Friday, December 16, 2011
I met him twice. The first time, in the last century, in the offices of The Nation magazine in New York City. The last, on February 24, 2006, at the "Stand Up for Denmark!" rally outside the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC, which he had organized. Here's a transcript of his remarks at the event, as posted on The Adventures of Chester blog at the time:
Brothers and sisters, I just thought I would thank everyone for coming and say how touching it is that people will take a minute from a working day to do something that our government won't do for us, which is quite simply to say that we know who our friends and our allies are, and they should know that we know it. And that we take a stand of democracy against dictatorship. And when the embassies of democracies are burned in the capital cities of dictatorships, we think the State Department should denounce that, and not denounce the cartoons.
[Cheers of support and applause]
And that we're fed up with the invertebrate nature of our State Department.
[Laughter, cheers, applause]
If we had more time, brothers and sisters, I think that we should have gone from here to the embassy of Iraq, to express our support for another country that is facing a campaign of lies and hatred and violence. And we would -- if we did that we would say that we knew blasphemy when we saw it, we knew sacrilege when we saw it: it is sacrilegious to blow up beautiful houses of worship in Samarra. That would be worth filling the streets of the world to protest about.
[Cheers and applause]
We are not for profanity nor for disrespect, though we are, and without any conditions, or any ifs or any buts, for free expression in all times and in all places
and our solidarity . . . [inaudible]
So, we said we would, I told the Danish embassy that we would disperse at one o'clock. I hope and believe we've made our point, I hope and believe that today's tv will have some more agreeable features, such as your own, to show, instead of the faces of violence and hatred, and fascism, and I think I can just close by saying, solidarity with Denmark, death to fascism.
Hitchens wasn't afraid to take a stand, and his intellectual courage set an example for us all. He was a mensch.
Here's a link to my first account of Hitchens' pro-Denmark rally, and to another article on Stand Up for Denmark!.
Finally, a link to a review of Hitchens' autobiography, HITCH-22.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
In an unpublished letter to the editor of the New York Times, dated December 14th:
In leveling his criticism of Israel on its domestic agenda, Mr. Friedman ventures into absurd territory when he "illuminates" the reason Mr. Netanyahu was received with a standing ovation when he spoke before the U.S. Congress. His claim that "the ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby" is insulting to the American people and reads like a page out of "The Israel Lobby," the biased treatise by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.
Poll after poll, including a recent one by ADL, shows overwhelming support for Israel by the American public. Congressional support reflects that reality.
Mr. Friedman's allegation is not merely wrong and offensive. It's dangerous. It plays into the most insidious conspiratorial notions about Jewish control of American institutions.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Subject: [ChevyChase] Cultural Revolution Cookbook Monday night, Tenley Library
Foodies, Sinologists, and Politicos unite! Come to Monday's author talk at the Tenley-Friendship Library to celebrate the publication of The Cultural Revolution Cookbook. Authors Sasha Gong and Scott Seligman will discuss the stories behind the recipes and their process of collaboration. The book is beautifully illustrated and the recipes include lots of vegetarian dishes. http://www.amazon.com/Cultural-Revolution-Cookbook-Sasha-Gong/dp/9881998468/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323631930&sr=8-1 Copies will be for available for sale before and after the talk (sorry, we can't handle credit cards).
The Tenley-Friendship Library is located at 4450 Wisconsin (at Albemarle Street, across from the Metrorail station). The talk starts at 7pm and will take place in the large conference room on the second floor. Coffee and light refreshments will be served.
Hope to see you there!
for Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library
NOTE: According to the Necrometrics website, between 2-7 million Chinese were killed in the Cultural Revolution. Other estimates range as high as 30 million. Personally, I'd prefer that the DC Public Library System promoted authors like Sheng Mei-Ma, who wrote CONTRASTING TWO SURVIVAL LITERATURES: ON THE JEWISH HOLOCAUST AND THE CHINESE CULTURAL REVOLUTION, instead.
Friday, December 09, 2011
Monday, December 05, 2011
is apparently a pawn in some international intrigue. His wife is a member of my congregation at Adas Israel, which had a delegation at today's protest, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council, that included our former cantor.
Friday, December 02, 2011
Monday, December 5
From 12–1 pm, Adas Israel will lead a vigil in front of the Cuban Interests Section, 2360 16th Street, NW. These weekly vigils are coordinated by the JCRC, with many area synagogues participating. Alan Gross is in a maximum security prison in Cuba since 2009 serving a 15 year sentence for undermining "the independence of Cuba." He was in Cuba on behalf of USAID performing humanitarian work for the peaceful non-dissident Jewish community. Alan's health is failing and both his mother and daughter have serious health issues. Come show your support for Alan and his wife Judy who is a member of our congregation....
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
IT’S 1776 IN PALESTINE: ON JEWS AND ISRAELIS TOWARD AN ISRAELI REPUBLIC WITH A WRITTEN CONSTITUTION An Interview with Hillel Kook a.k.a. Peter Bergson by Eliyho Matz
Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson): There is something unique, if I have to say it myself, about what we did some 30 or so years ago now. And it isn’t so much what we did, it is what we didn’t do. This is one historical claim I’m very proud of; unfortunately it’s quite unique, and this is that shortly after May the 14th, 1948, we liquidated, we disbanded to my knowledge for the first time, as they say, in 2000 years, a thriving, large mass movement which had on its list – it wasn’t a card-carrying membership organization, but at that point we had close to half-a-million Americans, Jews and non-Jews, but largely Jews. As a matter of principle we were not a Jewish organization (which I will explain in a little while).
We had at that point close to half-a-million people roaring to go. Furthermore, we had half-a-million dollars in the treasury, which was also a unique situation. And we disbanded, liquidated voluntarily, the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation, which was sort of a government-in-exile before Israel was established, which consisted only of what are now Israeli citizens but at that time were Palestinians-in-exile, and the American League for a Free Palestine, which was an American organization supporting them. There was also a Canadian League for a Free Palestine, a French League for a Free Palestine, and even a Latin American one, and these groups between them had about six newspapers and magazines. And all this was shut down and liquidated, true to a promise, and true to the inner purposes of the movement, which was a revolutionary movement, and this is that we were fighting for the independence of our country, that we were not a party, and that once the country is independent it will elect, we hoped in a duly democratic process, its government, and anyone of us who will be a citizen of that country will be free to do as he pleased, or not do as he pleased, at that time. And even though in 1948 only a part of Palestine was liberated and there was partition and there was fighting and God knows there were a million excuses, and I must say that the majority of our leadership here was for continuing the work. And if you think that today in the 1980’s the Jewish National Fund that was founded 100 years ago to buy land from the Turks is still existing and somehow always manages to adapt its existence to the needs -- so it stopped buying land from the Turks, it started buying land from the Arabs, now it’s buying land from the government of Israel, it’s doing something else – it exists. On a theater ticket to a movie in Tel Aviv, if you went there today, you’ll still pay two cents, or Israeli cents, Mas Keren Kayemet, “Keren Kayemet” tax, and nobody knows why it’s there or what’s being done with the money exactly, but it’s there – like many things in our life we are an ancient people and we tend to be anachronistic.
But let me tell you a little bit of what we have done, having told you what we have not done, and this is that we did not continue a reasoned, justified existence, but rather we knew when to quit. Let me tell you what we did when I believe that we knew what should be done. What really happened is like many things in life and in history, accidental to a large degree. I was head of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, which was one of the two then major underground organizations, there was the Haganah and the Irgun, and after a series of splits and all sorts of internal problems I became a member of the high command of the Irgun in 1937, at the ripe age of 21, or going on 22, and found myself at the end of that year for the first time as an adult, more-or-less, in Poland and introduced to the Jewish ghetto and remained in charge of, in command of Irgun operations abroad, which were rather expanded, including the so-called illegal immigration in those years which brought to Palestine some thirty-thousand people until the beginning of World War [II]. And in 1940 I found myself in this country [the USA] as part of these activities of the Irgun, except that when the War broke out there was hardly an Irgun left to speak of. And we were a group of five people here, at the time a “cut-off battalion” as the late great Jabotinsky called us. And we did what we thought was right under the circumstances to serve our country. We were Zionists of course, born or brought up in Palestine, and what we were doing at the time was promoting a Jewish Army to fight alongside the Allies in the war against the Germans. The United States was still neutral in that war at the time. And I remember a man, Mr. Alfred Strelsin, who is now a very important educational business executive (he is the president of a company called C__). He was then a young man, certainly much younger than I am today, and a simple American businessman, not a great intellectual heavyweight, and he said, “Why a Jewish Army? Why not a Palestinian Army?” And I gave him the usual Zionist answer, you know, “We are Jews, and we suffered as Jews, and our nation is Jews, etc., etc; and not a Palestinian army, we are not Palestinians, we are not Philistines, you know, we are Jews! We want a Jewish Army.” And while we were working on a Committee for a Jewish Army, Mr. Strelsin gave in, and my colleagues and I paid no attention to him. The United States got kicked in its south side and into the War through the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Jewish boys, like all other Americans in the United States, started flocking into Army recruitment centers. And Mr. Strelsin came into an Executive Committee meeting [Committee for a Jewish Army] and said, “Well, what kind of a Jewish Army do you want now? Do you want American boys who are Jews to go to the American Army, or to your Jewish Army?” And suddenly we realized that Mr. Strelsin may have been a businessman, but maybe he was thinking better than we were, and we started scratching our heads. And we came up with an answer like good Jews, a little bit “to the thumb,” and we changed the name to “Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews.” We said, “Aha! That is the difference! You American Jews have a country, it’s called America. You want it and it wants you, you are free and equal, you are here of your choice. But we don’t have a country – our country is Palestine, ‘Eretz Yisrael.’ All the Jews of Rumania, the Jews of Poland, and the Jews of Russia who are wandering throughout Europe, they are stateless Jews: they don’t have a country, they don’t belong to the countries in which they live or have lived; they don’t want them and they’re not wanted there, and this is the difference.” Mr. Strelsin was happy, we were happy. The name was clumsy, but it set in motion some thinking. And, as all young people who read a little, who study a little, and I went to the Hebrew University and studied philosophy, and before that I studied the Talmud in the Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I have in a sense, not in an historical or not in a scientific sense, but in a pragmatic practical sense sort of “discovered America” as one says; I started looking around and I came to the conclusion that there is a big difference between the position of the Jews in Poland, where when I came for the first time as an adult (I came to Palestine at the age of eight, so for all intents and purposes I was Palestinian raised if not born), but when I came to Poland and discovered the masses of four-million Jews there, it suddenly struck me in that year 1941 in New York, ’42, that there’s a basic difference between a Polish Jew and an American Jew. And that the Zionist Movement refuses to recognize this difference, and this difference was never explained to me. And the difference was: a free choice, that the Polish Jew was a Polish citizen and a Pole, so to say, because he couldn’t get out, because his country, Palestine, today Israel, then as we called it in Hebrew Eretz Yisrael, was occupied by the British, who by force refused to let them go there. And the Poles did not regard him as a real equal citizen, nor did he really regard himself as a Pole. Because in Poland when the War broke out certain parts of Poland called “Silesia” where they lived, the Poles of German origin who lived there for 900 years in one day became German again. So they became German overnight, in their feelings, and in the feelings of the Poles towards them and in the feelings of the Germans towards them. In the United States, of course, Mr. Kennedy was the most popular President of the United States after one generation; in Germany Mr. Eisenhower would be regarded German or Swiss or whatever he was, and so I think Mr. Kennedy would be regarded as an Irishman. So this melting pot of the United States is a unique historical thing actually, and totally alien to the European way of thinking, of “ossified” nationalism, and we started talking and discussing and debating and what we came up with is a philosophy, a theory and a program which in my opinion played a very important part, unrecognized – totally – in the establishment of the Republic of Israel – I like the word “republic” better than “state” by the way, which is a limited word – and which still today is probably the only answer to many of the ills that beset Israel, the main one being, of course, the achievement of peace, peace with its non-Jewish populations (so-called Arab population) and peace with its surrounding non-Jewish neighbors (so-called Arab states).
But coming back to the years 1942, -‘3, in Washington and in New York, with the World War raging, with 5- to 10-thousand Jews a day being massacred by the Germans, with our little cut-off group at that time working on a committee called “The Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe,” we came to a realization that what we were doing in effect in Palestine when the Irgun was reorganized by Mr. Ben-Eliezar, one of our group whom we sent there for that purpose and who made Mr. Begin commander, I mean I appointed Mr. Begin as commander of the Irgun at Mr. Ben-Eliezar’s suggestion, as suggestion of the group of senior officers of the Irgun at the time, I being at that time the only member of the high command of the Irgun who was neither dead nor in jail; David Raziel being commander was killed in Iraq in 1941, Abraham Stern split away and formed the Lechi and he was killed by the British, and the other members of the high command were in jail in Eritrea or in the Sudan, wherever they were kept at the time. And I by seniority was at the age of twenty-something the elder statesman of the Irgun, so to say. And also because we were the only organized group here doing things which were of importance and of service, and word of which got to Palestine and gave great cheer and courage to the people there. We came to a conclusion that what we were doing was fighting what today is so easily described as a war of national independence, of national liberation. The war of independence is fought by people on the right of self-determination; a right of self-determination is the right of a person to choose his own identity and to determine his own life. We said we were Jews, Palestine was our country, and we want to have a Jewish government, and not a British government, and we want the British to get out.
And then came the questions. In Palestine there lived some people who were Arabs, who were Moslems, who were Christians, and between this problem and the problem that Mr. Strelsin raised about the role of the American Jews in the Jewish Army, we started then giving some very serious attention, in the year 1941, -‘2, to the character of the Jewish State when it attained its independence. And we were practical young people to whom a Jewish State was not a dream, was not a religious hope, was not “L’shana Haba-ah B’Yrushalayim,” which some of us prayed and all of us said at the [Passover] seder, but which was a practical, pragmatic program which we believed, and God knows there are tens of thousands of people living today in this country who heard me in those years at hundreds of meetings in this country proclaim, that at a maximum within five years after the end of the War Palestine will be a sovereign, independent Hebrew Republic, as we called it, and I’ll come in a minute to why. We started being bothered with the practical questions of sovereign life. And we came to a strange realization, and this is that the long history, the very unique and miraculous history of the Jewish people and our survival of almost nineteen-hundred years, two-thousand years the saying goes, of exile, abnormal, hostile-environment existence, this great historical feat also had some liabilities; like all assets there’s another side of the balance, that if we wanted to achieve independence, if we wanted to have a government of our own and an army of our own and a country of our own, and be a part of a modern family of nations in the twentieth century, that we could not remain, we could not turn the clock back, to the Jerusalem of before Christ, or the first century of Christ, and remain the same kind of a theocratic, unified state-church that we were; the whole world was theocratic at the time, so were we naturally. We said that one has to bring up-to-date the history of the Jewish people, that the existence of the Jews as a combination religion-nation or nation-religion, or people, or “peoplehood” as the late Rabbi Wise used to call it, that all these were palliatives, all these were shallow, superficial answers to deep questions which would work only as long as the anomaly of Jewish existence continues, as long as a Jewish nation normally – a government, a country, a sovereign country – doesn’t exist, then anything goes. That once such a country – and I remember a meeting with both Rabbi Wise and Rabbi Silver trying to convince them of what we were trying to do, and we were maligned and attacked and besmirched and called “defamers of the Jewish people” and God knows what, and I said if President Roosevelt were to call you in and tell you, “All right, you have your Jewish State – go ahead, make it, proclaim it,” I said you won’t call it a Jewish State, you’ll give it a name, I said, because you, Rabbi Silver, are a Jew, you’re a clergyman, you’re an American clergyman, you know, and you couldn’t call Palestine a Jewish State, and its Prime Minister will not be called “the Prime Minister of the Jewish State,” he’ll be called “the Prime Minister of something – Judea….” I didn’t think of “Israel,” I must say, and I don’t like the name by the way; there are too many synagogues called “Israel,” and I respect and love synagogues and I don’t think that a synagogue and a country should have the same name, and I don’t think that a synagogue and a tank, and an army should have the same name, and I don’t think that a synagogue and an air force should have the same name; and the air force of Israel and the prayers of Israel belong to two different worlds, to two different souls; and this is not said in any disrespect, God forbid, neither to the prayers of Israel nor to the air force of Israel, but rather of deep recognition of the paramount importance of either one of them, but separate. We came to the decision then, therefore, that we have to update the meaning, the structure, the political structure of the Jewish people; we didn’t touch the religious part. Religion then, as today I believe, is a matter between a man and his God, it’s a matter of the soul of every one of us, especially in Judaism where no hierarchy was ever recognized. Still today Judaism leads the world in the advancement of its religious basic principles, and the relationship between man and his God – no intermediaries, no hierarchies. “Rabbi,” as you well know, means “a teacher.” A simple, humble Jewish carpenter has as much religious authority as the Chief Rabbi of Israel, and my uncle was the Chief Rabbi of Israel and he was a great man, but he claimed no authority. When an older man than himself walked into his room, he used to rise and get up from his chair, because he said it says in the Bible you should honor older people. And when my father, who was his younger brother, used to walk into his room, he used to get up from his chair in his honor because he said he’s a learned man and it says in the Bible you should honor learned people. And he was the Chief Rabbi! – but he was not a Pope, and didn’t behave like a Pope.
So Judaism as a religion, we did not touch, and we could not touch. But, the Jewish people as a political force – we touched, very much. And we said that the time has come to define the political term and the meaning of the word “Jew” – Who is a Jew? which as you know is still being debated in Israel, and there is a famous Supreme Court decision that says, “A Jew is a Jew.” Period. Something like Gertrude Stein, who said, “A rose is a rose is a rose,” we say for the time being “a Jew is a Jew.” I say that in political terms, a Jew is a person who defines himself as being a member of the Jewish nation and no other nation. And the deciding is to each person and his own choice. And in the case of the identity between a Jew and Israel it is between each person and the laws of the Republic of Israel. And therefore back in the early 1940’s we suggested a distinction to simplify matters a little. We took the term “Hebrew” and said that “Hebrew” denotes the political aspect of the Jew, and “Jew, Jewish” denotes the religious aspect; we could have just as easily done it backwards, it makes no difference. Or it makes no difference whether you use today the word “Israeli,” as they were forced to do finally in 1948. “Israeli” denotes the political aspect of the Jew, “Jewish” denotes the religious. We said then, in establishing The Hebrew Committee of National Liberation as a sort of government-in-exile, we purchased the Iranian Embassy on Embassy Row in Washington (that’s Massachusetts Avenue) in 1944, April, in the middle of the Holocaust, in the middle of the murder, we proclaimed the independence of the Hebrew Republic of Palestine as a free and independent state, republic, and asked the world nations to recognize it. A year later I spent six hours with David Ben Gurion in the home of Dr. Emanuel Neumann, who got us together, who was then President of the Zionist Organization of America, and who was appreciative of the efforts we were doing here, while not exactly agreeing with them. He said, “You must work something out!” That these boys (as we were called) had to be brought into the framework of Jewish life here. And for six hours Ben Gurion and I talked alone (Neumann left), and I told him that the thing to do is not to debate whether or not there should be a Jewish State, which was what the Zionist Organization was doing, and that the debate with Jabotinsky that said that the aim of Zionism is the establishment of the Jewish State, I said that this was passé, that this was “old hat” as you would say today. That the issue was not to call for the creation of a Jewish State, but to establish one and to ask for recognition: the things that people and nations have to do for themselves and can’t ask others to do for them – which is what eventually happened in ’48. We [the Bergson Group] formulated, therefore, then, in the ‘40’s, a simple thing which an American child, Jewish or not (maybe non-Jews easier than the Jews, who were not as confused about the subject), of ten or twelve years could understand; I remember we had a simple slogan. It said, “It is 1776 in Palestine.” Every American knows what is 1776, and the Irgun and we saw to it that the headlines would make everybody know what is Palestine, and we put the two together and it was very simple: we were a nation fighting for our freedom just as the Americans did in 1776, and it so happened we were doing it against the same oppressor. We wanted the British army and the British king out of Palestine just as the Americans wanted the British king and the British army out of the American Colonies in 1776. And just as the Americans, we won.
Monday, November 07, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011
Behold Jesse LaGreca, who boasts of his working-class street cred while speaking the elitist jargon of the professor-cum-president's failing administration. And he does so on ABC, owned by the Walt Disney Co. He's an Audio-Animatronic revolutionary.
All that said, there is some truth to his statement that "we have succeeded tremendously in pushing the narrative." But the truth of it makes his posturing all the more ridiculous.
"Occupy Wall Street" began as a left-wing protest, something about as exceptional as a pigeon in New York. It didn't become a "narrative" until the narrators made it into one. Who are those narrators? They work for companies like Disney, CBS Corp., Comcast Corp. and General Electric Co. (co-owners of NBC), Time Warner, News Corp. (our employer), the New York Times Co., the Washington Post Co., the Tribune Co., Thomson Reuters Corp. and Bloomberg LP.
These corporations make their profits (or attempt to) by pushing narratives--by selling stories. Sometimes their narratives are as preposterous as Jesse LaGreca's. An example is yesterday's New York Times editorial that begins: "As the Occupy Wall Street protests spread from Lower Manhattan to Washington and other cities, the chattering classes keep complaining that the marchers lack a clear message and specific policy prescriptions."
The disdainful reference to "the chattering classes" is just priceless. To which class, pray tell, do New York Times editorialists belong? Though come to think of it, at least the anonymous hack who wrote that editorial got paid for his effort. That makes his claim to working-class status stronger than LaGreca's.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
My best, Agustin Blazquez, producer/director AB INDEPENDENT PRODUCTIONS
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
By: Eliyho Matz
O Soul, come back to watch birds in flight!
Dedicated to the courageous Duchifat* soldiers who paid dearly for their commitment to the ideals of the young Israeli Nation: ideals of democracy, law and freedom. Unfortunately, these ideals are today being eroded and replaced by Biblical laws (right-wing religious fanatic orthodox Jewish laws) that are totally dismantling and destroying the possibility for Israel to become a modern nation. If the Duchifat soldiers only knew what they were fighting for….
And for Hadas….
(In this military unit of courageous Paratroopers, I served as the most unimportant soldier.)
* Hoopoe bird, in Arabic Hud-hud.
Birds are not big time complainers. They keep themselves busy flying and do not usually need bird psychiatrists to help them resolve personal or communal issues of territory or flying zones. The sky and the earth are their sovereign territory. Recently, however, they have acted spontaneously, in unison, to a changed political situation in the Israeli Nation. To explain that decision, we need to trace back a bit, to fly backwards, like only the hummingbird can do.
On July 12, 2011, the acclaimed New York Times published on page A8, bottom left, a news article by Isabel Kershner titled, “Israel Bans Boycott Against the State” in which Kershner described the new Israeli Parliamentary law illegalizing any public boycotting of the Israeli Nation or West Bank settlements, thus making the act of calling for a boycott punishable by a compulsory fine. A few days later, on July 18, 2011, the NYT again touched upon the situation, this time attacking the Israeli boycott law in an editorial dedicated to this issue titled, “Not Befitting a Democracy.” However, with all due respect to this publication, which I personally have been reading consistently over the past 36 years, I believe that the NYT is totally mistaken and unclear. I do not take issue with the fact that the NYT is worried that the law will “…chip away at free speech and political rights,” but rather that even in the title itself of this article the NYT does not recognize, or is not interested in recognizing, that the Israeli Nation, since its inception in 1948, has never written a constitution and therefore cannot be a true democracy; therefore citing this action as “not befitting a democracy” is totally misleading, and does not suit the reporting and analysis qualities of the NYT. Furthermore, the NYT in its reporting often refers to the Israeli Nation as the “Jewish State,” and thus fails to call it by its true name, the Israeli Nation. Ironically, the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, also wants the Palestinian people to recognize Israel as a “Jewish State” -- when no one can even figure out how politically to define a Jew. This type of convoluted political thought prevents the Israeli Nation from progressing to become a nation-state of the Israelis, or better, an Israeli Republic with a written constitution, that could serve to modernize its political engagement and its ability to be absorbed into the Middle East.
Birds, which are frequent fliers between Northern Europe and Africa, have throughout time been flying through the Israeli sovereign territory twice a year: in spring they flock to Europe, in autumn to Africa. But they have their sensitivities, too. Apparently they are extremely aware of the nature of people, and thus, because of their sense of justice and humanity, and having followed the widespread news and protest about the Israeli boycott law via their “Bird News Services” (BNS), not controlled by the corrupt Rupert Murdoch, decided quietly, without too much twittering, to form the first “Bird Congress” on the north shore of the Black Sea, where it was decided by the birds’ top democratic leadership, to avoid, if possible, flying over Israel or any other non-democratic country that does not have a democratically written constitution. It seems like a harsh decision to me by the birds considering the long lasting relationship that they have formed with the ancient and modern Israelis, and it is a bit out-of-place with the history of birds and Jews.
The Hebrew Bible quite frequently deals with the interactive relationship between humans and birds. The familiar story of Noah is one of the first to demonstrate this relationship. The domesticated pigeon brings back to the ark an olive leaf, thus symbolizing the end of the flood and the return to normalcy. Then we have a more overlooked Biblical detail that Hebrew Bible researchers and Orthodox Jewish believers probably pay little attention to. It is in the story of Moses: Moses, who is running away from Egypt, perhaps carries out his destiny in marrying Zippora (Shemot 2:21). Although in the Hebrew Bible we do not have as much mythology as is seen in the Greek writings, Moses, as the father and lawgiver of the Hebrews, should have been aware of the connotation of the name “Zippora” -- a bird. He marries Zippora and thus the Jewish mazel (luck) gets its start with wandering, as a matter of fact, quite a bit of it, and forever not just for the forty years in the desert. As Adeline Yen Mah, a prominent American Chinese writer, informs us, “Jia Ji Shui Ji” -- “Marry a Chicken, Follow a Chicken” [Adeline Yen Mah, Falling Leaves (New York: Broadway Books, 1997) p. 157]. The Hebrews, while wandering in the desert, feed upon shlav, or quail, which appear every evening and provide sustenance to the Hebrews while on the move in the desert. Then for a while in the Hebrew Bible we do not hear about birds, when suddenly further on another bird story appears. This time it involves the legendary King Solomon, who, as the Bible tells us in the First Book of Kings (5:13), was wise and “…spoke of beasts and of birds….” Later on, being a wealthy and very virile king (he married 1000 women), he interacted with the legendary Yemenite Queen of Sheba. Our bird, the duchifat, was the go-between for Solomon and Sheba. “According to the legend he [the duchifat, or hoopoe] is said to be the son of Solomon, hence he had a golden crown. So the people in greed for gold used to kill him. One day he referred the matter to his father, so he [Solomon] changed the golden crown into flesh and the persecution then ceased” [Samsar Chand Koul, Birds of Kashmir (p.65)]. Another bird connected to King Solomon was the white-cheeked Bulbul, which the legend says “…are reputed to have given to Solomon the power to differentiate between an artificial and a natural nosegay, and to be ready to offer advice if one has the ear willing to listen” (Koul, p. 13). Paradoxically, in Israeli popular culture the word “Bulbul” has become a derogatory expression for a person who is totally confused. The Hebrew Bible continues to amaze us with stories of birds. Another very interesting one is about the prophet Elijah, who ran away to Mt. Sinai and was fed by ravens. “I saw a small chapel commemorating the spot where the ravens fed Elijah. It is supposedly built over the cave where the prophet hid from Jezebel” [Wendell Phillips, Qataban and Sheba (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955), p. 134]. A captivating legend from Chinese history documented by Thanh and Benjamin Cherry in their book Of Pandas and Wandering Geese (London: Minerva Press, 1999; p. 251) tells a story about the building of the Great Wall of China and the loss of many lives, especially of one person whose wife “…lamented his disappearance so vigorously that some ravens showed her where his body was buried; whereupon the wall split apart revealing the bones.”
From Biblical times to modern times, we do not hear much about birds and Jews, even though Jews continued to wander, ultimately becoming known as the “Wandering Jews.” Aside from the commonly known explanations for their wandering, one should consider the business opportunities Jews have undertaken since time immemorial by traveling, on the Silk Road doing business with the Chinese, or on the high seas to India, and the consequences of such activities. For example, I truly believe that the religious laws defining who is a Jew, by making the mother the sole determinant, and the laws prohibiting Jews from marrying more than one wife developed between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE and in the 10th century, are all related to the business occupation of Jews traveling between East and West, North and South, like birds.
Thus we have moved to modern times. The poet Chaim N. Bialik speaks to an imaginary bird that just arrived at his window from the Land of Zion. The poem, which is the ultimate instrument to explain the Jewish Zionist activities in Palestine to rebuild the nation, is still considered a masterpiece of poetry. Of course the political and social reality has changed, from the early days of the Zionist naiveté, to the modern Israelis’ convoluted political thoughts. The poet Saul Tchernichovsky, who was a contemporary of Bialik, also deals with birds. In his case he introduces a more aggressive bird of prey, the eagle, in his poem “Eagle, eagle over your mountains.” Well, this poem definitely will later usher the Israelis into the modern age when their airplanes will eventually control the skies of the Middle East, thus making Tchernichovsky sort of a poet-prophet. One of the most interesting writers and translators of modern times is Zev Zahbotinsky, who, extremely talented as a translator into Hebrew, takes the poem by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven,” and transforms it into one of the most celebrated poems in modern Hebrew, so much transformed that he made it more interesting than the original version. The singer Ester Offarim, one of the most unique Israeli voices, has spilled her soul while singing “Mi Itneni Auf Tzipor Kanaf Ketanah” (“Who will give me the power to fly,/A small little winged bird wandering forever”) – boy, has this singer been wandering! The Israeli singer-songwriter Igal Bashan has contributed to the bird image through the lyrics of his song “Yesh Li Tzipor Ketanah Balev” (“I Have a Tiny Bird in My Heart”). Moving from the heart to the head is another Israeli singer and songwriter Matti Kaspi, who contributed, “Yesh Li Tziporrim Barosh” (“I Have Birds in My Head”). We do not yet have any poet or singer who writes about Israeli legs and compares them to birds’ legs to complete our body picture in allegorizing the Wandering Israelis, who travel today as Tarmilaim (backpackers) from Thailand to Argentina.
In the early days of the Israeli Nation, shortages of essential foods were common and rationing was imposed on the Israeli public. One of the products that was rationed was coffee beans. Here is a story about birds first developed by Abram Sorramello, the legendary Jerusalemite (dubbed by journalist and writer Baruch Nadel as “Mr. Tzipporovich”). Sorramello told of a man arriving at the airport coming from abroad carrying a sack of coffee beans. The custom agent asked him what he had in the sack, and the traveler answered “birdfood.” “Birdfood?” questioned the agent, who smelled coffee in the sack. “Well,” answered the fellow, “if the birds want it, they eat it, if not, not!”
Certainly the motif of birds has contributed forcefully to Israeli culture. However, most serious and critical of Israeli culture and politics is Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, although I think that he himself is not really aware of the implications of what he is describing in his poem “Dangerous Country [Benjamin and Barbara Harshav, Translators, Yehuda Amichai: A Life of Poetry 1948-1994 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994), p. 393]. To me, this poem represents the ultimate analysis of birds and politics: “Even the migrating birds know it,/They come in spring or in autumn and do not stay,…” So the terrible conclusion: the Israeli land, Zion, is where people and birds come and go. Not so good a reality if Israelis want a future Israeli Nation to exist.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Tel Aviv Beach, 1948
By: Eliyho Matz
The story of the ship the Altalena is one of the most complex dramas in the creation of the Israeli nation. My intent with this piece is not to solve the puzzle of the Altalena story, but rather to bring to light some interesting details relating to the story.
In the early 1940’s, a small group of people, members of the Etzel (Jewish-Palestinian underground), better known as the Irgun, arrived in New York City from Europe and Palestine. The commander of the group was Hillel Kook, who later took the name Peter Bergson, and his group became known as the Bergson Group, or the Bergson Boys. The work of the Bergson Group in the USA can be summarized in three parts: the first was their attempts to create a Jewish army that would fight alongside the Allies in WWII; later on they shifted focus to become a political pressure group targeted in their attempts to save European Jewry; and finally following the end of WWII they reincarnated themselves as the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation, a political lobby to support a Hebrew Republic in Palestine.
The Bergson Group’s narrative in the United States during the Holocaust and in its aftermath is not part of the historical curriculum that is currently taught in Israel. During his eight years of work between 1940 to 1948, whether in New York City or in Washington, DC, Peter Bergson gained the respect of American Congressmen and Senators. However, during that same period, most Jewish organizations in the United States rejected, criticized and protested against his activities. But the record is clear: it is beyond a doubt that the Bergson Group’s activities in the United States influenced the American people and its President Harry Truman to recognize the emerging Israeli nation in 1948.
One of Bergson’s chief lieutenants was Samuel Merlin, who was closely involved with the New Zionist Organization and its leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Merlin, who lived in Paris and Warsaw prior to WWII, had developed a deep and complicated relationship with the French Intelligence authorities. He arrived in New York City as a refugee with their help and connections.
In 1946, Ben Hecht, the prominent screenwriter and playwright, collaborated with the Bergson Group and produced a play that appeared that year on Broadway. The play, “A Flag is Born,” with the young Marlon Brando in its starring role, envisioned the emergence of an Israeli state. The play became a commercial success and made the Bergson Group quite a bit of money. Thus it was with these proceeds supplemented by some other financial resources that they were able to purchase the ship the Altalena. Next the ammunition was provided free-of-charge by the French, thanks to the special connection between Merlin and the French government authorities; it was loaded on to the Altalena in France before the ship embarked for Tel Aviv.
The superficial details of what happened to the Altalena on the beach of Tel Aviv are well known to most Israelis: there was a confrontation between the Etzel and the emerging Israeli government led by David Ben Gurion. What is not so well known is the story behind the story.
Two small details that might elaborate that story are necessary here. One revolves around Aryeh Ben-Eliezar’s return to Palestine, at Bergson’s instructions, to establish Menachem Begin as the new leader of the Irgun (this, according to Bergson himself, was probably the worst decision he ever made). This was an exercise that started in New York City. As a result of the Bergson Group’s activities in the US Congress to support a resolution to save the Jews of Europe, Bergson had built up various connections that eventually helped enabled Ben-Eliezar’s departure to Palestine in 1943. Ben-Eliezar helped in Palestine to reestablish anew the Irgun, with the agreement of Bergson in NYC.
The second detail involved David Ben Gurion. As the political leader of the Jewish Palestinian Workers Party, and a central figure in Zionism, Ben Gurion was very well aware of the Irgun’s activities. The Zionist Movement leadership in the United States, along with various other American Jewish leaders, supplied the FBI with plenty of information about the Bergson Group and funneled the same information to Ben Gurion in Palestine.
The efforts carried out by Zionist and other Jewish leaders to deport Bergson from the United States, failed. Ben Gurion was well informed of the political power and influence Bergson had built up in the US; along with his Zionist cronies, Ben Gurion did whatever he could to stop the Bergson Group’s activities. It is possible that Ben Gurion’s reaction to the arrival of the Altalena was an attempt to crush Bergson. Only history will judge.
HILLEL KOOK (PETER BERGSON): A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE SHIP THE ALTALENA, NEW YORK CITY, 1983, AS RECORDED BY ELIYHO MATZ
The following is a transcribed and translated transcript
of a taped conversation I had with Hillel Kook in which at a rare moment he spoke in detail about the Altalena incident and its surrounding circumstances.
Hillel Kook: “…If on the 15th of May, 1947, one year before the creation of the Israeli nation, a messenger of “Ribbon HaOlamim,” better known as “God,” would ask one-thousand people, the most important and respected people in the Land of Israel [Palestine], the question, “Do you believe that in one year from now there will be an Israeli [Hebrew] nation, a new nation on planet earth?” – from the thousand not a single one would have said, “Yes!”
The expression “Partza HaMedina,” “a nation has erupted,” is the biggest “truth” about Zionism. All the proceedings that led to the creation of “the State” were one thing, and all the people that took it over were another. Begin, apropos, the leader of the Irgun, did not believe in the coming of the new nation Israel. Begin, by the way, was a serious problem. At the first celebration of the Israeli Independence Day in 1949, Ben Gurion invited the public for a party in the Kiryah in Tel Aviv. Begin, the head of the Herut party, called for [his own] ceremonial meeting for independence at the Herut headquarters in Tel Aviv. He raised a glass of wine and proclaimed, “By the way, we in the Herut Party received an invitation for the party at the Kiryah by Ben Gurion, but all of us are not going to go.”
I had met Ben Gurion in 1942 in the home of Rabbi [Emanuel] Newman in New York. Dr. Newman was a very important Zionist leader, and he was aware of the Irgun’s work in the US. In his report to the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, Ben Gurion, who was a very cunning politician and a perpetual liar, purposely did not mention that he met me. I was in New York during the War years as the commander of the Irgun there. Then, I met Ben Gurion in the Knesset, and I did not say hello to him because of the ship Atalena incident and the “Holy Cannon.”
At [this 1949] meeting in the Herut Party headquarters, I said to Begin that this is not a personal invitation from Ben Gurion, but rather an invitation from the Israeli Prime Minister; I personally disagree with the fact that we should not go to that party. My reasoning was that if Ben Gurion would invite me to his home I would not go; but because we all received an official invitation to celebrate the first Independence Day, I will go. Eri Jabotinsky agreed with me. Others present did not. In any case, I went to the Kiryah. It was a very interesting and exciting event. Ben Gurion stood there with his wife, and I shook their hands.
On the issue of the ship the Altalena, about a dozen books have been written. None gets close to telling the truth. It is very difficult to understand the Altalena incident without understanding Begin, and to understand Begin is a very difficult task. Begin lied to the Irgun people, because he kept the Irgun after the creation of the Israeli state. At the end of 1947, Begin was already an askan [a low-level politician]. The British did not run after him. At the middle of 1947, the British brought the issue of the Palestinian Mandate before the United Nations. Begin was a totally confused and frustrating person. A week before the arrival of the ship the Altalena [June 18, 1948], I arrived in Israel. On the eve of the Altalena’s arrival, there was a meeting. Begin sat there, Ever Hadani, and others. I asked Begin, “A few hours ago you raised a glass of Carmel red wine for the State of Israel, and you blessed everybody in the name of Malchoot, the nation of Israel.” What will be with the Etzel [Irgun]? Begin answered that the Etzel will continue to fight till they will free Jerusalem. I then asked again, “You just recognized the Israeli government; how will you fight in Jerusalem?” Begin’s answer was that the Israeli government headed by Ben Gurion does not claim Jerusalem. I asked again, “Do you really think that Ben Gurion will really give up Jerusalem?” Begin was not a statesman. He was, as mentioned before, an askan, or a low-level politician, this I did not understand immediately.
With the ship the Altalena he did the same tricks. He spoke to them [Ben Gurion’s people] and he didn’t speak to them. My life was destroyed because of the Altalena. Begin was sitting in the other room speaking to Galili [the negotiator for Ben Gurion] on the phone. I heard him summarizing that 20% of the ammunition from the Altalena will go to a warehouse in Jerusalem and will be watched together by the Israeli military and the Etzel. Then it will be given to the Etzel. Galili did not agree. I became hysterical and I began yelling at Begin, “You are crazy! This is the first and the last ship; the ship was purchased by the US Etzel group. You [Begin] should worry that there shall not be any discrimination against the Etzel fighters in the army. We have to dissolve the Etzel. Call Galili and tell him that you will give him all the ammunition.” Begin asked Yaakov Meridor what to do, and Meridor said that I was right. Begin called back Galili and claimed to have made a mistake. Let the chief of the Israeli army decide where the ammunition should go. Begin asked only for one thing: he wanted the representative of the Etzel to make a speech and inform [the soldiers] that the ammunition was brought to Israel by the Etzel.
And then, something strange happened, which I cannot understand. Either that Galili cheated Ben Gurion or vice versa. Galili does not talk about it, and Begin doesn’t talk about it either. There must have been some sort of misunderstanding between Ben Gurion and Galili. Or it is possible that Ben Gurion decided to use the Altalena incident to create a crisis. I doubt that. The fact that Galili was a liar I am sure. Galili claimed that Begin wanted to give part of the ammunition to the Etzel group, and that was not true.
You have to understand the Begin mentality of duality. On one hand the Etzel is dissolved, and on the other hand it continues on.
By the way, do not forget that Begin was not arrested. They [Ben Gurion’s people] arrested me and wanted to kill me as the result of the Altalena incident. Luckily, as you can see, I am still here.
Great Barrington, MA
August 13, 2011
Monday, August 08, 2011
Monday, August 01, 2011
The Norwegian massacre is just too horrible to write about.
The current debt deal has been preceded by weeks of irresponsible and dishonest Chicken Little hysteria and posturing in the media that bummed out the country, if not the world. The final agreement is disgraceful. Better an honest bankruptcy, IMHO. This affair has been demoralizing.
Finally, Washington has been very hot, 104 degrees Farenheit the other day, 99 today--too hot to think, or write at any length.
So, better to follow me on Twitter--at least until it cools down.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Something has got to give...
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Re "The Credentialed Society":
In days of yore, you would not be considered "uneducated", Mark, because you went to a good public school. And of course you do know a lot; in particular about Middle Eastern history and things which are not widely known in North America. I would assume that your teachers suggested readings, you found others on your own, and that you then rubbed shoulders with people who also knew such things. (But no credentials!)
If any single idea marked Obama as a stupid and reckless incompetent, it is the idea that every American should go to college. An advanced society needs— absolutely needs— electricians and plumbers, various other specialized mechanics, computer technicians, truck drivers, aircraft pilots, etc. Indeed, it is only a nasty snob who will look down on supermarket checkout clerks, who are also essential.
Also, most of the skills needed for oilfield work are not taught in any university; offshore oil adds further skills necessary for the marine environment, and these skills are uncommon and justly very well remunerated. Some of the most intelligent and capable men I have ever met work in the offshore oil patch.
Nor can we overlook the military trades.
My enumeration is so incomplete that it is almost ridiculous; I would suggest that Obama might watch such TV programs as "Ice Road Truckers" and "The Most Dangerous Catch" to get some idea of what is necessary in today's world.
You will notice that I have not included "theoretical physicist" in the above list. Try as I might, I cannot get my own profession into the list of essential trades, crafts, and professions.
St John's, Newfoundland
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I don't know how to get the old friendly, calm, sooting blue and white version of iGoogle back. It was relaxing to look at.
Not this new page. I hate it.
Is this the beginning of the end of Google?
If I had stock in the company, which I don't, I'd start selling...unless they fix it, as Coca-Cola did with New Coke.
Monday, June 27, 2011
There's an interview with Kleijer on the East City Art website, here.
Studio H Gallery is located at 408 H Street NE second floor Washington, DC 20002, phone: (202.468.5277). Hours by appointment. Website: http://www.studiohdc.com/.
The share of U.S. consumer food-spending that farmers received (the “farm-share”) fell steadily from 48% in 1913 to only 20% by 2000, prompting repeated investigations into who might be to blame for that decline. Similar alarms come from the other standard measure of how markets treat farmers, the farm-retail, “price spread.” However, this paper explains the biases built into these measures: Both of these measures are distorted by purely nominal changes. This paper introduces a better measure of how markets have treated farmers, and shows that, if measured properly, the farm-share of total consumer food costs has been stable.
Crazy Bergson Boy
By: Eliyho Matz
In honor of Will Rogers, Jr., and other Gentiles who attempted to save Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
And a special thanks to Thomas Jefferson.
[In a future feature film about the Bergson Boys, there will be an opening scene in a classy New York City restaurant: On one side of the room will be seated Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Claude Levi-Strauss, Isaiah Berlin, Benzion Netanyahu and some other prominent Jewish personalities. Seated at the other side of the restaurant will be Will Rogers, Jr., Guy M. Gillette, Edwin Johnson, Andrew Somers, and some other Congressmen and Senators prominent in the 1940’s. The group of Jews will be overheard discussing their overall personal achievements during WWII in science, philosophy, etc. The Congressmen and Senators will be heard rehashing their frustrations concerning the pitfalls they encountered in their attempts to work together to save European Jews. Suddenly Peter Bergson appears, entering into the restaurant with Marlon Brando, Ben Hecht, Kurt Weill, and Stella Adler. The group of government gentlemen look up and obviously recognize and warmly greet Bergson and his entourage; the Jewish group displays only sketchy familiarity….Evidently, it’s all relative….]
As years go by, recognition given to the Bergson Group’s activities in the United States during WWII has become increasingly ambivalent. The leading character in this group is Hillel Kook, a.k.a. Peter Bergson, a Palestinian Jew growing up under British Mandate Palestine who left the religious life of the yeshivas in Jerusalem and became a founding member of the Irgun in Palestine. Established as one of the Irgun leaders, Bergson’s activities carried him to Europe and culminated in the United States, where he not only became a leading spokesman for European Jews during the Holocaust, but where he also played a leading role in the creation of the new Israeli nation.
Some episodes of Peter Bergson’s life have been highlighted by various historians and writers, whose writings have reflected perhaps amazement but more often confusion over his activities. It is not surprising that such reactions would appear, especially because most of the time those who admired him, or those who admonished him, all seem to have had at best only a partial perspective of who he was. I was fortunate to have worked closely with Peter Bergson during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s at his Institute of Mediterranean Affairs in New York City. As we worked together to organize his papers and chronicle his thoughts, he spoke extensively of his activities, associations, dreams and frustrations. Due to the upcoming conference at Yad Vashem scheduled for mid-July 2011, the theme of which is an examination of the activities of the Bergson Group during the Holocaust, I feel compelled to comment upon and clarify some issues concerning Bergson’s activities.
To begin with, that such an event is happening at Yad Vashem at all is, in itself, some sort of a miracle. Several years ago the Wyman Institute presented a petition asking Yad Vashem to mention and exhibit some of Peter Bergson’s activities during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem, the Israeli National Holocaust Memorial and its top leadership, refused to hear the plea [see my article “Not a Yad and Not a Shem”]. And now, a sudden shift. The main speaker of the Yad Vashem conference will be Dr. David Wyman, a leading American historian of the Holocaust era, and the historian who has connected the dots to illustrate and prove that the political pressure that the Bergson Boys brought to bear during 1943 in the United States led to the establishment of the US governmental agency, the War Refugee Board.
Dr. Wyman is the individual who introduced me to Peter Bergson. However, what is confusing to me is Wyman’s lack of interest, as displayed in his writings, to confront the “other” issues that the Bergson Group dealt with, such as those surrounding “nationhood” and the political consequences of the work they did. This reluctance on Wyman’s part was apparently due to his desire not to confront Jewish organizations about their passive and ineffective role in the Holocaust. The fact that Wyman has now finally picked up the challenge to explain the Bergson phenomenon is, to me, not indicative of his overall understanding of the larger implications of some of their work, nor is he confrontational enough to bring the Bergson Group to the center stage of Holocaust historical writing. The appearance of Wyman at the conference in Jerusalem is significant. But, as I mentioned before, Wyman refuses to confront the totality of the Bergson Group’s activities as they extended past 1944 to the creation of the Israeli nation and to Bergson’s membership in the first Israeli Parliament; thus, for example, he offers no analysis of the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation [this is not Hebrew National, the kosher hot dog manufacturer, whose founders probably meant it to be Jewish and Kosher, and not National].
The conference, if serious about doing any justice to the Bergson Group, is going to have to deal with the analysis of how the news of the Holocaust came to America. The arrival of the news of the Holocaust has been debated, explored and is in totality a mess. A few historians, like Walter Laqueur and Richard Breitman in their book Breaking the Silence [NY: Simon & Schuster, 1986], Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut in their article “Who Was the ‘Mysterious Messenger’?” [Commentary: October 1983], and David S. Wyman in his own interpretation [The Abandonment of the Jews] have all emphasized the role played by Dr. Gerhardt Riegner, the World Jewish Congress representative in Switzerland, in transmitting a German messenger’s news to America. I do not have the real answer as to the identity of the German sources. However, I did see a copy of an affidavit that Paul Guggenheim, a Swiss Jewish professor of law, presented to American authorities in Switzerland in 1942 which indicates that the information on the mass killing of European Jewry came initially from a German official of the German Foreign Office, and an official of the Ministry of War. This affidavit led me to believe that detailed information came to US representatives in Switzerland from various German informants; and at one time I wrote a short article, “The Mysterious Riegner,” to present this case. While he was still alive, Riegner refused to give the name of his German source, which leaves us with more confusion than we need.
The simple facts are thus: the United States, at the start of WWII, did not have good Intelligence services. FDR’s quick response to this Intelligence crisis led eventually to the establishment of the OSS and to the nomination of William (“Wild Bill”) Donovan as its Chief Operating Officer. The lack of American experience in international spying led the Americans to ask the British to help out. The British help was simultaneously a blessing and a curse; what is important to note is that some of the British Intelligence leadership were double agents and committed Communists, a situation that, not surprisingly, resulted in many disastrous consequences in Intelligence, and is especially where the Jewish Holocaust suffered severe casualties. Some of these consequent frustrations can be found expressed in the book Intrepid’s Last Chance by William Stevenson [NY: Villard Books, 1983]. According to Stevenson, it was two Polish nationals, Jan Nowak and Jan Karski, who both brought the news of the massacre of European Jewry to the West. “Jan Nowak went to the Public Record Office outside London long afterwards and was shocked to find that everything from Karski and himself with regards to the extermination of the Jews had been omitted” (p. 272). Looking carefully at Intelligence issues during WWII, one discovers that some elements of the German leadership had been very shaken by Hitler’s wartime activities. Based on facts understood today, I would speculate that these elements, once they discovered and fully understood the Holocaust massacres, comprehended quite well that this plan of the systematic murder of European Jewry would harm Germany in the future. Therefore, as I mentioned above, they were willing to bring the terrible news to the West, especially to the Americans. Switzerland was the ideal place for them to carry out their mission, and sure enough, a few German messengers did arrive there. The Germans who endangered themselves knew exactly what they were doing. Once the messages reached the West, it would have been proper for the Allied governments to react. But this did not happen; the reason? -- Intelligence, Communist and other elements preferred the War to continue as long as it would help the Soviets. The consequent damage done to the Americans as a result of their inability to grasp the import of the intelligence reports coming out of Germany was enormous, and of course no action was taken to save Jews. The German elements willing to endanger their lives to topple the Hitler regime later failed again in July 1944.
The news about the Holocaust became public in the United States at the end of 1942. This led to a great deal of anxiety and anger in the American Jewish community. Within two weeks, on December 8, 1942, at noontime, FDR met with the Jewish leadership in America in a meeting at the White House; this was, in fact, the only time during WWII that the President invited this group to meet with him. A document I uncovered, written by Adolf Held, the President of the Jewish Labor Committee, that I published in Midstream [August/September 1980] is probably the most devastating piece of information we have about FDR and the massacre of European Jewry. In it Held documents that by this early date, December 8, 1942, FDR and his administration are fully aware of the massacre, but that FDR has decided not to take any action in this regard, at least for awhile. Wyman cites this document in his book The Abandonment of the Jews, but he fails to mention in his footnotes that it took me a few years to find it, and that I actually published this Held piece in an article four years before his book appeared. This omission is not a matter of a footnote error.
Due to the commotion brought by the messages that appeared in the American newspapers in November 1942 and the news of the systematic mass killing of European Jewry, the Bergson Group immediately started shifting gears and moved from their project to establish a Jewish army, to a full-blown effort to convince the FDR administration to take action to save what was left of European Jewry. Their activities have been documented by a few historians, of whom the leading one is Dr. David Wyman, but he is not alone. Wyman is of the school that concluded that the Bergson Group’s political activities in the year 1943 led to the establishment of the War Refugee Board in January 1944. This being so, the Bergson Group’s interest in saving European Jews did not, however, begin only in 1942/1943, nor did it end in 1944; rather, Bergson was involved in attempts to save Jews from 1935-1948. The trauma of November 1942, did not change his tempo or his ultimate goal to establish a Hebrew Republic (Israeli Republic) with a written constitution à la Thomas Jefferson as a model. This is what most historians fail to recognize. Bergson was probably the most tuned-in individual to come out of Palestine; over more than thirteen years he single-handedly reacted and promoted schemes to save Jews: The Committee for a Jewish Army, the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, and the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation, were all established by Bergson and were meant to give the Jews during WWII a political identity denied to them by the Nazis. For the Nazis, for whom the “Jew” was worth only one thing, i.e., a ticket to Auschwitz, thus eliminated Jewish political identity altogether. So for Bergson, this Nazi scheme fomented the critical need to reestablish and inform the free world of a political status for European Jewry. Bergson believed that establishing a political status for Jews was a critical factor toward saving them. A Hebrew Republic in Palestine, in spite of the world’s unwillingness to accept this idea, was for him the formula for achieving this sought for political status. The current research on the Bergson Group’s activities is to-date very limited, but the totality of his activities is essential to grasp, not just what the Group did in 1943.
Another participant in this upcoming seminar at Yad Vashem will be Judith Baumel, whose book Between Ideology and Propaganda: The “Irgun” Delegation and the Origins of American-Jewish Right-Wing Militancy [Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1999; Hebrew] is totally confusing as well as misleading, analytically faulty, and absolutely ahistorical. Dr. Wyman will thus have to face her and her theoretical nonsense, and I hope that there will not be an academic explosion at this conference! Baumel does not accept Wyman’s conclusion that the political activity of the Bergson Group led to the creation of the War Refugee Board. It should be noted that she is not alone in this stance among Israeli and American historians. For example, Saul Friedlander, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945 [NY: Harper Perennial, 2008], also does not believe that to be the case. But I believe that unprejudiced examination of the facts will support Wyman’s conclusion. Many years ago, while I was a student of Dr. Wyman, and afterwards, I tried to explain the issue to Joel Carmichael, the editor of Midstream magazine and the son of Louis Lipsky, a well known Zionist leader. As a result of this discussion, Carmichael published my article “Political Actions vs. Personal Relations” [April 1981], also concluding that it was not shtadlanut (Jewish begging) but rather the political action of the Bergson Group in 1943 that led the United States government to take some sort of a role in saving Jews. [In the Jewish prayerbook one repeats in the daily prayers “Thank G-d for not making me a woman.” I would like to pray “Thank G-d for not making me an academic….”]
The reasons for my writing this article are many. For me it is important to bring up and to highlight some of Bergson’s activities. For a number of years at the end of the 1970’s and into the early 1980’s I spent many hours with Peter Bergson as well as Samuel Merlin and Yitshaq Ben-Ami (the father of Jeremy Ben-Ami of J-Street). Throughout those years we shared lots of ideas and thought over many approaches as to how to reclaim their place in history, and make their ideas and messages clear and relevant to the next generation. One of the main issues that always came up in our conversations was the role of the non-Jews who helped the Bergson Group. It is sort of interesting: it was the non-Jewish politicians who took a moral stand and decided to help. For Bergson presented them with the powerful argument that if they did not take a moral stand, then they were like the Germans -- and they responded. So it is important for me to develop some thoughts on the subject of the non-Jewish participants in the Bergson Group’s activities. Here I would like to focus on one individual, an American Congressman, who was instrumental in helping to propel the Bergson Group’s response to the Holocaust in 1943. Will Rogers, Jr., was the son of the famous American humorist Will Rogers, whose ancestors were Cherokee Indians and once commented that “’my ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower – they met the boat’” [P.J. O’Brien, Will Rogers, Ambassador of Good Will Prince of Wit and Wisdom (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co., 1935; p. 24)]. Will Rogers, Jr., who came to Congress in 1942, should be considered an American hero in the tradition of Sitting Bull, or better still, Crazy Horse. He definitely inherited from his ancestors that spirit of freedom and stubbornness that helped the Bergson Group pursue its resolve to bring to the United States Congress via the House and the Senate a resolution to create an agency to save European Jews. FDR did so eventually in 1944 particularly as a result of the pressure of Congress. In honor of Will Rogers, Jr., and his ancestors, I suggest that we look at the project in the American West of the building of the huge monument to Crazy Horse. In the spirit of Will Rogers and his ancestors, American Jews and Israelis should take this example of the Americans and erect such a large monument to Peter Bergson in New York, or in Tel Aviv, or in both.
WWII was over, and Bergson found himself more and more involved in the pursuit of his lifetime dream to bring about the creation of a Hebrew Republic (as called today the Israeli nation) in Palestine. It took an enormous amount of political work as well as other grassroots and cultural work to bring about this goal, that his Group felt was worthy to achieve. I would like to backtrack here and explore something about the Bergson Group that is sometimes overlooked. In 1943 Bergson for the first time came to realize and tried to cement a few issues concerning Jews. First he tried to alert the American people to the facts of what was going on in Europe while America was at war and the Jews were being massacred. Toward this end, he staged a famous pageant “We Will Never Die,” written by the playwright Ben Hecht, in New York City as well as other cities around the US. Later on, between July 20-25, 1943, in New York City, Bergson arranged The Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe. That conference led Bergson to believe that in order to convince the American government that it should take immediate action to save Jews, he would have to move his activities to Capital Hill and personally to lobby in Congress to push FDR to do something. He was beginning to fear that the goal to create a state for Jews after the War was getting to be an impossibility, as the number of Jews was diminishing by the millions. To help secure Jewish (Hebrew, Israeli) sovereignty in Palestine, he dispatched Arie Ben Eliezar to Palestine to revive the Irgun by appointing Menachem Begin to assume its leadership there. It was only thereafter that Bergson realized the magnitude of his mistake in this appointment. Menachem Begin, later the Israeli Prime Minister, was one of the biggest disasters that happened in Bergson’s decision-making; Begin caused him agony for the rest of his life, not only for his role in the Altalena incident, but for other issues as well. We always used to kid around about Begin, seen in Israel as a demagogue, that his legacy would culminate in the famous argument in the Israeli Knesset between him and Sprinzak. [When Sprinzak commented on the Roman orator Cicero, he used the Hebrew pronunciation “Kikero.” Begin responded that the name should be pronounced “Tzitzero.” Sprinzak again repeated “Kikero,” and Begin finally deferred by saying, “All right Mr. Sprinkak!”] Begin was earlier involved in the Altalena incident, the ship that the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation purchased with the help of American funds, part of which were amassed from a play written by Ben Hecht titled “A Flag is Born” and starring the young actor Marlon Brando. According to Bergson, Begin’s behavior in this incident ruined his life. [I plan to publish a short article on this subject in the near future.] As for Begin’s achievement of peace with Egypt in the Camp David agreement, this milestone was mostly due to the involvement of Moshe Dayan.
In 1944, Bergson also proposed the importance of a government-in-exile embassy in Washington, DC., which he established in April 1944. He asserted that the main reason for this embassy would be to ensure that those Jews who had lost their political identity during the War and were thus stateless could claim to be part of a Hebrew (Israeli) nation, proof of which was their embassy in Washington. This for him was a critical symbol for the surviving remnant of European Jewry; the fact that Begin in Palestine and the American Jewish leadership did not grasp its significance did not detract from its purpose. During 1944 and toward the end of WWII, Bergson formulated a written proposal articulating his belief that a Hebrew Republic (Israeli Republic) with a written constitution (like the American one) could be established immediately after the War. The fact that an Israeli sovereign nation was established in 1948 was for Bergson a natural progression of events and one that he contributed a great deal to. However, in the end, with the creation of the Israeli nation there emerged realities that terribly bothered Bergson. First and foremost was the fact that the Israeli nation never wrote a constitution for the Israelis, thus depriving itself of becoming a modern nation. In 1948 he predicted the terrible ramifications that this omission would cause. The impact of this issue is more complex, as it became a constant source of agony for Bergson for the rest of his life.
To conclude, we wish the organizers of this conference good luck, even though we know for sure that the serious issues Bergson raised will not be discussed. But it is a beginning, and let us hope that something good will come out of it.
Friday, June 24, 2011
The Americans may be misreading that the discord with Karzai boils down to his perceived "rentier" mentality, and that through IMF pressure and offers of money, he could be persuaded. Washington may be making a grave miscalculation about the Afghan sense of honor.
It overlooks that slowly, steadily, the US is losing its monopoly of conflict resolution in Afghanistan and Karzai can no longer be kept away from networking with regional powers. Karzai's defiant stance on Saturday comes soon after his return to Kabul from attending the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana.
The SCO summit adopted a statement on Wednesday calling for an "independent, neutral" Afghanistan (read: free of foreign occupation). Nurusultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, who hosted Karzai, put it on record, "It is possible that the SCO will assume responsibility for many issues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014."
Saturday also happened to be an extraordinary day with Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi arriving in Kabul - an unprecedented visit in the history of Afghan-Iranian relations - "to explore ways for the further expansion of ties between the two neighboring states". Vahidi's visit unmistakably represents a big snub to the Obama administration.
Vahidi waded straight into the post-2014 status of the US occupation of Afghanistan. He told Karzai, "Ensuring regional stability will be possible only by the collective efforts of regional countries and the withdrawal of foreign forces."
Meanwhile, Karzai has already initiated moves to hold a loya jirga (grand council) soon after Eid. As things stand, the likelihood of such a traditional tribal council approving permanent US/NATO military bases is remote. The Afghan people militate against foreign occupation of their country.
The American game plan was to muster enough support in the Afghan parliament for the strategic agreement. But a loya jirga is a different ball game altogether. In his remarks on Saturday, which were nationally telecast, Karzai said, "They [US-led NATO forces] are here for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they are using our soil for that." He is appealing to Afghan nationalism.
In sum, the Obama administration sees the conclusion of the strategic agreement with Karzai, direct US-Taliban talks and the drawdown of troops in July as inter-related vectors of a wholesome process where Washington will be in total command - ably assisted by London. Obama will find it a bitter pill to swallow to accept that Afghan laws will prevail over the conduct of his troops.
Karzai defiantly claims it is his prerogative to decide on the "surge" operations by NATO and US foreign forces. Karzai insists that reconciliation of the Taliban should be "Afghan-led" so that his leadership is not in jeopardy and he links the US long-term troop presence to preconditions so that the Americans will have to depend on him and learn to work under his leadership rather than vice versa.
He threatens to go to the Afghan people unless the US meets the preconditions. Karzai counts on a balancing role by the regional powers in the Afghan endgame. Interestingly, on Saturday, he slammed NATO's military intervention in Libya.
Nevertheless, as in all these cases, the process is the punishment. The intent is to make it more and more difficult for apostates of the multiculti state to broaden the terms of political discourse. Very few Europeans would have had the stomach to go through what Wilders did — and the British Government’s refusal to permit a Dutch Member of Parliament to land at Heathrow testifies to how easily the craven squishes of the broader political culture fall into line.
And at the end the awkward fact remains: Geert Wilders lives under 24-hour armed guard because of explicit death threats made against him by the killer of Theo van Gogh and by other Muslims. Yet he’s the one who gets puts on trial.
That’s the Netherlands, 2011. Shameful.
Yesterday was a beautiful day for freedom of speech in the Netherlands. An Amsterdam court acquitted me of all charges of hate speech after a legal ordeal that lasted almost two years. The Dutch people learned that political debate has not been stifled in their country. They learned they are still allowed to speak critically about Islam, and that resistance against Islamization is not a crime.
I was brought to trial despite being an elected politician and the leader of the third-largest party in the Dutch parliament. I was not prosecuted for anything I did, but for what I said. My view on Islam is that it is not so much a religion as a totalitarian political ideology with religious elements. While there are many moderate Muslims, Islam's political ideology is radical and has global ambitions. I expressed these views in newspaper interviews, op-ed articles, and in my 2008 documentary, "Fitna."
I was dragged to court by leftist and Islamic organizations that were bent not only on silencing me but on stifling public debate. My accusers claimed that I deliberately "insulted" and "incited discrimination and hatred" against Muslims. The Dutch penal code states in its articles 137c and 137d that anyone who either "publicly, verbally or in writing or image, deliberately expresses himself in any way that incites hatred against a group of people" or "in any way that insults a group of people because of their race, their religion or belief, their hetero- or homosexual inclination or their physical, psychological or mental handicap, will be punished."
I was dragged to court for statements that I made as a politician and which were meant to stimulate public debate in a country where public debate has stagnated for decades. Dutch political parties see themselves as guardians of a sterile status quo. I want our problems to be discussed. I believe that politicians have a public trust to further debates about important issues. I firmly believe that every public debate holds the prospect of enlightenment.
My views represent those of a growing number of Dutch voters, who have flocked to the Party for Freedom, or PVV. The PVV is the fastest-growing party in the country, expanding from one seat in the 150-seat House of Representatives in 2004, to nine seats in 2006 and 24 seats in 2010. My party's views, however, are so uncommon in the Netherlands that they are considered blasphemous by powerful elites who fear and resent discussion.
That's why I was taken to court, even though the public prosecutor saw no reason to prosecute me. "Freedom of expression fulfills an essential role in public debate in a democratic society," the prosecutors repeatedly said during my trial. "That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable."
The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world where a court can force the public prosecutor to prosecute someone. In January 2009, three judges of the Amsterdam Appeals Court ordered my prosecution in a politically motivated verdict that focused on the content of the case. They implied that I was guilty. The case was subsequently referred to the Amsterdam Court of First Instance.
The judges who acquitted me yesterday already had a peremptory ruling from the appeals court on their desk. They decided, however, to follow the arguments of the public prosecutor, who during the trial had once again reiterated his position and had asked for a full acquittal.
Though I am obviously relieved by yesterday's decision, my thoughts go to people such as Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard, Austrian human rights activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff and others who have recently been convicted for criticizing Islam. They have not been as fortunate. In far too many Western countries, it is still impossible to have a debate about the nature of Islam.
The biggest threat to our democracies is not political debate, nor is it public dissent. As the American judge Learned Hand once said in a speech: "That community is already in the process of dissolution . . . where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we dare not enter our convictions in the open lists to win or lose." It has been a tenet in European and American thinking that men are only free when they respect each other's freedom. If the courts can no longer guarantee this, then surely a community is in the process of dissolution.
Legislation such as articles 137c and 137d of the Dutch Penal Code disgraces our democratic free societies. On the basis of such legislation, I was prevented from representing my million-and-a-half voters in parliament because I had to be in the courtroom for several days, sometimes up to three days per week, during the past year and a half. Such legislation should be abolished. It should be abolished in all Western countries where it exists—and replaced by First Amendment clauses.
Citizens should never allow themselves to be silenced. I have spoken, I speak and I shall continue to speak.