Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hungary

Ronald Asmus’s Extraordinary Legacy

Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

Read More

Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

Part of the reason NATO was an option at all in the early days was that the existing European structures were simply not up to the task of integrating and protecting the post-Soviet states. Initial hopes were that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could take stewardship of such an integration. But it was heavy on the cooperation and light on the security. Then there was the European Union, but France was opposed to opening its doors to full membership. “That left NATO,” Asmus writes.

There were a few turning points in NATO’s favor, some more famous than others. For Asmus, it was the Foreign Affairs article he authored along with two other colleagues at RAND in 1993 making the case for NATO enlargement. Another was a speech given around that time by Volker Ruehe, an up-and-coming German politician who had taken the defense portfolio in the German governing coalition. Ruehe, apparently without even telling the country’s foreign minister, gave a speech calling for NATO and the EU to put Central and Eastern European countries on the path to full membership. Asmus writes:

On the plane during the flight back to Cologne, one of Ruehe’s top military advisors remarked that it had been a mistake to give the speech and it would take Germany years to recover from the damage caused by the Minister’s comments. He was mistaken. Within several years every one of Ruehe’s core ideas would be embraced by the U.S. and would become official Alliance policy.

It was one of many examples that showed support for the alliance was always higher than it appeared, but also that the West (especially Europe) needed a good shove in the right direction every so often. The rest is, as they say, history.

Bill Clinton, too, deserves a fair amount of credit. Not only was he receptive to the ideas that led to NATO expansion, but he was a compelling spokesman for the cause. As the events in Ukraine this year and Georgia a few years ago showed, the countries most likely to be attacked by Russia are those without security guarantees from the West. Clinton made this point repeatedly. In 1997, Asmus notes, Clinton gave a speech to West Point graduates and declared that he wanted to expand NATO “to make it less likely that you will ever be called to fight in another war across the Atlantic.” Later that year Clinton met privately with a group of senators to gauge their support. “Extending a security guarantee is important,” Clinton told them. “No NATO member has ever been attacked.”

Joe Biden, too, made a powerful argument, telling skeptics like Jack Matlock and Michael Mandelbaum that not to enlarge NATO simply because there was no immediate threat from Russia was “a prescription for paralysis.” As we’ve seen in recent years, such complacency does indeed set in and grind progress to a halt.

And that is key to truly grasping the significance of what Asmus accomplished. Letting opportunities slip by, when it comes to European integration, often means there will be no second chance. Asmus saw an opportunity, made his case, and accomplished something historic before it was buried in bureaucratic inertia.

After the Senate overwhelmingly approved the expansion, Jan Nowak, the famed courier between the Polish underground resistance and Allied governments who was 84 years old at the time of the vote, approached Asmus from the Senate’s visitor’s galley. “I never thought,” he said with broad smile, “that I would live to see the day when Poland is not only free—but safe.” That was Asmus’s monumental achievement, and thanks to his determination it is America’s legacy.

Read Less

Global Anti-Semitism Continues to Surge

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise,” declares the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute. True, that much we know already, but the Institute’s report for 2013, the latest in a series stretching back more than twenty years, offers some compelling insights as to how this has come about.

Utilizing a methodology that is explained in the report, the Institute determined that there were 554 “violent anti-Semitic acts, perpetrated with weapons or without” in 2013. The highest number of these, 116, occurred in France, where the Jewish community, despite amounting to only one percent of the population, was the target of an astonishing 40 percent of racist assaults the previous year. Additionally, other countries noted a rise in incidents in 2013 when compared with 2012, including Canada (83 compared with 74) and Germany (36 compared with 23.)

Significantly, a rise in incidents was also reported in Russia (15 compared with 11) and Ukraine (23 compared to 15.) Given Vladimir Putin’s cynical exploitation of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, a phenomenon he has subsumed beneath a previously little-known form of prejudice defined as “Russophobia,” the report provides valuable documentation of the persistence of anti-Semitism within those circles loyal to Putin.

Last April, for example, a regime loyalist in the Duma, Irina Yarovaya, fingered television presenter Vladimir Pozner’s Jewish origin as the reason he opposes Putin. The report also quotes Putin himself as having made the blatantly false claim, in June 2013, that 85 percent of Soviet government officials were Jews who had harmed not only their own people, but the entire mosaic of religions and ethnicities in Russia.

Read More

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise,” declares the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute. True, that much we know already, but the Institute’s report for 2013, the latest in a series stretching back more than twenty years, offers some compelling insights as to how this has come about.

Utilizing a methodology that is explained in the report, the Institute determined that there were 554 “violent anti-Semitic acts, perpetrated with weapons or without” in 2013. The highest number of these, 116, occurred in France, where the Jewish community, despite amounting to only one percent of the population, was the target of an astonishing 40 percent of racist assaults the previous year. Additionally, other countries noted a rise in incidents in 2013 when compared with 2012, including Canada (83 compared with 74) and Germany (36 compared with 23.)

Significantly, a rise in incidents was also reported in Russia (15 compared with 11) and Ukraine (23 compared to 15.) Given Vladimir Putin’s cynical exploitation of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, a phenomenon he has subsumed beneath a previously little-known form of prejudice defined as “Russophobia,” the report provides valuable documentation of the persistence of anti-Semitism within those circles loyal to Putin.

Last April, for example, a regime loyalist in the Duma, Irina Yarovaya, fingered television presenter Vladimir Pozner’s Jewish origin as the reason he opposes Putin. The report also quotes Putin himself as having made the blatantly false claim, in June 2013, that 85 percent of Soviet government officials were Jews who had harmed not only their own people, but the entire mosaic of religions and ethnicities in Russia.

Such views feed the growing tendency among nationalist groups to portray the outrages of the Soviet era as “Jewish” crimes. They also fuel the already widespread predilection in Russian society to view Jewish political influence in conspiratorial terms, as evidenced most recently by the assertion of Rory Suchet, an anchor with Russian mouthpiece RT, that “Jewish money controls a huge amount of foreign policy in Washington.” With such enlightened individuals also making the case for Russia’s seizure of Crimea, it beggars belief that anyone could take at face value Putin’s insistence that he is defending Jewish rights, even if anti-Semitism does remain a real and worrying phenomenon in Ukraine.

The surge of anti-Semitism in Europe’s post-Communist states is particularly pronounced in Hungary. Alongside France and Belgium, the report points out, Hungary is the country where “the situation seems to be the worst.” While the recent election in which one in five Hungarians voted for the neo-Nazi Jobbik party falls outside the report’s timeframe, the analysis here contributes a great deal to our understanding of that outcome.

Physical attacks on Hungary’s approximately 100,000 Jews are, says the report, still rare. However, the discourse of anti-Semitism has swelled to such an extent that the prominent Hungarian rabbi Shlomo Koves says “you can feel it” in the street. Jobbik is not the only culprit; anti-Semites are visible among the entourage of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who condemned anti-Semitism in general terms when addressing the World Jewish Congress plenary in Budapest, but studiously avoided any mention of Jobbik specifically.

Jobbik is important because, in many ways, the party represents the future of anti-Semitism in Europe. Classified as a far right party, Jobbik is not dissimilar from other racist organizations in Eastern Europe insofar as it operates a uniformed paramilitary arm and glorifies the country’s collaborationist leadership during the Second World War. However, in its strident attacks against Zionism and Israel, Jobbik sounds like it could belong to the far left just as easily. The anti-Zionist statements that Jobbik leader Gabor Vona has uttered publicly include the line that “Israel operates the world’s largest concentration camp,” a theme that is common in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States and Western Europe.

As the Roth Institute report makes clear, this merging of far left and far right expressions of anti-Semitism is visible elsewhere in Europe. In France especially, the popularization of the quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute pioneered by Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a notorious comedian and rabble rouser, has encouraged what the report calls a “cultural code” of European anti-Semitism, whereby the participation of black and Muslim communities in Jew-hatred is encouraged, and at the same time identification of such incidents as being “anti-Semitic” is willfully denied. As with Jobbik, Dieudonné’s aim is to target Jews while simultaneously denying that we should be concerned by this thing called “anti-Semitism.” The implications of this are enormous, not least for Holocaust commemoration, which Dieudonne tellingly demonizes as “pornography for the memory.” 

The principal impression left by the 2013 report is that the hoary myth of an international Judeo-Zionist conspiracy is what animates anti-Semitism today, and takes it well beyond its traditional white, European heartland. As Professor Robert Wistrich, the world’s leading scholar of anti-Semitism, argues on Israel’s Midah website, the idea of “global Jewish power” has “provided an additional bond between the radical Right in the West, the far Left and militant Muslims from the Middle East.” If current trends continue–and there is, sadly, no reason to expect them not to–those bonds will tighten even further. So will the most disturbing aspect of the report’s findings: the reluctance of most Jews victimized by anti-Semitism to report their experiences in the first place, which suggests that the total number of incidents we know about is merely a shadow of the true figure.

Read Less

Orban Whitewashes Hungarian Anti-Semitism

As I read Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s speech to the delegates of the World Jewish Congress, who assembled in Budapest this past weekend, I found myself visualizing the furrowed eyebrows and anxious seat shuffling going on in the audience. For not only was Orban’s speech a chain of platitudes from beginning to end, it was downright dishonest.

The WJC says it held its conference in Budapest as a gesture of solidarity with Hungary’s Jews, who are once again the targets of the kind of vicious anti-Semitism for which Eastern Europe is renowned. The direct source of the poison is the extreme right-wing Jobbik Party, which is these days the third-largest party in the Hungarian parliament, having won 17 per cent of the vote during the April 2010 elections. But several observers of the Hungarian scene have argued that Orban’s ruling Fidesz Party variously ignores, plays down or even encourages the anti-Semitism of Jobbik; Orban’s speech to the WJC, therefore, was his opportunity to clearly explain whether he considers Jobbik a threat, as well as his chance to make amends for his close friendship with Zsolt Bayer, an anti-Semitic writer who has compared Jews to “stinking excrement” and has opined that “a significant part” of the Roma gypsy population are “unfit for existence.”

In the event, neither Jobbik nor Bayer even made it into the speech. Instead, Orban declared that the situation in Hungary isn’t really that disturbing:

Read More

As I read Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s speech to the delegates of the World Jewish Congress, who assembled in Budapest this past weekend, I found myself visualizing the furrowed eyebrows and anxious seat shuffling going on in the audience. For not only was Orban’s speech a chain of platitudes from beginning to end, it was downright dishonest.

The WJC says it held its conference in Budapest as a gesture of solidarity with Hungary’s Jews, who are once again the targets of the kind of vicious anti-Semitism for which Eastern Europe is renowned. The direct source of the poison is the extreme right-wing Jobbik Party, which is these days the third-largest party in the Hungarian parliament, having won 17 per cent of the vote during the April 2010 elections. But several observers of the Hungarian scene have argued that Orban’s ruling Fidesz Party variously ignores, plays down or even encourages the anti-Semitism of Jobbik; Orban’s speech to the WJC, therefore, was his opportunity to clearly explain whether he considers Jobbik a threat, as well as his chance to make amends for his close friendship with Zsolt Bayer, an anti-Semitic writer who has compared Jews to “stinking excrement” and has opined that “a significant part” of the Roma gypsy population are “unfit for existence.”

In the event, neither Jobbik nor Bayer even made it into the speech. Instead, Orban declared that the situation in Hungary isn’t really that disturbing:

I know that Jewish leaders have come here from all over the world. Including from places where anti-Semitism sometimes claims the lives of schoolchildren. And from places where following the anti-Semitic murder of children, there is no consensus on whether a minute’s silence in memory of the victims may be ordered in state schools. From places where bomb attacks that claim lives are launched against synagogues. Nothing of this nature has so far occurred in Hungary.

Really? Try telling that to Ferenc Orosz, the head of Hungary’s Raoul Wallenberg Association. At the end of April, Orosz attended, together with his family, a soccer match at Budapest’s Puskas Stadium. A group of spectators sitting nearby were bellowing the Nazi chant, “Sieg Heil,” and Orosz courageously demanded that they stop. Of course, the hooligans turned on him, spitting “Jewish communist” and other anti-Semitic epithets in his direction. When Orosz attempted to leave the stadium at the end of the game, two men blocked him, one of whom punched him in the face, leaving him with a broken nose.

Evidently, the WJC wasn’t too impressed by Orban’s implication that anti-Semitism shouldn’t be taken overly seriously unless bombs are exploding in synagogues. In a statement released after Orban’s speech, the WJC expressed its “regret” that the prime minister had not “confronted…the threat posed by the anti-Semites in general and by the extreme-right Jobbik party in particular…Mr. Orban did not address any recent anti-Semitic or racist incidents in the country, nor did he provide sufficient reassurance that a clear line has been drawn between his government and the far-right fringe.” (Having spent several years working for American Jewish advocacy organizations, I know that their desire to maintain access to troubling leaders like Argentine President Christina Kirchner and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dampens down any criticism they might advance; the WJC statement is thus a notable and welcome departure from that unfortunate habit.)

Ultimately, the WJC wanted something from Orban that he wasn’t prepared to give them; not just an abstract statement that “anti-Semitism is unacceptable and intolerable,” but a concrete undertaking to eradicate it from Hungarian politics. Orban’s silence on the nature of the threat to Hungary’s Jews will, rest assured, be interpreted as a license by the country’s anti-Semites (like the Jobbik parliamentarian Marton Gyongyosi, whose idea of solidarity with the population of the Gaza Strip was to publish a list of Jews he considers to be a “national security risk”) to continue their agitation.

For that reason, a precise understanding of Jobbik’s anti-Semitic worldview becomes all the more important. It is true that Jobbik leaders echo the Nazis in their constant associations of Jews with human waste and sexual mischief, and in that sense, it is correct to classify the party as a part of the extreme right. Yet, as the Gyongyosi episode demonstrated, Jobbik has also imbibed the visceral loathing of Zionism and Israel more commonly associated with the extreme left. Gyongyosi himself told an anti-Semitic rally staged in Budapest on the eve of the WJC conference that Hungary has “become subjugated to Zionism, it has become a target of colonisation while we, the indigenous people, can play only the role of extras”.

As James Kirchick has observed, statements like this one explain why Jobbik, with its “virulently anti-Europe rhetoric, anti-Western worldview, and undisguised anti-Semitism,” has “embraced the mullahs” who rule Iran. Nor is the romance with Iran confined to Jobbik. Eleven of the 27 parliamentarians on the executive of the “Hungary-Iran friendship committee,” which is chaired by Gyongyosi, belong to Orban’s Fidesz Party. And that, incidentally, is another detail that somehow didn’t make it into Orban’s speech.

Read Less

The Difference Between COMMENTARY and the Jewish Funds for Justice Rabbis

Earlier today, Alana wrote about the ad in today’s Wall Street Journal taken out by the left-wing group Jewish Funds for Justice in which the organization called for the News Corporation to “sanction” Glenn Beck of FOX News and to force Roger Ailes, that network’s chief, to apologize for remarks Beck has made relating to the Holocaust. Alana rightly noted the one-sided nature of this group’s advocacy about the Holocaust. Though they clearly want Beck canned for what he has said, they’ve never uttered a word of complaint about the numerous misuses of Holocaust imagery by left-wing figures such as Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee or filmmaker Oliver Stone.

In the body of their ad is a quote from a COMMENTARY Web Exclusive article written by me about Beck’s willingness to raise questions about George Soros’s behavior during the Holocaust. In it I made it clear that while we consider Soros’s political stands abhorrent, his alleged activities as a 14-year-old boy during the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary ought to be out of bounds for his critics. As the Jewish Funds for Justice ad states, the piece said Beck’s attack on Soros on this point was marred by ignorance and innuendo, and I stand by that characterization.

At the time, COMMENTARY’s decision to denounce Beck’s behavior was criticized by some who thought that the TV host’s support for Israel and the fact that his target was a man who was no friend to Israel should have obligated us to be silent about his foolish slurs. They asserted that our willingness to lay out our differences with someone with whom we were otherwise in agreement would be used by left-wing groups who have no such scruples. That prediction has been vindicated by the Jewish Funds for Justice.

The difference between COMMENTARY and the rabbis who speak in the name of the Jewish Funds for Justice couldn’t be clearer. We agree that Holocaust imagery and related topics ought not to be abused for partisan political purposes, though we have to say in passing that Beck’s idiotic attack on Soros is nowhere near as great an offense as Rep. Cohen’s calling his Republican opponents Nazis on the floor of the House of Representatives. But unlike those rabbis, we do not do so only when the offenders are people we disagree with on other issues. Had these rabbis sought to denounce both right-wing and left-wing figures that have called their foes Nazis or made specious comparisons to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels, they might have done so with some credibility. But since they have invoked their status as spiritual leaders as well as the prestige of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements solely to silence a conservative political speaker whom they dislike, they have none.

Earlier today, Alana wrote about the ad in today’s Wall Street Journal taken out by the left-wing group Jewish Funds for Justice in which the organization called for the News Corporation to “sanction” Glenn Beck of FOX News and to force Roger Ailes, that network’s chief, to apologize for remarks Beck has made relating to the Holocaust. Alana rightly noted the one-sided nature of this group’s advocacy about the Holocaust. Though they clearly want Beck canned for what he has said, they’ve never uttered a word of complaint about the numerous misuses of Holocaust imagery by left-wing figures such as Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee or filmmaker Oliver Stone.

In the body of their ad is a quote from a COMMENTARY Web Exclusive article written by me about Beck’s willingness to raise questions about George Soros’s behavior during the Holocaust. In it I made it clear that while we consider Soros’s political stands abhorrent, his alleged activities as a 14-year-old boy during the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary ought to be out of bounds for his critics. As the Jewish Funds for Justice ad states, the piece said Beck’s attack on Soros on this point was marred by ignorance and innuendo, and I stand by that characterization.

At the time, COMMENTARY’s decision to denounce Beck’s behavior was criticized by some who thought that the TV host’s support for Israel and the fact that his target was a man who was no friend to Israel should have obligated us to be silent about his foolish slurs. They asserted that our willingness to lay out our differences with someone with whom we were otherwise in agreement would be used by left-wing groups who have no such scruples. That prediction has been vindicated by the Jewish Funds for Justice.

The difference between COMMENTARY and the rabbis who speak in the name of the Jewish Funds for Justice couldn’t be clearer. We agree that Holocaust imagery and related topics ought not to be abused for partisan political purposes, though we have to say in passing that Beck’s idiotic attack on Soros is nowhere near as great an offense as Rep. Cohen’s calling his Republican opponents Nazis on the floor of the House of Representatives. But unlike those rabbis, we do not do so only when the offenders are people we disagree with on other issues. Had these rabbis sought to denounce both right-wing and left-wing figures that have called their foes Nazis or made specious comparisons to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels, they might have done so with some credibility. But since they have invoked their status as spiritual leaders as well as the prestige of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements solely to silence a conservative political speaker whom they dislike, they have none.

Read Less

FPI Conference (Part 2): Defending the Indefensible

Jackson Diehl moderated a panel on the administration’s human-rights policy. A human-rights activist from Burma (Win Min), Michele Dunne from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Amb. Michael Kozak from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, politely discussed the Obama administration’s dismal record. The crowd, filled with human-rights activists and scholars, reacted with restraint and even sympathy to Kozak’s plight: he was there to defend the indefensible and to take arrows for the administration. He is a well-traveled and respected foreign-policy figure and emerged with his reputation intact. The administration’s reputation is another matter.

Kozak stated the case: the administration cares deeply about human rights. Obama talked about it at the UN, is actively discussing democracy promotion in Egypt, and has joined the UN Human Rights Council to “speak truth” and engage on human rights. His fellow panelists were cordial but, to put it mildly, skeptical. The crowd sat in stony silence.

Win Min spoke with optimism about the recent release of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest but explained this was an effort to “deflect criticism” from the recent elections, which the U.S. and the West have roundly condemned. He urged the administration to step up sanctions, not relax them.

Dunne was quite tough on the administration. She reminded the audience that the Bush administration had made considerable progress on democracy in Egypt, but the perception now is that Egypt has been dropped or severely downgraded by the Obama team. She wryly noted that, after all, we have given the Mubarak government $1.5 billion in aid without any improvement, and indeed some deterioration, of human rights in that country. In the Q&A, Dunne was even more blunt. She accused the Obama team of coming into office with an “anything-but-Bush” mentality that derided the Bush freedom agenda. She explained that only now is the administration beginning to treat democracy promotion with seriousness, but having frittered away nearly two years, the administration is “behind zero.”

What could Kozak say? Well, he tried his best. We really are talking to Egypt about democracy, and although Hillary Clinton didn’t mention human rights or democracy promotion last week in her news conference with the foreign minister, we have to understand there are lots of issues on the table. On Iran, where was the administration with respect to the Green Revolution? Well, there was a concern that it would be like Hungary in 1956 — we’d encourage people to take to the streets but not be able to help them. (But weren’t they already in the streets?)

The problem with the administration’s human-rights policy lies not with the dedicated professionals charged with carrying it out. The problem is the president — who occasionally talks a good game but, when the chips are down, relegates human rights to the bottom of the list. Until there is a new president, Kozak’s job won’t get any easier.

After the session, I asked Kozak if the administration was conducting any evaluation of its decision to participate in the UN Human Rights Council. Weren’t we doing more harm than good by legitimizing the thugocracies? He smiled. He paused. No, there wasn’t any talk like that. But we had taken away the argument that the UNHRC is dysfunctional because we weren’t there! (Umm, so now it’s dysfunction with us there?) We’re going to see if we can make it better. One suspected that even he didn’t buy that answer.

Jackson Diehl moderated a panel on the administration’s human-rights policy. A human-rights activist from Burma (Win Min), Michele Dunne from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Amb. Michael Kozak from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, politely discussed the Obama administration’s dismal record. The crowd, filled with human-rights activists and scholars, reacted with restraint and even sympathy to Kozak’s plight: he was there to defend the indefensible and to take arrows for the administration. He is a well-traveled and respected foreign-policy figure and emerged with his reputation intact. The administration’s reputation is another matter.

Kozak stated the case: the administration cares deeply about human rights. Obama talked about it at the UN, is actively discussing democracy promotion in Egypt, and has joined the UN Human Rights Council to “speak truth” and engage on human rights. His fellow panelists were cordial but, to put it mildly, skeptical. The crowd sat in stony silence.

Win Min spoke with optimism about the recent release of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest but explained this was an effort to “deflect criticism” from the recent elections, which the U.S. and the West have roundly condemned. He urged the administration to step up sanctions, not relax them.

Dunne was quite tough on the administration. She reminded the audience that the Bush administration had made considerable progress on democracy in Egypt, but the perception now is that Egypt has been dropped or severely downgraded by the Obama team. She wryly noted that, after all, we have given the Mubarak government $1.5 billion in aid without any improvement, and indeed some deterioration, of human rights in that country. In the Q&A, Dunne was even more blunt. She accused the Obama team of coming into office with an “anything-but-Bush” mentality that derided the Bush freedom agenda. She explained that only now is the administration beginning to treat democracy promotion with seriousness, but having frittered away nearly two years, the administration is “behind zero.”

What could Kozak say? Well, he tried his best. We really are talking to Egypt about democracy, and although Hillary Clinton didn’t mention human rights or democracy promotion last week in her news conference with the foreign minister, we have to understand there are lots of issues on the table. On Iran, where was the administration with respect to the Green Revolution? Well, there was a concern that it would be like Hungary in 1956 — we’d encourage people to take to the streets but not be able to help them. (But weren’t they already in the streets?)

The problem with the administration’s human-rights policy lies not with the dedicated professionals charged with carrying it out. The problem is the president — who occasionally talks a good game but, when the chips are down, relegates human rights to the bottom of the list. Until there is a new president, Kozak’s job won’t get any easier.

After the session, I asked Kozak if the administration was conducting any evaluation of its decision to participate in the UN Human Rights Council. Weren’t we doing more harm than good by legitimizing the thugocracies? He smiled. He paused. No, there wasn’t any talk like that. But we had taken away the argument that the UNHRC is dysfunctional because we weren’t there! (Umm, so now it’s dysfunction with us there?) We’re going to see if we can make it better. One suspected that even he didn’t buy that answer.

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Soros Is No Good Guy, but Beck’s Holocaust Remarks Are Dead Wrong

There has been a lot of criticism of George Soros on COMMENTARY’s blog. The financier has bankrolled a great many left-wing groups and candidates. He wrongly views the United States, his adopted country, as “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order.” His ambivalence toward the state of Israel is also well-known. Indeed, despite the fact that he is well-known for his philanthropy, the only Jewish cause this Hungarian-born Jew is associated with is J Street, the left-wing lobbying group that seeks to build support for crippling American pressure on Israel. Throw in a career filled with tawdry episodes of currency manipulation and insider trading, and it isn’t a pretty picture.

But even George Soros does not deserve some of the opprobrium heaped upon him by Glenn Beck this week. Beck has devoted much of his TV and radio programs in the past few days to detailing Soros’s sins. But instead of sticking to the issues and rightly flaying him for the stands he has taken and the bad causes he supports, Beck painted him as a teenage Nazi collaborator on his Nov. 10 show.

Read the rest of this Web exclusive here.

There has been a lot of criticism of George Soros on COMMENTARY’s blog. The financier has bankrolled a great many left-wing groups and candidates. He wrongly views the United States, his adopted country, as “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order.” His ambivalence toward the state of Israel is also well-known. Indeed, despite the fact that he is well-known for his philanthropy, the only Jewish cause this Hungarian-born Jew is associated with is J Street, the left-wing lobbying group that seeks to build support for crippling American pressure on Israel. Throw in a career filled with tawdry episodes of currency manipulation and insider trading, and it isn’t a pretty picture.

But even George Soros does not deserve some of the opprobrium heaped upon him by Glenn Beck this week. Beck has devoted much of his TV and radio programs in the past few days to detailing Soros’s sins. But instead of sticking to the issues and rightly flaying him for the stands he has taken and the bad causes he supports, Beck painted him as a teenage Nazi collaborator on his Nov. 10 show.

Read the rest of this Web exclusive here.

Read Less

“Count the Lies”

That’s how one observer of  J Street’s meltdown put it. Honestly, it’s hard to keep track. Eli Lake reveals a bunch more in his latest bombshell report:

J Street — the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group — facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Aside from the inexcusable shillery for the man whose report “is widely viewed as slanderous toward the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) among the American Jewish community and in Israel,” J Street — I know, you’ll be shocked — lied about its assistance to Goldstone. Lots of times.

First, there was Knesset member Colette Avital, who arranged the visit:

“When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill,” she said. Ms. Avital later disavowed knowledge of J Street’s dealings with Judge Goldstone during a conference call arranged by J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

After inducing Avital to recant, there were Ben-Ami’s own deceptions:

In a statement provided to The Washington Times this week, Mr. Ben-Ami said, “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.”

He went on to say, however, that “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.”

But it was far more than that, Lake reveals:

A senior officer of J Street, however, played a central role in arranging Judge Goldstone’s visit.

Judge Goldstone told The Times in an interview that he had sought the meetings after a discussion with longtime friend Morton H. Halperin — president of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and one of five senior officers at J Street, according to the group’s federal tax returns. Those forms list Mr. Halperin as a “director,” and say he spends 10 hours a week on J Street business.

“He suggested — and I agreed — that it would be a good idea for me to meet with some of the leading members of Congress,” Judge Goldstone said. “I thought it was important to correct the misimpressions.” He added that Mr. Halperin had hand-delivered a personal letter he had written to members of Congress.

And it turns out it was 10 or 12 meetings.

Another Ben-Ami half-truth: he claims that J Street “criticized the process at the U.N. Human Rights Council that led to his report and urged the U.S. to veto a possible Security Council resolution based on the report.” But, in fact, Halperin drafted Goldstone’s defense on Capitol Hill, and J Street never condemned the report’s contents.

And, of course, Soros and his multipronged operation are at the center of all of this:

All three organizations associated with Judge Goldstone’s visit to Washington — J Street, NAF and OSI — receive substantial funding from Hungarian-born billionaire, George Soros, a fierce critic of AIPAC and Israeli policies.

OSI controls nearly $2 billion in assets provided by Mr. Soros over the years. NAF, in turn, received $855,000 from OSI in 2009, though the money was not set aside for the think tank’s Middle East program. The Times disclosed last week that J Street had received $750,000 from Mr. Soros and his family despite repeated denials from the group that it had received any funding from Mr. Soros in the past.

Take your pick– is it the embrace of Israel’s enemies and slanderers or the lies that should send Soros Street to the ash heap of history? Both, I would suggest. Try as they might, not even the recipients of Soros Street’s cash (nor JTA) can spin this away. If you are on Richard Goldstone’s side, you are not pro-Israel. If you lie repeatedly, you lose your credibility, even with sympathetic media outlets. J Street is guilty on both counts. Perhaps Halperin, the all-purpose fixer for Soros, will turn off the lights at J Street on his way out.

That’s how one observer of  J Street’s meltdown put it. Honestly, it’s hard to keep track. Eli Lake reveals a bunch more in his latest bombshell report:

J Street — the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group — facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Aside from the inexcusable shillery for the man whose report “is widely viewed as slanderous toward the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) among the American Jewish community and in Israel,” J Street — I know, you’ll be shocked — lied about its assistance to Goldstone. Lots of times.

First, there was Knesset member Colette Avital, who arranged the visit:

“When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill,” she said. Ms. Avital later disavowed knowledge of J Street’s dealings with Judge Goldstone during a conference call arranged by J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

After inducing Avital to recant, there were Ben-Ami’s own deceptions:

In a statement provided to The Washington Times this week, Mr. Ben-Ami said, “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.”

He went on to say, however, that “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.”

But it was far more than that, Lake reveals:

A senior officer of J Street, however, played a central role in arranging Judge Goldstone’s visit.

Judge Goldstone told The Times in an interview that he had sought the meetings after a discussion with longtime friend Morton H. Halperin — president of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and one of five senior officers at J Street, according to the group’s federal tax returns. Those forms list Mr. Halperin as a “director,” and say he spends 10 hours a week on J Street business.

“He suggested — and I agreed — that it would be a good idea for me to meet with some of the leading members of Congress,” Judge Goldstone said. “I thought it was important to correct the misimpressions.” He added that Mr. Halperin had hand-delivered a personal letter he had written to members of Congress.

And it turns out it was 10 or 12 meetings.

Another Ben-Ami half-truth: he claims that J Street “criticized the process at the U.N. Human Rights Council that led to his report and urged the U.S. to veto a possible Security Council resolution based on the report.” But, in fact, Halperin drafted Goldstone’s defense on Capitol Hill, and J Street never condemned the report’s contents.

And, of course, Soros and his multipronged operation are at the center of all of this:

All three organizations associated with Judge Goldstone’s visit to Washington — J Street, NAF and OSI — receive substantial funding from Hungarian-born billionaire, George Soros, a fierce critic of AIPAC and Israeli policies.

OSI controls nearly $2 billion in assets provided by Mr. Soros over the years. NAF, in turn, received $855,000 from OSI in 2009, though the money was not set aside for the think tank’s Middle East program. The Times disclosed last week that J Street had received $750,000 from Mr. Soros and his family despite repeated denials from the group that it had received any funding from Mr. Soros in the past.

Take your pick– is it the embrace of Israel’s enemies and slanderers or the lies that should send Soros Street to the ash heap of history? Both, I would suggest. Try as they might, not even the recipients of Soros Street’s cash (nor JTA) can spin this away. If you are on Richard Goldstone’s side, you are not pro-Israel. If you lie repeatedly, you lose your credibility, even with sympathetic media outlets. J Street is guilty on both counts. Perhaps Halperin, the all-purpose fixer for Soros, will turn off the lights at J Street on his way out.

Read Less

Time to Jump Off the J Street Bandwagon

JTA has an exceptionally odd report up on the J Street–Soros connection. On one hand, the generally liberal publication argues that it was not a big deal to be funded by Soros, so the gaffe was in hiding the connection:

A senior staffer for a Democratic congressman who has accepted J Street’s endorsement agreed, saying that Soros’ support for J Street would not have been “a major factor” in deciding whether to accept the organization’s endorsement.

“People have to know first who George Soros is and, second, why it would be bad for a pro-Israel group — in some circles — to be associated with him,” the staffer said. “There are a lot of people like that in the Jewish macherocracy — but not in our district.”

But then again, maybe it really is a big deal:

It didn’t help that MoveOn was erroneously associated with a Web advertisement that likened Bush to Hitler, and that Soros himself said the times reminded him of aspects of his Nazi-era childhood in Hungary.

But, several observers said, the fraught politics of just a few years ago — when Soros was seen as an unhinged provocateur baiting the Bush administration and Republicans — were a thing of the past, with Democrats now controlling the White House and the U.S. Congress.

And then there is the whole Human Rights Watch thing:

In recent weeks, conservatives and other critics of Soros have noted the recent $100 million donation to Human Rights Watch, a group that is seen by Israel and many of the country’s supporters as biased in its treatment of abuses in the Middle East.

The donation “makes it a fine fit for George Soros, whose own biases are well established,” Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s director, wrote in a New York Post op-ed before the J Street controversy broke. “In the Middle East, for example, his Open Society Institute exclusively supports advocacy groups that campaign internationally to undermine the elected governments of Israel — organizations such as Adalah, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Gisha and Yesh Din.”

So maybe there was a reason Jeremy Ben-Ami repeatedly lied about the Soros connection. Nevertheless, the JTA folks keep up their habit of sourcing (obsessively so) to Soros Street and its supporters, concluding that Soros Street will be just fine.

At a time when virtually all the mainstream Jewish media and leadership have shown some mettle in condemning the Soros Street charade, it remains a mystery why JTA is still carrying water for it. I suppose they have invested a lot in J Street’s credibility as a legitimate organization, but the jig is up. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge the obvious: J Street was a front for a hard-core leftist whose views and rhetoric are unacceptable to the majority of Americans. And Soros’s creation, which allied itself with Richard Goldstone (drafting his defense) and a raft of Israel-haters, was never the “pro-Israel” grassroots organization it made itself out to be. Surely JTA’s readers could accept that?

A final note: JTA quotes Abe Foxman at length saying all sorts of sweet things about J Street and Soros. Well, no one is ever going to confuse him with Nathan Perlmutter.

JTA has an exceptionally odd report up on the J Street–Soros connection. On one hand, the generally liberal publication argues that it was not a big deal to be funded by Soros, so the gaffe was in hiding the connection:

A senior staffer for a Democratic congressman who has accepted J Street’s endorsement agreed, saying that Soros’ support for J Street would not have been “a major factor” in deciding whether to accept the organization’s endorsement.

“People have to know first who George Soros is and, second, why it would be bad for a pro-Israel group — in some circles — to be associated with him,” the staffer said. “There are a lot of people like that in the Jewish macherocracy — but not in our district.”

But then again, maybe it really is a big deal:

It didn’t help that MoveOn was erroneously associated with a Web advertisement that likened Bush to Hitler, and that Soros himself said the times reminded him of aspects of his Nazi-era childhood in Hungary.

But, several observers said, the fraught politics of just a few years ago — when Soros was seen as an unhinged provocateur baiting the Bush administration and Republicans — were a thing of the past, with Democrats now controlling the White House and the U.S. Congress.

And then there is the whole Human Rights Watch thing:

In recent weeks, conservatives and other critics of Soros have noted the recent $100 million donation to Human Rights Watch, a group that is seen by Israel and many of the country’s supporters as biased in its treatment of abuses in the Middle East.

The donation “makes it a fine fit for George Soros, whose own biases are well established,” Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s director, wrote in a New York Post op-ed before the J Street controversy broke. “In the Middle East, for example, his Open Society Institute exclusively supports advocacy groups that campaign internationally to undermine the elected governments of Israel — organizations such as Adalah, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Gisha and Yesh Din.”

So maybe there was a reason Jeremy Ben-Ami repeatedly lied about the Soros connection. Nevertheless, the JTA folks keep up their habit of sourcing (obsessively so) to Soros Street and its supporters, concluding that Soros Street will be just fine.

At a time when virtually all the mainstream Jewish media and leadership have shown some mettle in condemning the Soros Street charade, it remains a mystery why JTA is still carrying water for it. I suppose they have invested a lot in J Street’s credibility as a legitimate organization, but the jig is up. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge the obvious: J Street was a front for a hard-core leftist whose views and rhetoric are unacceptable to the majority of Americans. And Soros’s creation, which allied itself with Richard Goldstone (drafting his defense) and a raft of Israel-haters, was never the “pro-Israel” grassroots organization it made itself out to be. Surely JTA’s readers could accept that?

A final note: JTA quotes Abe Foxman at length saying all sorts of sweet things about J Street and Soros. Well, no one is ever going to confuse him with Nathan Perlmutter.

Read Less

J Street Unmasked

It’s been a mystery: what sliver of the electorate is J Street representing? Where is the market for virulent left-wing, anti-Israel propaganda disguised as tough love? It is hard to believe there is a significant segment of American Jewry that this group represents. Actually, we now know that J Street, for all intents and purposes, represents the views and is a wholly owned subsidiary of one individual — George Soros, the gazillionaire who seems to think anti-Semitism is caused by pushy Jews. In 2003, JTA had this report:

“There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” Soros said. “It’s not specifically anti-Semitism, but it does manifest itself in anti-Semitism as well. I’m critical of those policies.”

“If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish,” he said. “I can’t see how one could confront it directly.” That is a point made by Israel’s most vociferous critics, whom some Jewish activists charge with using anti-Zionism as a guise for anti-Semitism.

Eli Lake has the scoop. J Street is not so much a “group” as it is a front for Soros (shouldn’t it really be “Soros Street”?), who has funded J Street to the tune of $750,000 over a three-year period. Lake reminds us of Soros’s background:

Mr. Soros made billions as a hedge fund manager and currency speculator, founding the Quantum hedge fund that, until the early 1980s, was based in an offshore tax haven in the Dutch Antilles Islands. Both his business success and his subsequent charitable giving in support of favored political and social causes have made him a figure of immense controversy both in the United States and around the world.

One of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Mr. Soros gave initially gave money to support Eastern European dissidents at the end of the Cold War, particularly in his native Hungary, through the Open Society Institute.

But during the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Soros stepped up his funding of more partisan liberal organizations in the United States, including MoveOn.org and Media Matters for America. He has also strongly criticized U.S. policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the Bush administration’ decision in 2007 not to recognize a Palestinian unity government that included the militant Islamist Hamas movement.

So if Soros Street’s line bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Israel’s enemies, you know why.

Soros’s underwriting of the faux pro-Israel group, as Michael Goldfarb aptly documents, directly contradicts the repeated representations of Soros’s executive director, Jeremy Ben Ami, and J Street’s own website. Ben Ami was quickly out spinning that he hadn’t really lied because … well, the explanation is less convincing than “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” The usually sympathetic Ron Kampeas wasn’t buying it:

In the “Myths and Facts” section of its website, J Street denied the “myth” that Soros “founded and is the primary funder of J Street” as follows: “George Soros did not found J Street. In fact, George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched – precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization. J Street’s Executive Director has stated many times that he would in fact be very pleased to have funding from Mr. Soros and the offer remains open to him to be a funder should he wish to support the effort.”

In an interview, Ben-Ami denied that the conditional tense of the last sentence, and saying that an offer “remains open” leaves little room to infer Soros had given the group any money. He insisted that the characterization was truthful. “This was not founded by him, he didn’t provide initial funding,” he said. “I stand by the way that is phrased — I still want him to support us more.”

However, in an interview with Moment Magazine in March of this year, Ben-Ami was even more direct in his denial: “We got tagged as having his support, without the benefit of actually getting funded!”

Ben-Ami said J Street’s board kept contributions secret as a matter of policy, but that it was also his understanding that Soros continued to prefer to keep his funding off the record.

It was his policy, you see, to lie.

Even odder, about half of Soros Street’s money comes from a mysterious woman from Hong Kong (you can’t make this stuff up). She may be involved in the gambling biz:

The group’s 990 forms … show the group’s single largest contribution, in the odd sum of $811,697 coming from one Consolacion Ediscul of Happy Valley, a Hong Kong suburb. Ediscul, whose name is Filipino, has no presence on Google or Nexis aside from this story, and people I spoke to in Jewish groups left and right had never heard of her.

It is, to say the least, unusual that a group would get half its budget from a foreigner doing a favor to a business associate.

She is “an associate” of a J Street board member, Bill Benter. The connection? “Happy Valley is the site of a major racetrack, and Benter is “regarded by many of his peers as the most successful sports bettor in the world.”

To be clear, J Street repeatedly has misrepresented its source of funding and is largely supported by a Hong Kong national and a gazillionaire with known anti-Semitic views. Isn’t it about time that J Street stopped being treated as a legitimate “pro-Israel” group? Frankly, any lawmaker who has accepted funding or support should give it back and in the future steer clear of Soros Street.

It’s been a mystery: what sliver of the electorate is J Street representing? Where is the market for virulent left-wing, anti-Israel propaganda disguised as tough love? It is hard to believe there is a significant segment of American Jewry that this group represents. Actually, we now know that J Street, for all intents and purposes, represents the views and is a wholly owned subsidiary of one individual — George Soros, the gazillionaire who seems to think anti-Semitism is caused by pushy Jews. In 2003, JTA had this report:

“There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” Soros said. “It’s not specifically anti-Semitism, but it does manifest itself in anti-Semitism as well. I’m critical of those policies.”

“If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish,” he said. “I can’t see how one could confront it directly.” That is a point made by Israel’s most vociferous critics, whom some Jewish activists charge with using anti-Zionism as a guise for anti-Semitism.

Eli Lake has the scoop. J Street is not so much a “group” as it is a front for Soros (shouldn’t it really be “Soros Street”?), who has funded J Street to the tune of $750,000 over a three-year period. Lake reminds us of Soros’s background:

Mr. Soros made billions as a hedge fund manager and currency speculator, founding the Quantum hedge fund that, until the early 1980s, was based in an offshore tax haven in the Dutch Antilles Islands. Both his business success and his subsequent charitable giving in support of favored political and social causes have made him a figure of immense controversy both in the United States and around the world.

One of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Mr. Soros gave initially gave money to support Eastern European dissidents at the end of the Cold War, particularly in his native Hungary, through the Open Society Institute.

But during the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Soros stepped up his funding of more partisan liberal organizations in the United States, including MoveOn.org and Media Matters for America. He has also strongly criticized U.S. policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the Bush administration’ decision in 2007 not to recognize a Palestinian unity government that included the militant Islamist Hamas movement.

So if Soros Street’s line bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Israel’s enemies, you know why.

Soros’s underwriting of the faux pro-Israel group, as Michael Goldfarb aptly documents, directly contradicts the repeated representations of Soros’s executive director, Jeremy Ben Ami, and J Street’s own website. Ben Ami was quickly out spinning that he hadn’t really lied because … well, the explanation is less convincing than “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” The usually sympathetic Ron Kampeas wasn’t buying it:

In the “Myths and Facts” section of its website, J Street denied the “myth” that Soros “founded and is the primary funder of J Street” as follows: “George Soros did not found J Street. In fact, George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched – precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization. J Street’s Executive Director has stated many times that he would in fact be very pleased to have funding from Mr. Soros and the offer remains open to him to be a funder should he wish to support the effort.”

In an interview, Ben-Ami denied that the conditional tense of the last sentence, and saying that an offer “remains open” leaves little room to infer Soros had given the group any money. He insisted that the characterization was truthful. “This was not founded by him, he didn’t provide initial funding,” he said. “I stand by the way that is phrased — I still want him to support us more.”

However, in an interview with Moment Magazine in March of this year, Ben-Ami was even more direct in his denial: “We got tagged as having his support, without the benefit of actually getting funded!”

Ben-Ami said J Street’s board kept contributions secret as a matter of policy, but that it was also his understanding that Soros continued to prefer to keep his funding off the record.

It was his policy, you see, to lie.

Even odder, about half of Soros Street’s money comes from a mysterious woman from Hong Kong (you can’t make this stuff up). She may be involved in the gambling biz:

The group’s 990 forms … show the group’s single largest contribution, in the odd sum of $811,697 coming from one Consolacion Ediscul of Happy Valley, a Hong Kong suburb. Ediscul, whose name is Filipino, has no presence on Google or Nexis aside from this story, and people I spoke to in Jewish groups left and right had never heard of her.

It is, to say the least, unusual that a group would get half its budget from a foreigner doing a favor to a business associate.

She is “an associate” of a J Street board member, Bill Benter. The connection? “Happy Valley is the site of a major racetrack, and Benter is “regarded by many of his peers as the most successful sports bettor in the world.”

To be clear, J Street repeatedly has misrepresented its source of funding and is largely supported by a Hong Kong national and a gazillionaire with known anti-Semitic views. Isn’t it about time that J Street stopped being treated as a legitimate “pro-Israel” group? Frankly, any lawmaker who has accepted funding or support should give it back and in the future steer clear of Soros Street.

Read Less

The League of Totalitarians

As a coda to my earlier post on the flocking together of the far left and the far right under the banner of the Palestinian Telegraph, you should read Nick Cohen’s superb piece in Standpoint magazine, which explores in painful detail the unwillingness of the BBC to tell the truth about recently deceased actor Corin Redgrave. The BBC memorialized him as a fighter against “all forms of injustice and oppression.”

Redgrave was actually a devotee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist cult led by Gerry Healy, who reveled in what 26 of his female followers described as “cruel and systematic debauchery.”  Naturally, Healy, as a born totalitarian, took money from Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, spied on Iraqi dissidents, and adopted the anti-Semitism of the far right as his own.  Redgrave — like another devotee, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — stuck by Healy through it all.

The dangers and stupidities of this far-left/far-right alliance, centered on anti-Semitism and admiration for foreign tyrannies of all varieties, are what Oliver Kamm, among others, has been banging on about brilliantly for years. It is, of course, sinister enough on its own demerits. But it also has an amazing capacity to fool people, including quite a few who should know better.

For example, the day the Iraq war began, I was speaking at a private and very elite prep school in Connecticut. I was amazed to find the hallways festooned with signs from the ANSWER coalition. When I pointed out to my host that ANSWER was an outgrowth of the Workers World Party, the hardest of hard-line Communists who defended the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and today support North Korea, she was astonished. The word “peace” was all the proof she needed that it was on the side of human rights. The BBC’s memorial to Redgrave is the kind of journalism that makes that confidence trick work.

As a coda to my earlier post on the flocking together of the far left and the far right under the banner of the Palestinian Telegraph, you should read Nick Cohen’s superb piece in Standpoint magazine, which explores in painful detail the unwillingness of the BBC to tell the truth about recently deceased actor Corin Redgrave. The BBC memorialized him as a fighter against “all forms of injustice and oppression.”

Redgrave was actually a devotee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist cult led by Gerry Healy, who reveled in what 26 of his female followers described as “cruel and systematic debauchery.”  Naturally, Healy, as a born totalitarian, took money from Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, spied on Iraqi dissidents, and adopted the anti-Semitism of the far right as his own.  Redgrave — like another devotee, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — stuck by Healy through it all.

The dangers and stupidities of this far-left/far-right alliance, centered on anti-Semitism and admiration for foreign tyrannies of all varieties, are what Oliver Kamm, among others, has been banging on about brilliantly for years. It is, of course, sinister enough on its own demerits. But it also has an amazing capacity to fool people, including quite a few who should know better.

For example, the day the Iraq war began, I was speaking at a private and very elite prep school in Connecticut. I was amazed to find the hallways festooned with signs from the ANSWER coalition. When I pointed out to my host that ANSWER was an outgrowth of the Workers World Party, the hardest of hard-line Communists who defended the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and today support North Korea, she was astonished. The word “peace” was all the proof she needed that it was on the side of human rights. The BBC’s memorial to Redgrave is the kind of journalism that makes that confidence trick work.

Read Less

The View from the Continent

Last week I was in London attending a Global Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, the Princeton Project on National Security, Newsweek International, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP. The attendees–from both the United States and Europe–included academics, scholars, journalists, diplomatic advisers and others who inhabit the foreign policy world. The event was well-organized, the conversations wide-ranging, and there was a genuine effort to hear from a diversity of voices (hence my invitation). But there is no question that the dominant outlook of most of those in attendance was left-leaning, which itself made the trip illuminating.

I came away from the gathering (portions of which I missed) with several broad impressions. One was that multilateralism has become virtually an end in itself. What matters to many Europeans and liberal-leaning Americans is the process rather than the results. What almost never gets discussed is what happens when one’s desire for multilateralism collides with achieving a worthy end (for example, trying to stop genocide in Darfur or prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb). The child-like faith in multilateralism as the solution to all that ails the world would be touchingly innocent if it weren’t so terribly dangerous.

There were the predictable assertions made about how the United States, under George W. Bush, was “unilateralist” and that, in the words of one former Clinton Administration official, “multilateralism was a dirty word” in the Bush Administration. This charge is simplistic and demonstrably untrue–and one could cite as evidence everything from the lead up to the Iraq war (in which the United States went to the UN not once but twice, and gained unanimous approval of Resolution 1441); the war itself (which included support from the governments of Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Norway, El Salvador and many other nations); the E3; the Quartet; the Six Party Talks; the Proliferation Security Initiative; a slew of free trade agreements; and more. In fact the Bush Administration was criticized by Democrats for being too multilateralist in their dealings with North Korea; it was said by John Kerry, among other liberals, that we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea rather than rely on the Six Party Talks.

Another impression I had was that many (if not most) Europeans and American foreign policy experts are caught in a time warp, acting as if we are still in 2006. They simply want to wash their hands of Iraq. They hate the war, are seemingly impervious to the security and political progress we have seen in Iraq since last summer, and they want the next Administration to downplay Iraq as an issue, which they believe has “obsessed” the Bush presidency. What they don’t seem to understand is that ending U.S. involvement in the war won’t end the war. In fact, if Obama or Clinton follow up on their stated commitments, it is likely to trigger mass death and possibly genocide, revitalize al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, and further destabilize the region. The irony would be that the plans laid out by Democrats, if followed, would increase, not decrease, Iraq’s dominance of American foreign policy. An Iraq that is cracking up and caught in a death spiral is not something that even a President Obama or Clinton could ignore.

The third impression I came away with is the widespread view in Europe, as well as among some Americans, that the U.S. has suffered a huge, almost incalculable, loss of “moral authority” (its worth recalling that we heard much the same thing during the Reagan years). The evidence cited is always the same: Guantanamo Bay, rendition and secret prisons, and waterboarding. They are invoked like an incantation. The effect of this is that you would think that the United States is among the leading violators of human rights in the world.

During one of the panel sessions I said it was fine to place on one side of the moral ledger waterboarding three leading al Qaeda figures, which I consider to be a morally complicated issue–but that it’s also worth putting on the other side of the moral ledger the fact that we liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most odious and repressive regimes in modern history. Liberation was not the only impulse that drove the two wars, but it was one of them, and a noble one at that. I borrowed a line from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic who, while a harsh critic of the execution of the Bush Administration, has written “I find it impossible to denounce a war that led to the removal of a genocidal dictator.” That is especially true now that we have the right strategy in place, that we’re seeing progress on almost every front, and that we have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. The situation is still hugely challenging and success, if we achieve it, will be long in coming. But the collapse of will that I witnessed among some leading foreign policy voices on both sides of the Atlantic, while not surprising, was still discouraging. It is no wonder that world leaders who do not share that exhaustion are the objects of condemnation.

Last week I was in London attending a Global Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, the Princeton Project on National Security, Newsweek International, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP. The attendees–from both the United States and Europe–included academics, scholars, journalists, diplomatic advisers and others who inhabit the foreign policy world. The event was well-organized, the conversations wide-ranging, and there was a genuine effort to hear from a diversity of voices (hence my invitation). But there is no question that the dominant outlook of most of those in attendance was left-leaning, which itself made the trip illuminating.

I came away from the gathering (portions of which I missed) with several broad impressions. One was that multilateralism has become virtually an end in itself. What matters to many Europeans and liberal-leaning Americans is the process rather than the results. What almost never gets discussed is what happens when one’s desire for multilateralism collides with achieving a worthy end (for example, trying to stop genocide in Darfur or prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb). The child-like faith in multilateralism as the solution to all that ails the world would be touchingly innocent if it weren’t so terribly dangerous.

There were the predictable assertions made about how the United States, under George W. Bush, was “unilateralist” and that, in the words of one former Clinton Administration official, “multilateralism was a dirty word” in the Bush Administration. This charge is simplistic and demonstrably untrue–and one could cite as evidence everything from the lead up to the Iraq war (in which the United States went to the UN not once but twice, and gained unanimous approval of Resolution 1441); the war itself (which included support from the governments of Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Norway, El Salvador and many other nations); the E3; the Quartet; the Six Party Talks; the Proliferation Security Initiative; a slew of free trade agreements; and more. In fact the Bush Administration was criticized by Democrats for being too multilateralist in their dealings with North Korea; it was said by John Kerry, among other liberals, that we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea rather than rely on the Six Party Talks.

Another impression I had was that many (if not most) Europeans and American foreign policy experts are caught in a time warp, acting as if we are still in 2006. They simply want to wash their hands of Iraq. They hate the war, are seemingly impervious to the security and political progress we have seen in Iraq since last summer, and they want the next Administration to downplay Iraq as an issue, which they believe has “obsessed” the Bush presidency. What they don’t seem to understand is that ending U.S. involvement in the war won’t end the war. In fact, if Obama or Clinton follow up on their stated commitments, it is likely to trigger mass death and possibly genocide, revitalize al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, and further destabilize the region. The irony would be that the plans laid out by Democrats, if followed, would increase, not decrease, Iraq’s dominance of American foreign policy. An Iraq that is cracking up and caught in a death spiral is not something that even a President Obama or Clinton could ignore.

The third impression I came away with is the widespread view in Europe, as well as among some Americans, that the U.S. has suffered a huge, almost incalculable, loss of “moral authority” (its worth recalling that we heard much the same thing during the Reagan years). The evidence cited is always the same: Guantanamo Bay, rendition and secret prisons, and waterboarding. They are invoked like an incantation. The effect of this is that you would think that the United States is among the leading violators of human rights in the world.

During one of the panel sessions I said it was fine to place on one side of the moral ledger waterboarding three leading al Qaeda figures, which I consider to be a morally complicated issue–but that it’s also worth putting on the other side of the moral ledger the fact that we liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most odious and repressive regimes in modern history. Liberation was not the only impulse that drove the two wars, but it was one of them, and a noble one at that. I borrowed a line from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic who, while a harsh critic of the execution of the Bush Administration, has written “I find it impossible to denounce a war that led to the removal of a genocidal dictator.” That is especially true now that we have the right strategy in place, that we’re seeing progress on almost every front, and that we have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. The situation is still hugely challenging and success, if we achieve it, will be long in coming. But the collapse of will that I witnessed among some leading foreign policy voices on both sides of the Atlantic, while not surprising, was still discouraging. It is no wonder that world leaders who do not share that exhaustion are the objects of condemnation.

Read Less

What Sovereignty?

Literary entrepreneur Dave Eggers laments that his home state of California voted for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Super Tuesday Democratic primary.

Eggers opines:

With Mr. Obama’s newness comes a certain element of chance, and Mr. McCain, though he leans ever more doctrinaire, is still erratic enough that on the Internet he can be found singing — to a classic Beach Boys tune, mind you — about bombing yet another sovereign nation.

Eggers’s defense of Iraqi or Iranian “sovereignty” is made in passing, but it is one of the more obnoxious ticks of the Left. It is part of a Democratic Party tradition that goes back at least as far to Henry Wallace, up through George McGovern and to the supporters of Barack Obama today. This is the “Hands Off [fill in the rogue state]” crowd, which always sees America as the root of international instability and promises that if only we “engage” our enemies and “restrain” our warlike impulses, the world will be a more peaceful place. It is this world-view that places such stock in the wondrous “sovereignty” of a theocratic, terror-state like the Islamic Republic.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did not have sovereignty for the international community to violate. He had committed genocide, repeatedly, against his own people. He stood in defiance of 17 Security Council Resolutions regarding his weapons of mass destruction programs. He had illegally invaded his neighbors on two occasions and provided assistance to terrorists around the world. All of these actions warranted intervention according to the very international legal mandates that liberal internationalists so revere and that the supposedly reckless neo-cons denigrate at every turn.

Iran has a similar rap sheet. Neither Hussein-era Iraq nor present-day Iran — authoritarian states that do not rule by popular consent and flout international law as a matter of routine — is “yet another sovereign nation” alongside Canada, Hungary, or Botswana. To presume otherwise represents a grave and a deeply pernicious mode of thinking, yet it is one shared now amongst the Democratic base and its presumed nominee.

Literary entrepreneur Dave Eggers laments that his home state of California voted for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Super Tuesday Democratic primary.

Eggers opines:

With Mr. Obama’s newness comes a certain element of chance, and Mr. McCain, though he leans ever more doctrinaire, is still erratic enough that on the Internet he can be found singing — to a classic Beach Boys tune, mind you — about bombing yet another sovereign nation.

Eggers’s defense of Iraqi or Iranian “sovereignty” is made in passing, but it is one of the more obnoxious ticks of the Left. It is part of a Democratic Party tradition that goes back at least as far to Henry Wallace, up through George McGovern and to the supporters of Barack Obama today. This is the “Hands Off [fill in the rogue state]” crowd, which always sees America as the root of international instability and promises that if only we “engage” our enemies and “restrain” our warlike impulses, the world will be a more peaceful place. It is this world-view that places such stock in the wondrous “sovereignty” of a theocratic, terror-state like the Islamic Republic.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did not have sovereignty for the international community to violate. He had committed genocide, repeatedly, against his own people. He stood in defiance of 17 Security Council Resolutions regarding his weapons of mass destruction programs. He had illegally invaded his neighbors on two occasions and provided assistance to terrorists around the world. All of these actions warranted intervention according to the very international legal mandates that liberal internationalists so revere and that the supposedly reckless neo-cons denigrate at every turn.

Iran has a similar rap sheet. Neither Hussein-era Iraq nor present-day Iran — authoritarian states that do not rule by popular consent and flout international law as a matter of routine — is “yet another sovereign nation” alongside Canada, Hungary, or Botswana. To presume otherwise represents a grave and a deeply pernicious mode of thinking, yet it is one shared now amongst the Democratic base and its presumed nominee.

Read Less

Maestros Debunked

If you talk to orchestral musicians, inevitably the conversation turns to complaints, sometimes of intense vehemence, about conductors. Indiana University Press has just given us, in The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days by distinguished flutist Donald Peck, one of the most candid examples in print of this phenomenon.

For over 40 years, Peck was principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he played under four music directors and made 300 records with the group. Highlights included recordings of Richard Strauss with the fiery conductor Fritz Reiner (1888–1963), the orchestra’s music director from 1953 to 1962. Peck reports that after recording Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan in a single take, “Reiner sat on the podium looking completely fulfilled.” Peck also lauds the “symbiotic relationship” between the CSO and its director from 1969 to 1991, the Hungarian-born Georg Solti, despite Solti’s rehearsal habit of addressing the orchestra in garbled English: “I need a few help,” “I will faster as I was,” and “Softer your noise passion.”

Read More

If you talk to orchestral musicians, inevitably the conversation turns to complaints, sometimes of intense vehemence, about conductors. Indiana University Press has just given us, in The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days by distinguished flutist Donald Peck, one of the most candid examples in print of this phenomenon.

For over 40 years, Peck was principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he played under four music directors and made 300 records with the group. Highlights included recordings of Richard Strauss with the fiery conductor Fritz Reiner (1888–1963), the orchestra’s music director from 1953 to 1962. Peck reports that after recording Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan in a single take, “Reiner sat on the podium looking completely fulfilled.” Peck also lauds the “symbiotic relationship” between the CSO and its director from 1969 to 1991, the Hungarian-born Georg Solti, despite Solti’s rehearsal habit of addressing the orchestra in garbled English: “I need a few help,” “I will faster as I was,” and “Softer your noise passion.”

Less amusing was the CSO’s relationship with star conductors like Christoph Eschenbach, whose “stick technique was not good” and his interpretations “very mannered and fussy, with tempos getting slower with each performance,” according to Peck. George Szell, a legend in Cleveland, was dismissed by the CSO players as “too much of a pedant” who “made mistakes on the podium,” resulting in performances which were “rife with conductorial errors.” The noted Swiss maestro Günter Wand (1912-2002) was found guilty of “rude behavior” as well as being “studied, technical, and uninspired.” The Austrian Michael Gielen (b. 1927) was seen by the CSO as “too technical, with no music.” Others, like the Russian-born Yakov Kreizberg and Italian Fernando Previtali “seemed egocentric, with no real musical ideas.”

Given the potential hostility between conductor and musicians, examples of ideal cooperation are to be treasured all the more. Peck rightly praises Claudio Abbado’s CSO recording of Bartók Piano Concertos with soloist Maurizio Pollini on Deutsche Grammophon for being “bright and exciting but in a civil way.” Likewise, Abbado’s performance with the CSO of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite, also on DG, is indeed delectable. Peck also devotes fond word to conductors Pierre Monteux and Leopold Stokowski, whose televised 1960’s CSO performances are must-see viewing on DVD from Video Artists International. Peck also correctly praises the CSO’s Brahms Fourth Symphony on EMI, led by Carlo Maria Giulini, capturing that conductor’s “deep maroon orchestra tone and tragic inner feeling.”

With performances of this magnificence, musicians can afford to be harshly discriminating about conductors, especially when their own artistry is as exemplary as Peck’s, as heard, for example, on a Bach CD from RCA alongside his longtime colleague Samuel Magad, the CSO’s legendary former concertmaster. The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days implies that the next time a concert by a top-flight orchestra disappoints us, we should blame the conductor, not the musicians.

Read Less

Sins of Commission

It was announced in May that Britain’s Prince Charles has commissioned a piano concerto in memory of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at 101. Charles had previously commissioned (also in memory of his grandmother) Reflections on a Scottish Folksong, a work for cello and orchestra by Richard Rodney Bennett, which premiered in London last year. Bennett (born 1936), a student of Pierre Boulez, is an adept composer of classical works, as a bewitching CD of his choral works on Collegium Records proves. Bennett is also a noted composer of popular scores for hit films like Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Unfortunately, few composers share Bennett’s range of talents. Nigel Hess, the composer chosen by Prince Charles for the forthcoming concerto, is known mostly for his work in TV and films, as composer of the theme music for such BBC-TV series as Hetty Wainthropp Investigates and the score of the film Ladies in Lavender. Prince Charles, who briefly studied the cello in his youth, is a self-proclaimed fan of classical music and opera. But he expresses his appreciation with the kind of backward-looking stance he has notoriously applied to modern architecture. In 2000, Charles appointed a young Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch, to be official harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales—an honor last granted in 1871.

Read More

It was announced in May that Britain’s Prince Charles has commissioned a piano concerto in memory of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at 101. Charles had previously commissioned (also in memory of his grandmother) Reflections on a Scottish Folksong, a work for cello and orchestra by Richard Rodney Bennett, which premiered in London last year. Bennett (born 1936), a student of Pierre Boulez, is an adept composer of classical works, as a bewitching CD of his choral works on Collegium Records proves. Bennett is also a noted composer of popular scores for hit films like Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Unfortunately, few composers share Bennett’s range of talents. Nigel Hess, the composer chosen by Prince Charles for the forthcoming concerto, is known mostly for his work in TV and films, as composer of the theme music for such BBC-TV series as Hetty Wainthropp Investigates and the score of the film Ladies in Lavender. Prince Charles, who briefly studied the cello in his youth, is a self-proclaimed fan of classical music and opera. But he expresses his appreciation with the kind of backward-looking stance he has notoriously applied to modern architecture. In 2000, Charles appointed a young Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch, to be official harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales—an honor last granted in 1871.

Musical traditions dating back to 1871 may appeal to the prince, but those of only slightly later vintage apparently do not. The late UK arts administrator John Drummond revealed in his autobiography Tainted by Experience that, after a concert performance of Alban Berg’s String Quartet, written in 1910, Charles declared: “Well, you can’t call that music.” Dealing with living composers is necessarily a challenge to anyone who still finds 1910 too avant-garde.

If Charles ever does decide to devote any time to new music, he need not look far. Two of Europe’s most exciting younger composers, Thomas Adès (born 1971) and Mark-Anthony Turnage (born 1960) are flourishing in England today. Outside the UK, the venerable French maestro Henri Dutilleux (born 1916) is still thriving, while Germany’s Wilhelm Killmayer (born 1927), Russia’s Sofia Gubaidulina (born 1931), Hungary’s György Kurtág (born 1926), Switzerland’s Heinz Holliger (born 1939), Norway’s Arne Nordheim (born 1931), Estonia’s Arvo Pärt (born 1935), and America’s Frederic Rzewski (born 1938) have all produced recent work of permanent value. To overlook composers of this stature when it is time to commission new works may be called a sin of omission. In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas states that such sins are generally less grave than sins of commission—but he was not referring to piano concertos.

Read Less

Rebirth of the Classics

The online classical music vendor ArkivMusic has been developing a sales program that solves one of the great problems besetting CD collectors. Superb classical CD’s are often abruptly withdrawn by record companies for reasons having little or nothing to do with intrinsic quality, and much more to do with marketing ploys and vagaries of taste. The Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff, for instance, is generally considered one of the supreme keyboard artists of our time. But since he stopped recording for Decca, the label has allowed many of Schiff’s CD’s to go out of print in the U.S. Happily, ArkivMusic is offering a solution.

Over 2,700 previously unavailable CD’s (originally released by Universal Classics, EMI, Sony BMG, and smaller labels) can once again be purchased on a production-on-demand basis. The sound quality, according to ArkivMusic, is comparable to that of the originals; the original liner notes are, however, absent. These CD’s include landmarks like Schiff’s delectable recording of Mozart’s Music for Four Hands (played with his mentor, the British pianist George Malcolm). Or Schiff’s exuberant CD’s of Mozart piano concertos with the Hungarian maestro Sandor Végh, formerly unavailable from Decca’s U. S. catalogue. Another newly available summit of Mozart performance (which Decca also allowed to go out of print in the U.S.) is a 1970’s recording of Mozart’s violin sonatas by the wizardly violinist Szymon Goldberg, with Radu Lupu* on piano.

Read More

The online classical music vendor ArkivMusic has been developing a sales program that solves one of the great problems besetting CD collectors. Superb classical CD’s are often abruptly withdrawn by record companies for reasons having little or nothing to do with intrinsic quality, and much more to do with marketing ploys and vagaries of taste. The Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff, for instance, is generally considered one of the supreme keyboard artists of our time. But since he stopped recording for Decca, the label has allowed many of Schiff’s CD’s to go out of print in the U.S. Happily, ArkivMusic is offering a solution.

Over 2,700 previously unavailable CD’s (originally released by Universal Classics, EMI, Sony BMG, and smaller labels) can once again be purchased on a production-on-demand basis. The sound quality, according to ArkivMusic, is comparable to that of the originals; the original liner notes are, however, absent. These CD’s include landmarks like Schiff’s delectable recording of Mozart’s Music for Four Hands (played with his mentor, the British pianist George Malcolm). Or Schiff’s exuberant CD’s of Mozart piano concertos with the Hungarian maestro Sandor Végh, formerly unavailable from Decca’s U. S. catalogue. Another newly available summit of Mozart performance (which Decca also allowed to go out of print in the U.S.) is a 1970’s recording of Mozart’s violin sonatas by the wizardly violinist Szymon Goldberg, with Radu Lupu* on piano.

But ArkivMusic is not just rehabilitating recordings from decades ago. The Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes’s CD of works by Schumann was nominated for a Grammy in 1998. Yet it too went out of print (although it is well worth hearing today.) The acclaimed young German baritone Matthias Goerne recorded an aria recital in 2000, including youthfully pliant versions of opera excerpts by Wagner and Richard Strauss. Decca let this fine CD, one of Goerne’s best, languish. But both are newly available on ArkivMusic.

Sometimes musical trendiness seems to have determined which recordings labels drop from their catalogues. As the “authentic approach” in Baroque music passed in and out of fashion over the past 30 years, a number of top performances fell by the wayside. In 1977, the Dutch bass Max van Egmond recorded two Bach solo cantatas for Sony Classical, which are among the most elegantly sung Baroque performances ever. Now they can be heard again, as can a brilliant recital of François Couperin’s harpsichord music, originally recorded by Gustav Leonhardt for Philips and long unavailable.

There are dozens of such high points among ArkivMusic’s new offerings. But perhaps the most compelling of all are recordings by the composer Benjamin Britten (also a splendidly sensitive conductor) in a program of British music. Or the tenor Peter Pears, Britten’s companion and prescient musical partner, in a program of Elizabethan lute songs with the lutanist Julian Bream. These CD’s are truly authoritative, and we were poorer without them.

*Editing introduced an error, which has since been corrected.

Read Less

Nine Who Fled: Kati Marton’s The Great Escape

“God protect us from the enemy without and the Hungarians within.” There’s something amusing about hearing Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, talk like this. He was referring to the construction of the hydrogen bomb, an effort he considered harmful and unnecessary, which the Hungarians in question–the physicist Edward Teller and the mathematician John von Neumann, both Jews–strongly advocated as a means of undercutting Stalinist expansion in Eastern Europe. Von Neumann had recently invented game theory, which would soon be applied to the lethal calculus known as “mutual assured destruction,” while Teller was the rumored archetype for Peter Sellers’s Dr. Strangelove.

It’s strange, in light of this anecdote, to realize that only a few books examine the preternaturally powerful impact of Hungarian Jews on the 20th century, particularly in the arts and sciences. Kati Marton’s The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World comes as a welcome entry in the field. Under the rubric of scientists, Marton examines the lives of Teller, von Neumann, Eugene Wigner*, and Leo Szilard, all of whom ushered particle physics into its eschatological own.

Read More

“God protect us from the enemy without and the Hungarians within.” There’s something amusing about hearing Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, talk like this. He was referring to the construction of the hydrogen bomb, an effort he considered harmful and unnecessary, which the Hungarians in question–the physicist Edward Teller and the mathematician John von Neumann, both Jews–strongly advocated as a means of undercutting Stalinist expansion in Eastern Europe. Von Neumann had recently invented game theory, which would soon be applied to the lethal calculus known as “mutual assured destruction,” while Teller was the rumored archetype for Peter Sellers’s Dr. Strangelove.

It’s strange, in light of this anecdote, to realize that only a few books examine the preternaturally powerful impact of Hungarian Jews on the 20th century, particularly in the arts and sciences. Kati Marton’s The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World comes as a welcome entry in the field. Under the rubric of scientists, Marton examines the lives of Teller, von Neumann, Eugene Wigner*, and Leo Szilard, all of whom ushered particle physics into its eschatological own.

She also devotes more than half of her book to studying Hungarian-Jewish talent in literature, film, and photography. Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon stands as the most chilling and insightful anti-Communist novel ever written. Michael Curtiz directed Casablanca, the greatest anti-fascist film ever made (in the running for greatest tout court), while British movie mogul Sir Alexander Korda (né Sandor Kellner) takes the honor for having produced the best ravaged-Europe postwar story committed to celluloid, The Third Man, which he prompted his close friend Graham Greene to script. (Korda’s other notable yachting chum was Winston Churchill.) The photographers under consideration are Andre Kertesz, the leading lensman of World War I, who mastered playful reflections and light distortions well before the Surrealists, and Robert Capa, the legendary visual chronicler of the Spanish Civil War and D-Day, who went on to co-found the still-thriving photographic cooperative Magnum Photos.

Modern life owes a great deal to these thick-accented and beguiling émigrés. But what was it that made them so special? Geography and timing, according to Marton. Her collective biography is a historical and sentimental, not to say sentimentalized, monument to the “Golden Age” of Budapest, a ghetto-less medieval city that became the cosmopolitan ground zero for European Jewish assimilation. By 1900, Jews comprised approximately one-fifth of the city’s population, as a vibrant and influential minority.

“Six hundred cafes, and among the continent’s highest concentration of theaters and cabarets, changed the rhythms of the city,” writes Marton, whose parents came of age in this milieu. “There were streets as crowded at midnight as at nine in the morning. . . . Jews—whose goal was to be Hungarian citizens of the Jewish faith—and Hungarians seemed equally invested in the dream.” So well-established and confident were Budapest’s Jews in their “Zion on the Danube” between 1870 and 1910 that the Hungarian poet Endre Ady, a Gentile, was given to proclaiming his hometown “built by the Jews for the rest of us.” There’s no small irony in the fact that the most philo-Semitic city in Mitteleuropa was also the birthplace of Theodor Herzl, who would become the prophet of Jewish relocation to the Middle East.

Or perhaps no irony at all. Budapest’s scintillating period was short-lived, and the city soon found itself located on the miserable fault-line between twin despotisms, twice. Stalin and Hitler had grim dress rehearsals in the form of Bela Kun, architect of Hungary’s Soviet Republic, and Admiral Nicholas Horthy, the right-wing dictator who emerged out of the fractured Austro-Hungarian military class and revenged himself on the Jews, whom he thought of as synonymous, more or less, with Communists. Stalin’s post-World War II anti-Semitic purges in the Warsaw Pact nations had a grim precursor in Budapest: the “heroes” of 1919 became the Laszlo Rajks of 1949. Indeed, one senses that the seedbed for the 1956 revolution was actually laid almost four decades earlier.

Koestler once remarked that the Hungarian people were the loneliest on the continent because of their linguistic and ethnic solitude. To be Jewish and Hungarian meant living in a state of double exile no matter where you washed ashore (in Koestler’s case, Berlin, Mandatory Palestine, Turkmenistan, Catalonia, and London). But even great loneliness sometimes has its rewards. It seems rather likely that because Hungarian is a language virtually impenetrable to outsiders (Edmund Wilson once made a valiant effort to learn it), its brilliant Jewish speakers proved fluent in the ways of eccentric, clubbish secrecy, a characteristic that served bon vivant aristocrats like Sir Alexander Korda as well as it did the wartime scientists at Los Alamos.

* Eugene Wigner was originally misidentified.

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.