Sheldon Adelson says jump, some pols in the US and Israel ask how high.

Tom Friedman has an Op-Ed in the NY Times today discussing Sheldon Adelson’s impact on Israeli and US politics: It’s Sheldon Adelson’s World

…when it came to showering that cash on Republican presidential hopefuls and right-wing PACs trying to defeat President Obama (reportedly $150 million in 2012), and on keeping Netanyahu and his Likud party in office, no single billionaire-donor is more influential than Sheldon. No matter what his agenda, it is troubling that one man, with a willingness and ability to give away giant sums, can now tilt Israeli and American politics his way at the same time.

Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and the letter to Iran’s leaders from 47 Republican senators precipitated all this hand-wringing from Friedman. Friedman doesn’t discuss is how Adelson made his billions. So we’ll go to Forbes’ gambling analyst Sands Macao: The House That Built Sheldon Adelson:

Ten years ago, Sheldon Adelson was a Las Vegas B-lister who’d stumbled into the casino business, scrambling to pay the interest on junk bonds that financed his only hotel. Then, in May 2004, Adelson opened Sands Macao, Asia’s first American style casino, and he got richer faster than anyone ever. Sands Macao is the house that built Sheldon Adelson.

Bloomberg reports that Adelson may have benefited from some not-so-subtle pressure on government officials in Macau (Sands China Probes of Macau Officials May End Up in Court):

Sands China Ltd.’s secret investigation of Macau government officials, allegedly ordered by its Chairman Sheldon Adelson, is fair game in the feud between the billionaire and the casino operator’s former top executive.Steven Jacobs, locked in a four-year battle with Adelson, today won the right to use a report on the probe in his wrongful-termination lawsuit. Jacobs contends he was ousted in 2010 as chief executive officer of the China unit of Las Vegas Sands Corp. because he clashed with Adelson over demands he collect information on Macau officials to exert “leverage” on them.

which may be a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

And that isn’t even the most scandalous thing about Sands Macau. Here’s the New Yorker on Sheldon Adelson and Macau

The end of that week brought a less glamorous headline: “Sheldon Adelson Denies Greenlighting A ‘Prostitution Strategy’ At His Macau Casinos.” That was a recap of the latest in a lawsuit working its way through Nevada courts, in which the former head of Adelson’s Macau operation has saddled Adelson with a range of lurid allegations involving Chinese triads, bribery, and criminal activity. (As I described in the magazine in May, those accusations have prompted the S.E.C. and Justice Department to investigate Adelson’s company.)On June 28th, the former employee making the accusations, Steve Jacobs, dropped a list of new charges into a sworn declaration, including that he wanted to rid the casino of “loan sharks and prostitution” but was stymied when “senior executives informed me that the prior prostitution strategy had been personally approved by Adelson.” That is all it says, so it’s unclear if the plan purportedly “approved by Adelson” was intended to preserve or prevent prostitution. (Local police reportedly arrested more than a hundred prostitutes and twenty-two syndicate leaders in a 2010 operation at Adelson’s Venetian Macau.)

and here’s the Atlantic on Adelson and unions in: Who Is Sheldon Adelson, the Gingrich Super PAC’s Billionaire Backer?:

3. He’s a union-buster. Some of Adelson’s bitterest political battles have been fought in his adopted home state against the forces of organized labor, which has a strong foothold in the casino industry. The Venetian opened in 1999 as the only non-union casino on the Strip and has been the target of protest from the hotel workers union, Culinary 226, ever since. Many Democratic politicians in the state continue to observe the union’s boycott of Adelson’s properties. Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Nevada Democrat now running for Senate in what’s likely to be one of 2012’s highest-profile races, was once Adelson’s top political lieutenant, but the two parted ways over labor issues. Adelson and Berkley have regarded each other as mortal enemies ever since — even though Berkley, like Adelson, is a hawkish, socially liberal Jew.

A lot of this has been covered on DKos before:
Adelson personally approved Hookers in
Around The World with Sheldon Adelson
Feds Probe Adelson’s Casino for Money Laundering Activities

Back to Friedman:

Israel has much stricter laws on individuals donating to political campaigns, so Adelson got around that in 2007 by founding a free, giveaway newspaper in Israel — Israel Hayom — whose sole purpose is to back Netanyahu, attack his enemies in politics and the media, and enforce a far-right political agenda to prevent any Israeli territorial compromise on the West Bank (which, in time, could undermine Israel as a Jewish democracy). Graphically attractive, Israel Hayom is now the biggest-circulation daily in Israel. Precisely because it is free, it is putting a heavy strain on competitors, like Yediot and Haaretz, which both charge and are not pro-Netanyahu.

There’s a bigger story in this paragraph, about media influence but who has time to worry about meta-issues like that when…

The Washington Post said that last November at a conference of the Israel American Council, a lobbying group Adelson has funded, he joked in a public discussion with another wealthy Israeli: “Why don’t you and I go after The New York Times?” Told it was family owned, Adelson quipped, “There is only one way to fight it: money.” At this same conference Adelson was quoted as saying that Israel would not be able to survive as a democracy: “So Israel won’t be a democratic state,” he added. “So what?”

I wonder how disposable Adelson thinks democracy in the US is?

When money in politics gets this big, when it can make elected officials bow and scrape in two different countries at the same time, it is troubling.

I would make the comparison between such politicians and prostitutes here, but I think that would be demeaning honest sex-workers everywhere just trying to keep body and soul together.

Anti-semitism on UCLA student council?

The NY Times is running a story today about a student council meeting at UCLA where a Jewish student’s nomination to the student council’s Judicial Board. In U.C.L.A. Debate Over Jewish Student, Echoes on Campus of Old Biases

Here’s the line of questioning at the confirmation proceeding which led to the controversy:

“Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,” Fabienne Roth, a member of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, began, looking at Ms. Beyda at the other end of the room, “how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”For the next 40 minutes, after Ms. Beyda was dispatched from the room, the council tangled in a debate about whether her faith and affiliation with Jewish organizations, including her sorority and Hillel, a popular student group, meant she would be biased in dealing with sensitive governance questions that come before the board, which is the campus equivalent of the Supreme Court.

and then:

The council, in a meeting that took place on Feb. 10, voted first to reject Ms. Beyda’s nomination, with four members against her. Then, at the prodding of a faculty adviser there who pointed out that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest, the students revisited the question and unanimously put her on the board.

and this is the problem:

Reports of anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish sentiment have been on the rise across the country in recent years, especially directed at younger Jews, researchers said. Barry A. Kosmin, a Trinity College researcher and a co-author of a study issued last month that found extensive examples of anti-Semitism directed at college students, said he had not come across anything as striking as what happened at U.C.L.A.“It’s egregious and startling,” Mr. Kosmin said. “If they had used this with any other group — sexual, racial, any kind of identity group — they would have realized it was illegal.”

I agree with Kosmin here, and think this crosses a line and you can call it anti-semitism (though I will note that the council members concerned have apologized without reservation for their votes and questions).

It’s a teaching moment for everyone I think. We accept that all of us have interests we hold dear, and identities that we have acquired or adopted, they sometimes color our views of issues, but that is not always to be deplored and in fact it is part of the exchange of ideas and any democratic process.

The NY Times notes that UCLA’s student council passed a BDS resolution recently after contentious debate and a couple of votes. It’s likely that the student council members had that in their minds. For my part, I think this is a learning moment for other BDS student activists who need to think through this episode and understand why it’s wrong.

I’ll also note that most of the campus protests that I’ve heard of is directed at pro-Israel activities engaged in by specific groups (trips to Israel, lobbying against faculty who hold pro-Palestinain views, etc). I think that is actually about issues and not bald anti-semitism (though I fully admit my inability to look into people’s hearts).

I also think we can all acknowledge that holding a pro-Palestinian position on I/P has become something of a litmus test for liberals. Not everyone holding that position is fully versed in the complexity of the interaction between various peoples in the region and the tortured history, then again which issue can one say that about.

Rachel’s roommate wrote a letter to the campus paper which is worth a read.

Delhi rapist blames victim on camera, Indian gov’t seeks to suppress BBC documentary

Investigative journalists and a raucous cable news culture have managed to bring a discussion about rape into Indian living rooms in ways that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. A series of horrific, widely-reported gang rapes in Delhi and Mumbai sparked intense outrage over the past two years and the Indian government quickly passed laws with harsher punishments for rapists.

Leslee Udwin has made a documentary for the BBC titled “India’s Daughter”. The documentary has a series of interviews with convicted rapists, their lawyers and others. The Indian government has requested and received a restraining order preventing the BBC from airing the documentary. In response, the BBC broadcast the film in the UK today, rather than waiting for International Women’s Day on March 8.

Mukesh Singh is one of the men accused of gang-raping and brutalizing a 23-year old woman in a privately-operated bus in 2012 in Delhi. He was the driver of the bus she and her male friend boarded. The woman later died of the internal injuries she suffered. Much of the controversy centers around some comments made by Mukesh in an interview that is part of the film. Mukesh says:

“You can’t clap with one hand, it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. A boy and a girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20 per cent of girls are good.”

The open secret of course, is that many in India, of both genders hold views that would be variations on this theme. Which is something the AP latches onto in A Murderer and Rapist’s Views Reflect Those of Many in India

“What the man spoke reflects views of many men in India,” Anu Aga, a prominent businesswoman and legislator said in Parliament.”Every time a rape happens, the victim is blamed to have provoked the men. Let’s be aware of the view and not pretend all is well,” she said.

Many Indian men (I’m one), perhaps the vast majority care enormously about women in their families and the world at large. Most Indian families create a loving environment for all their children. Indian culture has staggering regional diversity, and contains both matrilineal (descent/inheritance via the female line) and matriarchal societies. Millions of people marched in the streets to protest these rapes, demand better public transport, infrastructure and speedy judicial redress for crimes against women.

Udwin is quoted in The Guardian’s article India’s Daughter: ‘I made a film on rape in India. Men’s brutal attitudes truly shocked me’:

“It was an Arab spring for gender equality,” Udwin says. “What impelled me to leave my husband and two children for two years while I made the film in India was not so much the horror of the rape as the inspiring and extraordinary eruption on the streets. A cry of ‘enough is enough’. Unprecedented numbers of ordinary men and women, day after day, faced a ferocious government crackdown that included teargas, baton charges and water cannon. They were protesting for my rights and the rights of all women. That gives me optimism. I can’t recall another country having done that in my lifetime.”

But this story isn’t about all the wonderful things and great people who live in India. It’s about the bad stuff that comes with an intensely patriarchal culture (not unique to India). As a number of the news reports note, gender inequality, ingrained in Indian culture, results in pervasive discrimination and violence against women.  The Guardian writes about the murdered victim:

Jyoti, initially given the name Nirbhaya, meaning fearless in Hindi, to preserve her anonymity, died after 13 days. Her parents, given 2 million rupees (£21,000) by the government, set up the Nirbhaya Trust to help women who have experienced violence. “We want to help those girls who have no one,” Jyoti’s father says. […]Jyoti’s father, a man of shining integrity, says of his daughter: “In death, she lit such a torch … whatever darkness there is in this world should be dispelled by this light.”

In an article on the BBC’s website, Delhi rapist says victim should not have fought back, the film-maker Leslee Udwin quotes Mukesh further:

People “had a right to teach them a lesson” he suggested – and he said the woman should have put up with it.”When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy,” he said.

Chillingly, he went on: “The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, ‘Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.’ Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.”

and she goes on to quote the lawyers who defended the five men:

“In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person,” said one of the lawyers, ML Sharma.”You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society. We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”

The other lawyer, AP Singh, had said in a previous televised interview: “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”

He did not disown that comment when I put it to him. “This is my stand,” he said. “I still today stand on that reply.”

but perhaps the most shocking of the many snippets is this:

One of the men I interviewed, Gaurav, had raped a five-year-old girl. I spent three hours filming his interview as he recounted in explicit detail how he had muffled her screams with his big hand.He was sitting throughout the interview and had a half-smile playing on his lips throughout – his nervousness in the presence of a camera, perhaps. At one point I asked him to tell me how tall she was. He stood up, and with his eerie half-smile indicated a height around his knees.

When I asked him how he could cross the line from imagining what he wanted to do, to actually doing it – given her height, her eyes, her screams – he looked at me as though I was crazy for even asking the question and said: “She was beggar girl. Her life was of no value.”

The NY Times has some coverage Man Convicted of Rape in Delhi Blames Victim which discusses the government request to suppress the film:

After complaints by the home minister, an Indian court issued a restraining order, stating that Mr. Singh’s interview created “an atmosphere of fear and tension with the possibility of public outcry and law and order situation.” The order said the film violated four Indian statutes, including one against “intent to cause alarm in the public” and another banning acts “intended to outrage the modesty of a woman.”Ms. Udwin said the order amounted to a ban.

“That means they have banned a film which is in the public interest without having seen it, without having requested a copy of it,” she said. The film will be distributed through social media, she added.

“No intelligent person can watch this film and not understand that these remarks are not being promulgated,” she said.

Another article in the NY Times Broadcast of India Gang Rape Documentary Is Banned by Court quotes several prominent Indian women discussing the impact airing the film may have:

The author Nilanjana S. Roy warned of the “very real risk of turning a rapist into the Twitter celebrity of the day.” Kavita Krishnan, of the leftist All-India Progressive Women’s Association, saw patriarchal undertones in the advance foreign coverage for the film, describing “a sense of India as a place of ignorance and brutality toward women, that inspires both shock and pity, but also call for a rap on the knuckles from the ‘civilized world’ for its ‘brutal attitude.’ ”Others defended the film. Shobhaa De, a popular Mumbai-based columnist, wrote that the film “must be made compulsory viewing in our schools, colleges and government offices.” And writing on the news website FirstPost, Sandip Roy, a journalist and novelist, questioned why people were so outraged by the convict’s statements, considering that, as he put it, “Singh’s observations would not sound that out of place in the mouths of many law-abiding Indians.”

In Wishing away India’s culture of rape, Rukmini Srinivasan highlights a number of other outrageous comments recently made by Indian men, some in positions of power, concerning rape:

Mukesh’s repugnant comments are echoed by one of the defence lawyers, A.P. Singh, who tells Ms. Udwin that he would set ablaze his sister or daughter if she “engaged in premarital activities.” Another lawyer M.L. Sharma is a step worse. “If you keep sweets on the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did [her] parents send her with anyone that late at night?” he says. Another man convicted of raping a ten-year-old tells Ms. Udwin, “she was a beggar child. Her life had no value.”Statements such as these, which separate the ‘good’ girl from the ‘bad’ girl, are not rare, and have been made repeatedly by leading politicians of the country such as Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Mr. Khattar said during his election campaign that “if a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way.” Nationalist Congress Party leader Asha Mirje said in early 2014, “Did Nirbhaya really have to go to watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend? Take the Shakti Mills gang-rape case. Why did the (victim) go to such an isolated spot at 6 p.m.?” A couple of days back, a video of a right-wing leader saying in the presence of Bharatiya Janata Party MP Yogi Adityanath that Muslim women’s corpses should be dug up and raped resurfaced.

Some Indian institutions are chiming in, The Indian Express reports: Gangrape documentary: Bar Council of India head upset with anti-women remarks by lawyers

Bar Council of India (BCI) Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra on Thursday  termed “unwarranted” the alleged anti-women remarks of certain lawyers, including a defence counsel of the December 16 gangrape convict.
The BCI Chairman, however, said the lawyers’ body cannot initiate action on its own without any complaint.
“Unless and until the council gets a complaint in writing, we cannot initiate any action. Until now, we have not received any complaint in this regard.
“Once the complaint comes, we will examine that and only then we can do anything. Comments against women appear to be unwarranted, but we cannot do anything unless we get some complaint in this regard,” he said.
Senior advocate Raju Ramchandran disagreed with the view of the BCI Chairman and said the bar council “has a duty to issue suo motu notice and ask for explanation” of the lawyers.
“It is not part of lawyers’ professional duty to justify his client’s conduct specially when it is a crime outside the court. Inside the court, it is a part of duty as a defence lawyer. Lawyers have the maximum latitude inside courtroom.

The Hindu’s editorial page is firmly against any attempt to suppress the film.

The Hindi press is mostly reporting on events along similar lines and the opinion pieces are condemning the statements made by the convicted rapist and his lawyers. The Navbharat Times has the following post (in Hindi): Remember Nirbhaya, but not this way please. The writer discusses the views of the convicts and their lawyers, notes this is a reflection of wider attitudes in Indian culture, remarks on the suspicion that some of the controversy may have been sparked to generate buzz for the movie, wonders whether it is right to provide such a platform to the hateful views of the rapists and questions the government authorities that approved the interviews. The Indian government claims the film-maker breached the agreement to use the interview only in non-commercial ways. The writer says he agrees that an attempt should be made to understand the criminal mind, but is discomfited by airing their repugnant views so widely.

The Times of India reports on the Indian government’s effort to block the film: Govt serves legal notice to BBC for airing Nirbhaya film ‘India’s Daughter’ and YouTube removes Nirbhaya documentary:

When contacted, a YouTube spokesperson said: “While we believe that access to information is the foundation of a free society and that services like YouTube help people express themselves and share different points of view, we continue to remove content that is illegal or violates our community guidelines, once notified.”The video sharing site did not confirm whether it has received a notification from the government, which is required to remove the content from its site.

The NYTimes is also reporting on the same story: India Asks YouTube to Remove Delhi Rape Film:

“We just forwarded the court order and asked them (YouTube) to comply,” an official at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology told Reuters.

India’s legal protections for speech are not as robust as those we enjoy in the US. Various books and films have been suppressed in the past (including Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses) for fear they would cause public unrest. Over time though, India’s Supreme Court seems to have moved towards a more expansive view of the rights of people to free expression (which is a “fundamental right” in the Indian constitution).  Again in the Hindu, Sanjay Hegde walks through some of the issues but believes the Supreme Court will not suppress the documentary indefinitely.

Third, a ban on telecast is just not legally tenable after the Supreme Court’s judgment of 1994 in Auto Shankar’s case. A temporary stay on telecast may be obtained, but in the final judgment such a ban is unlikely to be upheld. In R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court firmly repelled the State of Tamil Nadu’s attempts to prohibit serialisation of the autobiography of Auto Shankar who stood condemned to death. It ruled: “We must accordingly hold that no such prior restraint or prohibition of publication can be imposed by the respondents upon the proposed publication of the alleged autobiography of “Auto Shankar” by the petitioners. This cannot be done either by the State or by its officials. In other words, neither the government nor the officials who apprehend that they may be defamed, have the right to impose a prior restraint upon the publication of the alleged autobiography of Auto Shankar.”

As in many other places, rape has always been present in India. Historically, it’s been covered up with various euphemisms. As a child, I wondered what “eve-teasing” was, and decided it was either whistling or ogling at girls. Never did it cross my mind that police blotters used the term for all manner of crimes, including rape, but they did.

Indian cinema has dealt with rape before, with varying degrees of sensitivity. The film Chan Pardesi is a (some would say the) Punjabi classic and revolves around the rape of a young bride who ends up raising the resulting child as her own. As do many others.

Iranian ambassador’s response to Netanyahu’s speech is worth reading

The NY Times published an Op-Ed by Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Gholamali Khoshroo,  today. It’s titled Netanyahu’s Nuclear Deceptions. Like many other readers, I found it to be an engaging rebuttal of Bibi’s speech and worth reading:

Despite that, alarmist rhetoric on the theme has been a staple of Mr. Netanyahu’s career. In an interview with the BBC in 1997, he accused Iran of secretly “building a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles,” predicting that eventually Manhattan would be within range. In 1996, he stood before Congress and urged other nations to join him to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability, stressing that “time is running out.” Earlier, as a member of Parliament, in 1992, he predicted that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon within three to five years.In front of world leaders at the United Nations in September 2012, Mr. Netanyahu escalated his warnings by declaring that Iran could acquire the bomb within a year. It is ironic that in doing so, he apparently disregarded the assessment of his own secret service: A recently revealed document showed that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, had advised that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” The United States intelligence community had reached the same conclusion in its National Intelligence Estimate.

There is a debate among Iranian politicians as to whether nuclear weapons would benefit Iran. Some of the machinations revolve around their fears that the US is committed to regime change in Iran and nuclear weapons may prevent it. The fear is somewhat legitimate given our history with the Mosaddegh administration and that of the Shah. I don’t think the Obama administration would try to engineer outright regime change in Iran. But a hard-line GOP administration could be another matter altogether.

The Wikipedia page on Irani politics around nuclear weapons and assessments of their capabilities seems to be quite thorough and even-handed. My general read is that Iran has the know-how and wherewithal to build a nuclear device, but the political decision to do so has not been made, which seems to be the view of US intelligence as well.

We will nevertheless continue to work with the agency to resolve this issue — despite our skepticism, which leads us to recall the notorious forged document about Niger’s “yellowcake” uranium that was used to coax the Security Council into authorizing the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Khoshroo turns the tables a bit on Netanyahu in bringing up the Palestinian issue and how it creates instability in the region.

There are other great issues at hand in the Middle East. The violent extremism we see in Syria and Iraq is one, and to fight it effectively, we need to ease international tensions. We must all address the problem of the breeding grounds that are delivering fresh recruits to the terrorist cause. Israeli aggression and the occupation of Palestinian territories have always been of major propaganda value for extremist recruitment.

There are many other causes of course, including repressive regimes in many Middle-Eastern states with large youthful populations.

I also think many of us discussing this issue underestimate the lively debate among Shia theologians about the morality of nuclear weapons and in general, weapons that kill indiscriminately. The Economist covered this, along with the suggestion that it may be a smokescreen. Now to be fair, religious and moral objections to such a weapon did not stop any of the other nuclear powers. But it’s important to recognize that even the ayatollahs are divided, especially when the caricature many in the West have of Iranian Shia religious leaders discounts the diversity of opinions in many other spheres (including human rights, for example the views of Montazeri)

and finally I can’t resist quoting Khoshroo’s coup de grâce:

The paradox of the situation is that a government that has built a stockpile of nuclear weapons, rejected calls to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, made military incursions into neighboring states and flouted international law by keeping the lands of other nations under occupation, now makes such a big fuss over a country, Iran, that has not invaded another country since America became a sovereign nation.

Though as we discussed elsewhere, the Kurds and Azeris may question that last assertion…

The day the Nakba arrived at Khirbet Khizeh.

As Benjamin Netanyahu’s spoke to congress about his administration’s view on Iran, I largely ignored it and took the time to hear another Israeli voice, one who describes the events in different war, the war of partition in 1947/48.

I’ve been meaning to read Yizhar Smilansky’s novella Khirbet Khizeh (published under his pen-name S. Yizhar) for some time. It’s a slim book, written and published in Hebrew in 1949. For 60 years, there was no English translation, till one was published in 2008 in Israel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux published a US edition last year, and the NY Times has a review.

The novel describes the events of a single day, but like all good books, it reaches into both the past and the present, evoking memory and emitting prescience. I would urge you all to read the book, and at 100 pages it takes only a couple of hours to read.

Yizhar was an intelligence offices in the IDF in 1948 and many readers have suspected he fictionalized an incident, or a number of incidents of expulsion he witnessed. The novella begins with a company of young IDF soldiers who have been given the following orders:

assemble the inhabitants of the area extending from point X (see attached map) to point Y (see same map)–load them onto transports, and convey them across our lines, blow up the stone houses, and burn the huts; detain the youths and the suspects, and clear the area of “hostile forces”

To be clear, the UN partition plan (which was accepted by the Israeli authorities, who captured more land than granted in the plan) explicitly disallowed such expulsions. The narrator immediately notes the feigned naivete embedded in the order:

how many good and honest hopes were being invested in those who were being sent out to implement all this “burn-blow-up-imprison-load-convey,” who would burn blow up imprison load and convey with such courtesy and with a restraint born of true culture, and this would be a sign of a wind of change, of decent upbringing, and, perhaps, even of the Jewish soul, the great Jewish soul. [pg 5]

Over the course of the day, we hear the narrator consider his own actions, that of the men around him, and the impact this has on the inhabitants of Khirbet Khizeh. There’s a lot of interior monologue and we hear the narrator wrestling with his conscience as the day progresses:

The right thing would be to leave all this now and go home. We were sick of missions, operations, and objectives. And all these stinking Arabs, sneaking back to eke out their miserable existence in their godforsaken villages–they were disgusting, infuriatingly disgusting–what did we have to do with them, what did our young, fleeting lives have to do with their flea-bitten desolate suffocating villages? If we still had to fight, we should fight and get it over with. It was unbearable to be doing neither one nor the other. These empty, godforsaken villages were already getting on our nerves. Once villages were something you attacked and took by storm. Today they were nothing but gaping emptiness screaming out with a silence that was at once evil and sad. [pg 22]

Once the operation commences, the assembled force fires into the village with machine guns. This leads to panic within the village, many of the villagers flee and the narrator describes his company firing repeatedly at groups of people fleeing. Later, the soldiers round up the stragglers, mostly women, children, the aged and disabled, as they move on to the next phase of the operation:

However, when a stone house exploded with a deafening thunder and a tall column of dust–its roof, visible from where we were, floating peacefully, all spread out, intact, and suddenly splitting and breaking up high in the air and falling in a mass of debris, dust, and a hail of stones–a woman, whose house it apparently was, leapt up, burst into wild howling and started to run in that direction, holding a baby in her arms, while another wretched child who could already stand clutched the hem of her dress, and she screamed, pointed, talked, and choked, and now her friend got up, and another, and an old man stood up too, and other people rose to their feet as she began to run, while the child attached to the hem of her dress was dragged for a moment and stumbled to the ground and bawled, revealing a brown buttock. One of our boys moved forward and shouted at her to stand still. She stifled her words with a desperate shriek, beating her chest with her free hand. she had suddenly understood, it seemed, that it wasn’t just about waiting under the sycamore tree to hear what the Jews wanted and then to go home, but that her home and her world had come to a full stop, and everything had turned dark and was collapsing; suddenly she had grasped something inconceivable, terrible, incredible, standing directly before her, real and cruel, body to body, and there was no going back. [pg 71/72]

The narrator reaches both into the future and the past, with an eerie premonition of what would unfold over the ensuing decades:

We reached a field off to the side of the houses, next to a wide dirt track that connected this village to the main road, far away. Suddenly for some reason, a thought crept into my mind, that this track compacted by thousands of feet over generations would now grow grass, break up, bear fruit with no one passing by. Immediately the chords that had been moaning within me separated themselves, and a wave of bitterness washed through me. And I could sense that troublesome somebody inside me, grinding his teeth and clenching his fists.We tried to maintain our indifference and shake off everything that had happened down there, like a goose coming out of the water. [pg 75]

Fields that would never be harvested, plantations that would never be irrigated, paths that would become desolate. A sense of destruction and worthlessness. An image of thistles and brambles everywhere, a desolate tawniness, a braying wilderness. And already from those fields accusing eyes peered out at you, that silent accusatory look as of a reproachful animal, staring and following you so there was no refuge. [pg 85]

Those passages evoked a shock of recognition in me. They seem to have reached into the future as an echo of this piece by Gideon Levy or a description of the iNakba project.

After debating with myself I gathered up the courage to say to Moishe: “Do we really have to expel them? What more can these people do? Who can they hurt? After the young ones have already…what’s the point…””Well,” Moishe said to me affectionately, “that’s what it says in the operational orders.”

“But it’s not right,” I protested, not knowing which of all the arguments and speeches that were fighting within me I should set before him as a decisive proof. And so I simply repeated: “It really isn’t right.” [pg 79]

I clung to that famous phrase in the operational orders “operatives dispatched on hostile missions.” I conjured up before my eyes all the terrible outrages that the Arabs had committed against us. I recited the names of Hebron, Safed, Be’er Tuvia, and Hulda. I seized on necessity, the necessity of the moment, which with the passage of time, when everything was settled, would also be set straight. I once again contemplated the mass of people, seething indistinctly and innocently at my feet–and I found no comfort. I prayed at that moment that something would happen to seize me and take me away from here so I would not see what happened next. [pg 83]

In two short passages, the narrator tells us all we really need to know about forced expulsions with the moral clarity of someone who knows wrong when he sees it.

Some plots were left fallow, and others were sown, by design, everything was carefully thought out, they had looked at the clouds and observed the wind, and they might also have foreseen drought, flooding, mildew, and even field mice; they had also calculated the implications of rising and falling prices, so that if you were beset by a loss in one sector you’d be saved by a gain in another, and if you lost on grain, the onions might come to the rescue, apart, of course, from the one calculation they had failed to make, and that was the one that was stalking around, here and now, descending into their spacious fields in order to dispossess them. [pg 87/88]

The first group was standing by the gap in the hedge. This field might have belonged to one of them. And this place, which we considered just any old place, they considered a specific place that was close to something and far from something else and belonged to somebody and had a greater meaning than just some big dirt track. They stared at the trucks with a gaze that gradually filled with a realization of what was happening to them. [pg 91]

I can’t help but think how apt the term Nakba is. It was a catastrophe, which can be of human design. And to the inhabitants of Khirbet Khizeh, it fell as a thunderbolt out of the clear blue sky.

The narrator’s misgivings are shared by others:

“How come they’re not taking any stuff with them?” asked the driver.”What stuff?” they asked him.

“Possessions, bedding, I dunno.”

“There’s no stuff. There’s nothing. That them away from here and let them go to hell,” [pg 92]

There were numerous instances where IDF personnel stripped Palestinians of their valuables and belongings. In the novella, the narrator’s superior officer refuses to let an old man take his camel, laden with household goods, with him. The narrator has earlier shared that his company will not bother to strip this village of ordinary farm implements and goods because they were tiring of it after so many instances.

Then we saw a woman who was walking in a group of three or four other women. She was holding the hand of a child about seven years old. There was something special about her. She seemed stern, self-controlled, austere in her sorrow. Tears, which hardly seemed to be her own, rolled down her cheeks. And the child too was sobbing a kind of stiff-lipped “what-have-you-done-to-us.” It suddenly seemed as if she were the only one who knew exactly what was happening. So much so that I felt ashamed in her presence and lowered my eyes. It was as though there were an outcry in their gait, a kind of sullen accusation: Damn you. We also saw that she was too proud to pay us the least attention. We understood that she was a lioness, and we saw that the lines of her face had hardened with furrows of self-restraint and a determination to endure her suffering with courage, and how now, when her world had fallen into ruins, she did not want to break down before us. Exalted in their pain and sorrow above our-wicked-existence they went on their way and we could also see how something was happening in the heart of the boy, something that when he grew up, could only become a viper inside him, that same thing that was now the weeping of a helpless child.Something struck me like lightning. All at once everything seemed to mean something different, more precisely: exile. This was exile. This was what exile was like. This was what exile looked like.

I couldn’t stay where I was. The place itself couldn’t bear me. I went round to the other side. There the blind people were sitting. I hastily skirted round them. I went through the gap into the field that was bounded by the cactus hedge. Things were piling up inside me.

I had never been in the diaspora–I said to myself–I had never known what it was like…but people had spoken to me, told me, taught me, and repeatedly recited to me, from every direction, in books and newspapers, everywhere: exile. They had played on all my nerves. Our nations’ protest to the world: exile! I t had entered me, apparently, with my mother’s milk. What, in fact, had we perpetrated here today? [pg 99/100]

The word “exile” resonates throughout the story. Yizhar alludes to the fact that the exile narrative is so strong that 30 generations on, his people are willing to spill blood to end their exile. And in the process, exiled someone else. And then the counterpoint…

Of course. Absolutely. Why hadn’t I realized it from the outset? Our very own Khirbet Khizeh. Questions of housing, and problems of absorption. And hooray, we’d house and absorb–and how! We’d open a cooperative store, establish a school, maybe even a synagogue. There would be political parties here. They’d debate all sorts of things. They would plow fields, and sow, and reap, and do great things. Long live Hebrew Khizeh! Who, then would ever imagine that once there had been some Khirbet Khizeh that we emptied out and took for ourselves. We came, we shot, we burned; we blew up, expelled, drove out, and sent into exile.What in God’s name were we doing in this place!

My eyes darted to and fro and couldn’t fix on anything. Behind me the village was already beginning to fall silent, its houses gathered on the slope of the hill, bounded here and there with treetops, from which the sun, behind them, forged silent shadows, which were sunk in contemplation, knowing much more than we did and surveying the silence of the village, that same silence which, more and more, was conspiring to create and atmosphere of its own, a realization of abandonment, an oppressive grief of separation, of an empty home, a deserted shore, wave upon wave, and a bare horizon. And that same strange silence as though of a corpse. And why not? It was nothing. A single day of discomfort and then our people would strike root here for many years. Like a tree planted by streams of water. Yes. On the other hand, what of the wicked… But they were already there on the trucks, and soon they’d be nothing more than a page that had been finished and turned. Certainly, wasn’t it our right? Hadn’t we conquered it today?

I felt that I was on the verge of slipping. I managed to pull myself together. My guts cried out. Colonizers, they shouted. Lies, my guts shouted. Khirbet Khizeh is not ours. The Spandau gun never gave us any rights. Oh, my guts screamed. Why hadn’t they told us about refugees. Everything, everything was for the refugees, their welfare, their rescue… our refugees, naturally. Those were were driving out–that was a totally different matter. Wait. Two thousand years of exile. The whole story. Jews being killed. Europe. We were the masters now.

The people who would live in this village–wouldn’t the walls cry out in their ears? Those sights, screams that were screamed and that were not screamed, the confused innocence of dazed sheep, the submissiveness of the weak, and their heroism, that unique heroism of the weak who didn’t know what to do and were unable to do anything, the silenced weak–would the new settlers not sense that the air here was heavy with shades, voices, and states? [pg 104/105]

The English translation has an afterword by David Shulman which seeks to put the novella in today’s context of occupation, settler violence and everyday discrimination. Shulman notes that expulsions and house demolitions directed at Palestinians in the occupied territories and Israel proper are a continuing feature of official Israeli policy. Shulman wrote a note for the NY Review of Books that has some of the same themes as the afterword.

And since Yizhar’s story is about families being expelled from their homes, it reminds me of two episodes, about two Israeli women and mothers. One is a quote of Golda Meir:

It is a dreadful thing to see the dead city. Next to the port I found children, women, the old, waiting for a way to leave. I entered the houses, there were houses where the coffee and pita bread were left on the table, and I could not avoid [thinking] that this, indeed, had been the picture in many Jewish towns [i.e., in Europe, during World War II]’.

When she, as head of the Jewish Agency Political Department visited Arab Haifa and reported on her visit (6 May 1948); quoted in “The birth of the Palestinian Refuge problem revisited” by Benny Morris.

and the other is a story Miko Peled relates about his mother:

My mother remembers the homes of the Palestinians who were forced to leave West Jerusalem. She herself was offered one of those beautiful spacious homes but refused. She could not bear the thought of living in the home of a family that was forced out and now lives in a refugee camp. She said the coffee was still warm on the tables as the soldiers came in and began the looting. She remembers the truckloads of loot, taken by the Israeli soldiers from these homes.

and I cannot help but think that Golda Meir and every other Israeli leader before or since, in the grandest, most expansive way, chose the path Mrs. Peled shrank from.

What is remarkable about this novella is how it encapsulates the seed of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the events of a single day and the thoughts, actions and observations of a single person.

A word on the language and biblical allusions. I’m not sure how well the translation captures the original Hebrew. To my eyes, it is a fairly good translation of a stream of consciousness novel interspersed with more standard first-person narration. The novella ends with a striking apocalyptic passage and the afterword notes a number of Biblical allusions, for instance the ones around exile.

I first stumbled onto the Israel/Palestine conflict when a college friend (who had Russian-Jewish relations) insisted that Palestine had no permanent inhabitants prior to the founding of Israel, there was no such thing as Palestinians, they all had other homes in Egypt and Jordan and were part-year residents, the rest were migratory Bedouin, everyone who left did so freely and were encouraged to leave by other Arab leaders who wanted to attack the Jews without harming their own population.

None of this sounded right to me, knowing something of the Indian partition and the European settlement of the Americas and the treatment of American Indians. The Nakba and the ongoing occupation can be understood in a vein similar to these two episodes (though it is not identical). So I looked around for history and stumbled onto Benny Morris’ book Righteous Victims.

But I wonder now, after reading Khirbet Khizeh (which is an assigned text in many Israeli schools), how it is that Hebrew speakers who have read this book managed to make their peace with its narrative. Benny Morris and the New Historians work began to be published in the 1980s, but Khirbet Khizeh was a best-seller almost from the day it was published in 1949. Some commentators have noted that Benny Morris’ claim to have been the first to pull back the veil from the 1947/48 expulsions is not credible. What they’re saying is that this narrative was hiding in plain sight, in a fictionalized account that was widely read and accepted as part of 1947/48’s legacy. The novella has sparked controversy for decades, quoting from the NY Times article on the first English translation:

In 1978, “Khirbet Khizeh” caused a huge furor when an Israeli director made a television series based on the book. By then, Israel had been through the 1967 war and had voted in its first right-wing government, led by Menachem Begin. The series was almost canceled. When it was finally broadcast, it met a wave of criticism. “Even if the Fatah Information Bureau were headed by a genius, he couldn’t have come up with a better one than this,” the Israeli journalist Yosef Lapid wrote in the Israeli daily Maariv in 1978. “And even if a fifth column were operating in our television studios, they couldn’t have performed a better service to aid the enemies of our state.”

It is of course, difficult to accept that the neatly-packaged story of your nation’s founding, colorfully relayed to you in elementary school, may not be the whole truth. And there is a certain sort of person who will do their best to perpetuate the neat myths, to the extent that they demand history books be re-written or suppressed (look at examples in the two largest democracies, India and our own country).

Some will ask why I’m ignoring Palestinian art that covers the Nakba with depth and sensitivity. I’m not, a good place to start would be Elia Suleiman’s film The Time That Remains and in book form there is Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun and As Though She were Sleeping, Ghassan Kanafani’s Return to Haifa, Sahar Khalifeh’s Of Noble Origins, Radwa Ashour’s The Woman from Tantoura, Sari Nusseibeh’s Once Upon A Country and Mahmoud Darwish’s Journal of an Ordinary Grief some of which I’ve read and some that I intend to read.

PS. I never did manage to change my friend’s views.

GOP donor picks 2016 presidential candidates just like he picks “acquisitions” or “investments”

The NY Times is running a story about a privately commissioned poll that played a role in shuffling the Republican Presidential candidate deck for 2016: Mystery Solved: The Man Behind a G.O.P. Trend-Setting Poll

The NY Times says this expensive, private poll convinced Romney he had a chance to win the nomination and the general election. It now indicates Jeb Bush is the strongest GOP candidate. So who might have have had enough at stake to pay for an extensive poll of over 10,00 participants?

Now, the identity of the wealthy Republican donor who commissioned the polling is no longer a mystery: It was, according to people interviewed on the matter, Muneer A. Satter, a former partner at Goldman Sachs and a major Republican donor in Chicago.Mr. Satter, a keen student of data, is now backing Mr. Bush.

But that’s not all. You might ask yourself why someone would go through all the expense and trouble. Thankfully, Mr. Satter has a spokesperson who can explain:

Asked about the polling, a spokeswoman for Mr. Satter, Lisa Wagner, said: “Any decision Mr. Satter makes regarding an investment, an acquisition, or on anything, he uses metrics and data.”

This probably falls into the not news category (yawn). But I found it oddly refreshing that someone had the balls to come out and admit that politicians are “investments” and “acquisitions” for wealthy donors. They don’t call it “political economy” for nothing.

The question for those of us among the hoi-poloi who can’t make such “investments” should be to ask what “return” these “investments” are expected to provide if they succeed in “acquiring” power through our democratic process?

Perhaps lower taxes for “job-creators”, or a more “industry-friendly” regulatory environment are expected. Is that more meaningful than being invited to a White House sleepover?

And I wonder, once you’ve “acquired” a presidential candidate, do you ask your personal trainer to teach them to sit and roll-over when you command? If money is speech, marching orders must be twice as protected by the first amendment right?

But we are a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Or is that just a fairy-tale we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night?

I have used up my quota of air-quotes for the year.

PS. In case you were wondering, yes, this is the same Muneer Satter who gave over 100k to Obama and kicked another 100k over to Rahm Emanuel. I guess that’s what we mean when we say America is all about equal opportunity?

Netanyahu is Israel’s only hope against extremism… on literary prize committees.

It’s not just Iran that Bibi has to deal with, he is also tackling the existential threat posed by aging left-wing elites who keep awarding prizes to the wrong books. While we’re focused on the antics around the joint address to Congress, Bibi’s been busy dealing with these extremists in the only language they understand.

In Haaretz: Netanyahu: Israel Prize judges include too many anti-Zionist extremists

“The composition of the panel that selects Israel Prize laureates must be balanced and faithfully reflect the various streams, positions and strata of Israeli society,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page. “However, over the years, more and more radical figures, including anti-Zionists – for example, those who support refusal to serve in the IDF – have been appointed to the panel and too few authentic representatives of other parts of the nation.”

I’m relieved Bibi has finally put his foot down to let us know who is “authentic” and who isn’t.

The guys at Breaking The Silence illustrate why conscientious objectors (refuseniks) are considered “extremists” and “radicals”.

“The Israel Prize belongs to all of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote. “It is our national asset, and it must represent the entire nation: men and women, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, religious and secular, veteran citizens and new immigrants, Israelis of all stripes irrespective of political leanings one way or the other.”Netanyahu’s remarks follow the resignation of an entire panel of judges – for the Israel Prize in literature – over efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the panel’s composition. The office vetoed two candidates to judge the prize, professors Avner Holtzman and Ariel Hirschfeld.

“This is an unparalleled scandal,” said Yigal Schwartz, a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and editor-in-chief of the Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir publishing house. “I’m withdrawing my candidacy and urge other candidates to do the same. This isn’t a mistake; it’s a continuation of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deliberate policy of undermining Israel’s elites to gain votes from other groups. This is sabotage that it’s impossible not to oppose. Even this institution, the Israel Prize, which had remained untainted, they have sabotaged.”

Haaretz has an editorial as well: Netanyahu trampled on the Israel prize and the Jerusalem Post covers the issue in Netanyahu: Israel Prize judges’ panel comprised of too many anti-Zionist elements

Continuing the take no prisoners theme (even if they are bespectacled, elbow-patch adorned, Hebrew Lit professors), Chemi Shalev writes about Bibi in: Netanyahu’s Cossack-inspired election slogan: ‘Smite the leftists and save Israel!’

If you like the New Israel Fund, you’re toast. If you support J Street, you’re out. If you’ve ever whispered a word of sympathy for conscientious objection or considered the pros and cons of boycotting settlements, you’re done. If you vote for the Zionist Union, you’re an anti-Zionist. If you read the wrong newspaper, you’re suspect. If you think Obama is right and Netanyahu is wrong, you’re a potential traitor and a self-hating Jew.

It’s a “my way or the highway” mentality, and “if you’re not with us you’re against us” approach. You can support Netanyahu, condone settlements, view Obama as a nemesis and Iran as an existential threat – or cast your lot with the rest of Israel’s evil-wishers. When you vote for a party left of the Likud, according to this logic, you are, in fact, acting against Israel’s better interests:

This is one of the backdrops to Netanyahu’s decision to ignore the protests against his planned Congressional speech and to press ahead, come what may. When the only people you trust are those who agree with your every word, everyone else is automatically suspect, their motivations dubious, their intentions on trial. In fact, the moment you criticize Netanyahu, you are almost by definition exposing your malicious intentions, all the more reason for him to ignore you and go the other way. It’s a vicious circle inside the echo chamber in which Israeli sentiments are forged and decisions increasingly made.

Meanwhile Peter Beinart asses the impact Netanyahu has had on Jewish organization in the US in Netanyahu’s real victim? The American Jewish establishment

Who are Benjamin Netanyahu’s American victims? Not Barack Obama. Despite Bibi’s best efforts, he’s still in office, and retains the affections of most American Jews. Not the left-wing activists who oppose a Jewish state within any borders: Bibi’s settlement mania has been a bonanza for them. “We’ve got to give credit to Netanyahu,” declared BDS leader Omar Barghouti last December. “Without him we could not have reached this far.”No, Bibi’s real American victims are the people who appear publicly to be his friends: The leaders of groups like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress is simply the latest example. He’s destroying the old American Jewish establishment and building a new one in its place.

Huff Post poll finds Opinions On Netanyahu’s Speech Split Along Party Lines

Americans think that it was a breach of protocol for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress, but they still want members of Congress to attend his speech, a HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.In the survey, Americans say by a 23-point margin that it’s inappropriate for a member of Congress to invite a foreign leader to speak in the U.S. without first consulting with the White House, and by a 17-point margin that Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, specifically, was inappropriate. In both cases, about a quarter of Americans said they weren’t sure.

Despite disagreeing with the handling of the invitation, though, Americans were also more likely than not to say U.S. politicians should still meet with Netanyahu during his trip.

Forty-six percent said that their member of Congress should attend Netanyahu’s speech, which is scheduled for March 3, while just 24 percent said they shouldn’t, with another 30 percent unsure. Fifty-eight percent said President Barack Obama should meet with Netanyahu, with only 19 percent opposed and 23 percent not sure.

And then of course, there’s the perennially entertaining “bottle deposit crisis”: Would you buy an empty bottle from this man?

I’ll give him this much, Bibi has a knack for getting under people’s skin and getting folks to talk about him. I can’t think of a foreign leader whose name would be recognized by three-foruths of a random selection of Americans.