kind of emotional breakthrough that will make further dialogue much easier.

This, frankly, strains credulity. As is well-known, the refugees have not been kept in squalid camps for decades for lack of ability to resettle them elsewhere, but as a means of besmirching Israel in the eyes of the West and arousing pan-Arab sentiments. The Palestinian government, such as it is, is not going to give up this trump card.

Indeed, throughout the 1990’s, successive academic study groups, made up of the most earnestly forthcoming Israelis and the most grudgingly tractable Palestinians, devoted themselves to formulating a compromise proposal on this issue. They all failed, and the reason for the failure is plain enough: the “right of return” is not, for the Palestinians, a bargaining chip; it is the heart of their entire political strategy.

Read Less

Slava’s Real Legacy

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.

Read More

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.

Rostropovich taught his audiences to beware of such monopolies: he knew that the cello sings in many voices, expressing many different viewpoints. This vision was reflected in his being an inspirational—if only intermittently available—teacher. His real legacy lives on not in Ma’s ascent, but in brilliant cellists who are young or in mid-career. These include the remarkable Hai-Ye Ni, who recorded a CD for Naxos of works by Schumann, Beethoven, and Schubert while playing with the New York Philharmonic. (She was snatched away by the Philadelphia Orchestra, where she currently serves as principal cellist.) Another outstanding talent is Canadian-born Shauna Rolston, whose emotive CD of concertos by Edward Elgar and Camille Saint-Saëns is on CBC Records. A third is Wendy Warner, who infuses passion into Paul Hindemith’s music for cello and piano on Bridge Records.

On the European scene, Slava’s heirs include the young Danish cellist Henrik Dam Thomsen, who has recorded with panache thorny solo works by Zoltan Kodály and Benjamin Britten for Chandos, and Germany’s elegant Alban Gerhardt, who has performed a varied program of Astor Piazzolla, Maurice Ravel, and others on EMI Classics. One of the most poetic of Slava’s musical inheritors is France’s Xavier Phillips, who has recorded on the Timpani label a work by the contemporary composer Jean-Louis Agobet in homage to the great cellist Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942).

Like the magically deft Feuermann, Rostropovich’s historical place is secure beside his predecessors and near-contemporaries Pablo Casals, Pierre Fournier, Maurice Gendron, Antonio Janigro, Maurice Maréchal, Frank Miller, Aldo Parisot, Miklós Perényi, and János Starker (all must-hears for anyone even vaguely interested in the cello). Yet the forward-thinking Slava would surely also welcome the aforementioned newer talents as essential listening too.

Read Less

Trade Showdown with China

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.

Read More

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.

How important are these WTO cases to Beijing? Very—each touches on an essential part of China’s vast economy. Trade subsidies are vital to China’s competitiveness—they benefit about 60 percent of its exports, according to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab. China’s theft of intellectual property is now tightly interwoven into the fabric of its economy. And the restrictions on legitimate distribution of foreign entertainment products and publications are essential to the Communist party’s control over ideas and its political monopoly.

Late last month Vice Premier Wu said Beijing would “fight to the finish” over the U.S. complaints. These words make it clear that we are heading for a rough patch in U.S.-China relations. Trade issues like these not only affect the foundations of China’s export economy, but also impinge deeply on political matters. The Chinese undoubtedly feel they have little room for compromise.

And fighting to the finish they are. Beijing capitulated on the first case Washington filed: against a preferential value-added tax rate for domestically produced or designed integrated circuits.* But the Chinese government has chosen to resist the second American complaint-relating to discriminatory auto-parts tariffs-even though it has little chance of success, and it will undoubtedly oppose the three cases just filed. The Bush administration may want to avoid a trade war with Beijing. But, as Wu Yi has indicated with her stark words, the Chinese think they are already fighting one.

*Through an editor’s error, this tax rate was originally mislabelled.

Read Less

Sam Tanenhaus: Arsonist

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.

Read More

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.

Summing up both of my objections to Tanenhaus’s article, I wrote: “To confuse an international surveillance program with a domestic one is to be as imprecise and inflammatory as to use the word ‘treason’ in describing a much less serious violation of the law.”

“Inflammatory” was the right word. For if in his initial article Tanenhaus was tending toward the incendiary, his response to my letter, now published in TNR, is a Molotov cocktail.

First he accuses me of propagating “nonsense.” Then he pours a bit of gasoline into the bottle, saying that the “charge of espionage implies a corollary charge of treason,” and that in distinguishing between the two I was employing a “mode of clarification” that is precisely like “one used a half-century ago by Joseph McCarthy.”

But I never said, to repeat, that editors at the Times committed either treason or espionage. Section 798 of Title 18, the provision at issue, is entitled “Disclosure of classified information” and it is very easy to understand. Even analysts who disagree with me about the desirability of prosecuting the Times—Morton Halperin, for example, of George Soros’s Open Society Institute—concur that the Times did indeed break this law.

As for his calling the NSA surveillance program “domestic,” Tanenhaus justifies this with a single citation from the December 16, 2005 Washington Post in which it was called “domestic spying”—as if that settled the matter. It doesn’t. And it doesn’t add a single fact to the discussion, except that someone at the Washington Post is also confused.

I have read a lot of Tanenhaus’s writings over the years in the Times, in Vanity Fair, in Slate, and even in COMMENTARY. I have never known him to break into a sweat or even get hot under the collar. For that matter, though he writes at great length about current events, I have never seen him stake out a genuinely controversial position on anything—attacks on safe targets like Pat Buchanan or Ann Coulter clearly do not count. His past reticence on matters of importance was always something of a mystery to me, although I have had my theories. Whatever explains that past reticence, his present act of minor intellectual arson in defense of his employer, in which he does not hesitate to toss in the name of Joseph McCarthy as tinder, offers an additional clue to the puzzle—about which, once again, I have my theories.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.