Randy's Corner Deli Library

31 July 2007


by Benny Morris
Post date: 07.25.07
Issue date: 07.23.07
1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East
By Tom Segev
Translated by Jessica Cohen
(Metropolitan Books, 673 pp., $35)
Click here to purchase the book.

Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War
By Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez
(Yale University Press, 287 pp., $26)
Click here to purchase the book.

In all modesty, I know a thing or two about historical revisionism. The desire to innovate, to surprise, to overthrow conventional wisdom and to subvert the well-worn tale--I, too, have acted on these impulses. And I have no apologies for the disturbances that I caused. In the 1980s, the history of Zionism and Israel sorely required critical review and scholarly emendation. For decades, too much nationalist propaganda had passed without scrutiny and been imbibed by Israeli society.

The official history--from the outlandish, skimpy beginnings of Zionism in the 1880s, when a handful of poor Jewish settlers struck roots in a semi-arid patch of ground ruled by hostile Muslim governors, through the succession of victories over much larger and potentially far more powerful surrounding Arab states--was a tale of triumph and glory, veritably miraculous in concept and in experience. This history seemed, to myself and to some others, to call out for cool, objective study--and, in the process, to be pricked and deflated. In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, large themes and central episodes of the hallowed narrative were revised and retold with some persuasiveness and success, if not to universal approbation. Tom Segev had a small part in this revisionism with his 1949: The First Israelis, which appeared in English in 1986, but the book vanished without leaving much of a trace on Israeli scholarship or Israeli consciousness, because in tackling too many themes--the "Sephardi Problem," the religious-secular divide, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--he contributed significantly to none.

But not all revisionism is good. Historical revisionism should aim at presenting a clearer and more accurate picture of the past than that served up by the previous generation of historians--a more truthful picture of what happened, and why, and how; of what motivated the protagonists and what were the reasons for, and consequences of, a given action or episode. Good revisionist historiography is no different from good historiography. It should not be written with a political purpose, or with the aim of shocking for shock's sake. (That is not revisionist historiography, it is tabloid historiography.)

Now, following the opening of many of the relevant major collections of papers in Israeli and American archives, we are in the throes of a revisionist surge regarding the Six Day War, whose fortieth anniversary has just been marked with a mixture of celebration and anxiety. Both 1967, by Tom Segev, and Foxbats Over Dimona, by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, are explicitly revisionist. Ginor and Remez aim to correct our understanding of a crucial aspect of the origins of the crisis in May 1967, giving a radically new spin to the war that took place the following month, and specifically Soviet behavior during the war; while Segev subjects the war, including its origins and its aftermath, and specifically the question of Israeli behavior during the war, to the full flail of newly released documentation, turning the whole story on its head. Six Day War revisionism is not a purely local emendation of history: in Ginor and Remez's case, it has important global ramifications, and in Segev's case, it has deep moral implications regarding the conduct of the Jewish state.

I will begin with Ginor and Remez-- who write that they "fell into this role of historical revisionists like Alice into her rabbit hole"--because they have written the more important book, if proximity to the truth is a measure of importance. One of the abiding mysteries of the Six Day War is why, during the second week of May 1967, the Soviets officially and persistently, and through a host of channels, misinformed the Egyptians that Israel was massing troops, ten to twenty brigades, to invade Syria and conquer Damascus and topple its (pro-Soviet) Baathist regime. The Soviets knew this to be a lie, as Ginor and Remez demonstrate. Indeed, in mid-May Israel's prime minister, Levi Eshkol, repeatedly invited Dmitri Chuvakhin, the Soviet ambassador to Israel, to inspect the border area for troops concentrations. Chuvakhin declined, remarking that "it isn't a diplomat's assignment to tour frontiers and see whether forces are being massed there." The Egyptians also knew that this was a lie. They sent their army chief of staff, Muhammad Fawzi, to Damascus to check, and he reported back to Cairo, on May 14 or 15, that "there was no sign of Israeli troop concentrations and the Russians must have been having hallucinations." The Syrians also knew it was a lie; and so did UNTSO, the U.N. truce force that supervised the borders.

Yet the Soviet move set the cat among the pigeons, leading directly to the sequence of Egyptian moves that resulted in the war. Starting on May 14, Egypt sent into the Sinai Peninsula four army divisions, undoing the de facto demilitarization of the peninsula that had prevailed since 1957. On May 1618, the Egyptians expelled UNEF, the U.N. peacekeeping force deployed along the Egyptian side of the border between Sinai and the Negev. And on May 22-23, they closed the Straits of Tiran, at the northern end of the Red Sea, to Israeli shipping and aircraft, thus substantively cutting Israel off from Africa and Asia.

In 1957, the United States had given Israel a guarantee that the straits would remain open. And so, at a stroke, Egypt's president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had canceled Israel's three major accomplishments from the Sinai-Suez War of 1956. Each of his steps was a clear casus belli--the remilitarization of a buffer area, which threatened the south of Israel and forced it to mobilize its reserves, the bulk of the Israel Defense Forces (thus partially paralyzing the economy); the removal of the U.N. tripwire that afforded Israel sufficient time and notice to mobilize should Egypt intend war; and the closure of a vital international waterway and lifeline.

Nasser capped these moves, on May 30, by signing a defense pact with Jordan's King Hussein that subordinated Jordan's army to the Egyptian high command and provided for the deployment of Egyptian troops on Jordanian soil. (Two battalions of Egyptian commandos were immediately positioned in the West Bank.) And then, after signing a defense pact with Egypt, the Iraqis sent their Eighth Brigade into Jordan--but, tardy as always, the Iraqis were interdicted and bombed by the Israeli Air Force on the afternoon of June 5, before they managed to cross the river and join the fray.

Nasser's actions were preceded by rising tension along the Israeli- Syrian border, which, during the previous two years, had seen the start of Fatah guerrilla-terrorist raids against Israel originating in refugee camps in Syria (though usually carried out across the Jordanian-Israeli and Lebanese- Israeli frontiers); and Syrian efforts to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River (which, along with the Sea of Galilee, is Israel's main water resource); and intermittent Syrian harassment, with small arms and artillery fire, of Israeli farm- ers and border kibbutzim. During the first months of 1967, Israel retaliated a number of times--six Syrian MiG-21 fighters were downed around Damascus in April 1967--and Israel's military and political leaders threatened Syria with further reprisals if it persisted.

The conventional wisdom had been (and still is) that Moscow "warned" Egypt of the massing of Israeli troops along the Syrian border in order to push the Egyptians into making a show of strength in Sinai that would deter the Israelis from attacking their Syrian allies. The Russians had not intended war. But the muscle-flexing got out of hand. Nasser, the eternal gambler (in 1956 he had nationalized the Suez Canal, bringing the Anglo-French invasion down on his head, and in 1963 he had intervened with his army in Yemen's civil war, suffering a bloody nose), pushed his army into Sinai; and, encountering no Israeli or international response, he ordered out the U.N. peacekeepers. Still there was no response--so he closed the straits. By then Nasser had gone too far to reverse course, at least without a loss of political and strategic prestige; and after a two-week delay, in which Israel allowed the diplomats and Washington time to resolve the problem but nothing happened, the IDF unleashed its assault on Egypt.

Ginor and Remez argue that the war was not a result of Egyptian (and Soviet) miscalculation, but the deliberate outcome of Soviet (or Soviet-Egyptian- Syrian) design and policy. As Israel's nuclear weapons project at Dimona neared fruition, the Soviets (and Egyptians) grew increasingly alarmed. Nasser had already declared back in 1960 that if Israel were to achieve nuclear weapons capability, he would launch a pre-emptive attack. Now, in May 1967, the Soviets decided to destroy Dimona. But they would do so not out of the blue (as the Israelis later did with Saddam's nuclear reactor outside Baghdad in 1981). They would instead provoke Israel into attacking Egypt (and Syria), thus setting the stage--and providing cover and political justification--for a pinpoint strike on Dimona.

They argue also that the Soviets and Egyptians had conceived the "Grechko-Amer Plan" (named for Andrei Grechko, the Soviet defense minister, and Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer, Egypt's vice president and defense minister), which was to include the initial provocative Egyptian push into Sinai, in November 1966, shortly after the signing of the Egyptian-Syrian defense pact. The Egyptians and the Soviets believed that the Egyptian army, properly deployed, would manage to contain and to halt the initial Israeli attack in Sinai, and they would then follow it up, after the world branded Israel the aggressor, with the counterstroke that would include Dimona. The Arabs, they believed, would win, and Israel might well go under. "The goal of eradicating Israel, while never formally stated as official policy, was widespread in Soviet thought and parlance," Ginor and Remez write. Chuvakhin reportedly told one Israeli communist interlocutor that "the war will last twenty-four hours only and no trace of the state of Israel will be left." In addition to destroying Dimona from the air, the Soviets, according to Ginor and Remez, planned small amphibious landings on Israel's Mediterranean coastline.

But the Soviet (or Soviet-Egyptian-Syrian) plan came a cropper because Israel's opening air strike against the Egyptian Air Force on the morning of June 5, code-named Operation Moked, was so devastating that the hours and days that followed failed to provide the cover (and the bases) that were needed for a Soviet attack on Dimona. After 11 a.m. on June 5, there were no functioning Egyptian air bases, and by the end of day one--or, at the latest, day two--of the war, there was nothing much left of Egypt's ground forces either. The Soviets dropped the plan.

The problem with Ginor and Remez's thesis is that it rests on very flimsy evidence. More bluntly, they have no real documentation to back it up. They may well be right, but they do not prove their case. They argue, correctly, that the relevant Soviet documentation--from the KGB, the Communist Party presidium, the GRU, the Soviet Air Force and Navy--is closed; and they add, for good measure, that it is quite possible that the whole design may well never have been recorded on paper. (I doubt that: modern armies cannot march against foreign countries, nor can air and naval fleets deploy to attack them, without a great deal of political, logistical, intelligence, and operational paperwork.) Almost the only backup that Ginor and Remez have is a handful of Soviet memoirs or interviews with former soldiers that allege Soviet preparations for ramshackle, two-bit commando landings (by units including ships' "cooks and medics," without maps or specific targets) on Israel's shores, and some circumstantial evidence that may or may not be relevant (such as the Soviets' reinforcement of their Mediterranean fleet in the months before the war).

But the "almost" is important. Ginor and Remez do adduce one (almost) hard and troubling piece of evidence: aircraft flying out of Egypt did, on May 17 and May 26, fly over the Dimona reactor site on photography and intelligence-gathering missions, and Israel's Hawk anti-aircraft batteries and Mirage III fighters failed to intercept, catch, or shoot down the intruders. The planes flew too high and too fast; and this fact, combined with several additional snippets of information, leads Ginor and Remez to conclude, persuasively, that at least some of the intruding aircraft were MiG-25 Foxbats, advanced aircraft that only Soviet pilots could have flown--and, let me add, that only Soviet ground crews could have serviced and only Soviet ground control officers could have directed to target. These overflights, along with Amer's order to the Egyptian Air Force to attack Israel, including Dimona, on May 26 (an order immediately rescinded by Nasser), caused consternation, almost panic, in the Israeli General Staff and Cabinet.

Ginor is a Ukrainian-born researcher who immigrated to Israel in 1967; Remez, her spouse, is an Israeli radio journalist. They stress that their book "has no present-day political agenda"--though, curiously, they compare Russia's "dilemma" in 1967, when facing Israel's imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons, with that faced by "the United States in 2006" when confronting Iran's nuclear ambitions. Still, this book goes a way toward further blackening the image of the Evil Empire in the heyday of the cold war, portraying a mendacious regime that would stop at nothing to instigate a proxy war so as to achieve its military and political purposes.

Ginor and Remez state, almost as an aside, that "our work does confirm that the Six-Day War was definitely not premeditated by Israel for expansionist purposes." This has seemed obvious to most reasonable observers almost since the guns of June 1967 fell silent. But perhaps the point does require reiteration, because it is precisely one of Tom Segev's contentions in 1967 that the war was a result, in large part, of Israeli expansionist drives and ideologies, religious and secular. (This argument was recently heard also in the punditry that was provoked by the fortieth anniversary of the war.) It was also, Segev further argues, a result of an Israeli economic crisis, a downturn in immigration, social turmoil, a weak political leadership unable to oppose muscular generals, and a pervasive paranoia--which is not the same thing as a legitimate fear--bred by the memory of the Holocaust.

Segev's book appeared in Hebrew almost two years ago, and the English-language version contains several additions, though no substantive alterations that I could detect. In both versions, it is Segev's contention that Israel--more precisely, Israeli "insanity"--was to blame for the Six Day War:

It was not Nasser's threats but the quicksand of [Israeli] depression. It was the feeling that the Israeli dream had run its course. It was the loss of David Ben-Gurion's leadership coupled with the lack of faith in Eshkol. It was the recession and the unemployment; the decline in immigration and the mass emigration. It was the deprivation of the Mizrahim [Jews from Arab countries], as well as the fear of them. It was the boredom. It was the terrorism; the sense that there could be no peace.

Here Segev seems to be projecting 2000-2007 onto 1967. "All these feelings welled up in the week[s] before the war, sweeping through the nation in a tide of insanity. So the ideas [for a diplomatic solution] being put forth by more stable minds in Israel, Washington, and New York never had much of a chance."

This portrait of Israel in 1966 and early 1967 is skewed. The economic downturn was a minor recession, nothing like the American or German depressions. (Indeed, the early 1960s saw the establishment of the foundations of the modern industrial economy.) There was greater immigration to Israel than emigration. The Sephardi-Ashkenazi gap, while extant, was hardly in crisis mode (there were no riots to compare with 1959 or the early 1970s); and the same applies to the religious-secular divide--hardly a period of violence or fireworks. Palestinian terrorism was meager and trivial compared with the standards set in the 1970s and 1990s. The country's political leadership, while not flamboyant or "great," was certainly composed of capable and honest people. Israelis were no more "bored" then than in any other time. In other words, the picture that Segev paints of Israel's internal condition in 1966 and early 1967, with which he tries to "explain" the war, is essentially false. Segev, a journalist, is overly impressed by newspaper headlines.

And there was also, he instructs, the expansionist mentality of Zionism. "Many Israelis refused to give up the original Zionist dream, hoping for the day when Israel would embrace both sides of the Jordan [not just all of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the river]," Segev tells us in the beginning of his book. "Some Israeli politicians, including Ben-Gurion, as well as some IDF generals did not rule out military action to expand the state over the Green [1949 armistice] Line[s]." A few pages later we learn that "while war with Egypt [in June 1967] was the outcome of Israel's demoralization and a sense of helplessness, the fighting with Jordan and Syria expressed a surge of power and messianic passion."

And finally there was the bellicosity born of the memory of the fate of Europe's Jews. (Some years ago Segev wrote a book called The Seventh Million, about Zionist and Israeli attitudes toward the Holocaust.) It is true, as Segev argues, that Israelis--indeed, Jews everywhere--were traumatized by the Holocaust (how could they not have been?), and that in those waiting days between May 15 and June 4 many Jews thought there would be thousands of casualties in the war and feared a genocidal slaughter. (As it turned out, Israel suffered less than eight hundred dead, several dozen of them civilians.) With the benefit of hindsight, Segev feels able to argue that Israeli fears were irrational, indeed paranoid: the Arabs were weak and Israel was strong, and Nasser and the others did not really mean it when they spoke of throwing the Jews into the sea.

And yet Segev himself provides the counter to this when he quotes Ben-Gurion: "None of us can forget the Nazi Holocaust, and if some of the Arab leaders, with the leader of Egypt at their head, declare day and night that Israel must be destroyed we should not take these declarations lightly." (Later Segev offers a counter to this counter by quoting King Hussein: "With the Arabs, words don't have the same value as they do for other people. Threats mean nothing." So, in the end, Israel should not have taken Nasser's threats, or moves, seriously?)

In Segev's view, to understand the Six Day War one needs to understand more than the "diplomatic and military background. What is needed is deep knowledge of the Israelis themselves." Not of the Arabs--of Nasser and his generals, who sent in their tank divisions and closed the straits in defiance of the agreements of 1956-1957; or of the Jordanians, who ignored Israeli appeals on the morning of June 5 not to open fire or, later, to stop firing artillery into downtown West Jerusalem, the suburbs of Tel Aviv, and the Ramat David air base in lower Galilee (the IDF began responding only at around noon, after Jordanian troops stormed the U.N. headquarters compound in southern Jerusalem); or of the Syrians, who rained down shells on Israel's Jordan Valley settlements starting on the evening of June 5 (the IDF assaulted the Golan on June 9-10). No, there is no need to look at or understand Nasser, Hussein, or the Syrian leadership--or the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who took to the streets of Cairo, East Jerusalem, Damascus, and Baghdad shouting "Idhbah al Yahud!", "Slaughter the Jews!"

For Segev, Arab politics and Arab society have no bearing upon the proper understanding of the origins of the war. In 1967, the Arabs are mere props--mindless, thoughtless, motiveless extras, and in no meaningful sense historical agents. Segev expends hardly a line on them. There is no trace of any effort to get into their heads or under their skin. The book has massive footnotes, with thousands of references (almost every footnote refers to half a dozen or a dozen or more sources, which is itself annoying to anyone wishing to trace the origin of a quote), but none, as far as I could tell, refers to an Arab source. Granted, the Arab states' archives are all closed, since they are located within the sway of dictatorships--but this does not entirely excuse Segev's delinquent lack of interest in the Arab side of the story. There are Arab memoirs and newspapers; and there are living Arab politicians, officials, and officers from 1967 who might have been willing to talk. And yet all the references are to Israeli and, to a lesser extent, American sources. It is almost as if Israel fought the war with itself.

Even when Segev briefly mentions Nasser and his actions between May 14 and May 23, it is, curiously, not what Nasser thought and did that is presented, but what Israelis reported and thought about what Nasser did. The reader first encounters the Egyptian thrust into Sinai thus: "[IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak] Rabin had come by to tell the prime minister [Levi Eshkol] that information from Cairo indicated the Egyptians were moving forces into the Sinai Desert. Eshkol was surprised." The only Arabs who actually make an appearance (again, via Israeli sources) are the Palestinians, after the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been conquered. But here, too, the focus is on Israel and Israelis: Segev cares only about what Israelis saw and thought and proposed and did about or to these Arabs.

Some Israelis--David Kimche, Arie Lova Eliav, Dan Bavli, and others--did try to formulate some type of two-state accord with Palestinian notables or to initiate a rehabilitation of refugee camp dwellers, but without success. Others--this is one of the book's more illuminating passages--worked on plans for transferring Arabs out of the West Bank and Gaza to South America or elsewhere. Segev devotes long pages to describing the attempted destruction of the town of Qalqilya and the expulsion of villagers from the Latrun Salient and the western edge of the southern West Bank. Some of this material, including many of the references, is new.

The picture of 1967 left with Segev's reader is of trigger-happy, mindless Israeli politicians, bureaucrats, and generals cynically and hysterically seeking a casus belli to enlarge the state. Page after page, quote after quote, this is the picture. No, that is not quite fair: in throwaway sentences, Segev also provides his readers with an inkling of the truth. These sentences contain the essence of the story of the period between May 14 and June 4. Describing the Israeli Cabinet meeting on May 23, Segev writes: "But most of the ministers were loath to take action. Minister of Health Israel Barzilai suggested waiting two or three weeks. Avraham Shapira maintained that Egypt did not want war. They all agreed that closing the Straits was an act of aggression' and decided to send Foreign Minister Eban to the United States." So Israel did wait "two weeks." Those are not the animadversion of trigger-happy people.

As for Israeli expansionism, it is true that after the war of 1948-1949, many Israelis, including Ben-Gurion and most of his generals, felt that a great opportunity had been missed and that it would have been better to have ended the war with the country's border on the Jordan River. (Their reasons were more military and strategic, and less ideological and historical.) But over the following years, an overwhelming majority of Israelis came to accept that war's results, including its strategically problematic borders, and restrained any expansionist inclinations. By 1967, only the messianic-religious and the secular far right dreamed and talked about expansion to the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, the historical heartland of the Jewish people and faith. For the vast majority of the citizenry, led by the successive Mapai-dominated governments, such thinking was alien. Many examples can be offered in proof of this claim. Consider only this exchange, published in early May 1967 in an Israeli newspaper, between the expansionist right-winger Geula Cohen and the Grand Old Man, David Ben-Gurion.

Cohen: "What are the borders of my homeland?"
Ben-Gurion: "The borders of your homeland are the borders of the State of Israel, as they are today."

(After the war, incidentally, Ben-Gurion advocated complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories, except from East Jerusalem, though occasionally he also spoke covetously of the Golan Heights.)

Yes, the IDF general staff--certainly after May 22-23, when Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran--pressed for war. By the end of the month they were even chafing at the bit, arguing that every day's delay would multiply the number of Israeli dead. But their political bosses, the Cabinet and the prime minister, refused to knuckle under. For almost three weeks, from May 15 to June 4, the politicians--led by Eshkol--held out, hoping against hope that war would be averted; that the Americans or the United Nations would manage a diplomatic solution or that an international flotilla would somehow force open the straits and force Nasser to back off. The full story of the Israeli side in those unbelievably tense weeks is of a democratic polity under external military siege, feeling gradual asphyxiation but firmly under the control of the political echelon, which was doing its damnedest, in the face of mounting Arab provocation, to stave off war.

And the picture is similar in microcosm--this is apparent even from Segev's book--regarding the conquest of the West Bank and Jerusalem. For long hours, while the Jordanians, unprovoked, were shelling Jerusalem, the Israeli Cabinet held off on unleashing the IDF against the Hashemite kingdom. And for two days it deferred and delayed, contrary to military logic, the decision to conquer East Jerusalem, with the Old City and the Temple Mount at its heart. Israel went to war reluctantly and it conquered the Palestinian territories reluctantly. It won decisively, to be sure; but that decisiveness was owed to Arab weaknesses on the ground. And in the end, even the Golan Heights was almost not taken. The IDF Northern Command and the Jordan Valley kibbutzim lobbied and lobbied for Israeli military action in the north on June 5 through 8--not because they coveted the tracts of land on the Golan, as Segev would have it, but because they were sick of the intermittent shelling they had suffered at Syrian hands during the previous decade--and still the Cabinet, including Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, held off. It was not until June 9 that Dayan gave the green light. (It appears that he was deterred during the war's first four days by the fear of Soviet intervention, and also by the shortage of available units to take the Golan. But the fact is that he held off.)

It is true that, following the war, an expansionist messianic spirit gripped much of the Israeli population. The deep fear of catastrophe and slaughter was replaced by an overwhelming elation, which translated for many into a sense that Israel had been given a divine warrant to expand its borders. The consequences of these dangerous enthusiasms are now well known. But as a historical matter, it is worth noting that on June 19 the Israeli government secretly offered the Syrians the return of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace (and a demilitarized Golan), and offered the Egyptians the whole Sinai Peninsula (demilitarized) in exchange for peace. Of this, Segev writes: "Israel thus created the impression that it had offered to return the territories in exchange for peace." He is, of course, right that Israel failed to offer to return the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Arab sovereignty. The Israeli Cabinet was deadlocked about the fate of these territories. But to dismiss the Israeli offer--to two states that had just in effect tried to destroy it--as mendacious or meaningless is absurd. It is also worth recalling that the Israeli offer and its rejection by Cairo and Damascus were in short order followed by a terse, comprehensive pan-Arab response at the summit in Khartoum--the famous "Three No's": no recognition, no negotiation with Israel, no peace.

Again, a wild, somewhat mindless expansionist spirit did overcome the Israelis after the victory, with religious extremists calling for the destruction of the two mosques on the Temple Mount and their replacement with the Third Temple. Ben-Gurion proposed pulling down the Old City's walls. And the government immediately destroyed Jerusalem's small Maghrebi Quarter to make way for a large plaza in front of the Wailing Wall. Within weeks, the government began settling parts of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, setting in motion the first wave of the vast settlement venture that implanted, within four decades, more than 400,000 Israelis in the West Bank and the Jerusalem area. The war certainly triggered an expansionist, and even millenarian, upsurge; but the war was not prompted or preceded by one.

One could argue that after defeating the Jordanian army and after Khartoum, Israel should immediately and unilaterally have withdrawn from the West Bank and restored it to Hussein's rule, and perhaps done something similar with the Gaza Strip and Sinai and the Golan Heights (as perhaps the Americans should have done after toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003), though the immediate return of the Sinai Peninsula would have given away the card that proved necessary for trading land for peace with Egypt in 1979. But to argue, as Segev does, that Israel, locked in battle with the Egyptians in the south, should have refrained from going into the West Bank from which the Jordanians were shelling Israel's cities (and from which further attack by Iraqi and Egyptian troops was imminent) makes no sense. It is pure ahistorical thinking. Segev declares that "Israel could have responded by defeating the Jordanian army without taking the West Bank and Jerusalem." Really? Perhaps by carpet-bombing and massively shelling the West Bank and Jerusalem? Would Segev have later approved of such actions, which would have resulted in thousands of civilian casualties? (As it happened, the Israeli conquest of the territory caused very few civilian casualties.)

Segev's 1967 is studded with such politically correct posturing, and riddled with perverse and high-minded asides and aphorisms. Consider this one: the struggle to throw off the "various restrictions" under which Israel's Arab minority lived after 1948 "was a civil rights cause, not unlike the campaign against racial discrimination in the United States." "Not unlike"? Surely there is a difference. Israel's Arabs were part of a people that had launched a war to destroy Israel in 1948 and continued guerrilla and terrorist warfare against Israel during the following decades. Is this really comparable to the plight of the African Americans? Is Africa besieging the United States and engaged in a war against it, with a putative African American fifth column within? The analogy is ridiculous. And one shouldn't forget that while suffering certain types of discrimination and enjoying certain "affirmative" benefits--they do not need to "waste" three years of young adulthood in military service--Israel's Arabs do enjoy full rights of citizenship (voting rights, election to the Knesset, an Israeli Arab sits in the Cabinet, and so on).

The book's final two hundred pages, covering the war's aftermath, contain some wonderful passages. Segev devotes five pages to the story of the influential book Siah Lohamim, or The Talk of Soldiers (which appeared in abridged form in English in 1971 as The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk About the Six-Day War), in which some 140 kibbutznik veterans of the fighting discussed, in group interviews or conversations, their experiences and their moral repercussions. It was most certainly not a victory album, with which Israel was awash within weeks of the war. The young Amos Oz co-edited the book. The soldiers spoke of fear, of death and mutila- tion, of the horror and pain of war. The book, a major best-seller, sold 100,000 copies in Hebrew and was received, as Segev rightly notes, as an "authentic document."

But that is not the whole of the tale. Using research by a young scholar at Tel Aviv University, Segev describes how the original transcripts were altered and censored by the editors; how graphic descriptions of atrocities against Arabs were deleted; how expansionist meditations by sons of Palmach commanders from the 1948 war were omitted; how messianic reveries by religious kibbutzniks were left out. Also deleted were veterans' references to orders to shoot wounded soldiers or civilians and comparisons between Israeli and Nazi behavior. In short, the editors managed to create a "candid," moving, liberal anti-war text that bore only a partial resemblance to what was actually said in the original conversations.

But apart from the descriptions of various aspects of the war's aftermath, 1967 is one vast, tendentious historical misjudgment. Unfortunately, this has become one of Segev's calling cards (alongside great readability). Examples could be multiplied. In his previous book One Palestine, Complete, a history of the British Mandate, Segev wrote of the origins of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which Britain expressed support for the creation in Palestine of a Jewish "national home": "The declaration was the product of neither military nor diplomatic interests but of prejudice, faith, and sleight of hand. The men who sired it were Christian and Zionist and, in many cases, anti-Semitic. They believed the Jews controlled the world." In short, first and foremost, according to Segev, the declaration was a product of British anti-Semitism. Most historians would say--along with what Lloyd George and Balfour themselves said, repeatedly--that the declaration was a product of the philo-Semitism of most of the Imperial War Cabinet members (including Jan Smuts, Lord Milner, Balfour, and Lloyd George), and also, more coldly, of British imperial interests.

Or consider The Seventh Million, in many ways an important book, full of valuable insights into Israeli and Zionist history. At the end of its second chapter, for example, Segev explains why and how three million of Europe's pre-World War II nine-million-strong Jewish community survived the war. "Most"--I am translating from the Hebrew edition-- "were saved as a result of Germany's defeat in the war, some thanks to help from various governments and institutions and several thousand in each country by good people, righteous gentiles. Only a relatively small number from among the survivors owed their lives to the redemptive efforts of the Zionist movement." A heavy accusatory cloud hangs over this sentence (and others like it), the implication being that the Zionist movement did not do all it could have done to save Europe's Jews and that, had it done so, more, perhaps many more, would have been saved.

This is nonsense. Various Zionist organizations did try to lobby the combatant Western powers to do more--to bomb Auschwitz, to deal with Hitler-- but to no avail. America and Britain were focused on winning the war and destroying the Nazi regime, not on saving Jews. The only branch of the movement with any real power was the Yishuv, but it, too, lacked any capability to project power into Nazi-occupied Europe and, in any case, under British mandatory rule it lacked any possibility of independent military action, in the circumstances of 19411945, outside Palestine. So in fact it had no capacity to save European Jews--though it symbolically sacrificed a dozen parachutists, who were dropped into Europe, to demonstrate that it at least cared. To imply, or even to hint, that the Yishuv could have saved Jews but chose not to save them is cheap sensationalism, and testifies to an astonishing lack of judgment and a deep desire to blacken the reputation of the Yishuv's leadership.

So there is revisionism and there is revisionism. Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez's book opens a door for further research. Its thesis deserves to be beaten like bushes by hunters outing their prey--and the prey will indeed be trapped, one way or another, at the moment the Russian archives open the relevant files. And if what the authors suggest is true, the Six Day War will end up illumined in a completely fresh light. As for Tom Segev, his book points readers and scholars in no worthwhile direction. Its argument is not merely wrong; it also makes a small contribution of its own to the contemporary delegitimation of Israel.

Benny Morris , a professor Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University, is the author, most recently, of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge University Press).

15 July 2007

What's Scary About the Anti-Immigration Debate

What's Scary About the Anti-Immigration Debate
By Jean Pfaelzer
Ms. Pfaelzer is professor of English and American Studies at the University of Delaware, and director of the University Honors Writing Fellowship Program. The writer of numerous articles on nineteenth century women’s literature, feminist theory, and cultural theory, she has been appointed to the Washington D.C. Commission for Women. She lives near Washington, DC. Her new book, Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, is available at all booksellers.

When we think of ethnic cleansing we think Darfur, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia. Maybe its time we started thinking Fortuna, California; Hazleton, Pennsylvania; Cherokee, Georgia; and Whitewater, Wisconsin.

Once, 1.5 million Native American Indians lived here; by 1900 250,000 survived the roundups, slaughter, and wars of extermination.

Between the Gold Rush and the turn of the 20th century, in town after town, Chinese miners and merchants, lumberjacks and field workers, prostitutes and merchants’ wives, were gathered up at gunpoint in over two hundred towns. The first Chinese Americans were forced onto steam ships, marched out of town, or driven out, sometimes along the railroad tracks they had built.

In Tacoma, Washington, at nine o’clock in the morning of November 3, 1885, the mayor ordered all the steam whistles at the foundries to blow, to notify vigilantes to begin the rout of the town’s Chinatowns. By mid afternoon Tacoma’s Chinese were forced from town on a nine mile trek in the mud and rain, never to return. In Eureka, California the rout of 1885 took less than a night, as the Chinese packed whatever belongings they could. The Chinese, many of whom had lived in Eureka for twenty years, were held under gunpoint at a warehouse on the docks, loaded onto two steam ships and sent to San Francisco.

In the mountain town of Truckee, it took ten weeks to starve out the Chinese, when the editor of the local newspaper shamed merchants, timber barons, and women who ran boardinghouses, ordering the town to neither buy from, rent to, hire, or honor wood cutting contracts with early Chinese Americans. When most of the Chinese had left, the “anti-Coolie” League and the vigilante committees (like the “601”—six feet under, zero trial, one bullet) circled the white part of town with fire wagons, invited the ladies to watch, and burned Chinatown to the ground. Two Chinese men died, refusing to leave their homes.

During the Great Depression, two million Mexicans and Mexican Americans were deported under Herbert Hoover’s Mexican Reparation campaign. Sixty percent of the deportees were children, born in America. The rest were mostly US citizens who had lived on this land for generations.

Now, from Fortuna, California, to Trenton, New Jersey, immigration officials are sweeping through towns without warrants, seizing Latinos from homes and factories, leaving children abandoned at schools and day care centers.

And now too, a simple housing code, traveling the Internet, is purging thousands of Latinos, suddenly homeless and on the run. Over eighty towns have enacted the canned language of “The Illegal Immigration Relief Act” and banned any landlord from renting to an undocumented worker.

Evicted from their housing, American citizens, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants are in flight from frightened landlords who have become the storm police.

In Hazelton, PA, landlords face arrest or fines of $250 per day. In Riverside NJ the fines grow to $1,000 per day. In Cherokee, GA, even after an eviction, landlords must prove that their former tenants have left the county before they can again collect rents.

In just one year this housing code has spread from historic Sandwich on Cape Cod, (whose web site invites you to “experience life the way it used to be”), south to Riverside NJ, Landis, NC and Beaufort, SC, to Avon Park, FL, Cherokee, GA, and Valley Park, MO. The code travels to Farmer’s Branch, Texas, up through Carpentersville, IL, Bloomington, MN, and Arcadia WI, where 140 Latinos once lived in a little town of 2,300 people. Then it jumps westward to Escondido, California.

As civil rights groups try to enjoin the codes, others spring up. Only the federal government can deport people, but small towns can drive them out of town.

This week, as soft wild dogwoods bloomed along the East Coast, I read a Christmas story, a tale of Christmas just past. It was called the Ordinance 2006-18.

T’was the week before Christmas 2006 when Hazleton banned Santa Claus. Santa was about to climb down the chimney without a green card. Although his biology has always been a bit unclear, Santa was an “alien” of the illegal sort who employed thousands of alien elves—“unfair foreign competition” to American toymakers.

Making a list and checking it twice? For the feds: “identity data provided by the property owner.” Data provided by a landlord? Based on what kind of verification?

And why?

Hazleton’s mayor told Sixty Minutes about a 70% rise in violent crime since Latinos came to town in 2001 (the correct number is 20 of 8,500 crimes). Farmers Branch, Texas said that the code would prevent terrorist attacks by purging its Latinos. One third of towns that passed the code are in unemployed areas of Pennsylvania--railroad towns that once sold anthracite coal, steel tubes, and carpets. Now they export Latinos.

These gentlemen prefer blondes. The mayor wants Hazleton to remain 94.7% white. Last week in front of a burning cross the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, recently defunct, announced to ABC Evening News that since they began assaulting, torching, and “bleaching” Latinos, membership has risen 40%.

“Pack your bags…It’s over, go home” shouted local Minutemen after Escondido’s city council voted 3-2 for the Hazleton code. With nearly half the town born outside the US, anyone who looked or sounded “foreign” stood to be evicted. In Altoona, which is 99.9 % white, a city councilman declared “We just want to stay ahead of the curve.”

Neither the local U.S. Attorneys (those that still have their jobs), the Department of Homeland Security, or Attorney General Gonzales is stopping the unconstitutional enforcement of this unconstitutional code.

But immigrant rights groups are trying to stop the spread of this internet virus. They took Hazelton to federal court, arguing that the code violates immigrants’ rights to due process, fair housing codes and legal leases. The judge temporarily stopped the town which still awaits a final ruling. Sixty eight percent of the voters in Farmer’s Branch voted to support its code in May, but in June the Mexican American Legal Defense fun managed to get that vote overturned. Another break may be protections in the Hate Crimes Bill, passed by the House, moving through the Senate but facing a presidential veto.

Still, as Hazelton’s mayor bragged, the code endures, even though his struggling town faces $2 million in fines and legal costs

Yet across small town America, landlords face empty apartments and vacant trailer parks. Businesses are shutting down. One-third of Riverside’s immigrant population has moved away. Twenty-five percent of our undocumented population has children who are US citizens, but unable to fend for themselves, these kids are losing their constitutional right to live here. This code, perhaps deliberately, violates what children promise: permanence, stability, and future generations.

Latinos often say, “mi casa es su casa.” By contrast, this code says “leave.”

America goes kosher

America goes kosher
Yaniv Halili

Madonna drinks Canaan wine, Paris Hilton orders kosher steaks, Bono eats sushi under the supervision of the Beth Din, Donald Trump holds his meetings at one of Manhattan’s kosher restaurants – and everyone burns calories to the tunes of Sarit Haddad and Eyal Golan. Kosher is trendy in the USA

When the queen of pop, Madonna, hears Sarit Haddad sing, it’s hard for her to constrain her excitement. It happens about once a week at the restaurant, Prime Grill where Madonna eats her weekly glatt kosher meal. The patrons eat to the sounds of Sarit Haddad and Shlomi Shabbat, while Madonna explains to her adopted son David that one can eat a cow, not only play with it.

This latest American trend has celebrities enquiring about the coveted kashrut seal before letting a morsel of food touch their mouths. Apart from Madonna (who has a private room at the Prime Grill), many others are rushing around in search of steaks from cows that were slaughtered under the supervision of a rabbi.

Just last week, the steaks at the Prime Grill in Hollywood breathed a sigh of relief when Paris Hilton was incarcerated and the prison authorities refused to allow a special delivery of kosher food to her cell. It’s not clear what attracts Hilton to kosher food; but what is clear is her being responsible for making kosher food very trendy among Hollywood youth. And, as for its popularity amongst business men, credit can be given to Donald Trump and Steven Spielberg.

A not very trendy 3300 years late, Americans are discovering that kosher food is both healthy and spiritual. The subject is complex, but it is encouraging to realize that we were right all these years and that it was worth insisting on manna in the desert. New kosher restaurants are opening all the time in big cities throughout the United States, offering dishes that have not been boiled to death. Kosher products are finding themselves on supermarket shelves and major producers in the dairy industry are strict about having the kosher stamp on their product labels, knowing that the “gentiles” want kosher products too. Even Hollywood is slowly turning kosher: the current most popular restaurant is a kosher meat and sushi bar where paparazzi photographers have a permanent place at the entrance.

Kosher Buddhism

Until recently, the words “kosher food” would have the average person running away rather than meet the dubious culinary experience. These days the two words mean prosperity. In Manhattan, kosher Chinese, French, Japanese, Indian and Iranian restaurants have opened. There is even a kosher Buddhist restaurant - indeed, Buddha spent his youth in a yeshiva.

In the last decad, kosher food sales in American supermarkets have reached a growth rate of 15 percent as opposed to a four percent growth rate for food that is not kosher. Eleven million Americans buy kosher food, and they are responsible for a yearly turnover of $9 billion. What’s interesting in all this data is that there are only just over six million Jews in America and even fewer keep kosher. Slowly but surely the kosher food market is being taken over by non-Jewish Americans who are on the lookout for kosher food that is not just gefilte fish and matza.

So, have the gentiles finally realized that Judaism is cool? Not necessarily so. In a recent survey carried out by Mintel International, 55 percent of kosher food consumers do so because they believe that kosher food is healthier, not due to religious reasons. The health merits attached to the kashrut seal are welcomed by mouths wide open: this last year Americans have had to swallow avian flu, mass poisoning and E.Coli bacteria.

The American Health Department’s statistics are scary: 76 million people - one in four Americans - suffer each year from diseases caused by spoiled food. As the numbers of diseases rise, so does people’s awareness and conscious consumers are on the look out for alternatives.

Kosher food is popular mostly amongst health food fans and strict vegetarians who can eat at a dairy restaurant and be sure that no suspicious pieces of meat will find their way into their plates and that they won't meet chunks of smoked bacon in their salads.

Americans like the fact that kosher food is prepared under the watchful eyes of supervisors, often more than one, and kosher restaurants in Manhattan are proud to announce that “all the food here is prepared under strict supervision”. This impresses the customers, even if the watchful eyes are those of a kashrut supervisor who is only making sure that the dairy and meat utensils stay separate from each other.

A survey published just before Independence Day shows that Hebrew National sausages made of 100 percent beef is the highest selling brand in America. Muslims and Christians too are among Americans who eat kosher food. Certain Christian groups follow a diet that is prepared “in the spirit of the Bible.”

Kosher restaurants have exchanged the image of gefilte fish and matza to a more exclusive, trendy image of good food. David Deutsch, the editor of the satirical Jewish magazine “Heeb”, says that each time he goes to a kosher restaurant he sees more and more non-Jews. “People who don’t keep kosher can choose to eat anywhere, but they davka choose the kosher restaurants,” says Deutsch. “Sometimes I bump into owners of non-kosher restaurants eating at kosher restaurants. Maybe they’re spying or maybe they’re just curious to know what the buzz is all about."

And for dessert Eyal Golan

The kosher trend in New York got a big push last year when Madonna arrived in the city for her Confessions tour. After each show, she packed up her dancers and musicians and took them all to the Prime Grill for a steak. These intimate gatherings got a lot of coverage by the local press and the fashion police raised an eyebrow at the relatively unknown establishment that Madonna chose to eat and party at. Madonna doesn’t come to this restaurant only for its food; the owners play Israeli music and are sure that the songs of Sarit Haddad will make the desserts taste even sweeter. Madonna finds it hard to contain her excitement.

Madonna is a sure bet for kosher food, but a rather more unexpected personality who has found her happiness in kosher land is Paris Hilton. The idea that the young heiress finds solace in something that is not studded with diamonds has young Hollywood girls rushing to the Prime Grill in Beverly Hills. The tabloids and entertainment TV shows were amazed when Hilton chose to celebrate her birthday at the kosher sushi and meat bar. She invited 40 of her closest friends, but 200 guests showed up. “She loves our sushi”, admits the owner. “Before her birthday she asked us to prepare a lot of sushi, but she was most concerned about us baking a cake for her.”

Even now, from the heights of the garbage dumps she’s in, Hilton doesn’t forget where she came from and who fed her. Although her plea to bring kosher catering to her jail cell didn’t come through, two weeks ago during the embarrassing fiasco when she was under house arrest, she celebrated her temporary freedom feasting on kosher catering.

But even the huge amounts of kosher food that are going into Hilton’s mouth still don’t qualify it as trendy. So Sasha Baron-Cohen (“Borat”) steps in to help. The English star probably leaves half his monthly salary at the Prime Grill. Baron-Cohen is seen so often at the Hollywood branch of the Prime Grill that the sight of a fork is rarer.

“Sasha eats only kosher food, so he has no choice”, says the owner. “He loves steaks and eats a lot, often complementing his meals with expensive, kosher Israeli wine. He celebrated his Oscar nomination here with his fiancée and a few friends. But for Sasha, a meal is not a meal if it doesn’t have Eyal Golan, Kobi Peretz or Shlomi Shabbat singing in the background. He says these songs remind him of Tel Aviv.”

Signing deals over steaks

The celebrity-watch website TMZ.com reported that Donald Trump has connected to his lost roots, and not the roots of his hair: Trump has turned the Manhattan kosher restaurant Solo into his boardroom. Bono also pops in from time to time, and when he’s not snacking on flies in Africa, he keeps to his ideals and eats only kosher or organic. When he dines at Solo he insists on ordering the salmon in miso and at the Prime Rib he eats kosher sushi.

But, in spite of the star dust being sprinkled over kosher foods, some claim that making kosher trendy is not a kosher thing to do. Most in the Jewish community are not swayed by star dust and are against turning Judaism into “a modern, trendy cult,” says one of the heads of the rabbinical committee in America, who choose to ignore the phenomenon. “This is just a fashion that will soon disappear”, he says. “Everything Jewish is suddenly popular, but after the noise has quietened down and the storm has passed, only the core will remain, but anyway, the core is what’s important in Judaism.”

There are also some who understand that the phenomenon is typical of the American society, which adopts a new ritual every 15 minutes, heralds it as the new king and discards it when the next trend starts to bloom. “Obviously Madonna has played her part in making kosher trendy, but there is a wider issue of self-searching at hand,” says David Deutsch. “After Scientology and Buddhism, it’s now Judaism’s turn. Judaism has been around for a long time and that makes people ask how it’s managed to last so long and wonder what its secret can be. It’s like a closed family where people want to peep inside and see the beauty.”

But why kosher food now?

“The kosher trend fits in with modern life. Like the Kabbalah, it combines the old with the new. Kosher food meets spirituality and health in one plate, and that’s what people are looking or today: a little spirituality with an everyday practicality. Add to that the celeb quality and the fact that Hollywood has many famous Jews that people want to imitate. It’s very easy being Jewish in America today.”

Bill Moyers Puts Impeachment Back on the Media Table

July 14, 2007 at 17:42:59

Bill Moyers Puts Impeachment Back on the Media Table

by Dave Lindorff Page 1 of 1 page(s)


Bill Moyers has put impeachment in the news, in the process shaming both the national media and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Congressional leadership.

In his Saturday program,Bill Moyers Journal, Moyers and guests John Nichols, the Nation's Washington correspondent and author of The Genius of Impeachment and Bruce Fein, a former attorney in the Ronald Reagan Department of Justice, made it clear that the Bush/Cheney administration has gravely threatened the Constitution and the survival of tripartite, divided government.

Moyers, feigning astonishment at the arguments of Nichols and Fein, asked if it might be justified for the Bush administration to grab special dictatorial powers in order to combat terrorism. His argument was demolished by both Nichols and Fein.

Nichols explained that the Constitution was designed by the Founders to be a "fighting" document, capable of handling dangerous times. He noted that the Constitution actually provides for the temporary barring of habeas corpus (the right to have one's imprisonment brought before a court and adjudicated), but he said that this was something that a president had to do with the approval of Congress, and only if the Country was under attack, which is of course not the case right now.

Fein for his part noted that most of Bush's and Cheney's abuses of power and violations of the Constitution and the rule of law have been done not openly and in consultation with Congress, but in secret and in the dark of night. His secret monitoring of American's communications--phones, mail and internet--for example, went on in for four years before it was exposed in an article in the New York Times. And the president has still not explained to anyone why he felt the need to break the law.

Fein and Nichols both blasted the current Democratic leadership of Congress for cowardice, lack of principle, and a basic failure to honor their oaths of office to uphold and defend the Constitution, in refusing to impeach the president. Fein said that in earlier administratiions, there were always at least a few members of Congress who were honorable enough to put country and the Constitution above party. "We don't have anyone like that in Congress now," he said.

Actually, it was one failing of Moyers' program that neither he nor his two guests mentioned that there actually are some such honorable members of the current congress. They did not mention that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), has filed a bill of impeachment against Vice President Cheney, and that his bill currently has 14 co-sponsors, with more people signing on every week. They also failed to mention that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) only days before the program, declared in no uncertain terms that Bush and Cheney should be impeached, saying that the country was "closer to dictatorship than it has ever been" because of the president's assertion of "unitary executive" powers to ignore laws passed by the Congress."

Despite this one shortcoming, Moyers' program is a public shaming of the tawdry and shameless corporate media, which has ignored the exploding impeachment movement blossoming across the nation, pretending that it doesn't even exist, or that it is the province of a few leftist wackos.

In fact, as Moyers noted, the most recent poll on the issue shows that half of Americans want both Bush and Cheney impeached and removed from office.

It will be interesting to see what impact the powerful Moyers program has.

While not watched by too many ordinary Americans, the program is influential among professional journalists and editors, and among liberals and progressives, who will be increasing their pressure on Democratic leaders to act.

Pelosi's efforts to block impeachment and keep it "off the table", will continue to look more and more pitiful and self-serving.

The next challenge to media blackout and congressional do-nothingism will be a march on July 23 from Arlington Cemetary to the office of Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and the man who has the power to kick-start hearings on impeachment--in particular to schedule hearings on the Kucinich bill (H Res. 333). (Click on the banner to the left for more information.)

A sit-in is planned in Conyers' office if he won't meet with the delegation, which will be headed by Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war and impeachment activist whose son was killed in action in Iraq.


DAVE LINDORFF is co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of "The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office" (St. Martin's Press, 2006, and now out in a paperback edition). Lindorff's other work is available at

Dave Lindorff, a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the Disintegration of American Democracy" and "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal"). His latest book, coauthored with Barbara Olshanshky, is "The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin's Press, May 2006). His writing is available at

Don’t Laugh at Michael Chertoff

July 15, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Don’t Laugh at Michael Chertoff
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, President Bush's fallback choice for secretary of Homeland Security after Bernard Kerik, is best remembered for his tragicomic performance during Hurricane Katrina. He gave his underling, the woeful Brownie, a run for the gold.

It was Mr. Chertoff who announced that the Superdome in New Orleans was "secure" even as the other half of the split screen offered graphic evidence otherwise. It was Mr. Chertoff who told NPR that he had "not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who do not have food and water," even after his fellow citizens had been inundated with such reports all day long.

With Brownie as the designated fall guy, Mr. Chertoff kept his job. Since then he has attracted notice only when lavishing pork on terrorist targets like an Alabama petting zoo while reducing grants to New York City. Though Mr. Chertoff may be the man standing between us and Armageddon, he is seen as a leader of stature only when standing next to his cabinet mate Gonzo.

But even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Last week, as the Bush administration frantically tried to counter Republican defections from the war in Iraq, Mr. Chertoff alone departed from the administration's script to talk about the enemy that actually did attack America on 9/11, Al Qaeda, rather than Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the jihad-come-lately gang Mr. Bush is fond of talking about instead. In this White House, the occasional official who strays off script is in all likelihood inadvertently coughing up the truth.

Mr. Chertoff was promptly hammered for it. His admission of "a gut feeling" that America might be vulnerable to a terrorist attack this summer was universally ridiculed as a gaffe. He then tried to retreat, but as he did so, his dire prognosis was confirmed by an intelligence leak. The draft of a new classified threat assessment found that Al Qaeda has regrouped and is stronger than at any time since 2001. Its operational base is the same ungoverned Pakistan wilderness where we've repeatedly failed to capture Osama bin Laden dead or alive for six years.

So give Mr. Chertoff credit for keeping his eye on the enemy while everyone else in the capital is debating never-to-be-realized benchmarks for an Iraqi government that exists in name only. Just as President Bush ignored that August 2001 brief "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," so Washington, some of its press corps included, is poised to shrug off the August 2007 update "Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West." The capital has been sucker-punched by the administration's latest P.R. offensive to prop up the fiasco in Iraq.

The White House's game is to create a new fictional story line to keep the war going until President Bush can dump it on his successor. Bizarrely, some of the new scenario echoes the bogus narrative used to sell the war in 2002: an imaginary connection between Iraq and the attacks of 9/11. You'd think the Bush administration might think twice before recycling old lies, but things have gotten so bad in the bunker that even Karl Rove is repeating himself.

Fittingly, one of the first in Washington to notice the rollout of the latest propaganda offensive was one of the very few journalists who uncovered the administration's manipulation of W.M.D. intelligence in 2002: Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy newspapers.

This time around, he was ahead of the pack in catching the sudden uptick in references to Al Qaeda in the president's speeches about Iraq — 27 in a single speech on June 28 — and an equal decline in references to the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence at the heart of the Iraqi civil war America is powerless to stop. Even more incriminating was Mr. Landay's discovery that the military was following Mr. Bush's script verbatim. There were 33 citations of Al Qaeda in a single week's worth of military news releases in late June, up from only 9 such mentions in May.

None of this is accidental. The administration knows that its last stated mission for the war — "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself" — is as doomed as the Iraqi army that would "stand up" so we could stand down. So now there's a new "mission" — or at least new boilerplate. "Victory is defeating Al Qaeda," Tony Snow said last week, because "Al Qaeda continues to be the chief organizer of mayhem within Iraq." What's more, its members are, in Mr. Bush's words, "the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th."

This is hooey, of course. Not only did Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia not exist before we invaded Iraq in 2003, but it isn't even the chief organizer of the war's mayhem today. ABC News reported this month that this group may be responsible for no more than 15 percent of the attacks in Iraq. Bob Woodward wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, told Mr. Bush last November that Al Qaeda was only the fifth most pressing threat in Iraq, after the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality and general anarchy.

So what if the Qaeda that's operating with impunity out of Pakistan, North Africa and other non-Iraq havens actually is the most pressing threat to America? This president is never one to let facts get in the way of a political agenda. That agenda is to avoid taking responsibility for losing a war, no matter how many more Americans are tossed into its carnage. From here on in, you can be sure that whomever we're fighting in Iraq on any given day will be no more than one degree of separation from bin Laden.

Nor do the latest fictionalizations end there. To further prop up the war, Mr. Bush had to find some way to forestall verdicts on the "surge," which commanders had predicted could be judged by late summer. He also had to neutralize last week's downbeat Congress-mandated report card on the Iraqi government's progress toward its 18 benchmarks.

The latter task was easy. The report card grades on a steep curve (and even then must settle for a C-minus average and a couple of incompletes). Deflecting gloom about the "surge" is trickier. It's hard to argue that we're on our way to securing Baghdad, the stated goal, when attacks on our own safe haven, the Green Zone, are rising rapidly, more than doubling from March to May, according to the United Nations.

But you can never underestimate this White House's ingenuity. It turns out that the "surge," which most Americans thought began shortly after the president announced it in January, is brand-new! We're just "at the starting line," Tony Snow told the network morning news shows last week, as he pounded in the message that "we have a new course in Iraq, and it's two weeks old."

Mr. Snow's television hosts were not so rude as to point out that the Pentagon had previously designated Feb. 14 as the starting line of the surge's first operation, and had also said that its March report on Iraq should be used as the "baseline from which to measure future progress." That was then, and this is now. The Baghdad clock has been reset. July is the new February. As we slouch toward the sixth anniversary of 9/11, the war against Al Qaeda has only just begun.

Swamped with such fiction, Washington is unable to cope. Network newscasts are still failing to distinguish the Qaeda Mr. Bush talks about from the 9/11 terrorists. The Iraq dead-enders in Congress and the neocon punditocracy have now defined victory down to defeating Mr. Bush's mini-Qaeda in a single Iraqi province, Anbar. Meanwhile, our ally Pervez Musharraf's shaky regime in Pakistan lets Al Qaeda plot its next mass murder.

The capital's entire political debate over Iraq — stay-the-surge versus "precipitous withdrawal" — is itself pure hot air. Even though felons and the obese are now being signed up to meet Army recruitment shortfalls, we still can't extend the surge past next April, when troops for Iraq run out unless Mr. Bush extends their tours yet again. "Precipitous withdrawal" (which no withdrawal bill in Congress calls for) is a non sequitur, since any withdrawal would take at least 10 months. Rather than have the real debate about how to manage the exit, politically panicked Republicans hope to cast symbolic votes that will allow them to tell voters they were for ending the war before they prolonged it.

That leaves Mr. Chertoff, whose department has vacancies in a quarter of its top leadership positions, as the de facto general in charge of defending us from the enemy he had that "gut feeling" about, the Qaeda not in Iraq. Last week we learned from a sting operation conducted by Congressional investigators that this enemy needs only a Mail Boxes Etc. account, a phone and a fax machine to buy radioactive material from American suppliers and build a dirty bomb.

For all Washington's hyperventilating about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation plans, it's our own government's vacation from reality this summer that should make us very afraid.

14 July 2007

In Poland, a Jewish Revival Thrives — Minus Jews

Benzion Miller and and Daniel Gildar taught Hasidic songs to a group of 40. More Photos »

KRAKOW, Poland — There is a curious thing happening in this old country, scarred by Nazi death camps, raked by pogroms and blanketed by numbing Soviet sterility: Jewish culture is beginning to flourish again.

In Poland, a Jewish Revival Thrives — Minus Jews

Photographs by Piotr Malecki for The New York Times

“Jewish style” restaurants are serving up platters of pirogis, klezmer bands are playing plaintive Oriental melodies, derelict synagogues are gradually being restored. Every June, a festival of Jewish culture here draws thousands of people to sing Jewish songs and dance Jewish dances. The only thing missing, really, are Jews.

“It’s a way to pay homage to the people who lived here, who contributed so much to Polish culture,” said Janusz Makuch, founder and director of the annual festival and himself the son of a Catholic family.

Jewish communities are gradually reawakening across Eastern Europe as Jewish schools introduce a new generation to rituals and beliefs suppressed by the Nazis and then by Communism. At summer camps, thousands of Jewish teenagers from across the former Soviet bloc gather for crash courses in Jewish culture, celebrating Passover, Hanukkah and Purim — all in July.

Even in Poland, there are now two Jewish schools, synagogues in several major cities and at least four rabbis.

But with relatively few Jews, Jewish culture in Poland is being embraced and promoted by the young and the fashionable.

Before Hitler’s horror, Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, about 3.5 million souls. One in 10 Poles was Jewish.

More than three million Polish Jews died in the Holocaust. Postwar pogroms and a 1968 anti-Jewish purge forced out most of those who survived.

Probably about 70 percent of the world’s European Jews, or Ashkenazi, can trace their ancestry to Poland — thanks to a 14th-century king, Casimir III, the Great, who drew Jewish settlers from across Europe with his vow to protect them as “people of the king.” But there are only 10,000 self-described Jews living today in this country of 39 million.

More than the people disappeared. The food, the music, the dance, the literature, the theater, the painting, the architecture — in short, the culture — of Jewish life in Poland disappeared, too. Poland’s cultural fabric lost some of its richest hues.

“Imagine what it would mean for the culture of New York if all Spanish-speaking New Yorkers disappeared,” said Ann Kirschner, whose book, “Sala’s Gift,” recounts her mother’s survival through five years in Nazi labor camps.

Sometime in the 1970s, as a generation born under Communism came of age, people began to look back with longing to the days when Poland was less gray, less monocultural. They found inspiration in the period between the world wars, which was the Poland of the Jews.

“You cannot have genocide and then have people live as if everything is normal,” said Konstanty Gebert, founder of a Polish-Jewish monthly, Midrasz. “It’s like when you lose a limb. Poland is suffering from Jewish phantom pain.”

Interest in Jewish culture became an identifying factor for people unhappy with the status quo and looking for ways to rebel, whether against the government or their parents. “The word ‘Jew’ still cuts conversation at the dinner table,” Mr. Gebert said. “People freeze.”

The revival of Jewish culture is, in its way, a progressive counterpoint to a conservative nationalist strain in Polish politics that still espouses anti-Semitic views. Some people see it as a generation’s effort to rise above the country’s dark past in order to convincingly condemn it.

“We’re trying to give muscle to our moral right to judge history,” said Mr. Makuch, the festival organizer.

Mr. Makuch was 14 when an elderly man in his hometown, Pulawy, told him that before the war half of the town was Jewish. “It was the first time I had ever heard the word ‘Jew,’ ” Mr. Makuch recalled.

He became a self-described meshugeneh, Yiddish for “crazy person,” fascinated with all things Jewish. When he moved to Krakow to study, he spent his free time with the city’s dwindling Jewish community. There were about 300 Jews, compared with a prewar population of about 70,000. There are even fewer today.

While few Jews have returned to the city, Jewish culture has, largely because of Mr. Makuch. In 1988, together with Krzysztof Gierat, he organized the city’s first Festival of Jewish Culture, a one-day affair in a theater that held only 100 people. In 1994, it became an annual event. There are now smaller festivals in Warsaw, Wroclaw and Tarnow.

The Krakow festival has helped revitalize the city’s old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, which deteriorated after the end of the war.

Today, quaint carved wooden figurines of orthodox Jews and miniature brass menorahs are sold in the district’s curio shops and souvenir stands. Klezmer bands play in its restaurants, though few of the musicians are Jewish.

Along one short street, faux 1930s Jewish merchant signs hang above the storefronts in an attempt to recreate the feel of the neighborhood before the war. Many Jews are offended by the commercialization of their culture in a country almost universally associated with its near annihilation. Others argue that there is something deeper taking place in Poland as the country heals from the double wounds of Nazi and Communist domination.

“There is commercialism, but that is foam on the surface,” Mr. Gebert said. “This is one of the deepest ethical transformations that our country is undergoing. This is Poland rediscovering its Jewish soul.”

This year, the festival had almost 200 events, including concerts and lectures and workshops in everything from Hebrew calligraphy to cooking. More than 20,000 people attended, few of whom were Jewish.

At a drumming workshop in Jozef Dietl primary school, Shlomo Bar, from Israel, led an elderly woman, a young boy in a Pokémon T-shirt and shorts, a young man in dreadlocks and two dozen other, mostly non-Jewish participants in a class on Sephardic rhythms.

Outside, Witek Ngo The, born in Krakow to Vietnamese immigrants, worked as a festival volunteer, directing visitors to other workshops in nearby schools.

In one, Benzion Miller, wearing a black yarmulke, white T-shirt, black suspenders and pants, taught 40 people Hasidic songs, a wood-and-silver crucifix high on the wall behind him.

Half of the festival’s $800,000 budget comes from the national and local governments. The rest is contributed by private donors, primarily from the United States, including the Philadelphia-based Friends of the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival.

Tad Taube, a businessman whose Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture is one of the festival’s biggest donors, was born in Krakow and left shortly before the war.

Together with other donors, Mr. Taube’s foundation has spent more than $10 million to help revive Jewish culture in Poland. He attended the recent groundbreaking for a Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, another effort he has supported.

Like many people involved in the resurgence of Jewish culture in Poland, Mr. Taube said he believed that it was not only important for Poland, but for Jews around the world.

Chris Schwarz, founder and director of Krakow’s Galicia Jewish Museum, agreed, saying, “Rather than coming here just to mourn, we should come with a great sense of dignity, a great sense of pride for what our ancestors accomplished.”

For others, the celebration of Jewish culture in a city just an hour away from Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where a million Jews died, is a triumph of history.

“The fact that you can walk around Krakow with a lanyard around your neck that reads ‘Jewish Culture Festival’ is an extraordinary thing,” Ms. Kirschner said.

10 July 2007

Jazz Messenger

July 8, 2007
Jazz Messenger

I never had any intention of becoming a novelist — at least not until I turned 29. This is absolutely true.

I read a lot from the time I was a little kid, and I got so deeply into the worlds of the novels I was reading that it would be a lie if I said I never felt like writing anything. But I never believed I had the talent to write fiction. In my teens I loved writers like Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Balzac, but I never imagined I could write anything that would measure up to the works they left us. And so, at an early age, I simply gave up any hope of writing fiction. I would continue to read books as a hobby, I decided, and look elsewhere for a way to make a living.

The professional area I settled on was music. I worked hard, saved my money, borrowed a lot from friends and relatives, and shortly after leaving the university I opened a little jazz club in Tokyo. We served coffee in the daytime and drinks at night. We also served a few simple dishes. We had records playing constantly, and young musicians performing live jazz on weekends. I kept this up for seven years. Why? For one simple reason: It enabled me to listen to jazz from morning to night.

I had my first encounter with jazz in 1964 when I was 15. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers performed in Kobe in January that year, and I got a ticket for a birthday present. This was the first time I really listened to jazz, and it bowled me over. I was thunderstruck. The band was just great: Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone and Art Blakey in the lead with his solid, imaginative drumming. I think it was one of the strongest units in jazz history. I had never heard such amazing music, and I was hooked.

A year ago in Boston I had dinner with the Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Pérez, and when I told him this story, he pulled out his cellphone and asked me, “Would you like to talk to Wayne, Haruki?” “Of course,” I said, practically at a loss for words. He called Wayne Shorter in Florida and handed me the phone. Basically what I said to him was that I had never heard such amazing music before or since. Life is so strange, you never know what’s going to happen. Here I was, 42 years later, writing novels, living in Boston and talking to Wayne Shorter on a cellphone. I never could have imagined it.

When I turned 29, all of a sudden out of nowhere I got this feeling that I wanted to write a novel — that I could do it. I couldn’t write anything that measured up to Dostoyevsky or Balzac, of course, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to become a literary giant. Still, I had no idea how to go about writing a novel or what to write about. I had absolutely no experience, after all, and no ready-made style at my disposal. I didn’t know anyone who could teach me how to do it, or even friends I could talk with about literature. My only thought at that point was how wonderful it would be if I could write like playing an instrument.

I had practiced the piano as a kid, and I could read enough music to pick out a simple melody, but I didn’t have the kind of technique it takes to become a professional musician. Inside my head, though, I did often feel as though something like my own music was swirling around in a rich, strong surge. I wondered if it might be possible for me to transfer that music into writing. That was how my style got started.

Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.

Practically everything I know about writing, then, I learned from music. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but if I had not been so obsessed with music, I might not have become a novelist. Even now, almost 30 years later, I continue to learn a great deal about writing from good music. My style is as deeply influenced by Charlie Parker’s repeated freewheeling riffs, say, as by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s elegantly flowing prose. And I still take the quality of continual self-renewal in Miles Davis’s music as a literary model.

One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: “It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!”

I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.

Haruki Murakami’s most recent book is a novel, “After Dark.” This essay was translated by Jay Rubin.



—SIGN THE PETITION DEMANDING RYDZYK'S REMOVAL —http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/lookup.asp?c=fwLYKnN8LzH&b=2913555

Once again, antisemitic priest, Father Tadeuscz Rydzyk (pictured) is leveraging Jew-hatred to promote his extremist agenda in Poland. Speaking to university students, the media mogul who heads Radio Maryja has created a major political crisis by seeking to scapegoat Jews, and by denouncing Poland’s President, Lech Kaczynski, as a “fraudster who is in the pockets of the Jewish lobby.”

Rydzyk went on to accuse the tiny Polish Jewish community of “grafting $65 billion from Poland" under the pretext of “Jewish pogroms” in the 1930’s saying, “They [the Jews] will come to you and say, 'Give me your coat! Take off your trousers! Give me your shoes!'"


Three million of Poland’s estimated 3.25 pre-World War II Jewish population, the largest Jewish community in the world, were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. The Jewish Community’s property was never returned after World War II by the Communist regime. Current efforts to address the Restitution issue have led to Rydzyk’s outrage.

Father Rydzyk’s extremism was previously criticized by Pope Benedict XVI. His radio station has hosted antisemites and Holocaust deniers. Join the Wiesenthal Center’s call to the Catholic Church to dismiss this “Josef Goebbels in a collar.”

We need your support to continue our work.
Please click here to support the work of the Simon Wiesenthal Center .
Send inquiries to: information@wiesenthal.net
Or send mail to:
Simon Wiesenthal Center
1399 South Roxbury, Los Angeles, California 90035

09 July 2007

Why Live Earth Will Fail

Mark A. LeVine

Why Live Earth Will Fail
Mr. LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the forthcoming books: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil; and Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948. He is also a contributor, with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez, to Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation. Click here to access his homepage.

Tomorrow the world will once again be blessed with a world wide concert featuring the leading concerned citizens of the rock 'n roll world playing for free (although all the free publicity certainly makes it worth while) to help educate the rest of the world about the dangers of global warming.

Live Earth certainly is long overdue. In fact, many of the same processes that are at the root of global warming--thoughtless consumption and the wars, exploitation, environmental degradation and the wholesale violations of the rights of entire peoples--were also at the root of the African famines that 1985's Live Aid concert were organized to combat. In the intervening 22 years, however, the situation for the majority of the world's poor has only gotten worse, not better. And we in the Global North are continuing to consume way beyond the means of the earth to sustain itself, all the while telling the rest of humanity that with enough hard work, World Bank loans and inducements (complete repatriation of profits, lax labor and environmental laws) to Western corporations to invest in their countries, they too can join the global consumer paradise.

We seem always to forget to mention that if Americans, at six percent of the world's population, needs to consume about a quarter of its wealth and resources to maintain our standard of living, the idea of the rest of the world even approaching our levels of consumption, energy usage and exploitation of land, water, resources and people would mean the end of civilization, if not most life on the planet, in a very short period of time.

Two years ago, some of the same people now organizing Life Earth worked with Live Aid originator Bob Geldoff on Live 8. This time the goal was to raise awareness rather than money about the continuing plight of Africa, in order to get average citizens around the world to pressure their governments to enact the huge increases in debt relief, aid, and lowering of our own agricultural subsidies systems without which much of Africa will be doomed to sink even further into the hell of war, ecological disasters, drought and famine in the near future--particularly as global warming becomes more prevalent across the continent.

I knew then that Live 8 was doomed to fail. And sure enough, a few months ago reports detailing whether governments who signed onto the Gleneagles Summit's call for increased aid and debt relief to Africa have lived up to their pledges revealed that almost none have. Even Bono's warning in May that the failure to live up to their promises could spark violent protests didn't move the G-8, whose leaders in their May meeting in Germany reminded us by their inaction that they were never interested in anything more than a photo up with Bono and his famous friends and maybe a few autographs for the grand-kids.

The reality is that there was no way that Live 8, as Bono argues on the concert's home page, would give “the poorest of the poor real political muscle for the first time.” It is, unfortunately, most likely that the only thing that will give the poor muscle in places like Nigeria or other resource rich but horrifically corrupt and despotic states is literally muscle--that is, powerful mass based resistance movements, with enough capacity to use violence against the corrupt governments and multinational corporations that they will be forced to share the profits extracted from the territories in which they operate with the people who live there.

Of course, the people of the third world understand this all to well. This is why, for example, in Johannesburg, ticket sales for Live Earth were tepid enough so that the concert had to be scaled back significantly. Rio's concert will draw the usual million people; but that's because Brasilians never pass up an opportunity to party, not because anything thinks Live Earth will help stop global warming. Indeed, Brasilians don't need Al Gore or Sting to advise them on the need to do more about global warming; the country is already in the lead among major CO2 producing countries through its use of locally produced ethanol instead of gasoline and other measures.

Even Geldoff has criticized Live Earth for not having a clearly defined program of action that people could engage in and pressure their governments to do the same, a criticism clearly shared by Who frontman Roger Daltrey, who exclaimed “the last thing the planet needs is a rock concert.” Of course, that didn't stop him and remaining Who member Pete Townsend from doing a few concerts in Ireland this past weekend (there was no mention of whether carbon offsets were bought to cover the energy used to rock the crowd in Dublin). Similarly, Live Earth will do nothing to convince 99% of the people who watch it to take meaningful--that is, painful--steps towards reducing the harm their lifestyles are doing to the planet. Indeed, for all but the already greenest of us, joining the fight against global warming will be a bit like going into the UFC Octagon against Quinton Rampage Jackson—who beat reining champion Chuck Liddell in one minute and fifty-three seconds. Except that we're more like Homer Simpson than Chuck Liddell.

For me, however, the biggest problem with Live Earth is not that it is a concert, or that rich rock stars are once again telling the rest of us how to behave. Artists and art more broadly have long been crucial to successful struggles for social change, and global warming should be no different. The problem is that Live Earth is reproducing the very top down and relatively painless notion of activism that doomed Live 8, and is refusing to make clear the obvious links between global warming and the policies of the Bush Administration and other governments of supporting war and dictatorships to ensure our access to oil. And most important, the organizers of Live Earth have left the grass roots activists at the forefronts of the struggles against global warming and environmental devastation more broadly, especially in the developing world, out of the conversation when in fact they should be leading it.

The most glaring evidence of this comes from the concert that was proposed, and then canceled, for Istanbul. As soon as I heard about Live Earth I contacted the producers to urge them to include the people of the Middle East and larger Muslim world in the concert planning. After all, the strategically most important location for petroleum extraction is the Middle East, and the entire foreign policy system of the US for more than half a century has been geared, largely, towards preserving our control and/or management of the most important reserves in the region. The “military industrial complex” that President Eisenhower warned about half a century ago--which today is more properly called the “arms-petrodollar complex”--has been the primary planner, executor and beneficiary of US Middle Eastern policy since that time, from supporting some of the most corrupt, autocratic and violent regimes in the world, to invading Iraq, all for the sake of maintaining an “American way of life”--exemplified by President Bush's exhortation after 9/11 for Americans to “go shopping” which is literally poisoning the planet to death.

From my frequent travels to the the Middle East I have become aware of the strong if little discussed environmental movements who have sprung up with civil society's development across the region. More important, if the Middle East is at the center of the problem of global warming, it stands to reason that it should be part of the conversation about the solution, especially since the impact of global warming, particularly as regards increased desertification, will hit the countries of the region harder than almost anywhere else on earth.

I told them about the vibrant and growing rock, metal and hip hop scenes across the Muslim world, many of which are quite political, and whose members have already begun taking on issues related to Live Earth. I even put them in touch with an amazing array of environmental activists in Turkey who are at the forefront of the global warming movement in the country, and have put on huge festivals in the last few years bringing tens of thousands of people together, all in a spirit of DIY grassroots activism. They were already planning a concert on July 7 and were happy to work with Live Earth to bring in bands from around the Muslim world to make it a truly global affair (as far as I can tell, apart from a last minute addition of Yusuf Islam to the Hamburg show, there is not a single artist from the Middle East or North Africa performing at any of the concerts, although I can't be sure because not all the lists of performers has been made public).

But it was clear that this was not a major concern for the organizers, although ultimately they did decide to organize a show in Istanbul. But instead of working with local grass roots organizers who had a track record of doing exactly what Live Earth has said are its main goals, the producers sought out a big time concert promoter who was a convicted felon with ties to the mafia, a horrible reputation among artists, and who has no history of environmental activism. Sadly but not surprisingly, the Istanbul show was canceled because of “financial and logistical snags.” My friends have still organized a great concert, but no one outside of Turkey will know about it.

The simple but profoundly depressing fact is that the entire world economic and political system as it exists today is based around practices that are destroying the planet slowly but surely. The corporations, political elites and others who benefit from the existing system are not good Christians and will not be swayed by Bono's religiously grounded arguments. They are not good environmentalists and will not be swayed by Al Gore's arguments at Live Earth. They will do whatever is necessary--lie, cheat, steal, oppress, exploit, murder and wage war--to maintain control of a world economy that sees half the world living on $2 per day or less while inequality and poverty increase in line with the amount of CO2 in the air, in order to continue to reap their huge salaries and bonuses and maintain their stranglehold on power.

Against such a superpower few alternatives exist. One is al-Qa'eda, but its ideology and actions have only strengthened rather than weakened the system, while enriching the oil and arms barons who most benefit from it even more than they could have ever imagined possible. Another is comprised of the multitude of grass roots movements around the world who, before 9/11 gave governments the excuse to use increasing levels of violence and abuse of rights against them, were achieving enough success in raising awareness about the current system to have been considered, for a brief moment, a “second superpower” that could potentially alter the shape of the world economic system with its demands.

In the middle stands all those movements on the front lines of the “arc of instability” around the world, who are fighting a life or death battle against western oil and mining companies and their own corrupt governments and economic elites, and who will increasingly use whatever means necessary in that struggle—in the process coming to look either more like al-Qa'eda or like Seattle's turtle people, depending on what the rest of us do to help them.

If Kanye West, Sting, Melissa Ethridge, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and the dozens of other artists donating their time to the effort to combat climate change really want to do some good, they should take their digital cameras, go to the third world communities on the front lines, record their stories--and their music--and stand with them against the corporations and governments (including ours) who are committed to exploiting their lands and resources down to the world's last drop of fresh water and clean air. Anything less than that is just a concert, and as Roger Daltrey points out, the world already has enough of those.

Posted on Friday, July 6, 2007 at 4:40 AM Comments (2) Return