Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 11, 2007

Shutting Chavez Up

Let’s have a round of applause for Spain’s King Juan Carlos. Yesterday, during the last working session of the XVII Iberoamerican Summit in Santiago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar “a fascist.” “Fascists are not human,” Chavez declared. “A snake is more human.”

Spain’s current prime minister, socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, began a dignified response when the Venezuelan repeatedly tried to interrupt him. The King then lost his patience with Chavez and snapped, “Why don’t you shut up?”

Diplomacy is almost always a matter of nuance and inflection. Sometimes, however, we just need to use plain words. Chavez has no trouble telling us what’s on his mind. It’s high time that Western leaders tell him what’s on theirs. Short of slapping the Venezuelan bully upside the head, words are our best weapon to put him in his place. And while we’re at it, let’s also belittle the world’s other autocrats when we have the opportunity. The West’s high-minded language of the last decade has only legitimized a whole new crew of despots.

In the meantime, I hope King Juan Carlos will give Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe a piece of his mind as well. Why stop with Chavez?

Let’s have a round of applause for Spain’s King Juan Carlos. Yesterday, during the last working session of the XVII Iberoamerican Summit in Santiago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar “a fascist.” “Fascists are not human,” Chavez declared. “A snake is more human.”

Spain’s current prime minister, socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, began a dignified response when the Venezuelan repeatedly tried to interrupt him. The King then lost his patience with Chavez and snapped, “Why don’t you shut up?”

Diplomacy is almost always a matter of nuance and inflection. Sometimes, however, we just need to use plain words. Chavez has no trouble telling us what’s on his mind. It’s high time that Western leaders tell him what’s on theirs. Short of slapping the Venezuelan bully upside the head, words are our best weapon to put him in his place. And while we’re at it, let’s also belittle the world’s other autocrats when we have the opportunity. The West’s high-minded language of the last decade has only legitimized a whole new crew of despots.

In the meantime, I hope King Juan Carlos will give Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe a piece of his mind as well. Why stop with Chavez?

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Rafael Kubelík

A splendid DVD from Deutsche Grammophon, Rafael Kubelík: A Portrait, reminds us that multiple tyrannies can govern a conductor’s life. Kubelík (1914 –1996) was a mightily gifted Bohemian-born conductor, scion of a legendary musical family (his father was the superstar violinist Jan Kubelík). Rafael Kubelík was music director of the Brno Opera when the Nazis shut the company down in 1941. A year later they executed the Opera’s administrative director, Václav Jiříkovský (1891-1942), who had smuggled Jews out of Occupied Prague. Small wonder that Kubelík states in a 1970’s documentary (which is reprinted along with brilliant performances of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bruckner on the new DVD), “A conductor should be a guide, not a dictator. I could never stomach dictatorships.”

When he was named wartime conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, he declined to perform Wagner, and would not give German notables the Nazi salute as required, nearly causing him to be arrested. A stunning interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven, Smetana, and Dvořák, Kubelík helped establish the Prague Spring Festival in 1946, but finally was driven from his homeland by the 1948 Communist coup.

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A splendid DVD from Deutsche Grammophon, Rafael Kubelík: A Portrait, reminds us that multiple tyrannies can govern a conductor’s life. Kubelík (1914 –1996) was a mightily gifted Bohemian-born conductor, scion of a legendary musical family (his father was the superstar violinist Jan Kubelík). Rafael Kubelík was music director of the Brno Opera when the Nazis shut the company down in 1941. A year later they executed the Opera’s administrative director, Václav Jiříkovský (1891-1942), who had smuggled Jews out of Occupied Prague. Small wonder that Kubelík states in a 1970’s documentary (which is reprinted along with brilliant performances of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bruckner on the new DVD), “A conductor should be a guide, not a dictator. I could never stomach dictatorships.”

When he was named wartime conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, he declined to perform Wagner, and would not give German notables the Nazi salute as required, nearly causing him to be arrested. A stunning interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven, Smetana, and Dvořák, Kubelík helped establish the Prague Spring Festival in 1946, but finally was driven from his homeland by the 1948 Communist coup.

Kubelík told one interviewer: “I am an anti-Communist and anti-fascist. I do not think that artistic freedom can cope with a totalitarian regime. Individuals can do nothing in a country dominated by an Iron Curtain, and only truly naïve people think that they can.” He added: “I had lived through one form of bestial tyranny, Nazism. As a matter of principle I was not going to live through another.” Even in exile, he encountered other (if less dangerous) forms of despotism. A brief, artistically productive stint as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1950-1953) was aborted when orchestra trustees and the all-powerful Chicago Tribune music critic Claudia Cassidy (1899–1996) decreed that Kubelík was performing far too much modern music. Cassidy was known as “Acidy Cassidy” for her views that Janáček’s “Taras Bulba” was “trash” and Bartók’s “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta” a “potboiler.” She scorned Kubelík’s “curious beat, being distorted by arms stiff as driving pistons or limp as boiled spaghetti.”

Despite continuing success in Europe, Kubelík’s second attempt at a permanent post in America was even more short-lived, when Metropolitan Opera general manager Göran Gentele invited him to be the Met’s Music Director, a year before Gentele was killed in a car accident. Without Gentele’s supportive presence, Kubelík lasted only six months at the Met.

Kubelík could be tender and charming, as seen on the Deutsche Grammophon DVD, when he mentions during a rehearsal for Haydn’s St. Cecilia Mass that the patron saint of church music is “not so sacred any more, poor girl, How times change!” When Kubelík, who had been based in Switzerland for decades, died in 1996, Václav Havel wrote of his admiration for the conductor, “not only for all the glory he brought to Czech music, but also because he was an extraordinary character and a patriot.”

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No Third Intifada

One of the subtexts to much of the discussion surrounding Annapolis is the belief that a breakdown in the current peace process will have the same consequence as the breakdown in the previous peace process—that is, the explosion of another “intifada.” To take one example among many, on Thursday, Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl ominously wrote that

For Olmert, Abbas, and Rice, the motivation for bulling through this familiar pattern of resistance may not be just courage but fear. All three know that if they fail this time, the result will not be the mere continuation of a miserable status quo. More likely, it will be another eruption of bloodshed and the consolidation of Hamas as the preeminent Palestinian power.

These kinds of predictions inject the Annapolis proceedings with a compelling sense of drama and urgency, but thankfully the stakes are not quite this high. It is easy to see why people who believe that the Palestinian terror war of 2000-2005 is accurately described by the word intifada (Arabic for “uprising”) would think that another one could come on the heels of failure at Annapolis. Intifada implies a spontaneous, organic, and democratic response to injustice and frustration. But the campaign of organized terrorism that was launched in 2000 was nothing of the sort—it was Arafat’s answer, supported by almost the entirety of the Palestinian leadership, to the question with which Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak confronted him at Camp David: Are you prepared to abandon being the head of a terrorist organization in order to become the head of a peaceful state?

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One of the subtexts to much of the discussion surrounding Annapolis is the belief that a breakdown in the current peace process will have the same consequence as the breakdown in the previous peace process—that is, the explosion of another “intifada.” To take one example among many, on Thursday, Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl ominously wrote that

For Olmert, Abbas, and Rice, the motivation for bulling through this familiar pattern of resistance may not be just courage but fear. All three know that if they fail this time, the result will not be the mere continuation of a miserable status quo. More likely, it will be another eruption of bloodshed and the consolidation of Hamas as the preeminent Palestinian power.

These kinds of predictions inject the Annapolis proceedings with a compelling sense of drama and urgency, but thankfully the stakes are not quite this high. It is easy to see why people who believe that the Palestinian terror war of 2000-2005 is accurately described by the word intifada (Arabic for “uprising”) would think that another one could come on the heels of failure at Annapolis. Intifada implies a spontaneous, organic, and democratic response to injustice and frustration. But the campaign of organized terrorism that was launched in 2000 was nothing of the sort—it was Arafat’s answer, supported by almost the entirety of the Palestinian leadership, to the question with which Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak confronted him at Camp David: Are you prepared to abandon being the head of a terrorist organization in order to become the head of a peaceful state?

The 2000-2005 terror war was not an outpouring of political or social frustration, but rather an attempt at so thoroughly terrorizing and intimidating the Israeli public that the Israeli government would concede almost anything to make the suicide bombings stop. For its success the terror war required political, military, and religious leadership and organization, arms supplies (remember the Karine A?), and funding—and it also required an enemy that was caught off-guard by the suddenness and depravity of the attacks. None of these factors exists today, primarily due to the total defeat of Arafat’s terror offensive.

Israel’s victory involved several key elements: the killing and imprisonment of large numbers of the Palestinian corps of jihadists, especially the terror leaders; the construction of a security wall that today makes Palestinian penetration of Israel immeasurably more difficult; and a revolution in Israel’s intelligence-gathering and military operations in the West Bank and Gaza. By way of everything from checkpoints and electronic surveillance to the cultivation of networks of informants and the deployment of undercover operatives, the Shabak (the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service and counterintelligence agency) and IDF dramatically have curtailed the ability of Palestinian terror groups to organize themselves and attack Israel.

You wouldn’t know much of this living in the U.S., where the daily heroics of the Israeli security services largely go unnoticed. A lot of people—such as Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl—apparently believe that the suicide bombings of the “second intifada” no longer occur because the Palestinians gave up the tactic, or decided to halt their offensive, or no longer wish to use terrorism to kill Jews. Diehl and his ilk seem to think that such attacks can be resumed at any moment. But they are badly misguided. Anyone who doubts this should read the Israeli press on a daily basis, where stories of suicide bombings thwarted in the West Bank—as opposed to stories of suicide bombers detonating themselves in Tel Aviv—are regular occurrences.

Annapolis may accomplish—or more likely will not accomplish—many things. But something that is not in the offing is a resumption of the bloodshed of the 2000-2005 Palestinian terror war.

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