Commentary Magazine


Topic: Shimon Peres

Axis of Uranium Meets Middle East Peace Process


It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:

The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23.  Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”

Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?

There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.

It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.

As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.

Consider that while  Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.


It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:

The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23.  Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”

Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?

There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.

It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.

As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.

Consider that while  Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.

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Damascus Reverts to Form

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding. Read More

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding.

“What Obama said about peace was a good thing,” he said. “We agree with him on the principles, but as I said, what’s the action plan? The sponsor has to draw up an action plan.”

Notice what he’s done here? He’s portraying himself as though not only Netanyahu but also Barack Obama were less interested in peace than he is. It should be obvious, though, that Assad isn’t serious. He supports terrorist organizations that kill Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, and Lebanese — not exactly the sort of behavior one associates with leaders who agree with Barack Obama “on the principles.” Yet he’s blaming the United States for his own roguish behavior, because the U.S. does not have an “action plan.”

“Assad said that while relations with the United States had improved,” Reuters reports, “issues such as continued U.S. sanctions against Syria were hindering any joint work towards peace in the Middle East.” Got that? If the United States doesn’t drop sanctions against Syria, Assad will continue burning the Middle East with terrorist proxies.

“The Syrian regime is temperamentally incapable of issuing a statement that doesn’t sound like a threat,” Lee Smith noted last week in the Weekly Standard. Assad sure knows how to say it, though. It’s rather extraordinary that he can actually threaten to murder people in so many countries while sounding as if he were asking why we all can’t just get along. At least Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigoted and hysterical fulminations are honestly hostile. We best get used to Assad’s act, though, unless and until Obama and Sarkozy realize there’s nothing to be gained from politely “engaging” this man.

Assad backs terrorists and thugs who have killed Lebanon’s former prime minister, members of Lebanon’s parliament, American soldiers, and civilians as well as soldiers in Iraq and in Israel – all acts of war. Say what you will about former French President Jacques Chirac. Unlike with the generally improved Sarkozy, Chirac’s relationship with Syria’s fascist and terrorist government was appropriately terrible.

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Judge Goldstone: I Participated in a Farce

Richard Goldstone seems to use interviews to chip away at the legitimacy of his own work. He told the Forward that nothing he uncovered in Gaza is credible enough to be admissible in court. And now he has admitted this to Haaretz:

Many Israelis are right to feel that the United Nations and its member bodies such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have devoted inordinate and disproportionate attention to scrutinizing and criticizing Israel. This has come at the price of ignoring violations of human rights in other countries, some of them members of those very same bodies. The time has come for the investigation of all violations of international human rights law and international law whenever they are committed, in any state.

A few thoughts: First, this is almost exactly what Bob Bernstein argued in his New York Times op-ed about Human Rights Watch — for which he was accused by HRW, on whose board Goldstone sat, of claiming that no scrutiny whatsoever should be applied to Israel. Will HRW now distort Goldstone and level the same charge? Not a chance.

Second, this statement would seem to validate Shimon Peres’s critique that Goldstone is a “small man, devoid of any sense of justice, a technocrat with no real understanding of jurisprudence” who was “on a one-sided mission to hurt Israel.” Goldstone has admitted that the lawfare campaign against Israel, of which he has become the de facto leader, is a perversion of justice: disproportionately and selectively applied. It is the equivalent of a police force that pursues the arrest of Jews, and scarcely anyone else, for violations. Such a police force is inherently illegitimate. Yet Goldstone chose to become the chief of that police force, and now denounces the fact of its — his — own iniquity. What psychodrama. What a small man.

Third, there is one person perfectly situated to rise to the challenge of even-handedness and proportionality that the good judge has placed before the world: his name is Richard Goldstone. He has earned his bona fides as a harsh and tendentious critic of Israel. Because of this, he has immense credibility at the UN and among “human-rights” activists worldwide. When will his campaign of inquisition against other democracies begin? Someone should ask him.

Richard Goldstone seems to use interviews to chip away at the legitimacy of his own work. He told the Forward that nothing he uncovered in Gaza is credible enough to be admissible in court. And now he has admitted this to Haaretz:

Many Israelis are right to feel that the United Nations and its member bodies such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have devoted inordinate and disproportionate attention to scrutinizing and criticizing Israel. This has come at the price of ignoring violations of human rights in other countries, some of them members of those very same bodies. The time has come for the investigation of all violations of international human rights law and international law whenever they are committed, in any state.

A few thoughts: First, this is almost exactly what Bob Bernstein argued in his New York Times op-ed about Human Rights Watch — for which he was accused by HRW, on whose board Goldstone sat, of claiming that no scrutiny whatsoever should be applied to Israel. Will HRW now distort Goldstone and level the same charge? Not a chance.

Second, this statement would seem to validate Shimon Peres’s critique that Goldstone is a “small man, devoid of any sense of justice, a technocrat with no real understanding of jurisprudence” who was “on a one-sided mission to hurt Israel.” Goldstone has admitted that the lawfare campaign against Israel, of which he has become the de facto leader, is a perversion of justice: disproportionately and selectively applied. It is the equivalent of a police force that pursues the arrest of Jews, and scarcely anyone else, for violations. Such a police force is inherently illegitimate. Yet Goldstone chose to become the chief of that police force, and now denounces the fact of its — his — own iniquity. What psychodrama. What a small man.

Third, there is one person perfectly situated to rise to the challenge of even-handedness and proportionality that the good judge has placed before the world: his name is Richard Goldstone. He has earned his bona fides as a harsh and tendentious critic of Israel. Because of this, he has immense credibility at the UN and among “human-rights” activists worldwide. When will his campaign of inquisition against other democracies begin? Someone should ask him.

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Israel at 60

Today is Israel’s independence day, and the country has taken two days off from everything–the war, the corruption, the politics–to celebrate six decades of Jewish sovereignty. The unofficial theme this year, I believe, is “warts and all”: Yes, we haven’t yet found a way either to defeat our enemies or make peace with them. Yes, we elected a President who appears to have been a thoroughbred sleazeball, and our Prime Minister is now in the thick of his fifth criminal investigation. But hey, we’re alive, our economy is very strong, our democracy works, and even if we don’t know where we’re going, we’re still standing, and that’s a lot given what’s happening around us.

The unlikely hero of the hour is Shimon Peres. After a career of political opportunism and ideological naivete culminating in the somewhat delusional and not-entirely-uncatastrophic Oslo Accords, Peres has emerged as the elder statesman, the last remaining leader from the founding generation, a dignified President who has served as a much-needed corrective to Moshe Katzav, who is about to be put on trial for rape. Peres has managed to stay out of controversy and represent the nation, both as a Zionist and as a man who understands the weight of his largely-symbolic post. His speech to the nation on Remembrance Day Tuesday night, honoring the fallen soldiers of Israel’s wars, was not merely uniting, it was deeply moving.

No-one could be further from Peres than Ehud Olmert. For a week his political life has been put entirely on hold, as a sudden and intense new criminal investigation has opened up, so serious that the police have slapped a far-reaching gag order on the whole thing. You won’t find details in the Israeli press, though the New York Post broke it open on Tuesday, with the New York Times following yesterday. If the rumors are true, then there is a good chance he’s finished as Prime Minister. Either a new coalition will emerge with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni taking Olmert’s place, or we will head to elections. The choice will be mostly in the hands of Labor party leader Ehud Barak. My bet is that he takes his chances on elections. I can hear Netanyahu’s engines revving.

Today is Israel’s independence day, and the country has taken two days off from everything–the war, the corruption, the politics–to celebrate six decades of Jewish sovereignty. The unofficial theme this year, I believe, is “warts and all”: Yes, we haven’t yet found a way either to defeat our enemies or make peace with them. Yes, we elected a President who appears to have been a thoroughbred sleazeball, and our Prime Minister is now in the thick of his fifth criminal investigation. But hey, we’re alive, our economy is very strong, our democracy works, and even if we don’t know where we’re going, we’re still standing, and that’s a lot given what’s happening around us.

The unlikely hero of the hour is Shimon Peres. After a career of political opportunism and ideological naivete culminating in the somewhat delusional and not-entirely-uncatastrophic Oslo Accords, Peres has emerged as the elder statesman, the last remaining leader from the founding generation, a dignified President who has served as a much-needed corrective to Moshe Katzav, who is about to be put on trial for rape. Peres has managed to stay out of controversy and represent the nation, both as a Zionist and as a man who understands the weight of his largely-symbolic post. His speech to the nation on Remembrance Day Tuesday night, honoring the fallen soldiers of Israel’s wars, was not merely uniting, it was deeply moving.

No-one could be further from Peres than Ehud Olmert. For a week his political life has been put entirely on hold, as a sudden and intense new criminal investigation has opened up, so serious that the police have slapped a far-reaching gag order on the whole thing. You won’t find details in the Israeli press, though the New York Post broke it open on Tuesday, with the New York Times following yesterday. If the rumors are true, then there is a good chance he’s finished as Prime Minister. Either a new coalition will emerge with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni taking Olmert’s place, or we will head to elections. The choice will be mostly in the hands of Labor party leader Ehud Barak. My bet is that he takes his chances on elections. I can hear Netanyahu’s engines revving.

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Streisand in Jerusalem

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

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Defending Samantha Power, Again

I see that neither Noah Pollak at CONTENTIONS nor Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is convinced by my defense of Samantha Power. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to clarify my argument.

I don’t disagree with them on the merits of Power’s views on Israel and the Middle East. As they know, I am hardly a fan of the “peace process” or of détente with Tehran (although I have suggested in the past that it would make sense to offer to normalize relations with Iran in return for a cessation of its nuclear program and support of terrorism).

What I really objected to is the argument made by Pollak and some other critics that Power is part of a “disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel.” That is a serious charge that needs to be handled with great care and hauled out only in the most dire circumstances because accusing someone of harboring “hostile views of Israel” is only a step or two removed from accusing them of harboring hostile views of Jews.

That conclusion is one that I think can be justifiably drawn about some people, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Jimmy Carter. Their vociferous, over-the-top criticism of Israel and the “Israel Lobby” borders on paranoia and displays not just sloppy reasoning and factual mistakes but also active animus toward Israel, and perhaps toward Jews in general. (See Eliot Cohen’s article on Mearsheimer/Walt, and Kenneth Stein’s piece on Carter.)

On the other hand, there are many, many advocates of the “peace process” such as Dennis Ross and Bill Clinton (to say nothing of Shimon Peres and other Israelis) who have never displayed the slightest animus toward Israel. I think we can take it as given that their advocacy is driven by a desire to help, not hurt, the Jewish state. Their policy advice can and should be criticized, but their motives should not be questioned.

Into which category does Samantha Power fall? The first fact to note about her is how little she has had to say on the subject of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. She is not an expert on the Middle East and does not pretend to be one. The criticisms of her are based on a handful of comments mainly made in response to questions from interviewers. That in itself is significant, because those who are driven by a real animus toward Israel tend to be outspoken and vociferous on the subject.

I don’t find any of the comments made by Power and cited by critics as being anywhere remotely close to anything that Mearsheimer/Walt or Carter have said. To take just one example, the attempts to twist a very ambiguous response to a question in this interview into evidence that, in Powerline’s words, “Power has blamed deference to Israel and the ‘special interests’ that support Israel for the U.S. intervention in Iraq” leaves me unconvinced to say the least. Read the whole answer in context for yourself and see what you think.

Apparently Pollak agrees with me that Power is not “animated by ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment, whatever that might entail.” I’m happy to hear it. That’s really all I was driving at: Let’s debate on the merits without questioning the other side’s motives except in extreme cases, of which this is not one.

I see that neither Noah Pollak at CONTENTIONS nor Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is convinced by my defense of Samantha Power. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to clarify my argument.

I don’t disagree with them on the merits of Power’s views on Israel and the Middle East. As they know, I am hardly a fan of the “peace process” or of détente with Tehran (although I have suggested in the past that it would make sense to offer to normalize relations with Iran in return for a cessation of its nuclear program and support of terrorism).

What I really objected to is the argument made by Pollak and some other critics that Power is part of a “disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel.” That is a serious charge that needs to be handled with great care and hauled out only in the most dire circumstances because accusing someone of harboring “hostile views of Israel” is only a step or two removed from accusing them of harboring hostile views of Jews.

That conclusion is one that I think can be justifiably drawn about some people, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Jimmy Carter. Their vociferous, over-the-top criticism of Israel and the “Israel Lobby” borders on paranoia and displays not just sloppy reasoning and factual mistakes but also active animus toward Israel, and perhaps toward Jews in general. (See Eliot Cohen’s article on Mearsheimer/Walt, and Kenneth Stein’s piece on Carter.)

On the other hand, there are many, many advocates of the “peace process” such as Dennis Ross and Bill Clinton (to say nothing of Shimon Peres and other Israelis) who have never displayed the slightest animus toward Israel. I think we can take it as given that their advocacy is driven by a desire to help, not hurt, the Jewish state. Their policy advice can and should be criticized, but their motives should not be questioned.

Into which category does Samantha Power fall? The first fact to note about her is how little she has had to say on the subject of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. She is not an expert on the Middle East and does not pretend to be one. The criticisms of her are based on a handful of comments mainly made in response to questions from interviewers. That in itself is significant, because those who are driven by a real animus toward Israel tend to be outspoken and vociferous on the subject.

I don’t find any of the comments made by Power and cited by critics as being anywhere remotely close to anything that Mearsheimer/Walt or Carter have said. To take just one example, the attempts to twist a very ambiguous response to a question in this interview into evidence that, in Powerline’s words, “Power has blamed deference to Israel and the ‘special interests’ that support Israel for the U.S. intervention in Iraq” leaves me unconvinced to say the least. Read the whole answer in context for yourself and see what you think.

Apparently Pollak agrees with me that Power is not “animated by ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment, whatever that might entail.” I’m happy to hear it. That’s really all I was driving at: Let’s debate on the merits without questioning the other side’s motives except in extreme cases, of which this is not one.

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Nicolas Sarkozy, Judeophile

Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?

On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”

He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.

His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”

Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.

And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.

Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).

There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.

In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.

Until Sarkozy, that is.

Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?

On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”

He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.

His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”

Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.

And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.

Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).

There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.

In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.

Until Sarkozy, that is.

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Israel and the German Bishops

“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

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“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

Despite sharp reactions from Shimon Stein, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, and from German Jewish leaders (described by the Iranian news agency as “German Zionist lobbyists”), the bishops seem unrepentant. They issued a statement vehemently denying that they had “demonized” Israel, adding that the “emotional consternation” of their visit to Bethlehem had evoked some “very personal remarks” that had already been “self-critically corrected.” In fact, however, Bishop Hanke merely said that “comparisons between the Holocaust and the present situation in Palestine are unacceptable and were not intended.” Neither he nor Cardinal Meisner and Bishop Mixa offered any apology.

I do not know what to make of this lamentable tale. Do the German bishops really need to be reminded of the collaboration with the Nazis of many of their predecessors during the Third Reich? Do they need to be reminded of what the Germans actually did in the Warsaw Ghetto? Does an East German like Cardinal Meisner need to be reminded of the difference between the Berlin Wall, built to stop people fleeing from Communist tyranny, and Israel’s fence, built to protect its people from Palestinian terrorists? Do the German bishops still know so little of the tragic struggle for survival of the Jewish people that they need to be reminded of their own unique responsibility, as Germans and as Christians, to counter the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe?

I hope that Pope Benedict XVI will summon the offending bishops to Rome and discipline them. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he encouraged John Paul II to make unprecedented gestures toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel. As the first German pope for a thousand years, he declared his intention to continue to lead the Church down the path of reconciliation. As a man who knows the Third Reich from personal experience—he was a member of the Hitler Youth and served in an anti-aircraft unit during the last months of the war—Pope Benedict has a special duty to distance the Catholic Church from comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. Such comparisons, though commonplace in the Islamic world, are not a Muslim monopoly.

This incident has a particular resonance for me, as a philo-Semitic Catholic, a friend both of Israel and of Germany. Quite simply, I feel ashamed of these bishops. Nobody wants the Germans to be perpetually beating their breasts to atone for the crimes of the Nazis. Like anybody else, they are entitled to criticize the Israeli government. After all, Israelis themselves criticize their own government all the time. But I am angry that German bishops, of all people, should come out with extremist propaganda that delegitimizes Israel, a state that is threatened with a second Holocaust at the hands of a nuclear-armed Iran.

These campaigns of vilification against Israel have done terrible harm. A new BBC poll conducted in 27 countries finds that Israel has the most negative image of all, ahead of Iran, the United States, and North Korea. This grotesque attitude to the beleaguered Jewish state is fuelled by comments like those of the German bishops, and reinforced by their failure to apologize.

In medieval times, Christians knew how to do penance for their sins. The German Emperor Henry IV went to Canossa, in Tuscany, to beg Pope Gregory VII to lift a sentence of excommunication. The monarch stood in the snow outside the castle for three days, wearing only a hairshirt, before the pope forgave him.

To repair the damage they have done to German-Israeli and Catholic-Jewish relations, these three German bishops must make their own journey to Canossa. They don’t have to wear hairshirts, but they do need to show that they have grasped the magnitude of their folly. They owe that much to the younger generation of Germans—some of whom last week destroyed a medieval Jewish cemetery in Bavaria.

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Does Israel Need a President?

Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t need the one it has now. Whether because his term of office runs out next July or because, before that, he will be impeached by the Knesset for criminal sexual conduct, Moshe Katzav will not be around much longer. Campaigning has already begun for the Knesset’s election of a new president, who will probably be either the main candidate of the Center and Left, Shimon Peres, or the main candidate of the Right, Likud politician and former speaker of the Knesset Ruvi Rivlin, but it is not clear that the country needs either of them, either.

It’s not that their qualifications are unimpressive. Peres can boast the longest losing streak of any major politician in the world—he has been defeated in something like six consecutive national and party elections since he was last prime minister in 1986, including a failed bid against Katzav for the presidency—and definitely deserves to be elected to something. Rivlin is a friendly man with no criminal record and would never consider raping a secretary. Either man, it is generally conceded, would make a fine president.

But does Israel need a president at all? In favor of continuing the office—the quality of whose occupants has gone steadily downhill from the days of the first of them, the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann—are two arguments: 1) someone is needed to accept the credentials of foreign diplomats, to present government awards, and to give speeches at ceremonial functions when no one else is available; and 2) it is comforting to have a head of state who is above the political fray, even if the fray decides everything and the head of state nothing.

Against it, on the other hand, is one argument alone, but a strong one: it is an expensive institution to maintain, what with the president’s salary, budget, expense account, pension, assistants, aides, drivers, junkets, Jerusalem mansion, and now, in addition, private jail cell.

Does Israel need a president? Does England need a king?

Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t need the one it has now. Whether because his term of office runs out next July or because, before that, he will be impeached by the Knesset for criminal sexual conduct, Moshe Katzav will not be around much longer. Campaigning has already begun for the Knesset’s election of a new president, who will probably be either the main candidate of the Center and Left, Shimon Peres, or the main candidate of the Right, Likud politician and former speaker of the Knesset Ruvi Rivlin, but it is not clear that the country needs either of them, either.

It’s not that their qualifications are unimpressive. Peres can boast the longest losing streak of any major politician in the world—he has been defeated in something like six consecutive national and party elections since he was last prime minister in 1986, including a failed bid against Katzav for the presidency—and definitely deserves to be elected to something. Rivlin is a friendly man with no criminal record and would never consider raping a secretary. Either man, it is generally conceded, would make a fine president.

But does Israel need a president at all? In favor of continuing the office—the quality of whose occupants has gone steadily downhill from the days of the first of them, the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann—are two arguments: 1) someone is needed to accept the credentials of foreign diplomats, to present government awards, and to give speeches at ceremonial functions when no one else is available; and 2) it is comforting to have a head of state who is above the political fray, even if the fray decides everything and the head of state nothing.

Against it, on the other hand, is one argument alone, but a strong one: it is an expensive institution to maintain, what with the president’s salary, budget, expense account, pension, assistants, aides, drivers, junkets, Jerusalem mansion, and now, in addition, private jail cell.

Does Israel need a president? Does England need a king?

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