What is the meaning of freedom of speech? You might think it means simply the right to say what you want, constrained only by a few common-sense barriers against injuring others. There is, however, another definition of free speech propounded by the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and other Israel-bashers. By this definition, freedom of speech consists of their right to say what they want without having to suffer demurral or criticism. They complain that supporters of Israel “stifle debate” by, well, debating with them.
This audacious polemical stratagem now has been elevated to the status of a full-fledged campaign. On the web page of the New Israel Fund, I found MuzzleWatch, its logo a mouth taped shut. This is a blog sponsored by something called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group led by such luminaries of the hard left as Ed Asner and Adrienne Rich.
Say what you will about Christopher Hitchens—his views on Israel, most exhaustively rendered in a book he co-authored with the late Edward Said, leave much to be desired—but he is the most eloquent and passionate opponent of Islamic jihadism writing today. He is also a passionate critic of all forms of religious hucksterism, and offers the most concise and devastating rebuke of Al Sharpton in the current issue of Vanity Fair: “A man who proves every day that you can get away with anything in this country if you shove the word ‘Reverend’ in front of your name.”
Anyone who writes honestly and bluntly about Islam inevitably is labeled a “racist,” an appalling misunderstanding of the word, since it can be applied only to those who abjure someone for the pigmentation of their skin, not their belief system. In a diatribe on the popular and engaging blog associated with the online magazine Jewcy, Richard Silverstein, a contributor to Tikkun magazine*, furthers the misunderstanding. After the obligatory tributes to Hitchens’s “high-toned English accent” and “mellifluous” voice (which apparently trick all those gullible fools not as smart as Silverstein), he takes issue with Hitchens’s contention that, “Islam, by the way, does not mean ‘peace.’ It means ‘surrender,’ ‘prostration.’”
In the past few days two Chinese officials have threatened to employ the “nuclear option” against the United States: selling dollars and U.S. Treasury obligations to retaliate against possible American legislation. Congress is now considering bills meant to counter Beijing’s tight control of the value of its currency, the renminbi. China possesses somewhere in the vicinity of $1.3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves. Analysts believe that the Chinese government holds about $900 billion in dollar assets.
“I personally believe we have so many foreign exchange reserves that we should be smarter in setting the issues,” said Xia Bin, one of the officials, at the end of July. “It should at least be a bargaining chip in talks.” This is the first time that a senior economic adviser to Beijing publicly has suggested using China’s reserves for political leverage. He Fan, the other official, wrote in the China Daily on Tuesday about Beijing’s causing “a mass depreciation” of the greenback.
Three-and-a-half inches of rain fell here yesterday, causing immense chaos and raising once again the question of whether the city is prepared for the possibility of something worse, like six inches of rain, not to mention a major terrorist attack.
One of the critical issues raised by yesterday’s episode is the way information is distributed in a crisis. As I noted after a steam pipe burst in Manhattan on June 18, New Yorkers were left in the dark about the nature of the blast whose plume was visible for miles. The news media did not get on the story for at least an hour, and the city did not have any means of its own by which to address the public.
Last month’s decree by the Jerusalem Regional Court—that the 78 musicians of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (JSO) must be paid their salaries until October 14—is a reprieve for the much-beleaguered orchestra. In June, the Israeli Broadcasting Authority cut funding of the JSO from $2.7 to $1.2 million, and the orchestra was expected to disband by July 15. Judge Ezra Kama ruled that the JSO and the Broadcasting Authority must develop a recovery plan for the future. Let’s hope so.
The JSO’s annual budget is about $4.2 million, only one quarter of the annual budget of the Tel Aviv-based Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), which is funded in part by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic. The JSO has its own American Friends organization, befitting an ensemble founded 69 years ago.
The IPO (which feted its own 70th anniversary this year) has attracted a series of star conductors from its first concert in 1936 led by Arturo Toscanini, and continuing with William Steinberg, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Paray, and Jean Martinon. Zubin Mehta has been the orchestra’s flamboyant and charismatic Music Director for some 30 years. The IPO has made over 100 recordings with conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Paul Kletzki, Carlo Maria Giulini, and István Kertész.