Friday, June 15, 2007

Pox Brittanica

Boycotting Israel is now the rage in England, uniting lower class trade unionists with snooty academicians. Of course, the craze falls far short of Princess Di mania and even other contemporary descents into the cruel nastiness that appears to be a key element of British character. The country has an abundance of kooks, creeps and cranks who attach themselves to strange causes, some of them evil. While Communism and Nazism destroyed millions of lives, not to mention all traces of freedom, there were eminent people in the United Kingdom who endorsed and even embraced Stalin and Hitler.

This is scant solace for those of us who are repelled by the current frenzy of Israel-bashing. Nor is there any comfort in the Manchester Guardian item I read while returning the other day from Moscow, informing readers that twenty-four leading trade unionists, parliamentarians and academicians, as well as Nobel laureate in literature Harold Pinter, have applauded the closing down of an opposition Venezuelan television station by Hugo Chavez, that country’s emerging petty dictator.

The land that gave us Magna Carta and fundamental rights has become a cursed land. Maybe it was never much better. Maybe Shakespeare’s great paean to England in Richard the Second – “this scept’red isle… this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” – was no more than literary exuberance by our greatest writer. Whatever England once was, in the words from the same speech by John of Gaunt, it has “made a shameful conquest of itself.”

I don’t give a farthing about the exclusion of Israeli academics from conferences in the United Kingdom or the refusal of British academics to journey to the Holy Land and I cannot see why anyone else should care. These expensive exercises are with few exceptions no more than a way of giving tax-free vacations to persons who are in the right place. They add preciously little to scholarship. Still, the underlying premise of the boycott is the delegitimation of Israel. That is serious business, as is the question of how to respond.

Although anti-Israel boycott fever is with the exception of the post-1948 antics of the Arab League a new phenomenon, hostility to Israel is not a new development in western Europe. As is known, the turning point came in 1967 with Israel’s triumph. Many in Europe liked Israel when Jews were perceived as weak; they could not accept the notion of Jews or Israel being triumphant.

The familiar response on our side to anti-Israel advocacy has been insipid and ineffective. We rely overly much on fact sheets prepared for those who are Israel advocates for use in their communities, on campuses and wherever else the Jewish State is being targeted. There are talking points about Israel being a democracy and the Arab states being anything but, about Arab citizens being treated better in Israel than they are in Arab countries and about the danger of terrorism.

This tired and lame approach has two flaws and they tell the entire story. First, those who think ill of Israel are not interested in the facts, no more than we are interested in their recitations. Their minds are made up and they are not going to be convinced otherwise. Second, it is demeaning for us to couch our responses in language that amounts to the argument that we haven’t been beating our wives.

Admittedly, there is little we can do about the first limitation. We can show more toughness and self-respect, more determination to go beyond routine advocacy by fighting for what we believe in and what we know is right. We should tell the Brits without equivocation that they are hypocritical and infested with anti-Semitism. This is what the Anti-Defamation League has done in a set of hard-hitting ads in the International Herald Tribune, which is where I saw them, and perhaps elsewhere.

It is likely that the anti-Israel claque in England will up the ante. As in other countries, it is being fed by a constant stream of negative reporting, specifically by BBC whose hostility to Israel extends over many years and is relentless. It featured the other day a long retrospective on the Six Day War that was one-sided and bigoted. Given the steady diet offered by the media, it is remarkable that there remains a body of opinion in England that is favorable to Israel.

As Jews who care about Israel should be more assertive in their reaction to the boycott and whatever else Israel-haters conjure up, the Israel government must go beyond the formulaic and meek responses cranked out by its battery of public relations experts. Israel must be tougher and angrier.

I am not a super-nationalist, far from it. I do not believe in either the religious or political necessity to hold on to every scrap of land. Israel needs to negotiate and this means with its enemies. It should take risks for peace and a separate Palestinian state may serve Israel’s interests. I also believe in the security barrier and in the obligation to challenge those who challenge its right to exist. The boycott is such a challenge. It is not sufficient to abide by the niceties of diplomatic exchanges. If the boycott movement gains further traction, as I think is likely, Israel must think and act out of the box, in a sense exploiting the greater freedom a country has when it decides to defy diplomatic custom.

If Israel wants to get across the message that it has taken enough guff from the sanctimonious British, one way to go is for it to call home for an extended stay its ambassador to the Court of St. James.

Interestingly, we now know, as some have surmised, that England’s Middle East policy has been severely compromised by corrupt huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia and, I believe, other Middle East “allies.” And these are the people who preach morality!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Jonathan Pollard and Other Crimes

Jonathan Pollard is in his twenty-third year in a federal prison, while George Tenet is making millions off his memoirs as CIA Chief. There is a close connection between these two circumstances. In the book, Tenet recounts how he blocked Pollard’s release during the 1998 Middle East peace negotiations at the Wye Plantation by threatening to resign if President Clinton acceded to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s linking of Israeli concessions to a presidential pardon, something the President had agreed to. Mr. Clinton backed down and, soon enough, so did Mr. Netanyahu, which is what he invariably does under U.S. pressure, albeit after making a show of independence and defiance.

That episode was Pollard’s best shot and perhaps last shot. The outcome was a personal tragedy for him and, as events showed just three years later, greatly harmful to American security because Tenet’s inept leadership of the CIA contributed directly to U.S. unpreparedness against terrorist attacks. He and his underlings misread or ignored intelligence reports pointing to the attack that on 9/11 changed America. Without a doubt, Tenet’s incompetence and perhaps negligence did far more damage to this country than Pollard’s ineptitude as a spy. Correctly, being inept at the CIA is not a crime, while espionage is.

We must make no excuses for Pollard’s wrongdoing, but his wrongdoing does not justify the multitude of wrongs that followed his arrest. These include the deceit of the prosecutor who handled the case, the excesses of the trial judge who sentenced him, the duplicitous jailing of his first wife, and the cowardice of Judges Laurence Silberman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, who upheld the draconian sentence despite a powerful dissent of the third judge who was not Jewish, demonstrating thereby that Jewish self-hate can attach as well to an ultra-conservative as to an ultra-liberal. Adding to the catalogue of wrongs is the exaggeration of the crime that Pollard did commit.

These exaggerations are not a trivial matter as is evident in the recent remarks of Richard Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, who told a Bar-Ilan University audience that Pollard is unlikely to be released and “the fact that he wasn’t executed is the mercy he received” suggesting that Pollard was guilty of treason. He also said that spying for Israel was a worse crime than spying for an enemy of the United States.

This is nonsense and Mr. Jones has apologized, explaining that his comments were “misinformed and misleading.” Therein lies the issue that is critical in the Pollard case, an issue that neither our government nor Jewish leaders have been willing to confront. Whatever the indictment said, Pollard’s actions were marketed as treason, thus the perception that he committed worse crimes than he did. His case demonstrates the perhaps startling circumstance that a guilty man can be railroaded.

Of course, people who are not guilty can be railroaded and that is what is happening more often than we are willing to acknowledge because we have come to treat the accused of being guilty until they are proven innocent and we allow too much discretion to prosecutors. We are witness to prosecutorial abuse and the attempted railroading of two innocent people in the charges brought against Steve Rosen and Keith Weisman, the ex-AIPAC staff members who await trial for the high crime of doing what hundreds do each day in Washington. I recognize that they may be convicted because prosecutors have an astonishingly high batting average as they engage in legally and morally tainted tactics, notably coercing persons who may have committed a crime to purchase their freedom by singing the tune that prosecutors have coached them to sing.

As with the Pollard affair, the case against Rosen and Weisman has induced verbal paralysis in our establishment, as organizational leaders that ordinarily are not given to silence have clammed up. If there would be a Dreyfus affair on these shores, it’s doubtful that we would rise to the defense of the victim by challenging those in authority who are responsible for the wrongful prosecution.

It is not only in high-profile real or imagined national security cases that we are the Jews of silence. We are meek and mute in ordinary cases, as when the New York Police fired a Bell-like fusillade that killed an Orthodox Jew in Borough Park or in the frightening Crown Heights anti-Jewish rioting as the police stood idly by. We could not find our communal voice.

I had a direct role eons ago in the establishment of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, a body comprised on the lay and professional sides of people whose goal was to be in the good graces of those who are in power.

We are afraid to advocate when advocacy means that we have to challenge governmental authority. Because we do not advocate, we allow wrongs committed against Jews because they are Jewish to go unchallenged. To an extent, in the Pollard and AIPAC matters our meekness is a by-product of the view that what we do or say on any issue relating to Israel must conform with Israel’s instructions. Since Israel is reluctant to challenge Washington, we are unable to challenge the treatment of Pollard or the wrongful prosecutions of Rosen and Weisman.

It may be that Pollard’s last hope for a pardon lies with George Bush. It is frightening to think that if the pardon does not come, Pollard will die in jail.