Commentary Magazine


Topic: Vienna

Beware a Thrill Going Up Your Leg

How’s this for a profiling debate?

The Czech government has rejected EU criticism of its use of a rare test of the credibility of gay asylum seekers.

The Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights says the Czech Republic is the only known EU country to use so-called “phallometric testing.” The method tests whether men seeking asylum on the grounds of homosexuality are sexually aroused by heterosexual pornographic material.

The Czech Interior Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that testing is conducted only after written consent and when it was not possible to use a different method.

The EU agency said in a report last month that the reliability of such tests is questionable, and that the practice violates the EU convention on human rights.

The stimulus, it seems, remains controversial.

How’s this for a profiling debate?

The Czech government has rejected EU criticism of its use of a rare test of the credibility of gay asylum seekers.

The Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights says the Czech Republic is the only known EU country to use so-called “phallometric testing.” The method tests whether men seeking asylum on the grounds of homosexuality are sexually aroused by heterosexual pornographic material.

The Czech Interior Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that testing is conducted only after written consent and when it was not possible to use a different method.

The EU agency said in a report last month that the reliability of such tests is questionable, and that the practice violates the EU convention on human rights.

The stimulus, it seems, remains controversial.

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Euro-Freedom Watch

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

Their conclusion is bolstered by recent events. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is only the most famous of several Europeans who have faced criminal charges for speaking critically of Islam. Another is Austrian journalist and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose trial for “hate speech” opened in Vienna on November 23. Take a moment to read publicized transcripts of the proceedings; it is worth understanding that Sabaditsch-Wolff is being tried, literally, for quoting both the Koran and an authoritative work on Sunni law, and expressing criticism of the social institutions condoned in those religious texts.

She is not a cartoonist lampooning Muhammad, something most Westerners would recognize as less than respectful even if they didn’t all agree that it was “offensive.” Sabaditsch-Wolff quotes the texts of Islam seriously and accurately; she objects to their implications, but she doesn’t poke fun at them. However, as Ned May observes at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace:

It has been well-established in a number of jurisdictions — including several in the West — that a non-Muslim who quotes the Koran accurately can still be convicted of “hate speech”. This aligns with the definition of Islamic slander (also to be found in [Sunni law document] Reliance) which considers anything that insults Islam, whether true or false, to be defamation.

The author at the pseudonymous Daphne Anson blog (top link) wonders what will happen if Turkey is finally admitted to the EU, given the newly approved framework allowing cross-border prosecutions in Europe. But I am inclined to wonder how the other nations will react to being in the same union with Austria and the Netherlands, which have already shown a willingness to prosecute free speech as a hate crime. The charges against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff are centered on questions like these, brought up one after another on the first day of her trial:

10:53: The judge inquires if we are talking about Islamic extremism, or of Islam as such?

Elisabeth explains that we are talking Islam as such, as defined by its scripture, and quotes Erdogan that there is no moderate Islam anyway.

The intellectual basis for her certainty (or the judge’s, for that matter) is not the issue here, nor should it be. The issue is that she is being prosecuted for forensic, critical investigation of Islam: for advancing opinions we hear argued nightly on American TV talk shows. The most basic of intellectual freedoms — attributing facts to sources and expressing opinions about them — is in the process of being criminalized in parts of the EU. Free-speech advocates fear that the new Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia will spread this trend toward criminalization across borders throughout Europe. They are justified in their concern.

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

Their conclusion is bolstered by recent events. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is only the most famous of several Europeans who have faced criminal charges for speaking critically of Islam. Another is Austrian journalist and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose trial for “hate speech” opened in Vienna on November 23. Take a moment to read publicized transcripts of the proceedings; it is worth understanding that Sabaditsch-Wolff is being tried, literally, for quoting both the Koran and an authoritative work on Sunni law, and expressing criticism of the social institutions condoned in those religious texts.

She is not a cartoonist lampooning Muhammad, something most Westerners would recognize as less than respectful even if they didn’t all agree that it was “offensive.” Sabaditsch-Wolff quotes the texts of Islam seriously and accurately; she objects to their implications, but she doesn’t poke fun at them. However, as Ned May observes at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace:

It has been well-established in a number of jurisdictions — including several in the West — that a non-Muslim who quotes the Koran accurately can still be convicted of “hate speech”. This aligns with the definition of Islamic slander (also to be found in [Sunni law document] Reliance) which considers anything that insults Islam, whether true or false, to be defamation.

The author at the pseudonymous Daphne Anson blog (top link) wonders what will happen if Turkey is finally admitted to the EU, given the newly approved framework allowing cross-border prosecutions in Europe. But I am inclined to wonder how the other nations will react to being in the same union with Austria and the Netherlands, which have already shown a willingness to prosecute free speech as a hate crime. The charges against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff are centered on questions like these, brought up one after another on the first day of her trial:

10:53: The judge inquires if we are talking about Islamic extremism, or of Islam as such?

Elisabeth explains that we are talking Islam as such, as defined by its scripture, and quotes Erdogan that there is no moderate Islam anyway.

The intellectual basis for her certainty (or the judge’s, for that matter) is not the issue here, nor should it be. The issue is that she is being prosecuted for forensic, critical investigation of Islam: for advancing opinions we hear argued nightly on American TV talk shows. The most basic of intellectual freedoms — attributing facts to sources and expressing opinions about them — is in the process of being criminalized in parts of the EU. Free-speech advocates fear that the new Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia will spread this trend toward criminalization across borders throughout Europe. They are justified in their concern.

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Keep Our Eye on the Ball — Iran

One of the objections to the “peace process” — in addition to the uptick in murders of Jews attendant thereto — is that it is a giant and dangerous distraction. The administration and much of the media have lost track of what’s important: Iran and the mounting evidence that the sanctions have been, as conservatives predicted, useless. The New York Post, to its credit, has not dropped the ball. In this sharp op-ed, the Post reminds us:

In June, the administration prodded the UN into issuing what President Obama called the “toughest sanctions ever.” But the words “United Nations” and “tough” don’t belong in the same sentence, and that’s a fact Iran has been quick to notice.

According to the UN report, Iran has barred two senior inspectors from their nuclear sites, said it “underestimated” the amount of uranium it has enriched, is developing secret nuke facilities far from prying eyes, and “accidentally” broke the seals on several pieces of equipment that the IAEA had shut down.

(And a dissident Iranian group, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran, charged last week that extensive tunneling near Tehran is connected to the production of weapons-grade plutonium.)

The “solution” to this, of course, is yet another round of Israel bashing. We aren’t making zero progress with Iran? So the UN turns to the Jewish state:

Handcuffed, tongue tied and generally bamboozled by the mullahs, the UN is instead focusing on a much easier target: Israel, the very country in Iran’s nuclear crosshairs.

The IAEA voted to censure Israel last year at its annual forum in Vienna, while refusing to even mention Iran. And it dialed up the pressure on Israel last month with a personal visit from the head of the IAEA, pushing Israel to join the non-proliferation treaty and accept UN inspectors at its nuclear sites.

We note, without surprise, that the IAEA chief has yet to visit Iran. Why, after all, would he bother?

The UN has given Iran and other bad actors the kid-gloves treatment for years, reserving its bare-knuckled fury for the Jewish state. And the IAEA is a mirror image of the UN at large — impotent in the face of tyrants, deadly serious on one front alone: in its attempts to deliver a knockout blow to Israel.

So much for multilateralism. The UN is, in a real sense, the perfect partner for Obama. It provides the patina of seriousness, a paper-thin coating to conceal the feckless attempts to disarm Iran, and it throws in some Israel-bashing for good measure. No wonder Obama loves the place.

Meanwhile, it might be a good idea for Jewish organizations to show the same focus as the Post. Forget the “peace process” sideshow and give up the fantasy that the UN or the IAEA will solve our national-security problem for us. The options boil down to : 1) The U.S. uses force; 2.) Israel uses force; or 3.) the Iranians get the bomb. The first is the best of the disagreeable options. It would be swell if American Jewish leaders started making that point.

One of the objections to the “peace process” — in addition to the uptick in murders of Jews attendant thereto — is that it is a giant and dangerous distraction. The administration and much of the media have lost track of what’s important: Iran and the mounting evidence that the sanctions have been, as conservatives predicted, useless. The New York Post, to its credit, has not dropped the ball. In this sharp op-ed, the Post reminds us:

In June, the administration prodded the UN into issuing what President Obama called the “toughest sanctions ever.” But the words “United Nations” and “tough” don’t belong in the same sentence, and that’s a fact Iran has been quick to notice.

According to the UN report, Iran has barred two senior inspectors from their nuclear sites, said it “underestimated” the amount of uranium it has enriched, is developing secret nuke facilities far from prying eyes, and “accidentally” broke the seals on several pieces of equipment that the IAEA had shut down.

(And a dissident Iranian group, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran, charged last week that extensive tunneling near Tehran is connected to the production of weapons-grade plutonium.)

The “solution” to this, of course, is yet another round of Israel bashing. We aren’t making zero progress with Iran? So the UN turns to the Jewish state:

Handcuffed, tongue tied and generally bamboozled by the mullahs, the UN is instead focusing on a much easier target: Israel, the very country in Iran’s nuclear crosshairs.

The IAEA voted to censure Israel last year at its annual forum in Vienna, while refusing to even mention Iran. And it dialed up the pressure on Israel last month with a personal visit from the head of the IAEA, pushing Israel to join the non-proliferation treaty and accept UN inspectors at its nuclear sites.

We note, without surprise, that the IAEA chief has yet to visit Iran. Why, after all, would he bother?

The UN has given Iran and other bad actors the kid-gloves treatment for years, reserving its bare-knuckled fury for the Jewish state. And the IAEA is a mirror image of the UN at large — impotent in the face of tyrants, deadly serious on one front alone: in its attempts to deliver a knockout blow to Israel.

So much for multilateralism. The UN is, in a real sense, the perfect partner for Obama. It provides the patina of seriousness, a paper-thin coating to conceal the feckless attempts to disarm Iran, and it throws in some Israel-bashing for good measure. No wonder Obama loves the place.

Meanwhile, it might be a good idea for Jewish organizations to show the same focus as the Post. Forget the “peace process” sideshow and give up the fantasy that the UN or the IAEA will solve our national-security problem for us. The options boil down to : 1) The U.S. uses force; 2.) Israel uses force; or 3.) the Iranians get the bomb. The first is the best of the disagreeable options. It would be swell if American Jewish leaders started making that point.

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Iran’s Game of Negotiations

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

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Mullahs Outfox Obama — Again

The Iranian regime at every turn has befuddled and outwitted Obama. The mullahs stole an election and brutally suppressed and murdered protesters while convincing Obama to hush up or risk offending them. They made the most of “engagement.” They got the Americans to buy into a silly agreement in which an unverifiable amount of enriched uranium could be shipped out of the country. And then they nixed the deal, prolonged the pre-sanctions phase, made friends with other anti-Israeli and anti-American regimes, and turned the UN session into a forum for their own propaganda. Now they’ve topped themselves:

Iran said on Monday that it had reached an agreement, brokered by Brazil and Turkey, for a nuclear fuel swap that could undermine efforts in the United Nations to impose new sanctions on the Iranians. Iranian state media quoted senior officials as saying the deal provided for Iran to ship 1,200 kilograms — about 2,600 pounds — of low-enriched uranium to neighboring Turkey in return for 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium. …

There was no immediate response from the United States or other nations in the international group dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. … If the latest agreement meant Iran was now prepared for an exchange outside its own territory, that could represent a potentially significant step, said a diplomat in Vienna who spoke in return for anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. … It was unclear whether the Obama administration, which has insisted on the need for new sanctions, would take any new iteration of the original United Nations-based deal for a fuel exchange.

This is preposterous given the dispositions of Brazil and Turkey these days, the impossibility of verification, and the likelihood that these nations would return the nuclear material whenever the Iranians wanted it. But it is not significantly less preposterous than the original deal the Obama team gushed over, and the administration may now see this as an escape hatch. (Done! Problem solved!) As the report notes, “the blessing of Turkey and Brazil for such a swap agreement could put the Obama administration in the awkward position of appearing to take an unreasonably hard line.” Because, you see, we wouldn’t want to insist on a “hard line,” namely, that a brutal Islamic fundamentalist state dedicated to the eradication of Israel be forced to forgo a nuclear program or face dire consequences.

The Iranian regime at every turn has befuddled and outwitted Obama. The mullahs stole an election and brutally suppressed and murdered protesters while convincing Obama to hush up or risk offending them. They made the most of “engagement.” They got the Americans to buy into a silly agreement in which an unverifiable amount of enriched uranium could be shipped out of the country. And then they nixed the deal, prolonged the pre-sanctions phase, made friends with other anti-Israeli and anti-American regimes, and turned the UN session into a forum for their own propaganda. Now they’ve topped themselves:

Iran said on Monday that it had reached an agreement, brokered by Brazil and Turkey, for a nuclear fuel swap that could undermine efforts in the United Nations to impose new sanctions on the Iranians. Iranian state media quoted senior officials as saying the deal provided for Iran to ship 1,200 kilograms — about 2,600 pounds — of low-enriched uranium to neighboring Turkey in return for 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium. …

There was no immediate response from the United States or other nations in the international group dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. … If the latest agreement meant Iran was now prepared for an exchange outside its own territory, that could represent a potentially significant step, said a diplomat in Vienna who spoke in return for anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. … It was unclear whether the Obama administration, which has insisted on the need for new sanctions, would take any new iteration of the original United Nations-based deal for a fuel exchange.

This is preposterous given the dispositions of Brazil and Turkey these days, the impossibility of verification, and the likelihood that these nations would return the nuclear material whenever the Iranians wanted it. But it is not significantly less preposterous than the original deal the Obama team gushed over, and the administration may now see this as an escape hatch. (Done! Problem solved!) As the report notes, “the blessing of Turkey and Brazil for such a swap agreement could put the Obama administration in the awkward position of appearing to take an unreasonably hard line.” Because, you see, we wouldn’t want to insist on a “hard line,” namely, that a brutal Islamic fundamentalist state dedicated to the eradication of Israel be forced to forgo a nuclear program or face dire consequences.

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Another Cairo Speech

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

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RE: Spokesman for Evil

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

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The Obami’s Engagement Dead End

Hillary Clinton is now decrying the emergence in Iran of a military dictatorship. She declares:

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. … I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians, as well as to those of us on the outside,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, Clinton appears to root for the mullahs. Why in the world are we seemingly bemoaning the plight of the Supreme Leader? Could we perhaps take the side of real regime change and root for the democracy protestors? Too much to expect, I think. Even the New York Times notices the cul-de-sac in which this sort of argument puts Clinton: “But in prodding the clerics and politicians to take action, Mrs. Clinton found herself in the awkward position of celebrating the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Iran today, she said, is ‘a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.’” So the current regime isn’t as swell as the old regime, but we’re rooting for ‘em anyway. And this is what passes for smart diplomacy.

But there is another problem here. If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is infesting and manipulating the regime, and if its reach extends to the political apparatus, how are itty-bitty, narrowly focused sanctions going to work? Amir Taheri observes that the IRGC essentially turned “Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry” in response to the Feb. 11 protests. He observes of the IRGC:

Their leaders are more strident than many of the regime’s leaders, vetoing countless attempts by mullahs and politicians to reach a compromise with the portion of the opposition still calling for reform rather than regime change. Revolutionary Guard generals frequently appear on television to call for mass arrests and show trials. A weak and indecisive caliph, Mr. Khamenei has so far refused to endorse the kind of “final solution” the generals demand.

Abroad, the Revolutionary Guard pursues an aggressive policy aimed at “filling the vacuum” the generals hope will be created when the U.S. disengages from Iraq and Afghanistan by funding terrorist groups and their political front organizations. The IRGC has reportedly created a special desk to monitor the coming parliamentary elections in Baghdad and Kabul with the aim of helping pro-Tehran elements win power.

Hmm. But the Obami are going to come up with very narrowly framed sanctions, they keep telling us. This is to avoid impacting the rest of the government and to keep the Iranian population at large – the same population that has already pretty much figured out who the bad guys are – from becoming upset with the U.S. (although they are actually already upset with the U.S. for granting legitimacy to the regime).

You wonder how the Obami, such smart and educated folks, got so tied up in knots. Well, it seems like they had not a clue about whom they were dealing when they headed down the regime road. The New York Times tells us:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

Even the Gray Lady can figure it out: “And if Mrs. Clinton is correct that the Revolutionary Guards, not the politicians or the clerics, are becoming the central power in Iran, the prospects for rapprochement can only look worse. Not that Iran’s political and religious leaders, so far, have demonstrated much interest in Mr. Obama’s outreach.”

There is only one reasonable and viable path out of this: regime change. Not mullah boosterism. Not pin-prick sanctions to get the mullahs back to dickering with us in Vienna. There are Iranians dying in the street to displace the regime — mullahs, IRGC, the whole gaggle of thugs — and that is the horse we should be betting on.

Hillary Clinton is now decrying the emergence in Iran of a military dictatorship. She declares:

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. … I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians, as well as to those of us on the outside,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, Clinton appears to root for the mullahs. Why in the world are we seemingly bemoaning the plight of the Supreme Leader? Could we perhaps take the side of real regime change and root for the democracy protestors? Too much to expect, I think. Even the New York Times notices the cul-de-sac in which this sort of argument puts Clinton: “But in prodding the clerics and politicians to take action, Mrs. Clinton found herself in the awkward position of celebrating the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Iran today, she said, is ‘a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.’” So the current regime isn’t as swell as the old regime, but we’re rooting for ‘em anyway. And this is what passes for smart diplomacy.

But there is another problem here. If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is infesting and manipulating the regime, and if its reach extends to the political apparatus, how are itty-bitty, narrowly focused sanctions going to work? Amir Taheri observes that the IRGC essentially turned “Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry” in response to the Feb. 11 protests. He observes of the IRGC:

Their leaders are more strident than many of the regime’s leaders, vetoing countless attempts by mullahs and politicians to reach a compromise with the portion of the opposition still calling for reform rather than regime change. Revolutionary Guard generals frequently appear on television to call for mass arrests and show trials. A weak and indecisive caliph, Mr. Khamenei has so far refused to endorse the kind of “final solution” the generals demand.

Abroad, the Revolutionary Guard pursues an aggressive policy aimed at “filling the vacuum” the generals hope will be created when the U.S. disengages from Iraq and Afghanistan by funding terrorist groups and their political front organizations. The IRGC has reportedly created a special desk to monitor the coming parliamentary elections in Baghdad and Kabul with the aim of helping pro-Tehran elements win power.

Hmm. But the Obami are going to come up with very narrowly framed sanctions, they keep telling us. This is to avoid impacting the rest of the government and to keep the Iranian population at large – the same population that has already pretty much figured out who the bad guys are – from becoming upset with the U.S. (although they are actually already upset with the U.S. for granting legitimacy to the regime).

You wonder how the Obami, such smart and educated folks, got so tied up in knots. Well, it seems like they had not a clue about whom they were dealing when they headed down the regime road. The New York Times tells us:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

Even the Gray Lady can figure it out: “And if Mrs. Clinton is correct that the Revolutionary Guards, not the politicians or the clerics, are becoming the central power in Iran, the prospects for rapprochement can only look worse. Not that Iran’s political and religious leaders, so far, have demonstrated much interest in Mr. Obama’s outreach.”

There is only one reasonable and viable path out of this: regime change. Not mullah boosterism. Not pin-prick sanctions to get the mullahs back to dickering with us in Vienna. There are Iranians dying in the street to displace the regime — mullahs, IRGC, the whole gaggle of thugs — and that is the horse we should be betting on.

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Humility Isn’t in the Obami Repertoire

Elliott Abrams sums up the mess that is the result of a year of the Obami’s “smart” Mideast policy:

So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

While George Mitchell prattles on about a time limit on peace negotiations that have no starting point, no attendees, and no hope of success, Abrams suggests there is another way: forget the “peace process,” the endless churning of diplomats in European capitals with the same impediments to meaningful progress (not the least of which is a viable Palestinian negotiating partner for Israel), and instead create “a Palestinian state from the bottom up, institution by institution, and ending with Israeli withdrawal and negotiation of a state only when Palestinian political life is truly able to sustain self-government, maintain law and order, and prevent terrorism against Israel.” Despite the inescapable logic of the idea and the presence of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is devoted to such an approach, the Obami seem insistent on trotting out Mitchell to rehash what has been tried not for only a year but for a couple decades.

It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?

Well, neither Obama nor his minions appear to have much self-awareness, whether about the Middle East or any other aspect of their not-very-smart diplomacy. They pat themselves on the back as they slip the trap they have set for themselves (be it in Honduras in backing, and then abandoning, Manuel Zelaya, or imposing and then dropping the precondition of Israel’s agreement on an absolute settlement freeze), but they never advance past their initial starting point.

One gets the sense that the Obami regard their own earnestness and the number of frequent-flier miles accumulated by Mitchell as ends unto themselves. Look how hard they’re trying! It’s a pattern of self-congratulation not uncommon to the Obama team, which is long on meetings and short on results.

But there’s also something else at play here: if the Obami were to follow Abrams’s advice, where would be the glory in it for them? As Abrams describes it, institution-building by definition is a process undertaken by Palestinians for Palestinians. Abrams quotes Fayyed: “This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly” (emphasis added). Indeed there is nothing much for Mitchell to go on Charlie Rose to crow about. It’s not about them. There is an art and a certain humility required to step back, to allow the Palestinians to earn their own statehood. And humility is something in very short supply in the Obama administration. So let’s not get our hopes up that the Obami will see the light and try a different approach with some chance of success.

Elliott Abrams sums up the mess that is the result of a year of the Obami’s “smart” Mideast policy:

So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

While George Mitchell prattles on about a time limit on peace negotiations that have no starting point, no attendees, and no hope of success, Abrams suggests there is another way: forget the “peace process,” the endless churning of diplomats in European capitals with the same impediments to meaningful progress (not the least of which is a viable Palestinian negotiating partner for Israel), and instead create “a Palestinian state from the bottom up, institution by institution, and ending with Israeli withdrawal and negotiation of a state only when Palestinian political life is truly able to sustain self-government, maintain law and order, and prevent terrorism against Israel.” Despite the inescapable logic of the idea and the presence of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is devoted to such an approach, the Obami seem insistent on trotting out Mitchell to rehash what has been tried not for only a year but for a couple decades.

It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?

Well, neither Obama nor his minions appear to have much self-awareness, whether about the Middle East or any other aspect of their not-very-smart diplomacy. They pat themselves on the back as they slip the trap they have set for themselves (be it in Honduras in backing, and then abandoning, Manuel Zelaya, or imposing and then dropping the precondition of Israel’s agreement on an absolute settlement freeze), but they never advance past their initial starting point.

One gets the sense that the Obami regard their own earnestness and the number of frequent-flier miles accumulated by Mitchell as ends unto themselves. Look how hard they’re trying! It’s a pattern of self-congratulation not uncommon to the Obama team, which is long on meetings and short on results.

But there’s also something else at play here: if the Obami were to follow Abrams’s advice, where would be the glory in it for them? As Abrams describes it, institution-building by definition is a process undertaken by Palestinians for Palestinians. Abrams quotes Fayyed: “This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly” (emphasis added). Indeed there is nothing much for Mitchell to go on Charlie Rose to crow about. It’s not about them. There is an art and a certain humility required to step back, to allow the Palestinians to earn their own statehood. And humility is something in very short supply in the Obama administration. So let’s not get our hopes up that the Obami will see the light and try a different approach with some chance of success.

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What’s The Difference Between Obama and McCain?

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

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The Paper Of Record

It may be the McCain camp’s least favorite publication, but they would be hard pressed to come up with pieces that better serve their current message than two which appear in today’s New York Times.

First, this op-ed, which corrects Barack Obama’s take on the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit:

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: “Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. . .Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world. . . .

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.

The second is a front-page story letting on that Jews in Florida actually have real concerns about Obama. And who’d have thought it is not just irrational fear? (The Times dutifully reports “the resistance toward Mr. Obama appears to be rooted in something more than factual misperception; even those with an accurate understanding of Mr. Obama share the hesitations.”) Lots of Florida Jews actually seem troubled by his close association with Palestinian activists, his willingness to hold direct, unconditional negotiations with Iran, and an overall sense he’s likely to “venture too close to questionable characters.” (But there is something for Obama apologists, too–the Times found some other Jews who confess that they think it’s all racism or irrational fear of Obama’s middle name.)

So from the McCain perspective it appears there is a little good news even the Times thinks is fit to print.

It may be the McCain camp’s least favorite publication, but they would be hard pressed to come up with pieces that better serve their current message than two which appear in today’s New York Times.

First, this op-ed, which corrects Barack Obama’s take on the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit:

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats. Kennedy’s own secretary of state, Dean Rusk, had argued much the same in a Foreign Affairs article the previous year: “Is it wise to gamble so heavily? Are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them?”

But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. . .Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world. . . .

A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.

The second is a front-page story letting on that Jews in Florida actually have real concerns about Obama. And who’d have thought it is not just irrational fear? (The Times dutifully reports “the resistance toward Mr. Obama appears to be rooted in something more than factual misperception; even those with an accurate understanding of Mr. Obama share the hesitations.”) Lots of Florida Jews actually seem troubled by his close association with Palestinian activists, his willingness to hold direct, unconditional negotiations with Iran, and an overall sense he’s likely to “venture too close to questionable characters.” (But there is something for Obama apologists, too–the Times found some other Jews who confess that they think it’s all racism or irrational fear of Obama’s middle name.)

So from the McCain perspective it appears there is a little good news even the Times thinks is fit to print.

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Jaw, Jaw

In the March issue of Commentary, Nathan Thrall wrote a splendid review of Treacherous Alliance by Trita Parsi, an absurdly over-praised book that purports to explain the “secret dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States” but which actually only succeeds in trying to explain away various excrescences on the face of the Islamic Republic of Iran.   

Thrall is back in today’s New York Times with an equally splendid op-ed (coauthored with Jesse James Wilkins) that explains, by means of a vivid historical example, exactly what is wrong with the idea of negotiating with ones enemies without preconditions–precisely the kind of negotiations that Barack Obama has promised to hold with the leaders of Iran.

Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings – his Harvard thesis was titled “Appeasement at Munich” – he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.

What happened in that summit? The title of Thrall and Wilkins’ piece, Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed, says it all.

In the March issue of Commentary, Nathan Thrall wrote a splendid review of Treacherous Alliance by Trita Parsi, an absurdly over-praised book that purports to explain the “secret dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States” but which actually only succeeds in trying to explain away various excrescences on the face of the Islamic Republic of Iran.   

Thrall is back in today’s New York Times with an equally splendid op-ed (coauthored with Jesse James Wilkins) that explains, by means of a vivid historical example, exactly what is wrong with the idea of negotiating with ones enemies without preconditions–precisely the kind of negotiations that Barack Obama has promised to hold with the leaders of Iran.

Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings – his Harvard thesis was titled “Appeasement at Munich” – he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.

What happened in that summit? The title of Thrall and Wilkins’ piece, Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed, says it all.

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“Patriotic” Chinese Protests

Sunday, thousands of angry Chinese took to the streets in anti-foreigner protests in major cities in China, including Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Xian, Qingdao, and Dalian. The demonstrations followed those occurring on Friday and Saturday, which took place around the country, including Beijing, Kunming, and Hefei. They were the largest anti-foreign protests in three years, since anti-Japan riots shook Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in China.

Young Chinese, upset at foreign media coverage of recent ethnic disturbances and pro-Tibetan protests around the world, gathered in front of foreign stores, declared a boycott of French retailer Carrefour, and carried pictures of Mao Zedong. “Condemn CNN” and “Shut up you French,” seen on banners over the weekend, expressed popular sentiment. “We’re supporting the Olympics and boycotting Tibetan independence,” said the organizer of one of the demonstrations in the Chinese capital. As Zhu Xiaomeng, a student in Beijing who has been organizing a boycott of French companies, noted, “After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

That’s the message Beijing wants you to hear. Chinese state media triggered the protests in China with noxious anti-French stories that began appearing about a week ago, and Beijing has fueled demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, Birmingham, and Manchester in Europe and San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. by paying “patriotic” Chinese to participate.

The ugly tactic seems to be working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, will be sending three envoys to Beijing to try to limit the damage (the first left France yesterday). He also invited Jin Jing, a disabled fencer who protected the Olympic flame in the Paris torch relay from protesters, to be his “personal guest.” There is, however, evidence that Beijing manufactured the incident that made the “wheelchair angel” a national symbol of Chinese defiance.

So the West is being intimidated once again by arrogant Chinese rulers. Eventually, we will learn that Beijing has been manipulating us all along. In the meantime, Western leaders will continue to apologize to the Middle Kingdom whenever it gets into a snit.

Sunday, thousands of angry Chinese took to the streets in anti-foreigner protests in major cities in China, including Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Xian, Qingdao, and Dalian. The demonstrations followed those occurring on Friday and Saturday, which took place around the country, including Beijing, Kunming, and Hefei. They were the largest anti-foreign protests in three years, since anti-Japan riots shook Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in China.

Young Chinese, upset at foreign media coverage of recent ethnic disturbances and pro-Tibetan protests around the world, gathered in front of foreign stores, declared a boycott of French retailer Carrefour, and carried pictures of Mao Zedong. “Condemn CNN” and “Shut up you French,” seen on banners over the weekend, expressed popular sentiment. “We’re supporting the Olympics and boycotting Tibetan independence,” said the organizer of one of the demonstrations in the Chinese capital. As Zhu Xiaomeng, a student in Beijing who has been organizing a boycott of French companies, noted, “After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

That’s the message Beijing wants you to hear. Chinese state media triggered the protests in China with noxious anti-French stories that began appearing about a week ago, and Beijing has fueled demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, Birmingham, and Manchester in Europe and San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. by paying “patriotic” Chinese to participate.

The ugly tactic seems to be working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, will be sending three envoys to Beijing to try to limit the damage (the first left France yesterday). He also invited Jin Jing, a disabled fencer who protected the Olympic flame in the Paris torch relay from protesters, to be his “personal guest.” There is, however, evidence that Beijing manufactured the incident that made the “wheelchair angel” a national symbol of Chinese defiance.

So the West is being intimidated once again by arrogant Chinese rulers. Eventually, we will learn that Beijing has been manipulating us all along. In the meantime, Western leaders will continue to apologize to the Middle Kingdom whenever it gets into a snit.

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The Ultimate Test of American Leadership

Today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would announce a new diplomatic initiative soon. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to come up with a proposed package in an effort to resolve regional and international problems in dialogue with opposing parties,” he stated. Mottaki implied that the “new orientation” would relate to Tehran’s nuclear program. The foreign minister’s words followed Saturday’s announcement that Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, will meet with the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei tomorrow in Vienna.

The two announcements come within days of Wednesday’s gathering in Shanghai of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the P5 + 1. The group is expected to discuss sweetening incentives for Iran to drop its enrichment of uranium.

Are there any coincidences when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program? Yes, but this series of events is not one of them. Tehran knows it can buy itself at least another year by holding out hope at this time that there can be a peaceful resolution to the impasse. Therefore, the announcements of yesterday and today are, like all of its past offers, insincere.

This is not to say that Iranians cannot be talked out of their enrichment program. They can—but only when they know they have been defeated. At this moment, however, the mullahs appear to believe they are the ones who are prevailing. So, contrary to what the New York Times has just suggested, it is pointless to begin a new round of negotiations. On Friday, the paper stated that “Washington needs to make Iran a serious offer to talk about everything, including security assurances and diplomatic and economic relations if it is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate fully with inspectors.”

What Washington really needs to do is make sure that Iran’s new diplomatic offensive does not succeed and that the P5+1 pushes through a tougher round of sanctions soon. President Bush has staked so much on cooperation with Beijing and Moscow in the past few years. Yet if the Chinese and Russians cannot cooperate on such a basic matter as Iran’s nuclear program when it is on the verge of creating a weapon, then it is pointless to maintain dialogue with them because nothing much else will matter.

It is, of course, unlikely that these two nations will reverse course at this time. So we are at one of those moments when conventional diplomacy is failing. When that happens—when what is necessary is no longer considered practical—the world often experiences uncertainty, turbulence, and death in great numbers.

If the Bush administration cannot change the course of events one more time, then we could travel from the best moment in history to the worst. This is, up to now, the ultimate test of American leadership.

Today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would announce a new diplomatic initiative soon. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to come up with a proposed package in an effort to resolve regional and international problems in dialogue with opposing parties,” he stated. Mottaki implied that the “new orientation” would relate to Tehran’s nuclear program. The foreign minister’s words followed Saturday’s announcement that Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, will meet with the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei tomorrow in Vienna.

The two announcements come within days of Wednesday’s gathering in Shanghai of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the P5 + 1. The group is expected to discuss sweetening incentives for Iran to drop its enrichment of uranium.

Are there any coincidences when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program? Yes, but this series of events is not one of them. Tehran knows it can buy itself at least another year by holding out hope at this time that there can be a peaceful resolution to the impasse. Therefore, the announcements of yesterday and today are, like all of its past offers, insincere.

This is not to say that Iranians cannot be talked out of their enrichment program. They can—but only when they know they have been defeated. At this moment, however, the mullahs appear to believe they are the ones who are prevailing. So, contrary to what the New York Times has just suggested, it is pointless to begin a new round of negotiations. On Friday, the paper stated that “Washington needs to make Iran a serious offer to talk about everything, including security assurances and diplomatic and economic relations if it is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate fully with inspectors.”

What Washington really needs to do is make sure that Iran’s new diplomatic offensive does not succeed and that the P5+1 pushes through a tougher round of sanctions soon. President Bush has staked so much on cooperation with Beijing and Moscow in the past few years. Yet if the Chinese and Russians cannot cooperate on such a basic matter as Iran’s nuclear program when it is on the verge of creating a weapon, then it is pointless to maintain dialogue with them because nothing much else will matter.

It is, of course, unlikely that these two nations will reverse course at this time. So we are at one of those moments when conventional diplomacy is failing. When that happens—when what is necessary is no longer considered practical—the world often experiences uncertainty, turbulence, and death in great numbers.

If the Bush administration cannot change the course of events one more time, then we could travel from the best moment in history to the worst. This is, up to now, the ultimate test of American leadership.

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Israel and the U.N.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, plans to turn itself into the U.N. General Assembly for a few moments next November, when it will reenact the fateful November 29, 1947 U.N. General Assembly vote. Israeli officials hope to have the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, preside over the ceremonial reenactment, alongside the representatives of the original 33 nations who supported the vote.

In two weeks, the European Parliament is also going to play host to U.N.-sponsored, Israel-related activities—this time of a different sort. Then, the EP’s gates will open to welcome, for two days, a “conference” organized by the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” or CEI. Lest there be any confusion, the CEI is a relic of the cold war; it was established by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3376 in 1975, alongside the infamous Resolution 3379, which stipulated “Zionism is a form of racism.” 3379 was repealed, but CEI lives on, in its own parallel universe of hatred.

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Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, plans to turn itself into the U.N. General Assembly for a few moments next November, when it will reenact the fateful November 29, 1947 U.N. General Assembly vote. Israeli officials hope to have the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, preside over the ceremonial reenactment, alongside the representatives of the original 33 nations who supported the vote.

In two weeks, the European Parliament is also going to play host to U.N.-sponsored, Israel-related activities—this time of a different sort. Then, the EP’s gates will open to welcome, for two days, a “conference” organized by the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” or CEI. Lest there be any confusion, the CEI is a relic of the cold war; it was established by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3376 in 1975, alongside the infamous Resolution 3379, which stipulated “Zionism is a form of racism.” 3379 was repealed, but CEI lives on, in its own parallel universe of hatred.

The upcoming conference in Brussels reflects this highly partisan, biased, anti-Israel spirit, as well as the organizational hypocrisy of such international forums, where onesidedness is coated in neutral language. Thus, the conference title is “United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace” and the theme is “Civil society and parliamentarians working together for Middle East peace.” Rest assured, though—its participants will whistle a very different tune.

The speakers are vetted to prevent anyone from airing anything but the party line. Among the Israelis apparently invited to attend (the highly secretive program does not list names yet) are, for example, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Michel Warschawski, and Amira Hass.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a peace activist and one of the founders of the Bereaved Families for Peace. After Elhanan’s thirteen-year-old daughter died in 1997, Elhanan became an outspoken critic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; she has said that in Israel, “People are either Jews or non-Jews, and it doesn’t matter what they are if they are non-us.” Michel Warschawski is a journalist who writes frequently for extreme left-wing European magazines. Amira Hass writes for the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, and is known for reporting from the Palestinian perspective.

These are interesting speakers, no doubt, but they do not accurately represent Israeli civil society or Israel’s parliament. They speak for themselves and the Palestinian viewpoint, which they have all preached heartily.

All of this and more will take place in less than two weeks, courtesy of the European Parliament and Europe’s taxpayers, who bear the burden of its running costs. So far, only Polish parliamentary members have spoken against the event, announcing they will boycott it for its slanted nature and the harm it will do to the cause of peace. Kudos to the Polish delegation, then, for standing up against the CEI’s abuse of the prestigious platform. It is unfortunate, though, that so far only one of 27 members has spoken against the event, and that an official representative of the Parliament is listed among the speakers for the opening session (alongside a representative from “Palestine,” but not one from Israel).

It is perhaps too much to expect the European Parliament to withdraw its sponsorship of this partisan event, whose aim is everything but the goal its title describes. As for the U.N., let’s just hope there is no scheduling conflict, and that on November 29, U.N. Secretary General Ban, who was already at the opening annual session of CEI last February, will be in Jerusalem, and not at one of the many Israel-bashing events CEI no doubt plans to hold on that day in New York, Geneva, or Vienna.

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Stolen by Stalin

A new chapter is about to begin in the story of art looting during World War II. Up until now, attention has centered on the Nazis’ systematic, pitiless theft of art treasures from occupied countries and from Jews destined for extermination camps. The return of this art to its rightful owners is no simple matter, especially where entire families have vanished; not until last year, for example, did the Belvedere in Vienna return to Maria Altmann the five Gustav Klimt paintings that had been extorted from her uncle in 1938. (The most ravishing of these, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, subsequently was sold to Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics tycoon, for $135 million.) The critical success of the 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa, which looked both at art theft and recovery efforts, shows that public interest remains strong.

Less well-known is that, at the close of the war, Germany’s art treasures were plundered just as ruthlessly and (perhaps) just as systematically. On the part of the western allies, this consisted of individual thievery, such as the American army lieutenant who stole $200 million worth of art treasures from the cathedral of Quedlinburg. On the part of the Soviet Union, however, art plunder was conducted as a matter of state policy, and viewed as the legitimate spoils of war. Some 180,000 items were lost, chiefly to the Soviet Union, and now Germany has at last begun to ask, quietly and discreetly, for the return of that art.

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A new chapter is about to begin in the story of art looting during World War II. Up until now, attention has centered on the Nazis’ systematic, pitiless theft of art treasures from occupied countries and from Jews destined for extermination camps. The return of this art to its rightful owners is no simple matter, especially where entire families have vanished; not until last year, for example, did the Belvedere in Vienna return to Maria Altmann the five Gustav Klimt paintings that had been extorted from her uncle in 1938. (The most ravishing of these, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, subsequently was sold to Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics tycoon, for $135 million.) The critical success of the 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa, which looked both at art theft and recovery efforts, shows that public interest remains strong.

Less well-known is that, at the close of the war, Germany’s art treasures were plundered just as ruthlessly and (perhaps) just as systematically. On the part of the western allies, this consisted of individual thievery, such as the American army lieutenant who stole $200 million worth of art treasures from the cathedral of Quedlinburg. On the part of the Soviet Union, however, art plunder was conducted as a matter of state policy, and viewed as the legitimate spoils of war. Some 180,000 items were lost, chiefly to the Soviet Union, and now Germany has at last begun to ask, quietly and discreetly, for the return of that art.

The key player is the SPK, or Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz). The SPK is the steward for the art and culture for the former state of Prussia, from which the lion’s share of the missing art was taken. Since official requests for the return of the art have been fruitless, the SPK has sought to appeal to the Russian public directly. It is publishing six catalogues of the missing art, hoping to call attention to the missing work, and perhaps to prompt owners of individual items to come forward. The first catalogue is devoted to sculpture and lists 1,611 items—which, if recovered, “would represent one of the most important sculptural collections of Europe.”

It is understandable that it has taken so long for Germany to assert its claim to its lost art. Until 1990, there was no unified German state to make a claim, nor was the German Democratic Republic in a position to make demands of the Soviet Union. Moreover, there was a widespread feeling that these cultural losses were justifiable reparations for the unimaginable barbarity of the war Germany had launched. To demand the missing art would have been out of keeping with the self-abnegating sensibility of postwar Germany.

But recently, a different historical perspective has emerged. The unofficial taboo against dwelling on the sufferings of the German people during the war gradually lifted, and on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, the German media gave extraordinary coverage to the suffering of the German refugees from the east. Such an elegiac sensibility is not all that different from that in the United States, where World War II is now receding from living memory into history. In Germany, however, this new cultural assertiveness seems a sign that the upcoming generation will not be restrained by the war guilt that has played a major role in European affairs for the past half century.

It is particularly ironic that stolen Prussian art should again incite brooding over German nationhood. Much of this same art was already looted once before, under Napoleon, who shipped it westward rather than eastward. Although Napoleon seized merely the private collection of the Prussian king, that art was transformed, by the ensuing swell of German patriotism, into national cultural patrimony. Berlin’s Altes Museum was built to house the collection, which became the basis of one of the world’s first public art museums. One can admire the scrupulous and poignant inventory of lost art treasures that the SPK has now compiled, even while recognizing that some of its distant political ramifications are unsettling, or even incendiary.

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Size Doesn’t Matter

Opera is about voices, not bodies. It is an art of long-distance perceptions: only a small portion of the audience is close to the stage, and TV or film distorts the medium entirely. Yet some opera house directors and managers (who cannot tell a good voice from a mediocre one) focus instead on an easier criterion—namely, who looks fat onstage and who looks thin.

The Met soprano Ruth Ann Swenson recently complained that she is underemployed because she is not “skinny enough” for Met general director Peter Gelb, who in his previous job as head of Sony Classical was guilty of promoting the ghastly, shrieking British “crossover” singer Charlotte Church. In 2003, the American soprano Deborah Voigt was fired from a London production of Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos because she could not fit into a skimpy costume.

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Opera is about voices, not bodies. It is an art of long-distance perceptions: only a small portion of the audience is close to the stage, and TV or film distorts the medium entirely. Yet some opera house directors and managers (who cannot tell a good voice from a mediocre one) focus instead on an easier criterion—namely, who looks fat onstage and who looks thin.

The Met soprano Ruth Ann Swenson recently complained that she is underemployed because she is not “skinny enough” for Met general director Peter Gelb, who in his previous job as head of Sony Classical was guilty of promoting the ghastly, shrieking British “crossover” singer Charlotte Church. In 2003, the American soprano Deborah Voigt was fired from a London production of Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos because she could not fit into a skimpy costume.

Ever since the art of opera developed—its first stars were castratos who became fat after being snipped— singers both fat and thin have gained stardom. Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1941), the Italian coloratura soprano after whom a caloric chicken-and-pastadish was named, would say in her later years: “I am old, I am fat, but I am still Tetrazzini.” Indeed, her buoyant, exuberant performances may be enjoyed on CD reissues from Pearl and Nimbus. The hefty German-born contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861-1936), a legendary glutton, sang with gusto and virtuosity into her 70’s, as CD’s on Nimbus prove.

Other female singers with lower voices followed in the Schumann-Heink tradition, like the stout Italian mezzo-soprano Ebe Stignani in recordings of Bellini’s Norma, with soprano Gina Cigna, and Verdi’s Requiem, alongside tenor Beniamino Gigli. Both recordings are available from Pearl. The most exuberantly overweight singer today is the Catalan soprano Montserrat Caballé (b. 1933), whose soft singing and breath control were superhuman in her prime, as a new EMI set of vocal highlights shows.

Always humorous about her weight, Caballé celebrated her 74th birthday recently in Vienna by paying public tribute to the Sacher-Torte, singing a brief serenade to the dessert before sampling it and then announcing, “Calories don’t exist!” I recall witnessing Caballé’s 1985 performance of Puccini’s Tosca at the Met, during which she eschewed the title character’s traditional jump off the ramparts of the Castel Sant’ Angelo, and instead just walked offstage with dignity. Considering her ravishing singing in “Vissi d’arte,” the aria that preceded her exit, she was forgiven by the audience (if not by some persnickety critics).

Opera is an art of freakish, exceptional beings, not of marketing-friendly looks. If we allow unimaginative directors and opera house bosses to censor singers because they are fat, soon older singers will also be banned, and we will miss great autumnal performances like those of tenor Alfredo Kraus, who sang artfully into his late 60’s. Similar “realistic” criteria are already being used to keep singers of color from being cast in opera roles, especially in Europe. So cheer those fat ladies singing—after all, even Mr. Gelb’s Charlotte Church has put on weight.

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Bookshelf

• When I was an undergraduate music student, there were two pieces of New York-related classical-music trivia guaranteed to reduce the most unruly class to stunned (if short-lived) silence. One was that Leonard Bernstein was listed in the Manhattan phone book, and the other was that Lorenzo Da Ponte was buried in Queens. Bernstein has since acquired a new number, but Da Ponte’s bones can still be found in a common grave within the city limits of New York. From time to time this fact comes to the attention of a local newspaper editor, who thereupon commissions a feature story about the complicated life of the man who wrote the libretti for Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte.

I humbly confess that until last week, everything I knew about Lorenzo Da Ponte could easily have been crammed into the compass of a shortish feature story. Now, however, I know enough to fill a book. The book in question is Rodney Bolt’s The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s Poet, Casanova’s Friend, and Italian Opera’s Impresario in America, a fully sourced biography that is nonetheless intended for the edification of a non-scholarly audience. Bolt is a director-turned-travel writer who has a lively style, a good eye for detail, and a fabulous story to tell, all of which add up to an exceedingly readable book.

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• When I was an undergraduate music student, there were two pieces of New York-related classical-music trivia guaranteed to reduce the most unruly class to stunned (if short-lived) silence. One was that Leonard Bernstein was listed in the Manhattan phone book, and the other was that Lorenzo Da Ponte was buried in Queens. Bernstein has since acquired a new number, but Da Ponte’s bones can still be found in a common grave within the city limits of New York. From time to time this fact comes to the attention of a local newspaper editor, who thereupon commissions a feature story about the complicated life of the man who wrote the libretti for Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte.

I humbly confess that until last week, everything I knew about Lorenzo Da Ponte could easily have been crammed into the compass of a shortish feature story. Now, however, I know enough to fill a book. The book in question is Rodney Bolt’s The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s Poet, Casanova’s Friend, and Italian Opera’s Impresario in America, a fully sourced biography that is nonetheless intended for the edification of a non-scholarly audience. Bolt is a director-turned-travel writer who has a lively style, a good eye for detail, and a fabulous story to tell, all of which add up to an exceedingly readable book.

It would, I suppose, be all but impossible to write an unreadable book about Da Ponte. He was born a Jew, became a Roman Catholic priest, and married at 43, having hitherto conducted his private life along lines not unlike those of his old friend Giacomo Casanova, in evidence of which I offer these two deliciously characteristic sentences from his Memoirs:

A beautiful girl of sixteen (I should have preferred to love her only as a daughter, but . . . ) was living in the house with her mother, who took care of the family, and would come to my room at the sound of the bell. To tell the truth, I rang the bell quite often, especially at moments when I felt my inspiration flagging.

A famously charming fellow far more interested in writing poetry than performing his priestly duties, the Abbé Da Ponte was duly expelled from Venice and made his way to Vienna, where he somehow contrived to become the Emperor Joseph II’s house librettist. There he began his collaboration with Mozart, for whom he wrote what are now generally regarded as the first great opera libretti. He also continued his friendship with Casanova, who was, believe it or not, present at the first performance of Don Giovanni, a coincidence that is almost too good to be true.

Bolt writes very well about the Mozart-Da Ponte collaboration, especially the creation of Così, a worldly, startlingly modern comedy of disillusionment and acceptance whose emotional complexities are no more easily unraveled in 2007 than they were in 1790:

Mozart and Da Ponte created a work that would have critics arguing for centuries, berating it then rescuing it, damning it for its cynicism and triviality, lauding it for its complexity . . . Mozart’s music enriched Da Ponte’s libretto with shades and further ambiguities, softening crueler edges, adding lacquer-layers of meaning and affection, pointing moments of satire. As before, composer and poet delicately stitched the comic and the serious together, and made their mix even more complex by an interplay of real and faked emotions, histrionic bombast and moments of transporting beauty . . . Così fan tutte was Les Liaisons dangereuses with heart.

From Vienna Da Ponte made his way to London, then New York, where he became Columbia University’s first professor of Italian after having run a grocery store and a bookshop whose customers included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (Presumably he was the only person to have known Longfellow, Mozart, and Casanova.) All these adventures and many others like them are skillfully recounted in The Librettist of Venice, and if Rodney Bolt occasionally fails to make them especially plausible-sounding . . . well, sometimes real life is like that.

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Auf Wiedersehen, Alban Berg Quartet!

Sign and Sight has translated a long article by Die Zeit‘s music critic Volker Hagedorn on the Alban Berg Quartet, one of the world’s pre-eminent string quartets. After a career spanning 40 years, the quartet will be retiring from the stage at the end of the next performance season.

Founded in 1967 by the Austrian violinist Günther Pichler and comprising Pichler, violinist Gerhard Schulz, cellist Valentin Erben, and violist Thomas Kakuska, the quartet made championing the work of 20th-century composers its fundamental principle. (Though the group did not, by any means, neglect the work of past masters, producing important recordings of Beethoven’s string quartets.) The quartet soon became one of the most widely heard and well-beloved in Europe.

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Sign and Sight has translated a long article by Die Zeit‘s music critic Volker Hagedorn on the Alban Berg Quartet, one of the world’s pre-eminent string quartets. After a career spanning 40 years, the quartet will be retiring from the stage at the end of the next performance season.

Founded in 1967 by the Austrian violinist Günther Pichler and comprising Pichler, violinist Gerhard Schulz, cellist Valentin Erben, and violist Thomas Kakuska, the quartet made championing the work of 20th-century composers its fundamental principle. (Though the group did not, by any means, neglect the work of past masters, producing important recordings of Beethoven’s string quartets.) The quartet soon became one of the most widely heard and well-beloved in Europe.

Hagedorn’s article is full of insight about their playing but also contains several interesting anecdotes. This one in particular should attest to the quartet’s early prowess and seriousness:

The very first modern composer to be included in their repertoire was not able to hear them anyway. Their namesake Alban Berg died in 1935. His widow, Helene, wanted to hear the four young musicians herself before giving the quartet her blessing. “We had to play the ‘Lyric Suite’ in the room where Berg composed it.” [says Pichler.] In this piece Berg gave musical expression to his despairing love for Hanna Fuchs, the married sister of Franz Werfel. Laden with symbolic motifs and a concealed subtext, which at one point breaks out quite openly in a quotation from Tristan and Isolde, it is one of the most passionate declarations of love in the string quartet repertoire. “That was really exciting for us,” says Pichler, relating how all the big names on the Vienna music scene came to hear them play. “Helene listened very intently and with great interest”—and she was taken with them.

The death of the quartet’s violist, Thomas Kakuska, in July 2005 was a major loss to the world of music. The group’s departure from public performance is another. Auf wiedersehen.

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Jakov Lind

The death of Jakov Lind at 80 ought not to go unnoticed. Lind, the author of Soul of Wood, Landscape in Concrete, and Ergo, was a man of great talent, an idiosyncratic and powerful writer who carried with him the experience of surviving the Nazis. I used to run into him occasionally in the company of other multi-lingual émigrés comprising a pocket of literary London. The conversation usually turned to the subterfuges that had enabled him to stay alive during the war. He had had some instinct that if he could pass himself off as not Jewish, the safest place to be was inside Germany itself. He pulled it off. A teenager, he worked on barges on the Rhine. Towards the end of the war, he was a courier for the Luftwaffe, an occupation surely as dangerous and improbable as any. I remember him one evening explaining that quite a few Jews escaped by passing themselves off like this, and they were known as “submarines.” I also remember him saying cryptically, “We learnt to live in a cupboard.”

Born in Vienna, as Heinz Landwirth, he acquired pseudonyms easily. After the Anschluss in 1938, his parents managed to emigrate to mandatory Palestine, but for unclear reasons left their son behind. He went to Holland, and his odyssey began. After 1945 he rejoined his parents in Palestine, and I believe took part in Israel’s war of independence.

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The death of Jakov Lind at 80 ought not to go unnoticed. Lind, the author of Soul of Wood, Landscape in Concrete, and Ergo, was a man of great talent, an idiosyncratic and powerful writer who carried with him the experience of surviving the Nazis. I used to run into him occasionally in the company of other multi-lingual émigrés comprising a pocket of literary London. The conversation usually turned to the subterfuges that had enabled him to stay alive during the war. He had had some instinct that if he could pass himself off as not Jewish, the safest place to be was inside Germany itself. He pulled it off. A teenager, he worked on barges on the Rhine. Towards the end of the war, he was a courier for the Luftwaffe, an occupation surely as dangerous and improbable as any. I remember him one evening explaining that quite a few Jews escaped by passing themselves off like this, and they were known as “submarines.” I also remember him saying cryptically, “We learnt to live in a cupboard.”

Born in Vienna, as Heinz Landwirth, he acquired pseudonyms easily. After the Anschluss in 1938, his parents managed to emigrate to mandatory Palestine, but for unclear reasons left their son behind. He went to Holland, and his odyssey began. After 1945 he rejoined his parents in Palestine, and I believe took part in Israel’s war of independence.

The Trip to Jerusalem is a very short book he published in 1974, and rich and fascinating it is too. He opened it by saying that he had had a vision, and had become a convert to God. Testing his vision, he went back to Israel. Normal life took over. His sister lived there, his son Grisha was doing his military service. He spent some time with David Ben Gurion, then in retirement, and with the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem. In just a few pages, he completes a wonderful depiction of Israel, and what it means to a fugitive and restless spirit like his. I took this book out to read it again just now, and found that I had noted in it, “When all is said and done, Lind is his own best story, all the way along the perplexing path to the Heavenly City.”

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