30 May 2008
30 May 2008 10:03 am
Two weeks ago, I spoke with Barack Obama about the Middle East, Zionism, and his favorite Jewish writers. Since my blog is both fair and balanced, I had a lengthy conversation with Senator John McCain earlier this week about many of the same subjects.
The two candidates, who are scheduled to address the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. early next week, have well-developed thoughts on the Middle East, and their differences are stark. Obama sees the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as one of America’s central challenges in the Middle East; McCain names Islamic extremism as the most formidable challenge. Obama sees Jewish settlements as "not helpful" to peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians; McCain does not offer a critique of the settlements, instead identifying Hamas’ rocket attacks on the Israeli town of Sderot as the most pressing problem. And both men take very different positions on the issue of Philip Roth.
In our conversation, McCain took a vociferously hard line on Iran (and a similarly hard line on Senator Obama’s understanding of the challenge posed by Iran). He accused Iran of not only seeking the destruction of Israel, but of sponsoring terrorist groups – Hamas and Hezbollah – that are bent on the destruction of the United States. And he said that the defense of Israel is a central tenet of American foreign policy. When I asked him why he is so concerned about Iranian threats against Israel, he said – in a statement that will surely placate Jewish voters who are particularly concerned about existential threats facing Israel – “The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust.”
Here is an edited transcript of my talk with McCain:
Jeffrey Goldberg: Is the Zionist cause just, and has it succeeded?
John McCain: I think so. I’m a student of history and anybody who is familiar with the history of the Jewish people and with the Zionist idea can’t help but admire those who established the Jewish homeland. I think it’s remarkable that Zionism has been in the middle of wars and great trials and it has held fast to the ideals of democracy and social justice and human rights. I think that the State of Israel remains under significant threat from terrorist organizations as well as the continued advocacy of the Iranians to wipe Israel off the map.
JG: Do you think the Palestinian cause is just?
JM: In respect to people like Mahmoud Abbas, who want to have a peaceful settlement with the government of Israel, to settle their differences in a peaceful and amicable fashion. If you are talking about Hamas or Hezbollah, which are dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel, then no. It depends on who you’re talking about.
JG: Senator Obama told me that the Arab-Israeli dispute is a “constant sore” that infects our foreign policy. Do you think this is true, and do you think that the Arab-Israeli dispute is central to our challenges in the Middle East?
JM: Well, I certainly would not describe it the way Senator Obama did –
JG: He wasn’t referring to Israel as an “open sore,” he was referring to the conflict.
JM: I don’t think the conflict is a sore. I think it’s a national security challenge. I think it’s important to achieve peace in the Middle East on a broad variety of fronts and I think that if the Israeli-Palestinian issue were decided tomorrow, we would still face the enormous threat of radical Islamic extremism.
I think it’s very vital, don’t get me wrong. That’s why I’ve spent so much time there. The first time I visited Israel was thirty years ago, with Scoop Jackson and other senators, when I was in the Navy. I visited Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust memorial) with Joe Lieberman the last time I was in Israel. So my absolute commitment is to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But the dangers that we face in the Middle East are incredibly severe, in the form of radical Islamic extremists.
JG: Do you think that Israel is better off today than it was eight years ago?
JM: I think Israel, in many respects, is stronger economically, their political process shows progress – when there is corruption, they punish people who are corrupt. The economy is booming, they have a robust democracy, to say the least. Bin Laden has not limited his hatred and desire to destroy the United States to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, though Israel is one of the objects of his jihadist attitude. What you’re trying to do is get me to criticize the Bush Administration.
JG: No, I'm not, what I'm --
JM: Yeah, you are, but I’ll try to answer your question. Because of the rise of Islamic extremism, because of the failure of human rights and democracy in the Middle East, or whether there are a myriad of challenges we face in the Middle East, all of them severe, all of them pose a threat to the existence to the state of Israel, including and especially the Iranians, who have as a national policy the destruction of the state of Israel, something they’ve been dedicated to since before President Bush came to office.
JG: What do you think motivates Iran?
JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.
JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?
JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.
Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?
Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.
JG: There’s no rationale for sitting down with Iran?
JM: Yes. I could see a situation hopefully in the future if the Iranians would change the policies that you and I have just talked about, but there would have to be negotiations and discussions and all kinds of things happening before you lend them the prestige of a face-to-face meeting with the President of the United States of America. As you know, our ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has met with the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad on a couple of occasions. Those discussions, according to Ambassador Crocker, have been totally unproductive, because Iran is hell-bent on the destruction of Israel, they’re hell-bent on driving us out of Iraq, they’re hell-bent on supporting terrorist organizations, and as serious as anything to American families, they’re sending explosive devices into Iraq that are killing American soldiers.
JG: Tell me how engaged you would be as President in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and give me a couple of names of plausible Middle East envoys.
JM: I would have a hands-on approach. I would be the chief negotiator. I have been there for thirty years. I know the leaders, I know them extremely well. Ehud Barak and I have gone back thirty years. I knew Olmert when he was mayor of Jerusalem. I’ve met many times with Netanyahu. I’ve met with Mahmoud Abbas.
In terms of envoys, there are a large number of people who could be extremely effective, and I apologize for ducking the question, but it would have to be dictated by the state of relations at the time. For example, we know that there were behind-the-scenes conversations Israel was having with Syria. Now it’s broken into the public arena. So it would depend on the state of things. If they were more advanced in talks, which they are not, with Hamas, then you need someone like a mechanic. If it’s someone who needs to lay out a whole framework, it would have to be someone who commands the respect of both sides, someone who has an impact on world opinion.
JG: What is the difference between an American president negotiating with Ahmadinejad and Ehud Olmert negotiating with the Syrians?
JM: You don’t see him sitting down opposite Bashar, do you? (Bashar al-Assad is president of Syria.) I mean, that’s the point here. It was perfectly fine that Ryan Crocker spoke with the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad. The point is you don’t give legitimacy by lending prestige of a face-to-face meeting, with no preconditions.
JG: But Obama has shifted off that position.
JM: Sure, and the next time he sees where he’s wrong, maybe he’ll shift again. The point is is that he doesn’t understand. Look, in the primary, he was unequivocal in his statements. And now he realizes that it’s not a smart thing to say. I didn’t say he wasn’t a smart politician.
JG: Do you think that settlements keep Israel and the Palestinians from making peace?
JM: There’s a list of issues that separate them, from water, to the right of return, to settlements. Look at the Oslo Accords, which basically laid out a roadmap for addressing these major issues. And settlements is one of them, but certainly one of the issues right now is the shelling of Sderot, which I visited. As you know, they’re shelling from across the border. If the United States was being rocketed across one of our borders, that would probably gain prominence as an issue.
JG: Do you believe that Israel will have to go into Gaza in force to deal with the rockets, and if Israel did, would you support it?
JM: It depends on what you mean by force. They’ve responded with air strikes, and identifying Hamas leaders and, you know, quote, responding. Would they respond with massive force? I don’t know. I know from my conversations with them that they are deeply concerned. They’re a democracy. How would an American government, how would American public opinion respond, if there were constant shelling, and kids had fifteen seconds – fifteen seconds – to get into a bomb shelter. I don’t know what the government of Israel is going to do. It somewhat depends on whether these attacks will discontinue or if other things happen. I did get the distinct impression, nothing specific, but I got the impression that the patience of the Israeli government and the people is growing short.
JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?
JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust.
In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric -- the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.
JG: Do you think their intention is the actual destruction of America?
JM: It’s hard for me to say what their intentions are, but the effect – If they were able to drive us out of Iraq, and al Qaeda established a base there, and the Shiite militias erupted and the Iranian influence was expanded, which to my mind is what would happen, then the consequences for American national security would be profound. I don’t know if their intention is to destroy America and what we stand for, but I think the consequences of them succeeding in the destruction of the state of Israel and their continued support for terrorist organizations – all of these would have profound national security consequences.
JG: A question about democratization in the Middle East. Imagine a continuum, Brent Scowcroft on one end, Paul Wolfowitz on the other. Where do you fall on that continuum, five years after the invasion of Iraq?
JM: I think that we’ve got to always balance the realism of a situation with idealism. I’m committed to that fundamental belief that we’re all created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. But there are times when realism has to enter into the equation as well. If you look at Darfur, we don’t want this to go on, but how do we stop it? And what would the consequences of our initial intrusion be? After the initial success, what are the long-term consequences?
I enjoy hearing this debate. There’s no one I love more in the world than Brent Scowcroft. He’s one of the most selfless people I’ve ever seen, never a trace of personal ambition, which is the rarest thing in Washington. But I lean also toward the historic idealism of America. Which means that every situation that confronts us, we have to try to maintain that balance. Have I always been right? No. But I try to learn from the lessons of history.
JG: You bring up an interesting question about the Holocaust, to which you say never again. But do you have an absolute commitment to stop genocide wherever it occurs?
JM: That has to be the fundamental goal, but it has to be tempered by the idea that you have to actually be able to do it, that you can succeed. If you fail in one of these efforts, that encourages others, and increases feelings of isolationism and protectionism in America. It’s hard to convince Americans to send young Americans into harm’s way, as it should be.
JG: It sounds like you’re talking about Iraq.
JM: Well, we haven’t talked about the four years of mishandling this war, which has been devastating, in particular to the families.
JG: A final question: Senator Obama talked about how his life was influenced by Jewish writers, Philip Roth, Leon Uris. How about you?
JM: There’s Elie Wiesel, and Victor Frankl. I think about Frankl all the time. “Man’s Search for Meaning” is one of the most profound things I’ve ever read in my life. And maybe on a little lighter note, “War and Remembrance” and “Winds of War” are my two absolute favorite books. I can tell you that one of my life’s ambitions is to meet Herman Wouk. “War and Remembrance” for me, it’s the whole thing.
Then there’s Joe Lieberman, who lives a life of his religion, and who does it in the most humble way.
JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?
JM: No, I’m not. Leon Uris I enjoyed. Victor Frankl, that’s important. I read it before my captivity. It made me feel a lot less sorry for myself, my friend. A fundamental difference between my experience and the Holocaust was that the Vietnamese didn’t want us to die. They viewed us as a very valuable asset at the bargaining table. It was the opposite in the Holocaust, because they wanted to exterminate you. Sometimes when I felt sorry for myself, which was very frequently, I thought, “This is nothing compared to what Victor Frankl experienced.”
29 May 2008
U.S. Withdraws Fulbright Grants to Gaza
By ETHAN BRONNER
Published: May 30, 2008
GAZA — The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.
Ali Ali/European Pressphoto Agency, for The New York Times
Hadeel Abukwaik, standing, an engineering software instructor in Gaza, was in disbelief over losing her Fulbright grant.
Ali Ali/European Pressphoto Agency
Abdulrahman Abdullah, a Palestinian Fulbright candidate, in Al Deira hotel in Gaza City.
Israel has isolated this coastal strip, which is run by the militant group Hamas. Given that policy, the United States Consulate in Jerusalem said the grant money had been “redirected” to students elsewhere out of concern that it would go to waste if the Palestinian students were forced to remain in Gaza.
A letter was sent by e-mail to the students on Thursday telling them of the cancellation. Abdulrahman Abdullah, 30, who had been hoping to study for an M.B.A. at one of several American universities on his Fulbright, was in shock when he read it.
“If we are talking about peace and mutual understanding, it means investing in people who will later contribute to Palestinian society,” he said. “I am against Hamas. Their acts and policies are wrong. Israel talks about a Palestinian state. But who will build that state if we can get no training?”
Some Israeli lawmakers, who held a hearing on the issue of student movement out of Gaza on Wednesday, expressed anger that their government was failing to promote educational and civil development in a future Palestine given the hundreds of students who had been offered grants by the United States and other Western governments.
“This could be interpreted as collective punishment,” complained Rabbi Michael Melchior, chairman of the Parliament’s education committee, during the hearing. “This policy is not in keeping with international standards or with the moral standards of Jews, who have been subjected to the deprivation of higher education in the past. Even in war, there are rules.” Rabbi Melchior is from the Meimad Party, allied with Labor.
The committee asked the government and military to reconsider the policy and get back to it within two weeks. But even if the policy is changed, the seven Fulbright grantees in Gaza are out of luck for this year. Their letters urged them to reapply next year.
Israel’s policy appears to be in flux. At the parliamentary hearing on Wednesday, a Defense Ministry official recalled that the cabinet had declared Gaza “hostile territory” and decided that the safety of Israeli soldiers and civilians at or near the border should be risked only to facilitate the movement out of Gaza for humanitarian concerns, like medical treatment. Higher education, he said, was not a humanitarian concern.
But when a query about the canceled Fulbrights was made to the prime minister’s office on Thursday, senior officials expressed surprise. They said they did, in fact, consider study abroad to be a humanitarian necessity and that when cases were appealed to them, they would facilitate them.
They suggested that American officials never brought the Fulbright cases to their attention. The State Department and American officials in Israel refused to discuss the matter. But the failure to persuade the Israelis may have stemmed from longstanding tensions between the consulate in Jerusalem, which handles Palestinian affairs, and the embassy in Tel Aviv, which manages relations with the Israeli government.
The study grants notwithstanding, the Israeli officials argued that the policy of isolating Gaza was working, that Palestinians here were starting to lose faith in Hamas’s ability to rule because of the hardships of life.
Since Hamas, a radical Islamist group that opposes Israel’s existence, carried out what amounted to a coup d’état in Gaza against the more secular Fatah party a year ago, hundreds of rockets and mortar shells have been launched from here at Israeli civilians, truck and car bombs have gone off and numerous attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers have taken place.
While Hamas says the attacks are in response to Israeli military incursions into Gaza, it also says it will never recognize Israel.
“We are using the rockets to shake the conscience of the world about Israeli aggression,” argued Ahmed Yusef, political adviser to the Hamas foreign minister in an interview in his office here. “All our rockets are a reaction to Israeli aggression.”
The Israeli closing of Gaza has added markedly to the difficulty of daily life here, with long lines for cooking gas and a sense across the population of being under siege. Israel does send in about 70 truckloads per day of wheat, dairy products and medical equipment as well as some fuel, and it permits some medical cases out.
But Israel’s stated goal is to support moderates among the Palestinians so that Hamas will lose power, and even some security-conscious Israeli hard-liners say that the policy of barring students with grants abroad is counterproductive.
“We correctly complain that the Palestinian Authority is not building civil society, but when we don’t help build civil society this plays into the hands of Hamas,” said Natan Sharansky, a former government official. “The Fulbright is administered independently, and people are chosen for it due to their talents.”
The State Department Web site describes the Fulbright, the American government’s flagship program in international educational exchange, as “an integral part of U.S. foreign relations.” It adds, “the Fulbright Program creates a context to provide a better understanding of U.S. views and values, promotes more effective binational cooperation and nurtures open-minded, thoughtful leaders, both in the U.S. and abroad, who can work together to address common concerns.”
Sari Bashi, who directs Gisha, an Israeli organization devoted to monitoring and increasing the free movement of Palestinians, said, “The fact that the U.S. cannot even get taxpayer-funded Fulbright students out of Gaza demonstrates the injustice and short-sightedness of a closure policy that arbitrarily traps 1.5 million people, including hundreds of Palestinian students accepted to universities abroad.” She said that their education was good not just for Palestinian society, but for Israel as well.
Some Israelis disagree strongly.
“We are fighting the regime in Gaza that does its utmost to kill our citizens and destroy our schools and our colleges,” said Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the opposition Likud Party. “So I don’t think we should allow students from Gaza to go anywhere. Gaza is under siege, and rightly so, and it is up to the Gazans to change the regime or its behavior.”
Hadeel Abukwaik, a 23-year-old engineering software instructor in Gaza, had hoped to do graduate work in the United States this fall on the Fulbright that she thought was hers. She had stayed in Gaza this past winter when its metal border fence was destroyed and tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt, including her sister, because the agency administering the Fulbright told her she would get the grant only if she stayed put. She lives alone in Gaza where she was sent to study because the cost is low; her parents, Palestinian refugees, live in Dubai.
“I stayed to get my scholarship,” she said. “Now I am desperate.”
She, like her six colleagues, was in disbelief. Mr. Abdullah, who called the consulate in Jerusalem for further explanation after receiving his letter, said to the official on the other end, “I still cannot believe that the American administration is not able to convince the Israelis to let seven Palestinians out of Gaza.”
Taghreed el-Khodary contributed reporting.
Israel has no reason to trust Syria in talks over that strategic area.
By Yossi Klein Halevi
May 28, 2008
JERUSALEM -- The Israeli mainstream, so the truism here goes, is so desperate for peace that, in the end, it will overcome misgivings over relinquishing territory and mistrust of Arab intentions and endorse any diplomatic initiative aimed at solving the Middle East conflict. After all, the majority of Israelis have supported every withdrawal so far -- from the Sinai desert in 1982 to the pullout from Gaza in 2005. And according to polls, a majority of Israelis are prepared to leave most of the West Bank and create a Palestinian state.
But that willingness to relinquish territory for peace -- or even a respite -- ends with the Golan Heights, which Israel won in the 1967 Six-Day War and whose fate Israel and Syria are negotiating. By an overwhelming majority, Israelis oppose ceding the Golan to Syria, even in exchange for a promise of peace from Damascus. So does a majority of the Israeli parliament, along with most Cabinet members from the governing party, Kadima.
One reason is that few here believe that the regime of Bashar Assad will honor an agreement. No Arab state has consistently shown greater hostility to Israel than Syria. The Palestinian terrorist movement Hamas is headquartered in Damascus; Syria is Iran's leading Arab ally. Without a Syrian attempt to convince the Israeli public of its benign intentions, domestic opposition will stymie any attempt by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to cede the Golan to Assad. And the prospects for a convincing Syrian overture are almost nonexistent.
The Middle East conflict has produced two models of Arab peacemakers. The first was former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who realized that the key to resolving the conflict was psychological. The Israeli public needed to be convinced that, in exchange for concrete concessions, it would win legitimacy from the Arab world. And so Sadat flew to Jerusalem, addressed the Israeli parliament and announced that Egypt welcomed Israel into the Middle East. The result was an Israeli pullback from every last inch of Sinai.
The second model was former Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who, rather than prepare his people for peace, assured them that Israel was an illegitimate state destined to disappear. And when Israel offered the Palestinians a state, Arafat's response was a war of suicide bombings. The result was an indefinite deferment of statehood.
Grudging and suspicious, Assad reminds Israelis far more of Arafat than of Sadat. So far, Assad has refused even to hold direct negotiations with Israel, preferring Turkish interlocutors. Give me the Golan, he is in effect saying, and then we'll see what kind of peace develops between us.
But Israelis are hardly in a rush to part with one of the most beloved areas of their country. For Israelis, the Golan Heights, with its empty hills and vineyards, is more Provence than Gaza. Unlike the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, the Golan poses no moral or demographic dilemmas. Here there is no occupation of another people; barely 20,000 Druze, and an equal number of Jews, share the nearly 700-square-mile area.
Under Syrian control before the 1967 war, the Golan was Israel's most volatile border. Many here still recall the years when Syrian soldiers on the Golan routinely shot at Israeli civilians in the Galilee below. After 1967, though, the Golan became Israel's most placid border. Israelis sense that, for the sake of quiet if not formal peace, it is far better to have their soldiers overlooking Syria than for Syrian soldiers to be once again looking down on the Galilee.
Israeli advocates of a Golan withdrawal argue that Syria may be enticed to sever its ties with Iran as part of a peace agreement. Neutralizing a potential Syrian front in a future Middle East war -- with Iran, say -- would be a major gain for Israel, which is why much of the Israeli strategic community supports negotiations. Syria, though, continues to affirm the primacy of its alliance with Iran. And, during a visit this week to Tehran, Syrian Defense Minister Hassan Turkmany reinforced that message by signing a security agreement with Iran.
Two Israeli leaders, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, tried and failed in the 1990s to reach an agreement with Bashar's father, the late Syrian leader Hafez Assad. Though both Rabin and Barak agreed to a full withdrawal from the Golan, the Syrians demanded more: several hundred yards of shorefront on the Sea of Galilee, Israel's main freshwater source, which the Syrians had seized from Israel before 1967. When Rabin and Barak refused to allow Hafez Assad to fulfill his stated dream of again dipping his feet into the Sea of Galilee, negotiations collapsed.
The current negotiations will almost certainly fail too. In fact, possessing the Golan is hardly Assad's top priority. Instead, Assad has two more pressing interests: evading an international tribunal investigating the Syrian government's complicity in the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and deflecting attention from the intensifying domination of Lebanon by the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah alliance. Negotiations with Israel -- regardless of whether they actually succeed -- help Assad achieve both goals, by deflecting world attention from the destruction of Lebanese sovereignty and by transforming him from pariah to peacemaker.
Israel's Olmert hopes that peace negotiations will deflect attention from his own woes -- allegations of corruption dating in part from his days as Jerusalem's mayor. Other Israelis, though, are wondering how helping Assad destroy Lebanon and escape justice can possibly be confused for Israel's national interest, let alone for a peace process.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the Israel correspondent for the New Republic.
28 May 2008
Is a post-America Israel beginning to take shape?
By Dominique Moisi
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Israel is one of the only places in the world where US President Georges W. Bush can be greeted with real enthusiasm and even affection. The most unpopular American president in recent history thus relished his recent triumphal welcome in Jerusalem, where he was the guest of honor of the International Conference planned and devised by Israeli President Shimon Peres on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state.
Historical revisionism was near the top of the agenda, with the United States portrayed as Israel's most faithful supporter and ally since 1948. But in fact, George C. Marshall, the US secretary of state in 1948, sought to prevent President Harry Truman from recognizing Israel. Likewise, the Suez crisis of 1956, when the US thwarted a joint French, British, and Israeli plan to seize the Suez Canal, was presented in a politically correct light, as were Henry Kissinger's complex diplomacy during the October war of 1973.
The hugging and kissing between Bush, Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were undeniably moving, but they were also troubling - and not only because serious references to the Palestinians were, for the most part, not on the agenda. One had the feeling that this was something akin to dancing on the Titanic - the culmination of a privileged partnership at its tipping point, a grand gala for something that was about to disappear.
This is not only a matter of leaders - Bush and Olmert - on their way out. Beyond the celebration of eight exceptional years of "unique friendship" under Bush, it also seemed clear that the 41-year-old special relationship inaugurated by the 1967 war, when the US became Israel's main backer, might be coming to an end.
The next US president, whether he is Barack Obama or John McCain, will certainly maintain the close bilateral alliance. But it will not be the same: Even if America remains an indispensable nation, it will no longer be the only one. While Bush was in Jerusalem, so too was India's Lakmar Mittal, the king of the world's steel industry. If Bush was the departing present, Mittal represents the incipient future, in which America will have to share influence with emerging powers such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, and eventually, if its members get their act together, the European Union.
In fact, Israelis are already debating the meaning of the emerging post-American "multipolar world" for their country's security. Will it really be such a bad thing, or might it hold some redeeming value?
The close bond between Israel and Bush's America can in retrospect be seen as a mixed blessing: a special relationship that contributed to the declining attractiveness of both countries. Israel, rightly, may not be ready to exchange US support for that of any other power, but Israeli leaders, having kept all their eggs in one basket for so long, will now have to factor not only American concerns and interests into their decision-making, but those of the other powers as well.
Thus, the problem for Israel is not to replace the backing provided by "300 million Americans," as Bush put it in Jerusalem, but to add to it the sympathetic interest of more than 3 billion Chinese, Indians, Russians and others in Israel's future in a pacified Middle East. The question is not so much one of substituting alliances, but of creating a complementary system of security.
In their effort to achieve international respect and legitimacy as stakeholders in today's evolving international system, countries such as China, India, and even Russia have a greater interest in stability than in global confusion. For them, a nuclear Iran led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seen more as a threat than as a card they can play, even if their actions thus far in regard to Iran do not always match their long-term strategic interests.
In fact, when it comes to deterring Iran from developing nuclear weapons - or, for that matter, exerting pressure on Israel and the Palestinians (including Hamas) to reach a compromise - a group of powers such as the US, China, India, and Russia might produce better results than a sole superpower imprisoned by its own contradictions and limitations.
Israel's nimble society and economy seem perfectly designed for the post-American era of political and economic globalization. Equally important, Israel will be forced to confront the reality of Palestinian despair, which the unique relationship with America has allowed it to obfuscate and evade for too long.
Dominique Moisi, a founder and senior adviser the French Institute for International Relations, is currently a professor at the College of Europe in Natolin, Warsaw. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (c) (www.project-syndicate.org).
Hassan Nasrallah is trapping himself
By Michael Young Daily Star staff
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Listening to the speeches of President Michel Suleiman and Hizbullah's Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah earlier this week, it is becoming apparent that there are really only two projects in Lebanon today: There is the project of the state, which Suleiman and the parliamentary majority embody, assuming the president abides by his public statements; and there is the project of a non-state, supported by Hizbullah and its allies.
If that wasn't plain enough, then consider what happened on Monday night, after Suleiman had spent his first day at the Baabda Palace. Hizbullah and Amal partisans, as has become their habit lately, fired in the air to celebrate Nasrallah's speech, then took to the streets and began firing at their political adversaries. In the Bekaa Valley much the same thing happened. There was a message there, perhaps more a Syrian than an Iranian one this time around, and it was that the new president should not imagine he will be able to build up a state against Hizbullah.
Thanks to the Israelis, who may soon hand a grand prisoner exchange to Hizbullah, Nasrallah may earn a brief reprieve for his "resistance." It's funny how Hizbullah and Syria, always the loudest in accusing others of being Israeli agents, are the ones who, when under pressure, look toward negotiations with Israel for an exit. Hizbullah has again done so to show that its "defense strategy" works and to deflect growing domestic insistence that the party place its weapons at the disposal of the state.
Nasrallah has started peddling what he thinks Lebanon's defense strategy should be. Hizbullah's model is the summer 2006 war, he explained this week. But if the defense strategy Hizbullah wants us to adopt is one that hands Israel an excuse to kill over 1,200 people, turn almost 1 million civilians out into the streets for weeks on end while their villages are bombed and their fields are saturated with fragmentation bomblets; if Nasrallah's strategy is one that will lead to the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, the ruin of its economy, the emigration of its youths, the isolation of the Shiites in a society infuriated with Hizbullah's pursuit of lasting conflict; if that's his defense strategy, then Nasrallah needs to get out of his bunker more and see what is really going on in Lebanon.
The only good thing that came out of the 2006 war, the only thing that both a majority of Lebanese and the Shiite community together approved of, was the deployment of the Lebanese Army to the South, the strengthening of UNIFIL, and the pacification of the border area. The Lebanese approved of this because it made less likely a return to Nasrallah's inane defense strategy. Unless of course the Hizbullah leader is now telling us that the neutralization of Hizbullah's military activities along the frontier with Israel was also a part of that strategy, because in practical terms it too was a result of the 2006 war.
Nasrallah's speech only reaffirmed that Hizbullah cannot find an exit to its existential dilemma, other than to coerce its hostile countrymen into accepting its armed mini-state. Very simply, the days of the national resistance are over. The liberation of the Shebaa Farms does not justify Hizbullah's existence as a parallel force to the army, and it does not justify initiating a new war with Israel. After all, the Syrians have a much larger territory under occupation and have preferred negotiations to conflict in order to win it back. As Suleiman implied, the best thing that can happen now is for Hizbullah to share with the state its resistance expertise, which was a gentle way of saying that the party must integrate into the state.
Nasrallah's defensiveness also revealed something else, almost as worrying as his untenable position on Hizbullah's defense strategy. It revealed that the party views Doha as a setback. Nasrallah is right in that respect. The agreement negotiated by the Qataris was several things. It was, above all, a line drawn in the sand by the Sunni Arab world against Iran and Syria, telling them that Lebanon would not fall into their lap. In this the Qataris were part of an Arab consensus, and the Iranians, always pragmatic, backtracked when seeing how resolute the Arabs were.
But the Doha agreement was mainly a failure for Syria. Damascus had planned to use the open-ended political vacuum in Beirut as leverage to bring in a new president and government on its conditions, to negotiate Syria's return to the Arab fold from a position of strength, to torpedo the Hariri tribunal, and to prepare an eventual Syrian military return to Lebanon. The Qataris thwarted this, and in a conversation between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Assad was pushed into approving Suleiman's election. As a last measure he tried to prevent the granting of 16 ministerial portfolios to the March 14 coalition - a simple majority in the 30-minister government allowing the coalition to have a quorum for regular Cabinet sessions. Sheikh Hamad rejected this and Assad had no choice but to relent, before instructing Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to accept the Qatari plan.
Hizbullah's plan was little different than that of the Syrians, so the Qataris substantially complicated Nasrallah's calculations as well. Suleiman is still an unknown quantity, but if he sticks to the principles highlighted in his inauguration speech, Hizbullah will be squeezed. Unlike the time when Emile Lahoud was still around and formed, with Berri, an alliance against Siniora, if the next prime minister and Suleiman can craft a joint strategy to strengthen the authority of the state, it is Berri, as the senior opposition figure and Shiite in office, who may find himself out on a limb.
Speaking of Berri, Hizbullah's bloc may have made a grave mistake in choosing yesterday to name no favorite as prime minister. That means that the bloc is ignoring the wishes of the Sunni community to bring back Siniora. Recall that when Berri was elected as Parliament speaker in 2005, those parliamentarians voting for him defended the choice on the grounds that "the Shiites want him." By inference, in not naming Siniora yesterday, mainly because the Syrians oppose him, the opposition has given the future majority in Parliament, if it happens to be a majority opposed to Hizbullah and Amal, an opening to reject Berri's re-election as speaker in 2009, regardless of whether the Shiites want him.
The ink on the Doha agreement is barely dry, but already Hizbullah and Syria are trying to water down its terms. Nasrallah's speech showed that he has no intention of entering into a substantive discussion on his party's weaponry. His promise not to use his guns in the pursuit of domestic political goals was meaningless, as he has already done so. In fact, his reading of what he can do with his weapons is much more advantageous to Hizbullah than what the Doha agreement stipulates. But Nasrallah has a problem. Most Lebanese want a real state and most Shiites don't want another war with Israel. Hizbullah, in contrast, doesn't want a real state but needs permanent war to remain relevant. That's Nasrallah's trap.
Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.
24 May 2008
Adam Sandler is a former Israeli assassin with a new calling in “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” written by Mr. Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow. More Photos >
By DAVE ITZKOFF
Published: May 25, 2008
ADAM SANDLER’S comedies can usually be distinguished — if that’s the right word — by setups so improbable that they border on the ridiculous, from the re-education of a man forced to complete grades 1 through 12 (“Billy Madison”) to the sham gay marriage of two heterosexual firefighters (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry”). Yet his latest movie places him in what may be his most improbable scenario to date.
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Related Trailer: 'You Don't Mess With the Zohan'
In “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” (opening June 6), Mr. Sandler plays an Israeli assassin who flees to the United States to become a hairdresser. Trailers for the film promise plenty of broad farce, physical comedy and at least one lewd dance routine. What the ad campaign for “Zohan” does not emphasize is that the film also attempts to satirize the continuing tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and provide humorous commentary on one of the least funny topics of modern times with a comedian who is not exactly known for incisive political wit.
If you’re already wondering what gives the “Zohan” crew the right to tackle such sensitive subject matter, well, so are they.
“I’m not sure we do have permission,” said Robert Smigel, one of the screenwriters and a longtime friend of Mr. Sandler’s. “But we thought it would be a funny idea.”
About eight years ago Mr. Sandler conceived of the Zohan character, an Israeli assassin who has been trained to hate and kill Arabs; exhausted by the ceaseless bloodshed, he fakes his own death and flees to New York to become a hairdresser. There he finds Jews and Arabs living together in grudging if not quite harmonious tolerance.
At the time, Mr. Sandler (who rarely if ever gives interviews to the print news media) delegated the script to Mr. Smigel, who had frequently written for him on “Saturday Night Live,” and Judd Apatow, a former roommate of Mr. Sandler’s, who was not yet the one-man comedy juggernaut of “Knocked Up” and “40-Year-Old Virgin” fame.
Both writers found “Zohan” a subversive, somewhat improbable assignment. “There was always this question of, can you make this movie?” Mr. Apatow said in a phone interview. “Because it is making fun of the fact that people are so mad at each other.”
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. Sandler and his screenwriters shelved the first draft of the script, which so mercilessly sent up stereotypes of its characters that, Mr. Apatow said, “it’s like a Don Rickles routine: no one doesn’t get hurt.” But in the months that followed, as they saw popular culture address the aftermath of 9/11 on comedy shows like “SNL” and dramatic series like “24,” they were gradually persuaded to revive the project.
In revisions of “Zohan,” the Mideast nations cited in the script were given fictitious names, and their ancient territorial feud became a dispute over orange groves.
However, Mr. Sandler and his team ultimately returned to a draft that did not disguise the political subject matter, believing that some filmgoers would be upset by it no matter how subtle their approach.
“Any time you do any version of comedy that has anything to do with race or prejudice, you’re always going to make some people mad,” Mr. Smigel said. “Whether your intention is pure or not, they’re going to find something to be angry about.”
To the extent that “Zohan” deals with the intractable cycle of violence in the Middle East, it is careful not to take sides, and mocks itself for making such perilous source material a subject for comedy. In the midst of elaborate fight sequences, its characters debate the region’s complex history of aggression and retribution, even as they continue to act it out. (“I’m just saying, it’s not so cut and dried!” an assailant shouts as he falls off a balcony.)
The movie does not dare to suggest solutions to these conflicts, or to offer false hope that they will soon be resolved: in one scene, three Arab New Yorkers attempting to take down Zohan call the “Hezbollah Phone Line” for instructions on how to make a bomb. In a recorded message, they are told the information is not currently available during peace talks with Israel, and are instructed to call back “as soon as negotiations break down.”
(“I’m sure a joke like that will irritate some people,” Mr. Smigel said.)
“Zohan” was divisive before a single frame was shot, when it was known in Mr. Sandler’s camp and around Hollywood as “the Israeli movie.” “Some people told me, ‘Don’t do it,’ just knowing the log line that they had heard,” said Dennis Dugan, the movie’s director, who directed Mr. Sandler in “Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry”).
In hopes of forestalling criticism, the filmmakers sought actors of Israeli and Arab descent to play the many Mideastern characters in “Zohan,” and even opened a casting office in Israel.
Not surprising, they had little difficulty recruiting Israelis to play opposite Mr. Sandler. But finding Arab actors who would even audition for “Zohan” proved challenging, and some who worked on the film said they had initially been leery of appearing with Mr. Sandler, who is Jewish and supports Jewish charities and causes.
“Adam Sandler, in the Arab and Muslim communities, is not having a good reputation,” said Sayed Badreya, an Egyptian-born actor who plays one of Zohan’s adversaries in New York. “When it came to working with Adam, I was like, ‘Eh, well, I don’t know.’ My prejudice was bigger than me.” Mr. Badreya said he had been persuaded to reconsider, in part, by his teenage daughter, a huge fan of Mr. Sandler’s films.
Mr. Sandler attempted to ease any discomfort during filming by encouraging his co-stars to gather outside his trailer at an area furnished with tables and lawn chairs, where they would smoke cigars and talk shop during breaks. Inevitably, some heated debates about Mideast politics occurred during these conversations. (“Don’t think it was always nicey-nicey,” Mr. Badreya said.) But the talks also yielded at least one spontaneous trip to Las Vegas, attended by Arab and Israeli actors alike.
It is hard to predict if viewers will similarly rally around “Zohan” and its modest moral that Israelis and Arabs are more alike than dissimilar. The fact that the film was made at all — and is scheduled to be the first major release of Sony’s Columbia Pictures division in a summer crowded with comedies — would seem to be a huge bet that Mr. Sandler’s proven ability to draw large audiences will outweigh political content that could repel moviegoers.
“The only people who you could imagine being attracted to the Israeli-in-New York, complexity-of-the-Middle East dimensions are adults, and they don’t go to the movies,” said Marty Kaplan, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and a former film executive at Disney. “This entire campaign, as always, is targeted at boys from 13 to 18.”
While overt political messages have driven viewers away from many movies in recent years, Mr. Kaplan said, the prospect of “the latest Adam Sandler comedy — which is what this movie promises to be — is the thing that’s going to entice them.”
Representatives for Sony declined to discuss whether the weighty overtones of “Zohan,” a film estimated to have cost $90 million, might hurt ticket sales or affect how the movie was being promoted, except to say that it was being marketed as a character-driven Adam Sandler comedy. The anxiety of how the film might be received seemed to weigh heavily on Mr. Smigel, a self-identified liberal whose politically pointed sketches for “SNL.” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” have drawn the ire of everyone from the Anti-Defamation League to the left-leaning blog Daily Kos to the Canadian House of Commons. Mr. Smigel said such criticism had taught him to be more careful with his comedy. “If there are people who are genuinely hurt by it on some level, no matter what my intention was, I have to pay attention to that,” he said.
Even in satirical discussions of race and ethnicity, Mr. Smigel said, a certain amount of self-censorship might be prudent. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that people can’t freely call me a dirty Jew, like they might have been able to 30 years ago,” he said.
For now, advocacy groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations are taking a wait-and-see attitude with “Zohan.” Given Mr. Sandler’s previous work, “I would say I’m a little worried,” said Ahmed Rehab, that organization’s national strategic communications director. He added that Mr. Sandler, like all artists, has a right to freedom of expression.
Mr. Badreya, who was recently seen playing an Afghan terrorist in “Iron Man,” said that by offering Arab or Muslim characters that are in any way divergent from the usual Hollywood stereotypes, “Zohan” is a step in the right direction.
“The movie presents what happened to me,” said Mr. Badreya, who grew up in Port Said, Egypt, during the 1967 and 1973 wars and emigrated to the United States in 1979. “Since it happened to me, it will work for someone like me.”
Mr. Badreya said that the comedy in “Zohan” was not quite evenly divided between ridiculing Arabs and ridiculing Jews. “The jokes are not 50-50,” he said. “It’s 70-30. Which is great. We haven’t had 30 for a long time. We’ve been getting zero. So it’s good.”
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 23/05/2008
Arguably the greatest jazz pianist alive, McCoy Tyner is about to start a tour of the UK. He talks to Peter Culshaw
Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner is discussing the concept of cool in his favourite Starbucks, close to his apartment in midtown Manhattan.
The greatest jazz pianist alive: McCoy Tyner
"There's a type of cool that is very superficial, narcissistic. Then there's a deeper cool, about accepting who you are, and keeping a kind of balance no matter what happens." Miles Davis, he suggests, had a little too much of the former - Tyner's ideal is Duke Ellington "The man had true elegance in how he presented himself and his music".
Tyner is arguably the greatest jazz pianist alive, and like Ellington has a rare elegance about him. He is dressed smartly in a suit and softly spoken to the point that he speaks in barely more than a whisper - so much so that in the clatter of the coffee shop it's sometimes hard to hear what he has to say. "Well, no-one ever called me a loud mouth", he laughs when I ask to sit right next to him.
His latest album, entitled Quartet, has him collaborating with revered tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, who will be accompanying him on his current UK tour, which begins this Monday, May 26, at the Bath festival. The album features reworkings of some his best known numbers like "For All We Know", the graceful "Search For Peace" and the upbeat "Blues On the Corner" from the 1967 album that launched his solo career, The Real McCoy.
The album is "maybe my 80th, I'm really not sure," says Tyner. It's full of colour and vigour with his trademark percussive piano style, with its emphatic, attacking bass and refined, virtuosic right hand. While full of energy, the album shows that Tyner, now 71, is still at the top of his game.
If it doesn't sound desperately original, that's because he has so many imitators: "I do listen to discs and think the piano sounds like me, and I'm honoured by that. But I wanted to find myself musically. The great guys I admired growing up always sounded like themselves and no-one else."
The return to a quartet line-up recalls what remains McCoy Tyner's most celebrated period in the early 60s as a member of John Coltrane's quartet. The band recorded such classics as A Love Supreme and My Favourite Things. Tyner both shaped the music and was influenced by Coltrane "actually the thing that really impressed me about John was his diligence, he was always practising, never satisfied. He knew what he wanted, even if he didn't always know how to get there. He was like a scientist in a laboratory. He was also like a big brother to me. I was a very lucky guy to know him."
After leaving Coltrane's band in 1965 when Coltrane went increasingly avant-garde, Tyner had a couple of years in the wilderness "I learnt some survival skills - but it was meant to be. I needed some time to find my voice." Since then, while he has experimented with different sized bands and different sounds, including playing the harpsichord and the Japanese koto, he has taken what he calls a "middle-way" avoiding both jazz-rock fusion and atonal free jazz.
"Some people like Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul did interesting things with the synthesizer, but it wasn't for me. My instrument is the acoustic piano". He remains enamoured of great melodies, recording an album of Burt Bacharach songs.
Born in 1938, Tyner was raised in Philadelphia and began playing as a teenager. His mother was a beautician "she had three clients with pianos. I would alternate which one I went to practise - fortunately they never turned me down. Maybe they liked the hairdos they were getting." Tyner laughs at that memory "After about a year of that, when I was 13, my mother bought me a piano."
A strong early influence was Bud Powell, another Philadelphia pianist. In high school he had a rhythm and blues band. "I was lucky in that the teachers I had exposed me to everything from African music to Tchaikovsky."
Tyner says he is sometimes tempted by offers to work with a symphony orchestra, "but I think shorter compositions are more interesting to me. I'm pretty sure that Bach and Mozart were great improvisers - they were the jazz cats of their day and what they wrote down was like making a record. They would have done it differently at a different time."
At the age of 18, he became a Sunni Muslim, but now says that while he thinks spirituality is important, he is not a strong follower of any religion: "Being a Muslim was part of an exploration. But now I think if you take anything like that too seriously it weakens you rather makes you stronger."
As a band leader, does he ever lose his cool? "I like people to be comfortable. I don't like to handcuff people. I talked to a lot of people like Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson about leading a band. You have to learn to give respect and have that respect come back at you. It's reciprocal."
Only occasionally does a more fiery side emerge. "They have to listen, be sensitive and respond. And not think too much. Just jump in and then we can have a happy band and create great music."
McCoy Tyner Quartet dates: May 26th - Bath Festival, May 27th - Liverpool, May 29th - Gateshead, May 30th/31st - Ronnie Scott's
23 May 2008
A journey into the heart of the enemy
Exiled Iraqi writer Najem Wali travelled to Israel to uncover some uncomfortable truths about the Arab leaders
When a child is born in Israel or to us in the Arab world, the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is flowing in its umbilical cord. Since the declaration of the state of Israel on May 14 1948, Israel has been the official enemy number one for the Arab states. But even as a child I found the rhetoric didn't add up. How could this somehow "all-powerful" country so successfully "let the Arab nations sink into lethargy", as the official speeches would have us believe? And why, at the same time, were they so confident that the "small state of Zionist gangs" would inevitably "disappear from the map"?
I never found a convincing answer. Nor did I ever make the connection between the "Jew question" and the "Palestine question", between the victims of the Holocaust and the victims of Israel's foundation.
Maybe I needed to wait for French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to visit Israel before I could discover his key existentialist principle: get to know the other before you form an opinion of him!
Did following this path not involve more than honouring the call to recognise Israel? Did it not mean accepting the other and welcoming him as a partner? This would mean acknowledging the fact that Jews and Arabs live side by side in Palestine and both are obliged to find a solution which is acceptable to both peoples, without third-party intervention. There can be no peace without talking directly with the other side and learning about their way of life. Why do our leaders fear this truth? They are scared that their countrymen would recognise that the only link between the standstill and devastation of Arab societies and the Arab-Israeli conflict is this: peace with Israel would bring an end to the opium high with which Arab leaders keep their nations in a state of inertia. This is the cause of the problems for which Israel is being blamed.
The sustained absence of economic recovery, the drop in education levels, the spread of fundamentalist ideology are all linked with a lack of democracy and the corrupt ruling families, with their pompousness and contempt for their peoples – not with Israel. There are plenty of raw materials and human resources to kickstart the Arab economy. But what are we seeing? A political stranglehold on personal freedom which is eroding the middle classes. Bribery and favouritism force the virtuous and the educated to emigrate. What has Israel got to do with this?
In the meantime Israel, which is embroiled in the same conflict as the Arabs, has built up a modern society of astounding scientific and economic strength. Yes there is militarism in Israel. Its brutal policy of occupation must be addressed. But I will leave this to the Israeli intellectuals. They should fight for peace, just as some Arab intellectuals are starting to do.
When I travelled through Israel in 2007, it dawned on me why the Arab states are so reluctant to let their countrymen cross over into Israel. They fear that the traveller might make comparisons – between the civil rights in Israel and those in their homeland, for example. He might meet the "Arabs of '48", the Palestinians whom Israel's army was unable to drive out. He would see that these Palestinians basically enjoy the same rights as all other citizens. That they are allowed to express their views and live their traditions without fear of imprisonment. He would meet Palestinians who are allowed to vote for their representatives and found their own political parties. When the traveller compares the situation of these people with his own, or with the situation of the Palestinians who live in his country – he might suddenly see the injustice, the betrayal, to which the Arabs in his homeland have had a lifetime's exposure in the name of "occupied Palestine".
Israel has not overturned democracy even under the pressure of war. But the citizens in Arab countries are worth nothing to their leaders. My "journey into the heart of the enemy" was an attempt to pursue the direction which Egyptian literary Nobel Prize laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, laid out in 1978 in a letter to his Israeli colleague Sasson Somekh: "I dream of the day when, thanks to the collaboration among us, this region will become a home overflowing with the light of learning and science, and blessed by the highest principles of heaven."
He didn't live to see his dream fulfilled. Naguib Mahfouz died in 1996. In 1994 he survived an Islamist assassination attempt. A year later Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli premier, was murdered by an Israeli extremist for his contribution to the peace process.I hope people on both sides will continue to defy intimidation, risking their lives in the unrelenting fight for peace. Sixty years after the founding of Israel, I want to believe in Mahfouz's vision.
*This article originally appeared in Imke Ahlf-Wien's Arabic-German translation in the Kölner Stadt Anzeiger on May 13, 2008.Najem Wali was born in Basra in 1956 and fled Saddam Hussein's regime in 1980. Today he lives in Hamburg. His novel "Jussifs Gesichter" (Jussif's faces) was published by Hanser Verlag in February. For Israel's 60th celebration he undertook a "Journey into the Heart of the Enemy" which is also the title of his forthcoming book which will be traslated into German (Hanser), English (MacAdamCage), and Hebrew (Hakibbutz Hameuchad).Read our other feature by Najem Wali: "The dictator's orphans"
22 May 2008
12 May 2008 11:58 am
The Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef did Barack Obama no favor recently when he said: “We like Mr. Obama and we hope that he will win the election.” John McCain jumped on this statement, calling it a “legitimate point of discussion,” and tied it to Obama’s putative softness on Iran, whose ever-charming president last week called Israel a “stinking corpse” and predicted its “annihilation.”
The Hamas episode won’t help Obama’s attempts to win over Jewish voters, particularly those in such places as –- to pull an example from the air –- Palm Beach County, Florida, whose Jewish residents tend to appreciate robust American support for Israel, and worry about whether presidential candidates feel the importance of Israel in their kishkes, or guts.
Obama and I spoke over the weekend about Hamas, about Jimmy Carter, and about the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. He seemed eager to talk about his ties to the Jewish community, and about the influence Jews have had on his life. Among other things, he told me that he learned the art of moral anguish from Jews. We spoke as well about my Atlantic cover story on Israel’s future. He mentioned his interest in the opinions of the writer David Grossman, who is featured in the article. “I remember reading The Yellow Wind when it came out, and reading about Grossman now is powerful, painful stuff.” And, speaking in a kind of code Jews readily understand, Obama also made sure to mention that he was fond of the writer Leon Uris, the author of Exodus.
Here are excerpts from our conversation:
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I’m curious to hear you talk about the Zionist idea. Do you believe that it has justice on its side?
BARACK OBAMA: You know, when I think about the Zionist idea, I think about how my feelings about Israel were shaped as a young man -- as a child, in fact. I had a camp counselor when I was in sixth grade who was Jewish-American but who had spent time in Israel, and during the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted. That was part of my upbringing, to be traveling and always having a sense of values and culture but wanting a place. So that is my first memory of thinking about Israel.
And then that mixed with a great affinity for the idea of social justice that was embodied in the early Zionist movement and the kibbutz, and the notion that not only do you find a place but you also have this opportunity to start over and to repair the breaches of the past. I found this very appealing.
JG: You’ve talked about the role of Jews in the development of your thinking
BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris. So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.
One of the things that is frustrating about the recent conversations on Israel is the loss of what I think is the natural affinity between the African-American community and the Jewish community, one that was deeply understood by Jewish and black leaders in the early civil-rights movement but has been estranged for a whole host of reasons that you and I don’t need to elaborate.
JG: Do you think that justice is still on Israel’s side?
BO: I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea.
That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds. But the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world.
JG: Go to the kishke question, the gut question: the idea that if Jews know that you love them, then you can say whatever you want about Israel, but if we don’t know you –- Jim Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski –- then everything is suspect. There seems to be in some quarters, in Florida and other places, a sense that you don’t feel Jewish worry the way a senator from New York would feel it.
BO: I find that really interesting. I think the idea of Israel and the reality of Israel is one that I find important to me personally. Because it speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus, it describes the history of overcoming great odds and a courage and a commitment to carving out a democracy and prosperity in the midst of hardscrabble land. One of the things I loved about Israel when I went there is that the land itself is a metaphor for rebirth, for what’s been accomplished. What I also love about Israel is the fact that people argue about these issues, and that they’re asking themselves moral questions.
Sometimes I’m attacked in the press for maybe being too deliberative. My staff teases me sometimes about anguishing over moral questions. I think I learned that partly from Jewish thought, that your actions have consequences and that they matter and that we have moral imperatives. The point is, if you look at my writings and my history, my commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is more than skin-deep and it’s more than political expediency. When it comes to the gut issue, I have such ardent defenders among my Jewish friends in Chicago. I don’t think people have noticed how fiercely they defend me, and how central they are to my success, because they’ve interacted with me long enough to know that I've got it in my gut. During the Wright episode, they didn’t flinch for a minute, because they know me and trust me, and they’ve seen me operate in difficult political situations.
The other irony in this whole process is that in my early political life in Chicago, one of the raps against me in the black community is that I was too close to the Jews. When I ran against Bobby Rush [for Congress], the perception was that I was Hyde Park, I’m University of Chicago, I’ve got all these Jewish friends. When I started organizing, the two fellow organizers in Chicago were Jews, and I was attacked for associating with them. So I’ve been in the foxhole with my Jewish friends, so when I find on the national level my commitment being questioned, it’s curious.
JG: Why do you think Ahmed Yousef of Hamas said what he said about you?
BO: My position on Hamas is indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain. I said they are a terrorist organization and I’ve repeatedly condemned them. I’ve repeatedly said, and I mean what I say: since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements.
JG: Were you flummoxed by it?
BO: I wasn’t flummoxed. I think what is going on there is the same reason why there are some suspicions of me in the Jewish community. Look, we don’t do nuance well in politics and especially don’t do it well on Middle East policy. We look at things as black and white, and not gray. It’s conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, “This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein, and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he’s not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush,” and that’s something they’re hopeful about. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate perception as long as they’re not confused about my unyielding support for Israel’s security.
When I visited Ramallah, among a group of Palestinian students, one of the things that I said to those students was: “Look, I am sympathetic to you and the need for you guys to have a country that can function, but understand this: if you’re waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional. Because my commitment, our commitment, to Israel’s security is non-negotiable.” I’ve said this in front of audiences where, if there were any doubts about my position, that’d be a place where you’d hear it.
When Israel invaded Lebanon two summers ago, I was in South Africa, a place where, obviously, when you get outside the United States, you can hear much more critical commentary about Israel’s actions, and I was asked about this in a press conference, and that time, and for the entire summer, I was very adamant about Israel’s right to defend itself. I said that there’s not a nation-state on Earth that would tolerate having two of its soldiers kidnapped and just let it go. So I welcome the Muslim world’s accurate perception that I am interested in opening up dialogue and interested in moving away from the unilateral policies of George Bush, but nobody should mistake that for a softer stance when it comes to terrorism or when it comes to protecting Israel’s security or making sure that the alliance is strong and firm. You will not see, under my presidency, any slackening in commitment to Israel’s security.
JG: What do you make of Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that Israel resembles an apartheid state?
BO: I strongly reject the characterization. Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and there’s no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn’t advance that goal. It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe.
JG: If you become President, will you denounce settlements publicly?
BO: What I will say is what I’ve said previously. Settlements at this juncture are not helpful. Look, my interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States.
JG: Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?
BO: No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I’m not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that’s the safest ground politically.
I want to solve the problem, and so my job in being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth and say if Israel is building settlements without any regard to the effects that this has on the peace process, then we’re going to be stuck in the same status quo that we’ve been stuck in for decades now, and that won’t lift that existential dread that David Grossman described in your article.
The notion that a vibrant, successful society with incredible economic growth and incredible cultural vitality is still plagued by this notion that this could all end at any moment -- you know, I don’t know what that feels like, but I can use my imagination to understand it. I would not want to raise my children in those circumstances. I want to make sure that the people of Israel, when they kiss their kids and put them on that bus, feel at least no more existential dread than any parent does whenever their kids leave their sight. So that then becomes the question: is settlement policy conducive to relieving that over the long term, or is it just making the situation worse? That’s the question that has to be asked.
View from the booth: this makes too much sense logically and historically. The core issue of "nakba" and all the lost wars is one of a stain on the honor - the humiliation -- of all Arabs involved and the demise of Nasser's "pan-Arabism" too many of whom still cannot, will not, accept a future for themselves living in peace with Israel. They would rather die. If national suicide is the ultimate goal for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority under Abbas (who does not enjoy popular support) who have poisoned the minds of so many young people who are growing up to hate Israel, the possibilities for peace with a responsible government by, of and for the Palestinian people in any near term future will remain elusive until someone in Israel says "dayenu" and will have to deal in a calculus much like Harry Truman had to in 1945 before he decided that it was either killing a whole lot of Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki or allowing an estimated 500,000 American boys (citizen soldiers - mainly not professionals) to die in an invasion of the Japanese mainland. In the end, this is about the survival of the Jewish state and the nerve of Israel to adopt, as a last resort, the irrational to fight for the rational, and view the matter much as Kubrick entitled his classic film, "Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb." It's perverse, but it is certainly within the Jewish tradition to fight, violently when necessary, for our lives. And that is what Israel is doing and what she will, at some point, have to decide: is it us or them? I would choose "us" when dealing with today's "banzai" soldiers from Hamas and like-thinkers/actors. If they want to die, and insist on killing civilian Israelis -- not that these thugs make a distinction -- and calling for the destruction of Israel, then it will become incumbent upon the Israeli government, IDF and its constituents to assist them in their terrible endeavor. The only question will be what means/methods will be used to achieve the goal of survival and peace. Who can live in a country when a father takes his little one to the bus for his/her first day of school not knowing if he will see his little one again? It's not tolerable on a long term basis. Israel is worried about brain drain? Make people with brains feel secure, and perhaps the leakage of the phenomenal talent that has built Israel into what she is now will slow. That Israel continues to prosper despite all of the madness is in itself a miracle, like Israel herself. No-one handed Israel to Israelis. They had to take it and fight for it. They will have to take back peace. Nobody is going to hand it to them, especially people who would sooner die than live together with, God forbid, an Israeli or a Jew.
Suicide, the path to national salvation
Amnon Rubinstein , THE JERUSALEM POST
May. 21, 2008
Gaza is becoming a symbol. We rightly emphasize Israel's need to put an end to the daily, ever-widening, shelling of our civilians; indeed, it is obvious that Israel will eventually have to take military action - no country could act otherwise - to silence the guns and missile-launchers.
Another aspect is equally significant and concerns the attitude of Hamas's rulers to the mounting tension: On the one hand, they are negotiating - with Egypt, not with the illegitimate Zionist entity - on a temporary cessation of hostilities. On the other hand, they authorize extending the range of their missile attacks, knowing full well that this will hasten the day in which Israel, under any government, will have to order its army to march into Gaza and strip Hamas of its power.
Such is the Hamas policy: not only an endless blood-letting war against the Zionist entity, but also a readiness to lose their hold over Gaza as part of this war. This signifies a readiness not only to sacrifice the lives of men, women and children, but also a readiness to sacrifice the very regime they established not long ago through a violent coup. In other words, it is a process of political suicide writ large: The shahid is not only the individual, but the regime itself.
THIS MAY sound like an extreme conclusion but, as Ari Bar Yossef, retired lieutenant-colonel and administrator of the Knesset's Security Committee, writes in the army journal Ma'arachot, such cases of Islamist national suicide are not uncommon. He cites three such examples of Arab-Muslim regimes irrationally sacrificing their very existence, overriding their instinct of self-preservation, to fight the perceived enemy to the bitter end.
• The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest by allowing UN inspectors to search for (the apparently non-existent) weapons of mass destruction wherever they wanted. Yet Iraq's ruler opted for war, knowing full well that he would have to face the might of the US.
• The second case is that of Yasser Arafat in 2000, who after the failure of the Camp David and Taba talks had two options: continue talking to Israel - under the leadership of Ehud Barak, this country's most moderate and flexible government ever - or resort to violence. He chose the latter, with the result that all progress toward Palestinian independence was blocked. The ensuing loss of life, on both sides, testified to Arafat's preference for suicide over compromise.
• The third case is that of the Taliban. Post-9/11, their leadership had two options: to enter into negotiations with the US, with a view to extraditing Osama bin Laden, or to risk war and destruction. The choice they made was obvious: Better to die fighting than to give up an inch.
IN ALL three cases, the conclusion is plain: prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide are preferable to peaceful solutions of conflicts: Dying is preferable to negotiating with infidels. The same conclusion, of course, is applicable to the Palestinians voting for Hamas and its suicidal path, and to Iran's decision to confront the Security Council in its insistence on acquiring nuclear weapons.
These cases, while unprecedented in the annals of history, should not be that surprising. If you glorify individual suicide, if death is the key to a happy afterlife, if war itself is sanctified, why not extend these ideas from the individual to the collective? To the regime itself ? Suicide is the path to both individual and national salvation.
Luckily, not all Arab or Muslim regimes are like that. The vast majority of Arabs seek life, liberty and happiness. But when it comes to the hated Israel, madness rules, and not only the Iranians. It is a fact that Iran's explicit aim "to wipe Israel off the map" and its implicit threat to use nuclear weapons for this purpose are supported by many Palestinians - even though they too would be "wiped off" in the process.
Suicide in the struggle against Israel has acquired a degree of legitimacy the West cannot even fathom.
This unpalatable conclusion must be confronted. On the one hand, it should drive us to increase our efforts to reach some sort of modus vivendi with the PLO to decrease the impact of the fanatics (despite the fact that any such compromise will be rejected by Iran and its cohorts); while on the other hand, Israel, as well as the West, should be prepared for a long, irrational and costly war, unlike any other fought in the past.
The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a former minister of education and MK as well as the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize.
21 May 2008
Many Florida Jews Express Doubts on Obama
Eric Thayer for The New York Times
Shirley Weitz, right, talking to Ruth Grossman in Boynton Beach, Fla. The Jews she knows will not vote for Senator Barack Obama, Ms. Weitz said, because of “his attitude toward Israel.”
Jewish voters are vital to Barack Obama’s hopes, but among many older Jews, he has become a conduit for anxiety about Israel, Iran, anti-Semitism and race.'
Published: May 22, 2008
BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — At the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club on Sunday, the fountains were burbling, the man-made lakes were shining, and Shirley Weitz and Ruth Grossman were debating why Jews in this gated neighborhood of airy retirement homes feel so much trepidation about Senator Barack Obama.
“The people here, liberal people, will not vote for Obama because of his attitude towards Israel,” Ms. Weitz, 83, said, lingering over brunch.
“They’re going to vote for McCain,” she said.
Ms. Grossman, 80, agreed with her friend’s conclusion, but not her reasoning.
“They’ll pick on the minister thing, they’ll pick on the wife, but the major issue is color,” she said, quietly fingering a coffee cup. Ms. Grossman said she was thinking of voting for Mr. Obama, who is leading in the delegate count for the nomination, as was Ms. Weitz.
But Ms. Grossman does not tell the neighbors. “I keep my mouth shut,” she said.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama will court Jewish voters with an appearance at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Fla. A longtime Democratic constituency with a consistently high turnout rate, Jews are important to his general election hopes, particularly in New York, which he expects to win; in California and New Jersey, which he must keep out of Republican hands; and, most crucially, here in Florida, where Jews make up around 5 percent of voters.
This is the most haunted state on the electoral college map for Democrats, the one they lost by hundreds of votes and a Supreme Court decision in 2000, and again in 2004.
“The fate of the world for the next four years,” mused Rabbi Ruvi New as his Sunday morning Kabbalah & Coffee class dispersed in East Boca Raton.
"It’s all going to boil down to a few old Jews in Century Village,” he added, referring to a nearby retirement community.
Jews, of course, are just one of the many constituencies Mr. Obama must persuade: Latinos, women, working-class whites and independents are vital as well. Thanks in part to enthusiasm from younger Jews, he won 45 percent of the Jewish vote in the primaries (not counting the disputed ones in Florida and Michigan), a respectable showing against a New York senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But in recent presidential elections, Jews have drifted somewhat to the right. Because Mr. Obama is relatively new on the national stage, his résumé of Senate votes in support of Israel is short, as is his list of high-profile visits to synagogues and delis. So far, his overtures to Jews have been limited; aside from a few speeches and interviews, he has left most of it to surrogates.
American Jews hold two competing views of Mr. Obama, said Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington. First, there is Obama the scholar, the social justice advocate, the defender of Israel with a close feel for Jewish concerns garnered through decades of intimate friendships. In this version, Mr. Obama’s race is an asset, Rabbi Saperstein said.
The second version is defined by the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., worries about Mr. Obama’s past associations and questions about his support for Israel and his patriotism.
“It’s too early to know how they will play out,” Rabbi Saperstein said.
Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, said he had been deluged with questions from Jews about the race, especially about what to think of Mr. Obama. “I have gotten hundreds of e-mails asking me, ‘Who should we vote for?’ ” he said. Mr. Dershowitz. who supports Mrs. Clinton, says he tells voters that Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, are all pro-Israel and to reject false personal attacks on Mr. Obama.
Because of a dispute over moving the date of the state’s primary, Mr. Obama and the other Democratic candidates did not campaign in Florida. In his absence, novel and exotic rumors about Mr. Obama have flourished. Among many older Jews, and some younger ones, as well, he has become a conduit for Jewish anxiety about Israel, Iran, anti-Semitism and race.
Mr. Obama is Arab, Jack Stern’s friends told him in Aventura. (He’s not.)
He is a part of Chicago’s large Palestinian community, suspects Mindy Chotiner of Delray. (Wrong again.)
Mr. Wright is the godfather of Mr. Obama’s children, asserted Violet Darling in Boca Raton. (No, he’s not.)
Al Qaeda is backing him, said Helena Lefkowicz of Fort Lauderdale (Incorrect.)
Michelle Obama has proven so hostile and argumentative that the campaign is keeping her silent, said Joyce Rozen of Pompano Beach. (Mrs. Obama campaigns frequently, drawing crowds in her own right.)
Mr. Obama might fill his administration with followers of Louis Farrakhan, worried Sherry Ziegler. (Extremely unlikely, given his denunciation of Mr. Farrakhan.)
South Florida is “the most concentrated area in the country in terms of misinformation” about Mr. Obama, said Representative Robert Wexler, Democrat of Florida, the co-chairman of the Obama campaign in the state. His surrogates can put these fears to rest, Mr. Wexler said, by simply repeating the facts about Mr. Obama — his correct biography, his support for Israel, his positions on other important issues.
But the resistance toward Mr. Obama appears to be rooted in something more than factual misperception; even those with an accurate understanding of Mr. Obama share the hesitations. In dozens of interviews, South Florida Jews questioned his commitment to Israel — even some who knew he earns high marks from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbies the United States government on behalf of Israel.
“You watch George Bush for a day, and you know where he stands,” said Rabbi Jonathan Berkun of the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center.
Many here suspect Mr. Obama of being too cozy with Palestinians, while others accuse him of having Muslim ties, even though they know that his father was born Muslim and became an atheist, and that Mr. Obama embraced Christianity as a young man. In Judaism, religion is a fixed identity across generations.
“His father was a Muslim and you can’t take that out of him,” said Ms. Chotiner, 51, who said she would still vote for Mr. Obama, out of Democratic loyalty. “Do I have very strong reservations?
Yes, I do,” she said.
Several interviewees said they had reservations about Mr. Obama’s stated willingness to negotiate with Iran — whose nuclear ambitions and Holocaust-denying president trigger even starker fears among Jews than intifada uprisings and suicide bombings.
American Jews are by no means uniformly opposed to negotiations with Iran, the leaders of several Jewish groups said, but there is no consensus, and everyone fears that the wrong choice could lead to calamity.
Israelis fear Iran “could be the first suicide nation, a nation that would destroy itself to destroy the Jewish nation,” Mr. Dershowitz said.
Some voters even see parallels between Mr. Obama’s foreign policy positions and his choice of pastor — in both cases, a tendency to venture too close to questionable characters.
“The fundamentals of meeting with Iran are the same as the fundamentals of meeting with Rev. Wright,” said Joe Limansky, 69, of Boca Raton.
Other voters called Mr. Obama’s endorsement by the Rev. Jesse Jackson problematic, because Mr. Jackson once called New York “Hymietown” (even though he later apologized) and has made other comments offensive to Jews.
Some of the resistance to Mr. Obama’s candidacy seems just as rooted in anxiety about race as in anxiety about Israel. At brunch in Boynton Beach, Bob Welstein, who said he was in his 80s, said so bluntly. “Am I semi-racist? Yes,” he said.
Decades earlier, on the west side of Chicago, his mother was mugged and beaten by a black assailant, he said. It was “a beautiful Jewish neighborhood” — until black residents moved in, he said.
In speeches to Jewish groups, aides said, Mr. Obama will stress the bonds between the two groups, noting how Jewish civil rights workers were killed alongside a black one in Mississippi in 1964. But the relationship between the two outsider groups whose fortunes took different turns has also been bitter, said Hasia Diner, a professor of history at New York University.
Jews, who have long considered themselves less racially prejudiced than other Americans, have been especially wounded by black anti-Semitism, she said, which may help explain why so many Florida voters were incensed about Mr. Obama’s membership in a church whose magazine gave an award to Mr. Farrakhan.
Jack Stern, 85, sitting alone at an outdoor café in Aventura on Sunday, said he was no racist. When he was liberated from a concentration camp in 1945, black American soldiers were kinder than white ones, handing out food to the emaciated Jews, he said.
Years later, after he opened a bakery in Brooklyn, “I got disgusted, because they killed Jews,” he said, citing neighborhood crimes committed by African-Americans. “I shouldn’t say it, but it is what it is,” said Mr. Stern, who vowed not to vote for Mr. Obama.
As in nearly every other voting group, support for Mr. Obama is divided by age — and Jews in Florida are on average older than Jews in other states Half of Broward County’s Jews are over 59, and half of those in Palm Beach County are over 70, said Ira Sheskin, a demographer at the University of Miami.
Toting a chaise lounge to Delray Beach on Sunday, Samantha Poznak, 21, said that, like her friends, she would vote for Mr. Obama. As for Jewish leaders, “I never really follow any of those people anyway,” she said from behind dark sunglasses.
“Aunt Claudie will kill you!” hissed her mother, Linda Poznak, 47, who said she would vote for Mr. McCain.
Younger Jews have grown up in diverse settings and are therefore less likely to be troubled by Mr. Obama’s associations than their elders, said Rabbi Ethan Tucker, 32, co-founder of a Jewish learning organization in Manhattan and the stepson of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. Rabbi Tucker said he had given money to Mr. Obama and would vote for him in the fall. . “If association was the litmus test of identity, everyone would be a hopeless mishmash of confusion, or you’d have no friends,“ he said.
Senator Lieberman is expected to spend plenty of time in front of Jewish audiences, in Florida and elsewhere. A Democrat turned independent, an Orthodox Jew and one of Mr. McCain’s closest friends, Mr. Lieberman will promote Mr. McCain’s strong national security résumé and centrist stances.
Until now, Mr. Obama’s efforts to win over Jewish voters have been low-profile. He made a speech to Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, shortly after declaring his candidacy, but for months afterward, he concentrated his energies on Iowa and New Hampshire, not exactly hotbeds of Judaic life. Even as the primaries in New York, New Jersey and California approached, Mr. Obama left most of his outreach to intermediaries who met with small groups of community leaders.
Throughout his career, Mr. Obama has enjoyed close ties to Jews, including various employers, law school buddies, wealthy donors on the north side of Chicago who backed his early political career, and the many Jews in the Hyde Park community where he lives. This may account for some of Mr. Obama’s apparent incredulity at the way some Jewish voters view him.
“I’ve been in the foxhole with my Jewish friends, so when I find on the national level my commitment being questioned, it’s curious,” he said recently in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on theatlantic.com.
Now the half-Kenyan-by-way-of-Hawaii candidate, who only recently completed a beer-and-bowling tour to impress blue-collar Midwesterners, has committed more fully to showing off his inner Jew. He recently made a surprise speech at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and, in the interview with Mr. Goldberg, he told stories about a long-lost Jewish summer camp counselor who taught him about Israel and recalled reading Leon Uris and Philip Roth, arguably opposite poles of American-Jewish fiction.
Aides say Mr. Obama will spend as much time in South Florida as possible in the coming months.
His aides believe that the negative rumors floating around about him are mere “noise,” as one put it, and have had little impact.
His aides also expressed confidence that when Mr. Obama officially becomes the nominee, the Democratic Party, including its many prominent Jews, will put their full force behind his efforts in Florida.
In anticipation, Mr. Obama has lined up surrogates like State Representative Dan Gelber, the House minority leader, and Mr. Wexler, both of whom are Jewish. Mr. Wexler said he would try to convert voters one mah-jongg table at a time, with town-hall meetings in the card rooms of high-rise condominiums and articles in community newspapers.
“Many of the political leaders in Palm Beach and Broward County were at my son’s bris,” he said.
Mr. Wexler said he had constituents who voted for Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential nominee, in 1928, “and they’ve never voted for a Republican since.”
“They are not going to vote for Senator John McCain,” he added.
Still, Mr. Wexler admits, he has not yet been able to persuade his in-laws to vote for Mr. Obama.