Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Xymphora & Angry Arab: Munich and Spielberg

Blogger Xymphora wrote:
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Munich and Spielberg
The Angry Arab reviews Steven Spielberg's latest bit of Zionist propaganda called 'Munich'. Guess what? He really doesn't like it. An enthusiastic two thumbs down! Of course, any movie on this subject is supposed to remind people of murdering Palestinians, and serve as the usual Israeli distraction from the real issue, which is what provokes the Palestinians to react. The fact that Spielberg apparently depicted the targeted assassination squad as sympathetic characters just adds to the propaganda load. The worst thing about it is that the Zionist PR machine has managed to build this movie up by describing how 'courageous' Spielberg was to make it. Spielberg would have been courageous if he had made a movie about the murder of Rachel Corrie. 'Munich' is more of the same bad faith by North American Jews that makes them morally responsible for the ethnic cleansing being conducted by Israel under the fog of anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab hatred.

By the way, has there ever been a more overrated film director in the history of movies than Spielberg? If you look at the list (scroll down a bit) of movies he's directed, it's the sorriest pile of sappy, maudlin crap you'll ever see. 'Duel' and 'Jaws' are the only projects that aren't embarrassing, and they are hardly in the group of greatest movies of all time. His movies in this decade are a particular travesty. People write about him as if he was in the same league as Renoir or Kurosawa or Hitchcock. Are they on crack?


Blogger Angry Arab, aka by As'ad AbuKhalil, writes:
Monday, December 26, 2005
Spielberg on Munich: the humanization of Israeli killers, and the dehumanization of Palestinian civilians. Or the Celebration of the Israeli Killing Machine.

And who is retaliating against whom in the Arab-Israeli conflict? THIS is the question.

It reminds me of a line that George Carlin—yes, that Carlin—used to use in his comedy routine and went roughly like this: “why do “we” call Israeli terrorists commandos, and we call Palestinian commandos terrorists?” That line never got a laugh the two times I saw him use it with a live audience. The thrust of the Spielberg movie is simple, fanfare notwithstanding: Israeli killers are conscientious and humane people, while Palestinians are always--no matter what--killers. But a Spielberg movie about current affairs is like a Thomas Friedman’s column about…Emanuel Kant.

What do you expect. But you know? Did you notice how one lone critical opinion of the movie by one Israeli diplomat, which only mildly criticized the movie, got so much press in the US? It was needed; and it even helped to promote the movie to give a “balanced” cast to the narrative, that it of course does not deserve. This one critical opinion reminded me of O’Reilly; how he every night finds one email from somebody in Montana who tells him that he is too liberal. He needs to that to maintain an image that does not exist, just as Spielberg needs to maintain an image that he does not deserve.

This movie could easily have been a paid Israeli advertisement for its killing machine. In fact, it could be a recruitment movie for Israeli killing squads. I mean that. In fact, it is a celebratory movie of Israeli murder of Palestinians. Israel killing is always moral, and always careful, and always on target.

Today, yet another New York Times reviewer who also thinks that Spielberg was not sympathetic enough to the Israeli killers, even had the audacity to describe Israeli killings at the time as "targeted assassinations" when even Israel had not invented that propaganda term back then. He must have forgotten to remember.

That's all. Where do I begin. I mean yes, I was quite angry watching it; and I got more angry as I watched the Berkeley liberal audience react sympathetically to the movie, rooting for the Israel head killer, as he went about his "civilized" killing. I watched the audience root for an Israeli killing team, and this WAS a true story, and Palestinian victims were real people, with real blood.

The most emotional moment for Spielberg, and presumably for American audiences was when the head killer talked with his baby daughter in New York, that he missed very much. Oh, ya. That was the point at which you were expected to shed a tear or two; the music got particularly sentimental at that point. It had to be.

But where to begin; the movie was based on a book that took the Israeli account as it was delivered. But the book was honest and more accurate at least on one count: in the book by George Jonas titled Vengeance (only Israelis are entitled to vengeance as you know, the more violent the better as far as some US movie audiences are concerned), the killers did not express regret or second-thoughts. None. In the book but not in the movie, the killers, according to Jonas, had "absolutely no qualms about anything they did." How could Spielberg miss that. Well, he just managed. Hell, that was the whole movie, and the whole political project behind it.

Of course, it was not easy for me to watch this movie, I mean not only at the political and intellectual levels, but also at the personal level. I can connect to the story, in its details and personalities. The first victim of the movie was Wa’il Zu`aytir, and I knew his niece; I went to school with Abu Hasan Salamah’s son--he was younger; and I knew the street and building where the three PLO leaders were massacred in Beirut. And let me tell you that NONE of the five people mentioned here had anything to do with Munich--but more on that later. NONE.

But why should this movie, a Spielberg’s movie for potato’s sake, bother with facts, especially if they come in the way of a smooth pro-Israeli narrative? But this movie is intended for mass audiences who know nothing about the facts of the conflict. That is exactly why it will work, and why it will deliver the (propaganda) goods.

Let me start by saying this: this, Munich that is, was not as planned an operation as has often been maintained. This was not planned months in advance, as Abu Iyad maintained in his account with Eric Rouleau (translated into English as My Home, My Land by dear Linda Butler). Abu Iyad for years exaggerated the claims about the “carefully planned” operation, and PLO media at the time lied about how the PLO gunmen threw grenades into the helicopters, so as to make the last shootout more of a fight that it actually was.

Angry Palestinians who were being hit by Israeli fighter jets in their refugee camps demanded heroes and heroism, and the PLO had to give them some, even if they were not legitimate heroes. The German troops were going to take them out, no matter what, and no matter how much they, the Germans in this case, endangered the lives of the hostages, and they presumably had Israeli consent.

The Arab League diplomat talked about this recently when he broke his silence in an interview on Ziyarah Khassah on Al-Jazeera. He should know: he was the negotiator with the Palestinian team in Munich. Yes, I know. It can be argued that the Palestinian attackers risked the lives of the hostages by taking them hostages, even if they did not intend to kill them. That is true. This is like hijacking: the hijackers, any hijackers, are responsible, and should be held responsible for whatever endangerment to the lives and health of victims. That is true. But it is also true that the State of Israel has taken a nation as a hostage, and has been endangering the lives of Palestinians since the inception of the state of Israel. This is why it is all a question of who is retaliating against whom?

One of the many false premises of the movie is that Israel only went on a killing rampage—and only against Palestinian “killers”--after Munich. That Munich was a watershed. Watershed it was not, except in Israeli propaganda brochures. Israel has been going on killing rampages against Palestinians, civilians mostly, since before the creation of the state of Israel.

And how could you even talk about Golda Meir and forget to mention her most memorable quote: that “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people.” Spielberg must have missed that, just as he needed to show her as grandma goodness who was pushed into vengeance by Palestinian cruelty. More humanization. That is why we had to see the head Israeli killer with his child: you need to see him as a human being. Do you know that not a single Palestinian in the movie appeared unarmed? They all were terrorists, and their murder had to be justified, and Spielberg did a great service for the state of Israel in that regard. They should name some stolen Palestinian property in Israel in his honor, I argue. A street, a destroyed Arab village, or a stolen olive tree. Anything. He deserves it.

And let us see what Israel was doing before Munich. Before Munich, NOT AFTER—did you get that, Israel placed a bomb under the car seat of Palestinian writer/artist, Ghassan Kanafani and killed him and killed his niece (14). The niece was not plotting the Munich operation when she was murdered by the Israelis; nor was her uncle. That was BEFORE Munich. Kanafani was best friends with my uncle; they both used to write in Al-Hurriyyah magazine during their days at the Movement of Arab Nationalists.

Israel also—BEFORE Munich—sent a letter bomb to Bassam Abu Sharif (a writer and journalist with the PFLP), and left him with life-long scars and bodily damage, and they also sent a letter bomb to Anis Sayigh, a scholar and researcher, who was not a member of any group. But he was a really diligent researcher, and Israel did not appreciate it--I am assuming.

This is not easy for me; I have shaken the hands--or what was left of their hands--of both of those men, and Abu Sharif never had a military role—I say this although I never liked Abu Sharif or respected him (read my review of his memoir in Journal of Palestine Studies a few years ago). But those were innocent victims of Israeli killing. They never held guns those two, or those three, or four. This story is personal for me, of course. I see them as human beings, and not as armed and vengeful characters that they appear in Spielberg’s movie.

And typical of US movies where Arabs appear, Arabs when they speak Arabic never need subtitles. We need them when people speak in French and German, but Arabic is not important. It is not important to know what cheap natives say; we only need to know what expensive people say: Europeans and Israelis. And do you notice that Hollywood still portrays Israelis as Europeans: they still don’t want to accept that some half of all Israelis come from Asian and African countries. This makes it easier for the White Man to identify with them.

And there is this element that is never mentioned about Palestinian attacks: and this is true of the present and of the past. It is not that some Palestinian leaders recruit or compel Palestinians to attack Israelis. It is the other way round. Palestinians, regular rank-and-file and sometimes civilians, pressure Palestinian leaders and commanders to send them on military or suicidal missions against Israeli targets.

Munich occurred exactly like that. Palestinians in the camps in Lebanon, those who were trained by Fath and by other groups, were lobbying for “action.” Why?, you may ask? Well, not only for the loss of Palestine but also because Israel was KILLING Palestinians. In February of the same year PRIOR to Munich, Israeli jets bombed Palestinian refugee camps, and killed tens of innocent people. This is what is missing in the movie, among many other things. Most Palestinians who are killed by Israelis are unarmed and are killed not by assassins who are conscientious and sensitive—as they are outrageously portrayed in this movie—but by pilots who bomb refugee camps filled with unarmed civilians. Palestinians who are bombed from the air, long before Munich, are elderly and people and children in their beds. These are the victims that you will never see in a Spielberg movie. So Israel was killing Palestinians, and this was the context of pre-Munich.

So a small group decided to do something, but they were not sure what, and this was only 3 months before Munich. And one of the handful of people who knew about this, and this will never make it into the press was Abu Mazin--yes, that Abu Mazen the head of the puppet Palestinian Authority.

But do you notice that US/Israel always forgive the past of those who submit to Israeli dictates? Look at how US and Israel forgave Anwar Sadat for his anti-Semitic Nazi past. Abu Mazin was the money guy, and he dispersed the funds for Abu Dawud, who engineered the operation. And the American public in US media and popular culture is so enamored with the Mossad, that the image of the Mossad does not match its actual reality.

The best evidence is this movie: look at this obsession with Abu Hasan Salamah as the “mastermind” of Munich when he had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Munich. To be sure, Abu Hasan was a braggart, and had a big mouth, and would take credit for things he did not do, and would distance himself from failed “operations” that he planned, like the Sabena failed hijacking in 1972. That was Abu Hasan: he lived the life of a playboy, and enjoyed a unique indulgent pampering from Abu `Ammar [Arafat] who treated him like a son. Abu `Ammar would never say no to Abu Hasan, on anything. But Abu Hasan had nothing to do with Munich, and this ostensibly all-knowing Mossad, did not know it, and probably still does not know it.

Former CIA director, Stansfield Turner, once said that the Mossad is a mediocre organization, but that it is outstanding in PR--only in PR. Former CIA man in Beirut Robert Baer said this about the Mossad--I am translating this from an interview he gave to Al-Jazeera: “Let me tell you something, what people most err in in the Middle East, and I am responsible for my words to the end, is related to Israeli intelligence. To be sure, they can kill somebody in Paris or Rome or killing the wrong person in Finland or wherever else they did that in [he meant Norway]. To be sure they know Europe and Palestinians, and they know many things about Palestinians, but when it comes to the rest of the Middle East, I have not seen anything from their part that indicated their knowledge of those countries.”

But this can never be maintained in a country that wants to exaggerate the prowess and knowledge of an intelligence agency not only to help feed the Israeli propaganda myth, but to also prepare the American public for more ruthless times and ways. So a very small number of people knew about it, and of course Abu Iyad was one of them. And Abu Iyad is the most important person on the list, and yet his name was NOT on the list, just to show you about how much--or how little-- Israel knew.

Abu Iyad spoke more than he needed not only because he wanted to send a message to the enemy, but also because the wars of factions and "Abu"s within Fath necessitated a game of one-up-manships, and of wild exaggerations at times. And while Black September was a paper name, and did not have a separate organizational existence or structure, several factions used the name for their own ends. Nobody consulted with Abu Iyad about Abu Hasan’s use of the name for the Sabena’s failed hijacking mentioned above.

Abu Dawud is a key person here. And while his name was mentioned in passing, it was added after the fact in Israeli propaganda accounts. Abu Dawud was arrested in France for another reason in 1977, and he was released because there were no German or Israeli warrants about his involvement in Munich. That shows you. Now, I will not give a blow-by-blow account of Munich. But I personally believe the account of Abu Dawud more than I believe Spielberg, i.e. Israeli propaganda claims, or even German police. (Abu Dawud's account is found in Abu Dawud, Filastin: Mina-l-Quds Ila-Muikh (Beirut: Dar An-Nahar, 1999)).

German police lied quite a bit about the case; they leaked to the press fanciful accounts of Palestinian infiltration of the workforce at the Olympic city, when none of that actually took place. They were too embarrassed to tell the truth. Similarly, the Israelis wanted to back the German account, especially as the violence at Munich was a propaganda bonanza for the Israelis in the West, just as Munich—this is not known in the West—was a propaganda bonanza for Fath in the Middle East, as horrific as the outcome was for all. And in that sense, the Germans, the Israelis, and Abu Iyad (and certainly Abu Hasan) lied about Munich, but not Abu Dawud, in my opinion.

Abu Dawud is one of those 2nd tier PLO leaders who did not get corrupted in the messy Lebanese scene, and who did now allow the Gulf money that corrupted many PLO leaders to affect him. This was a man who was in charge of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, and yet his name does not appear in any chronicle of the war because he was too low key, and because he never bragged. (Hell, he never talked even when the brutal mukhabarat in Jordan held him from his feet for days, while torturing him. People who saw him in jail at the time did not recognize him. But you know this: your reliable "moderate" friends in Jordan are quite "good" in torture. They are probably the best; they are helping you in that regard as we speak.)

Most Lebanese did not even know his name. But this also explains why he survived, unlike say Abu Hasan Salamah, who married a Lebanese former Miss Universe, who introduced him to Lebanese bourgeois society, and he could not get enough of that life. He developed a routine, and lived in a fancy apartment on Madame Curie Street in Beirut, and the routine he developed (going to the GYM at the same time every day), made him an easy target. Abu Hasan could get all the money he wanted for his own group from `Arafat, and was doing a good job of maintaining not only good relations with the CIA but also with Lebanese right-wing groups. He became good friends with some right-wing militia leaders. Read the novel by David Ignatius, Agents of Innocence: it is about Abu Hasan, although the author does not admit it.

It is interesting that in the movie, the Israeli head killer (who was in the movie Troy), was cast to be most appealing to the audience: a good looking and charismatic figure. But say what you want about Abu Hasan (and many people in Palestinian struggle, like Abu Dawud, did not like him) but he was a good looking and charismatic figure in real life, but not the actor who played him in Spielberg’s movie. But Spielberg did not want the viewer to identify with any Palestinian in the movie: that was contrary to him and to his political goal. He just wanted to identify with the expensive human beings: the Israelis.

The Arabs are worse than they were in Renoir’s painting, the Mosque, as an unidentifiable blob. They were just armed, with no humanity. They were not supposed to evoke emotions, and you were not supposed to see them bleed, and if you did, you had to cheer for their killers. The only ones that you had to feel sorry for: were the Israelis who get killed, including the killers when they kill. The music that played when Israelis die, was different from the music that played when Palestinians died.

And no speaking roles for Palestinians were necessary. Why bother. Give one a line, and you have done your "objective" duty. And the list of prisoners that attackers submitted to German authorities did not have “200 Arab prisoners” on it, as the movie said. It had some 234 Arab and NON-Arab names on them, including Japanese and German prisoners, but that was not in the movie. And the statement that was issued by the attackers gave a name to the “operation”: Bir`im and Ikrit, names of two (predominantly Christian) villages in northern Palestine, the people of which were expelled by Israeli occupation forces in 1948 for “security reasons.”

In 1972, the people of those villages petitioned the courts to return to their villages, and the courts of course turned them down. But if you were to use the name of the “operation” you would have to tell the audience those burdensome details that would have distracted from the celebration of the Israeli killing machine. But this begs the question: why is Munich more famous than the savage bombardment of Palestinian refugee camps back in February prior to Munich? And why did the letter bombs to three Palestinian writers not get any world attention? Why did American liberals and PEN not notice it back then?

Could you imagine what would happen if a Palestinian threw even a rose at an Israeli writer? Could you imagine what would happen among American leftists if a Palestinian were to say even a bad word to Amos Oz for example? That was the stature of Ghassan Kanafani among Palestinians and Arabs.

Now, I will not get into the military/intelligence background of the Israeli hostages as Abu Dawud does in his memoirs because the attackers did not know that information prior to the “operation.” Abu Dawud gives many details about the military backgrounds of some of the hostages, but I do not think that this is appropriate because even Abu Dawud did not know that before hand. I will not get into what actually happened at the site at the airport when the hostages were being transferred by their captors not only because the captors were responsible by virtue of the hostage "operation", but you can raise questions regarding the actual responsibility of the killing of the hostages.

Abu Dawud cites Israeli newspapers from the 1990s in which writers raised questions about German responsibility, and on how the German government never published autopsy reports of the hostages, etc. The Israeli government also did not want to examine the bullets that killed the Israeli hostages. That would have settled the question, of course. Abu Dawud stressed that the attackers were under strict instructions to not shoot at the hostages, and you noticed in the scene, even in the movie, that when they were storming the compound, they clearly struggled with the door and avoided shooting, while that could have shortened the time of entry, and Abu Dawud says that they were under strict instructions to avoid using the grenades. And Abu Dawud raises the possibility that the helicopter may have exploded from a bullet that hit it gas tank, but I don’t know, and I have never relied on Spielberg, or on the silly book on which he based his account, for historical accuracy.

And another thing comes to mind: Palestinians also have managed to assassinate Israeli military and intelligence leaders but that never gets attention because the trend in US media and popular culture is that you should only show Palestinians when they are killing civilians. And it is not true that the Israeli response was confined to the assassination of the 11 Palestinians as was shown in the movie: Israel was also killing other Palestinians. Israeli “response” or initiative we should call it, was more massive and brutal that the operation of the secret team.

Three days after Munich, Israel ordered an air strike which required the use of some 75 Israeli aircrafts (the largest attack since 1967) and the attacks on Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon resulted in the killing of more than 200 mostly civilians. And this is not because the Israelis knew that there was a camp north of Sidon that was used for training the Munich attackers. That camp was not even hit (another sign that Israelis had no information about the real culprits of Munich) and other camps with civilians were hit. And then while the assassinations were taking place, Israeli bombing of camps continued uninterruptedly.

And the most glaring omission in the film, which shows you that the Israeli team was not only savage but also ignorant of their targets, was what happened on July 21st 1973, when `Ali Bushiki, a Moroccan waiter resting with his pregnant wife around a swimming pool in Norway, was murdered by that assassination team merely because `Ali resembled what the hit team thought Abu Hasan Salamah looked like. (The Norwegian police tracked and arrested the killers, but they were all released in a secret deal with the Israeli government--is that not nice?) Should that not have made it to the movie? But that would have made them look more brutally clumsy than Spielberg wanted them to look like.

And even Wa’il Zu`yatir, the PLO representative in Rome. He knew nothing about Munich, and was an academic with close ties to socialist circles in Italy. Zu`ytir was shot 14 times. He never held a gun in his life. These Israeli team members were killers who really relished killing, and did not seem susceptible to moral second-thinking as was stressed over and over again in the movie. Zu`ytir was more interested in literature than he was in military affairs, on which he knew nothing. And PLO representative in France Mahmud Hamshari also had nothing to do with Munich; Israeli propaganda later had to contend with that, and claimed after killing him that the attackers passed through France on their way to Munich. In reality, the attackers never stepped on French soil when they went to Germany.

And the movie, it seems really enjoyed covering the 1973 massacre in Beirut. Spielberg I could tell really enjoyed learning and covering that massacre by Israeli terrorist squads. But who were the three PLO personalities killed in that "operation"? And who cares about the details? Kamal `Udwan was the Fath/PLO leader responsible for the West Bank and Gaza. He not only had no responsibilities in Europe, but he opposed “operations” in Europe, and even those by Black September. More than that, `Udwan was one of the most moderate Fath leaders having accepted the two-state solution back in 1970, before any of his colleagues in Fath.

Abu Yusuf An-Najjar was in charge of intelligence in Lebanon—Lebanon, not Europe. While `Udwan had no knowledge of Munich, Abu Yusuf may have heard about it but had no role whatever in it. The third person was a poet: and you know how much Israelis like to murder Palestinian poets, artists, and writers. Kamal Nasir was a poet, and was killed in his bed. The movie did not tell you that by the time the Israeli terrorists finished with their “mission,” some 100 Palestinians and Lebanese were murdered on that day in April 1973.

I also was amused--not really--how Spielberg portrayed the neighborhood where the PLO leaders AND others were killed: it had all the features of Orientalist imagination. It was traditional and the houses were old styles with arches, and the place was protected like a military base. In reality, the PLO leaders lived in a residential building in the most modern and upper class neighborhood of Verdun in Beirut. But why bother with that detail too.

And the Fath representative in Cyprus also had nothing to do with Munich; he was the intelligence envoy of Abu Yusuf An-Najjar. And some people on the list of the Israeli murder team were not only not involved with Black September, but some were not even members of the Fath organization. Basil Al-Kubaysi was a Palestinian scholar who had just completed his PhD in political science; I recently had dinner with Basil’s best friend in college in Canada. Kubaysi was in the PFLP and not in the Fath organization.

The same for Muhammad Budia: he was with Wadi` Haddad, and not with Black September. But then again: I read that Spielberg offered the script to Dennis Ross and to Bill Clinton to verify the “accuracy” of Middle East political and historical references. The two are experts on the Middle East, in case you have not heard. More than that, the movie did not tell you that on September 16th, and 17th, Israel launched a savage invasion of South Lebanon, erasing the refugee camp of Nabatiyyah, and the Lebanese newspapers at the time (I even remember that as a 12 years old) had on the first page that famous picture of a smashed civilian car with seven Lebanese civilians smashed inside when an Israeli tank ran over the car near Jwayya in South Lebanon.

That must have been too messy for Spielberg to cover. Why bother? And the car had stopped at the Israeli checkpoint that was set up at the entrance to the village. Were those civilians in the car also involved in Munich? Later, as the movie ended, it was written on the screen that Abu Hasan Salamah was later “assassinated.” Spielberg forgot to add that he was “assassinated” by a massive car bomb in a crowded street in Beirut, which killed and injured tens of people—oh, and those people also were not involved with Munich.

The reviews of the movie in US media almost expressed frustration that Spielberg did not express enough sympathy for the Israeli killers. Only Michelle Goldberg of Salon to her credit (great review Michelle) pointed out that contrary to that lousy review by Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic “many of those [Israelis] in Munich are, if anything, slightly unbelievable in their constant self-interrogation and closely guarded humanism.”

I was thinking after the movie that public ignorance of the Middle East greatly helps Israeli propaganda; this explains why Zionist organizations express contempt and wrath at Middle East expertise and specialty (as in MESA) because those who get to know and learn about the Middle East overwhelming find it difficult if not impossible to consume the unbelievable dosages of Israeli propaganda delivered via US media and popular and political cultures.

*Three of the Munich Palestinian attackers survived. One died from a heart attack; the remaining two are...somewhere in the Middle East.

posted by As'ad @ 2:32 PM link

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Paul Eisen

Jewish Power
by Paul Eisen (February 2005)

Note: This copy of Paul Eisen's article was copied from Qumsiyeh: A Human Rights Web, and the disclaimer that follows is by Mazin Qumsiyeh.

DISCLAIMER: Posting articles on my website does not imply endorsement or agreement with ideas expressed. I think it is useful to post controversial material that start discussions and exchanges. Some have questioned this article. Here is one response to this article by Joel Finkel

Paul Eisen -- Director of Deir Yassin Remembered

Jewish Power

The future is always open and nothing can ever be ruled out; but, for now, it’s hard to see how Israel can be stopped. After over fifty years, it is clear that Israel will only relinquish its eliminationist attitude to Palestinians and Palestinian life when it has to. This need not be through military action but it is hard to see how anything else will do. The conventional wisdom - that if America turned off the tap, Israel would be brought to its knees - is far from proven. First, it’s not going to happen. Second, those who believe it may well be underestimating both the cohesiveness of Israeli society and the force of Jewish history which permeates it. Even more unlikely is the military option. The only force on earth which could possibly confront Israel is the American military, and, again, that is not going to happen.

Palestinian resistance has been astonishing. After over fifty years of brutal assault by what may well one day be seen as one of the most ruthless and irrational powers of modern times, and with just about every power on earth ranged against them, Palestinians are still with us, still steadfast, still knowing who they are and where they come from. Nonetheless, for the time being effective resistance may be over (though the possibility of organised non-violent resistance can never be ruled out), and, for now, the only strategy open may be no more than one for survival.

For us it is so much easier to deny this reality than to accept it, and doubtless the struggle will continue. How fruitful this will be no-one can say. Although the present seems hopeless, survival is still vital and no-one knows when new opportunities may arise. Anyway, to struggle against injustice is always worth doing. But what if the struggle becomes so delusional that it inhibits rather than advances resistance? What if the struggle becomes a way of avoiding rather than confronting reality? Those slogans “End the Occupation!” and “Two States for Two Peoples!” are now joined by a new slogan, “The One-State Solution!” This is every bit as fantastic as its predecessors because, just as there never was going to be an end to the occupation, nor a real Palestinian state, so, for now, there is no possibility of any “one state” other than the state of Israel which now stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and the only “solution” is a final solution and even that cannot be ruled out.

“Zionism is not Judaism; Judaism is not Zionism….”

The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons with Jewish religious symbols all over them, and with the full support and complicity of the overwhelming mass of organised Jews worldwide. But to name Jews as responsible for this crime seems impossible to do. The past is just too terrible. All of us know of the hatred and violence to which accusations against Jews have led in the past. Also, if we were to examine critically the role of Jews in this conflict, what would become of us and of our struggle? Would we be labelled anti-Semites and lose much of the support that we have worked so hard to gain?

The present, too, is full of ambiguities. Zionism is not Judaism; Judaism is not Zionism has become an article of faith, endlessly repeated, as is the assertion that Zionism is a secular ideology opposed, for much of its history, by the bulk of religious Jews and even now still opposed by true Torah Jews such as Neturei Karta. But Zionism is now at the heart of Jewish life with religious Jews amongst the most virulent of Zionists and Neturei Karta, despite their impeccable anti-Zionism, their beautiful words and the enthusiasm with which they are welcomed at solidarity rallies, etc., may well be just Jews in fancy dress, a million miles from the reality of Jewish life.

And even if Zionism can still be disentangled from Judaism, can it be distinguished from a broader Jewish identity or Jewishness? So often Zionism is proclaimed to be a modern add-on to Jewish identity, another, albeit anachronistic, settler-colonial ideology simply adopted by Jews in response to their predicament. But, could it be that in our need to avoid the accusation of anti-Semitism and our own conflicted perceptions and feelings, our insistence that Zionism and Jewishness are separate, has led us seriously to misunderstand the situation? Has our refusal to look squarely at the very Jewishness of Zionism and its crimes caused us to fail to understand exactly what we are up against?

Jews, Judaism and Zionism

Jews are complex; Jewish identity is complex and the relationship between Judaism the religion, and a broader, often secular, Jewish identity or Jewishness is very complex indeed. Jewishness may be experienced a long way from synagogue, yeshiva or any other formal aspect of Jewish religious life, yet is often still inextricably bound to Judaism. That is why secular Jews are able to proclaim their secularity every bit as loudly as they proclaim their Jewishness. Marc Ellis, a religious Jew, says that when you look at those Jews who are in solidarity with Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them are secular but, from a religious point of view, the Covenant is with them. For Ellis, these secular Jews unknowingly and even unwillingly may be carrying with them the future of Jewish life.

Jewish identity, connecting Jews to other Jews, comes from deep within Jewish history. This is a shared history, both real and imagined, in that it is both literal and theological. Many Jews in the west share a real history of living together as a distinct people in Eastern, Central and then Western Europe and America. Others share a real history of settlement in Spain followed by expulsion and then settlement all over the world, particularly in Arab and Islamic lands. But this may not be what binds all Jews, because for all Jews it is not a real, but maybe a theological, history that is shared. Most Palestinians today probably have more Hebrew blood in their little fingers then most western Jews have in their whole bodies. And yet, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is as real to many of them, and most importantly was as real to them when they were children, as if they, along with all Jews, had stood with Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai.

And histories like that don’t stop at the present. Even for secular Jews, though unacknowledged and even unrealized, there is a sense, not only of a shared history, but also of a shared destiny. Central to Jewish identity both religious and non-religious is the sense of mission centered on exile and return. How else to explain the extraordinary devotion of so many Jews, religious and secular, to the “return” to a land with which, in real terms, they have very little connection at all?

For many Jews, this history confers a ‘specialness’. This is not unique to Jews - after all, who in their hearts of hearts does not feel a little bit special? But for Jews this specialness is at the centre of their self-identification and much of the world seems to concur. For religious Jews, the specialness comes from the supposed covenant with God. But for secular Jews, the specialness comes from a special history. In either case this can be a good, even a beautiful, thing. In much of Jewish religious tradition this specialness is no more than a special moral obligation, a special responsibility to offer an example to the world, and for so many secular Jews it has led them to struggle for justice in many places around the world.

At the heart of this Jewish specialness is Jewish suffering and victimhood. Like the shared history itself, this suffering may, but need not, correspond to reality. Jews have certainly suffered but their suffering remains unexamined and unexplained. The Holocaust, now the paradigm of Jewish suffering, has long ceased to be a piece of history, and is now treated by religious and secular alike, as a piece of theology - a sacred text almost - and therefore beyond scrutiny. And the suffering never ends. No matter how much Jews have suffered they are certainly not suffering now, but for many Jews their history of suffering is not just an unchallengeable past but also a possible future. So,, no matter how safe Jews may be, many feel just a hair’s-breadth away from Auschwitz.

Zionism is at the heart of this. Zionism is also complex and also comes from deep within Jewish history with the same sense of exile and return. Zionism also confirms that Jews are special in their suffering and is explicit that Jews should ‘return’ to a land given to them, and only them - by God if they are religious, or by history if they are not - because they simply are not safe anywhere else on earth.

But so what? If Jews think that they are a people with a religious link to a land and have a deep wish to ‘return’, why should we care, so long as the land is not already populated by Palestinians? And if Jews feel that they are special and that God has made some kind of special arrangement with them, so what, so long as this does not lead them to demand preferential treatment and to discriminate against others? And if Jews feel that they have suffered like no-one else on the face of the earth, fine, so long as they do not use this suffering to justify the imposition of suffering on others and to blackmail morally the whole world into quiescent silence?

This is the problem with Zionism. It expresses Jewish identity but also empowers it. It tells Jews (and many others too) that Jews can do what Jews have always dreamed of doing. It takes the perfectly acceptable religious feelings of Jews, or if you prefer, the perfectly harmless delusions of Jews, and tries to turn them into a terrible reality. Jewish notions of specialness, choseness and even supremacism, are fine for a small, wandering people, but, when empowered with a state, an army and F16s become a concern for us all.

Zionism as Jewish empowerment in statehood changes everything. Israel is not just any state, it is a Jewish state and this means more than just a state for Jews. This Jewish state is built on traditions and modes of thought that have evolved amongst Jews for centuries amongst which are the notions that Jews are special and that their suffering is special. By their own reckoning, Jews are “a nation that dwells alone” it is “us and them” and, in many cases, “us or them”. And these tendencies are translated into the modern state of Israel. This is a state that knows no boundaries. It is a state that both believes, and uses as justification for its own aggression, the notion that its very survival is always at stake, so anything is justified to ensure that survival. Israel is a state that manifestly believes that the rules of both law and humanity, applicable to all other states, do not apply to it.

Their own worst nightmare

It is a terrible irony that this empowerment of Jews has come to most resemble those empowerments under which Jews have suffered the most. Empowered Christianity, also a marriage of faith and power, enforced its ideology and pursued its dissidents and enemies with no greater fervor than has empowered Judaism. In its zeal and self belief, Zionism has come to resemble the most brutal and relentless of modern ideologies. But unlike the brutal rationality of Stalinism, willing to sacrifice millions for political and economic revolution, this Jewish ideology, in its zealotry and irrationality, resembles more the National Socialism which condemned millions for the attainment of a nonsensical racial and ethnic supremacy.

Of course there are differences but there are also similarities. National Socialism, like Zionism, another blend of mysticism and power, gained credibility as a means to right wrongs done to a victimized people. National Socialism, like Zionism, also sought to maintain the racial/ethnic purity of one group and to maintain the rights of that ethnic group over others, and National Socialism, like Zionism, also proposed an almost mystical attachment of that group to a land. Also, both National Socialism and Zionism shared a common interest to separate Jews from non-Jews, in this case to remove Jews from Europe and actively co-operated in the attainment of this aim. And if the similarity between these two ideologies is simply too great and too bitter to accept, one may ask what National Socialism with its uniforms, flags and mobilized youth must have looked like to those Germans, desperate after Versailles and the ravages of post-First World War Germany. Perhaps not so different from how the uniforms, flags and marching youth of pre- and post-state Zionism must have looked to Jews after their history of suffering, and particularly after the Holocaust.

This is, for Jews, their own worst nightmare: the thing they love the most has become the thing they hate the most And for those Jews and others, who shrink from the comparison, let them ask themselves this: What would an average German, an enthusiastic Nazi even, have said in, say, 1938 had they been confronted with the possibility of an Auschwitz? They would have thought that you were stark, staring mad.

American Jews and Jewish America

At the heart of the conflict is the relationship between Israel and America. The statistics billions in aid and loans, UN vetoes, etc., etc. need not be repeated here - American support for Israel seems limitless. But what is the nature of this support? For many, perhaps most, the answer is relatively simple. Israel is a client state of America, serving American interests or, more particularly, the interests of its power elites. This view is underpinned by the obvious importance of oil, the huge strategic importance of the region and the fact that, if Israel did not further the interests of those who control America, then we can be sure America would not support Israel. Also, there is no doubt that, in the IDF, America has found a marvellously flexible and effective force, easily aroused and let loose whenever any group of Arabs get a little above themselves.

But is this the whole story? Does Israel really serve America’s interests and is their relationship wholly based on the sharing of these interests? Consider how much in terms of goodwill from other nations America loses by its support for Israel, and consider the power and influence of the “Jewish”, “Zionist” or “pro-Israel” lobby, as when many an otherwise responsible lawmaker, faced with the prospect of an intervention in their re-election campaign from the Jewish lobby, seems happy to put his or her re-election prospects way in front of what is good for America.

The details of the workings of AIPAC and others, and the mechanics by which these groups exert pressure on America’s lawmakers and governors, have been dealt with elsewhere; we need only note that this interest group is undoubtedly extraordinarily effective and successful. Not just a small group of Jews supporting Israel, as its supporters would have us believe, these are powerful and committed ideologues: billionaires, media magnates, politicians, activists and religious leaders. In any event, the power of the Jewish lobby to make or break pretty well any public figure is legendary not for nothing is it often referred to simply as “The Lobby”.

But again, there may be far more to the Israel/U.S. relationship than just a commonality of interest and the effectiveness of certain interest groups. That support for Israel must be in the interests of those who control America is certainly true, but who controls America?
Perhaps the real relationship is not between Israel and America but between Jews and America.

The overwhelming majority of Jews in America live their lives just like any other Americans. They’ve done well and are undoubtedly pleased that America supports their fellow Jews in Israel but that’s as far as it goes. Nonetheless, an awful lot of Jews certainly do control an awful lot of America not the industrial muscle of America - the steel, transport, etc., nor the oil and arms industries, those traditional money-spinners. No, if Jews have influence anywhere in America, it’s not over its muscle and sinew but over its blood and its brain. It is in finance and the media that we find a great many Jews in very influential positions. Lists abound (though you have to go to some pretty unpopular websites to find them) of Jews, prominent in financial and cultural life: Jews in banks; Jews in Forbes Magazine’s Richest Americans; Jews in Hollywood; Jews in TV; Jewish journalists, writers, critics, etc., etc.

Nor have Jews been slow in exploiting their position. Jews have not hesitated to use whatever resources they have to advance their interests as they see them. Nor does one need to subscribe to any conspiracy theory to note how natural it is for Jews in the media to promote Jews and their values as positive and worthy of emulation. When did anyone last see a Jew portrayed in anything other than a favourable light? Jews are clever, moral, interesting, intense, warm, witty, complex, ethical, contradictory, prophetic, infuriating, sometimes irritating, but always utterly engaging. Nor is it any wonder that Jews in influential positions are inclined to promote what they see as Jewish collective interests. Is it really all that incredible that Jewish advisers around the Presidency bear Israel’s interests at heart when they advise the President on foreign affairs?

But so what? So there are a lot of Jews with a lot of money, and a lot of Jews with a lot to say and the means to say it. If Jews by virtue of their ability and use of resources (as honestly gained as by anyone else) promote what they perceive as their own collective interest, what’s wrong with that? First, with some notable exceptions, the vast majority of Jews can, in good faith, lay hands on hearts and swear that they never take decisions or actions with collective Jewish interests in mind, certainly not consciously. And even if they did, they are acting no differently from anyone else. With a few exceptions, Jews have earned their advantageous positions. They came with nothing, played according to the rules and, if they use their influence to further what they perceive as Jewish interests, what’s so special about that? Do not the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Gun lobby, the Christian Evangelicals also not work to further their group interests?

The difference between Jews and other groups is that they probably do it better. Jews are, by pretty well any criteria, easily the most successful ethnic group in America and, for whatever reason, have been extraordinarily successful in promoting themselves both individually and collectively. And there would probably be nothing wrong with this were it not for the fact that these same people who exert so much control and influence over American life also seem to refuse to be held accountable. It is the surreptitiousness with which Jews are perceived to have achieved their success which arouses suspicion. Jews certainly seem cagey about the influence they have. Just breathe the words “Jewish power” and wait for the reaction. They claim it’s because this charge has so often been used as a precursor to discrimination and violence against them, but never consider the possibility that their own reluctance to discuss the power they wield arouses suspicion and even hostility.

But there is another claim, subtler and more worrying. This is that it doesn’t exist; that Jews do not wield power, that there is no Jewish lobby; that Jews in America do not exert power and influence to advance Jewish interests, even that there are no such things as Jewish interests! There are no Jewish interests in the war in Iraq, there are no Jewish interests in America; most amazing, there are no Jewish interests even in Israel and Palestine. There is no Jewish collective. Jews do not act together to advance their aims. They even say that the pro-Israeli lobby has actually not all that much to do with Jews, that the Jewishness of Israel is irrelevant and the Public Affairs Committees (PACs) which lobby so hard for Israel are in fact doing no more than supporting an ally and thus looking after America’s best interests even to the extent of concealing their true purpose behind names such as “American for Better Citizenship”, “Citizen’s Organised PAC” or the “National PAC” none of which make one reference in their titles to Israel, Zionism or Jews. Similarly, Jews and Jewish organisations are said to be not so much furthering Jewish interests and values as American, or, even, universal interests and values. So, the major Holocaust Museum, styled as a “Museum of Tolerance”, focuses not only on anti-Semitism, but on every kind of intolerance known to mankind (except that shown by Jews to non-Jews in Israel and Palestine). Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League is but an organisation for the promotion of universal principles of tolerance and justice, not just for Jews but for everyone.

This conflation of Jewish interests with American interests is nowhere more stark than in present American foreign policy. If ever an image was reminiscent of a Jewish world conspiracy, the spectacle of the Jewish neo-cons gathered around the current presidency and directing policy in the Middle East, this must be it. But we are told that the fact that the Jewish neo-cons, many with links with right wing political groups within Israel, are in the forefront of urging a pro-Israel policy, is but a coincidence, and any suggestion that these figures might be influenced by their Jewishness and their links with Israel is immediately marginalised as reviving old anti-Semitic myths about Jewish dual loyalty. The idea that American intervention in Iraq, the one viable military counterweight to Israeli hegemony in the Middle East and therefore an inspiration to Arab and Palestinian resistance, primarily serves Israeli rather than American interests has also been consigned to the nether world of mediaeval anti-Semitic myth. The suggestion that those Jews around the president act from motives other than those to promote the interests of all Americans is just anti-Semitic raving. And maybe they’re right. Perhaps those who promote Jewish interests are in fact promoting American interests because, for now at least, they appear to be one and the same.

Jewish America

In Washington, D.C. is a memorial to a terrible tragedy. Not a memorial to a tragedy visited on Americans by a foreign power as at Pearl Harbour or 9/11, nor to a tragedy visited by Americans on Americans such the sacking of Atlanta. Nor is it a memorial of contrition to a tragedy inflicted by Americans onto another people, such as to slavery or to the history of racial injustice in America. It is to none of these. The Holocaust memorial is to a tragedy inflicted on people who were not Americans, by people who were not Americans, and in a place a very long way from America. And the co-religionists or, even, if you like, the co-nationals, of the people on whom the tragedy was visited and to whom the memorial is built make up around two percent of the American population. How is it that a group of people who make up such a tiny percentage of the overall American population can command such respect and regard that a memorial to them is built in the symbolic heart of American national life?

The Jewish narrative is now at the centre of American life, certainly that of its cultural and political elites. There is, anyway, much in the way that Americans choose to see themselves and their history which is quite naturally compatible with the way Jews see themselves and their history. What more fitting paradigm for a country founded on immigration, than the story of the mass immigration of Jews at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? For many Americans, the story of those Jews who came to their Goldenes Medina, their Golden Land, with nothing and, through hard work and perseverance, made it to the very top of American society, is also their story. Similarly, what greater validation for a country founded on a narrative of conquest and ethnic cleansing than the Biblical narrative of the conquest and ethnic cleansing of the Promised Land with the addition of the equally violent settlement of modern Palestine with its own ethnic cleansing and then “making the desert bloom”? And what could be more inspirational for a country, if not officially but still viscerally, deeply Christian than the story of the Jews, Jesus’ own people and God’s chosen people, returning to their ancient homeland and transforming it into a modern state. And for a nation which sees itself as a beacon of democracy in the world, what better international soul-mate than the state of Israel, widely held to be “the only democracy in the Middle-East”?

Most resonant, of course, is the notion of Jews as a suffering people. The fact that this “suffering people” is now enjoying a success beyond the dreams of any other ethnic group in America seems irrelevant. Also ignored is how American Jews have made it to the very top of American society whilst, every step of the way, complaining about how much they’re being discriminated against. Nonetheless, to America, Jews have an enduring and ongoing history of suffering and victimhood. But this history has rarely been examined or even discussed.

A Suffering People

That Jews have suffered is undeniable, but Jewish suffering is claimed to have been so enduring, so intense and so particular that it is to be treated differently from other sufferings.
The issue is complex and cannot be fully debated or decided here but the following points may stimulate thought and discussion.

- During even the most terrible times of Jewish suffering such as the Crusades or the Chmielnitzky massacres of seventeenth century Ukraine, and even more so at other times in history, it has been said that the average peasant would have given his eye-teeth to be a Jew. The meaning is clear: generally speaking, and throughout most of their history, the condition of Jews was often far superior to the mass of the population.

- The above-mentioned Ukrainian massacres took place in the context of a peasant uprising against the oppression of the Ukrainian peasantry by their Polish overlords. As has often been the case, Jews were seen as occupying a traditional position of being in alliance with the ruling class in their oppression of the peasantry. Chmielnitzky, the leader of this popular uprising, is today a Ukrainian national hero, not for his assaults on Jews (there are even references to his having offered poor Jews to join the uprising against their exploitative co-religionists the Jews declined) but for his championing of the rights of the oppressed Ukrainians. Again, the inference is plain: outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence, though never justified, have often been responses to Jewish behaviour both real and imaginary.

- In the Holocaust three million Polish Jews died, but so did three million non-Jewish Poles. Jews were targeted but so were Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs and Poles. Similarly, the Church burned Jews for their dissenting beliefs but then the church burned everyone for their dissenting beliefs. So again, the question must be asked: what’s so special about Jewish suffering?

The Holocaust, the paradigm for all anti-Semitism and all Jewish suffering, is treated as being beyond examination and scrutiny. Questioning the Holocaust narrative is, at best, socially unacceptable, leading often to social exclusion and discrimination, and, at worst, in some places is illegal and subject to severe penalty. Holocaust revisionist scholars, named Holocaust deniers by their opponents, have challenged this. They do not deny a brutal and extensive assault on Jews by the Nazi regime but they do deny the Holocaust narrative as framed by present day establishments and elites. Specifically, their denial is limited to three main areas. First, they deny that there ever was an official plan on the part of Hitler or any other part of the Nazi regime systematically and physically to eliminate every Jew in Europe; second, they deny that there ever existed homicidal gas-chambers; third, they claim that the numbers of Jewish victims of the Nazi assault have been greatly exaggerated.

But none of this is the point. Whether those who question the Holocaust narrative are revisionist scholars striving to find the truth and shamelessly persecuted for opposing a powerful faction, or whether they are crazy Jew-haters denying a tragedy and defaming its victims, the fact is that one may question the Armenian genocide, one may freely discuss the Slave Trade, one can say that the murder of millions of Ibos, Kampucheans and Rwandans never took place and that the moon is but a piece of green cheese floating in space, but one may not question the Jewish Holocaust. Why? Because, like the rest of the Jewish history of suffering, the Holocaust underpins the narrative of Jewish innocence which is used to bewilder and befuddle any attempt to see and to comprehend Jewish power and responsibility in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere in the world.

Jewish Power

What is a Jew?

Israel Shamir, the Russian-born Israeli writer, advocates the right of all people, whatever their ethnicity or religion, to live together in complete equality between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Shamir condemns the behaviour of Israel and of Diaspora Jews and calls for an end to their preferential treatment, but he also proposes an opposition to Judaism itself for which he stands accused of being anti-Jewish a charge he does not deny but actually embraces.

Shamir proposes the existence of a Jewish ideology, or "Jewish paradigm" as he puts it, and proposes that it is the voluntary adherence to this “spirit” which makes a Jew into a Jew. For him, Jewishness is neither race nor ethnicity there is, for Shamir, no such thing as a Jewish ‘tribe’ or ‘family’ - no biological or ethnic body from which there can be no escape. Further, this ideology, based on notions of choseness, exclusivity and even supremacism is, at least when empowered, incompatible with peace, equality and justice in Palestine or anywhere else for that matter.

No-one wants to oppose any Jews simply for being Jews, or even for what they believe, but only because of what they do. The problem is that since, according to Shamir, what Jews believe and even do is precisely what makes them into Jews, so opposition to Jewishness as an ideology surely comes dangerously close to opposition to Jews simply for being Jews. But for Shamir, Jews are Jews because they choose to be Jews. Someone may be born of Jews and raised as a Jew but they can if they wish reject their Jewish upbringing and become a non-Jew. And many have done just that including such famous escapees as Karl Marx, St. Paul, Leon Trotsky (and Shamir himself), etc. Opposition to Jews is not, therefore, like opposition to Blacks or to Asians or to other common racist attitudes since the object of the opposition is perfectly able to relinquish the ideology in question.

Shamir has never in any way called for any harm to be done to Jews or anyone else, nor for Jews or anyone else to be discriminated against in any way. Adherence to this Jewish ideology is, for Shamir, regrettable, but not, in itself, a matter for active opposition. Nor does this mean that Shamir is opposed to any individual Jew just because he or she is a Jew. What Shamir actively opposes is not “Jews” but “Jewry”. Analogous to say, the Catholic Church, Jewry consists of those organised Jews and their leaders who actively promote corrosive Jewish interests and values, particularly now in the oppression of the Palestinians

One doesn’t have to be in complete agreement with Shamir to understand what he is talking about. Why should Jews not have a “spirit”; after all, such a concept has been discussed with regard to other nations?

“It is dangerous, wrong, to speak about the “Germans,” or any other people, as of a single undifferentiated entity, and include all individuals in one judgment. And yet I don’t think I would deny that there exists a spirit of each people (otherwise it would not be a people) a Deutschtum, an italianitia, an hispanidad: they are the sums of traditions, customs, history, language, and culture. Whoever does not feel within himself this spirit, which is national in the best sense of the word, not only does not entirely belong to his own people but is not part of human civilization. Therefore, while I consider insensate the syllogism, ‘All Italians are passionate; you are Italian; therefore you are passionate,” I do however believe it legitimate, within certain limits, to expect from Italians taken as a whole, or from Germans, etc., one specific, collective behavior rather than another. There will certainly be individual exceptions, but a prudent, probabilistic forecast is in my opinion possible.” Primo Levi
And for Jews it is, perhaps, even more appropriate. The place of Judaism as an ideology at the centre for all Jewish identity may be debated, but few would dispute that Judaism is at least at the historic heart of Jewishness and, whatever else may bind Jews together, it is certainly true that religion plays an important part. Second, for a group of people who have retained such a strong collective identity with no shared occupation of any land, language, nor even, in many cases, a culture, it is hard to see what else there could be that makes Jews into Jews. Surely for Jews, in the absence of other, more obvious factors, it is precisely such a spirit that has enabled them to retain their distinctive identity for so long and in the face of such opposition.

But if there is some kind of Jewish spirit or ideology, what is it? As far as Judaism, the religion, goes it seems fairly clear that there is an ideology based on the election of Israel by God, the special relationship Jews are supposed to have with God and the special mission allocated to Jews by God. So for observant Jews there is a special quality intrinsic to the covenant and to Judaism itself, though not all of them find it appealing:

"There is a strain in Jewish thought that says there is a special Godly something or other that is passed down in a certain genetic line which confers a special quality on people and Jewishness is a special quality. I call that metaphysical racism." Rabbi Mark Solomon

But whilst easy to see such a common spirit in religious Jews after all it is precisely that which makes them religious it is so much harder to define it in secular Jews, those Jews who reject, often quite vociferously, all aspects of Jewish faith. They often claim that they don’t have an ideology, or that their ideology is one of, say, the left: not only not Jewish, but opposed to all religions including Judaism. Yet seemingly so free of all such ignorant superstition, these same people still call themselves Jews, still more often than not marry other Jews and still turn up to solidarity rallies only with other Jews and under Jewish banners. What is their ideology?

For my money it is much the same sense of specialness found in religious Jews but with a special reference to victimhood. “Yes, but only in the Hitlerian sense”, answered philosopher Maxime Rodinson when asked if he still considered himself a Jew. For many of these Jews it is their identity as a threatened and victimized people that makes them Jews. “Hitler said I was a Jew, so I may as well be a Jew” is one response or “To be a Jew somehow denies all those who ever persecuted Jews a victory so I’m a Jew”. For these Jews, albeit estranged from Jewish religious and often community life as well, Emil Fackenheim’s famous post-Holocaust 614th commandment (to add to the other 613): Thou shall survive! is an absolute imperative. But whatever the motive, this self-identity runs very deep indeed. Amongst these Jews, no matter how left or progressive they may be, one may criticise Israel to the nth degree, poke fun at the Jewish establishment and even shamefully denigrate Judaism as a religion, but depart one iota from the approved text on anti-Semitism and Jewish suffering, and you are in deep trouble. For these rational folk, Jewish suffering and anti-Semitism is every bit as inexplicable, mysterious and therefore, unchallengeable as for any religious Jew.

Jewish secularism is often offered as evidence that there is no such thing as a Jewish identity gathered around any shared ideology. After all, if all Jews subscribe to the same basic ideology, then how come so many Jews so obviously don’t? And if all Jews essentially support the same interests, how come so many Jews so obviously don’t? But is it that obvious? Not only do secular Jews very often seem to subscribe to Jewish notions of specialness and victimhood, but also, in their attitudes to non-Jews in general, and Palestinians in particular, they are by no means all that different from religious Jews.

It is often quoted how many Jews are in solidarity movements with Palestinians and how many of these are secular. And it’s true: there are many Jews in sympathy with the Palestinians and the overwhelming majority are secular, and the main thrust of post-1967 virulent Zionism has come to be associated with the religious right. But this secular Jewish tradition, in fact, has been at the forefront of Zionism’s assault on the Palestinians. It was secular Labour Zionists who created the Zionist ideology and the pre-state Jewish-only society. It was secular Zionists - good, humanistic, left-wing kibbutzniks - who directed and carried out the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians, and the destruction of their towns and villages. It was secular Zionists who established the present state with all its discriminatory practices; and it was a largely secular Labour government that held the Palestinian citizens of Israel under military government in their own land for eighteen years. Finally, it was a secular, Labour government which conquered the West Bank and Gaza, and first built the settlements, and embarked on the Oslo peace process, coolly designed to deceive the Palestinians into surrendering their rights.

And even those secular Jews who do support Palestinian rights, on so many occasions, the solidarity they offer is limited by self interest. That these people, at least as much as anyone else, act out of their highest motives may be true. Many have been lifelong activists for many causes and many find their activism springs, consciously or unconsciously, from what they see as the highest ideals of their Jewishness. But nonetheless for many of them, solidarity with Palestinians means above all, the protection of Jews. They call for a Palestinian state on 22 per cent of the Palestinian homeland, but only to keep and protect the ‘Jewishness’ of the Jewish state. The Palestinian state they call for would inevitably be weak, dominated by the Israeli economy and under the guns of the Israeli military surely they must know what this would mean!

At rally after rally, in speeches and on leaflets and banners, these Jews denounce the occupation: “Down with the occupation…down with the occupation…down with the occupation…” but not a word of the inherent injustice of a state for Jews only; perhaps a mention of the ill-gotten gains of 1948, but nothing of the right of return of the refugees, no restitution merely ‘a just solution’ taking account, of course, of Israel’s ‘demographic concerns’. “We are with you….we are with you….we are with you” they say “…...but …” Whether it be condemnation of some form of Palestinian resistance of which they disapprove, or some real or perceived occurrence of anti-Semitism, for these Jews there is always a but.”

They should take a leaf from Henry Herskovitz. He is part of an organisation called Jewish Witnesses for Peace, which holds silent vigils outside synagogues on shabbat. Of course, all the other Jewish activists are shrieking at him that you mustn't target Jews for protest, that you must draw a distinction between Jews, Israelis and Zionists, that you'll only alienate the people we want to engage.... but he doesn't care. He knows that support from the Jewish mainstream, as Tony Cliff the Trotskyite used to say, “….is like honey on your elbow - you can see it, you can smell it but you can never quite taste it!” Henry also knows that to say that Jews in America individually and in their religious and community organisations should not be held accountable for what is happening is a lie and discredits all Jews before the non-Jewish world.

So these secular Jews often end up being just another round of Michael Neuman’s “veritable shell game” of Jewish identity. "Look! We're a religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry--a religion!" Because this is the key to maintaining Jewish power if it’s indefinable, it’s invisible. Like a stealth bomber (you can’t see it on your radar but you sure know when you’ve been hit) Jewish power, with its blurred outlines and changing forms, becomes invisible. And if you can’t see it you can’t fight it. Meanwhile the assault on the Palestinians continues.

“The Jews”

The phrase is itself terrifying because of its past association with discrimination and violence against Jews, but Jews themselves have no problem with it. The notion of a Jewish People is at the centre of Jewish faith with Jews of all or no degrees of religious adherence over and over again affirming its existence. It is also at the heart of Zionism even in its most secular forms and is written into the foundational texts of the state of Israel. The concept even received international legal approval when the Jewish people were declared, by the West German state, to be the post-war residual heirs of intestate Jews. And yet it is an absolute article of faith for everyone, including those in the solidarity movement, that while we may criticize and confront Israel and Israelis, we may not criticize and confront the Jewish people and Jews. Unlike Israel and any other state, the Jewish People has no common policy and any attack on the Jewish people is, therefore, aimed at what they are and not at what they do.
But is speaking of the Jews doing this or doing that any more or less acceptable than speaking of, say, the Americans? If the American military lays waste a third world country, it is done by order of the government (a small group) with the full support of the ruling elites (another small group), the tacit support of a substantial segment of the population (a larger group), the silent denial of probably the majority of the population (a very large group) and the opposition of a tiny minority (a small group). Is it all that different with Jews?

It may be. Unlike the United States, ‘the Jews’ are not a legally constituted body and they do not have an obvious and defined common policy. ‘The Jews’ do not have an officially designated leadership, nor do they inhabit one area of land, nor do they speak a common language or even share a common culture. Theoretically at least there seem to be so many differences as to render any comparison untenable. In practice this may not be the whole story.
It is true that ‘the Jews’ do not constitute a legally recognized body, but Zionism, with its claim to represent all Jews, has increasingly confused the issue. It is also true that the Zionists do not represent all Jews but they do represent the views of very many Jews indeed, and certainly the most powerful and influential Jews. And there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of organized Jews are fully behind the Zionist project. That ‘the Jews’ do not have a formally designated leadership does not mean that they have no leadership - bodies again to which the overwhelming majority of organized Jews owe allegiance: the Israeli Government, the World Zionist Organization; numerous large and powerful Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, The Simon Wiesenthal Centre; lesser bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and similar organizations in every country in which Jews reside. Then there is the extensive network of Jewish bodies often linked, through synagogues to the whole spectrum of mainstream Jewish religious and community life. All these bodies with their vast and interconnected network do provide leadership; they do have clearly defined policies and they are all four-square behind Zionism and Israel in its assault on the Palestinians.
Does this constitute a definable Jewish collective engaged in advancing Jewish interests? Officially, perhaps not, but, effectively, when one notes the remarkable unanimity of intent of all these bodies, the answer may well be yes. They do not of course represent all Jews nor are all individual Jews responsible for their actions, but nonetheless ‘the Jews’ - organized, active and effective Jews - are as responsible for the pursuit of Jewish interests in Palestine and elsewhere as ‘the Americans’ in Vietnam, ‘the French’ in Algeria, and ‘the British’ in India.

So why should our response be different? Why should ‘the Jews’ not be as accountable as ‘the Americans’ and even ordinary Jews as accountable as ordinary Americans? Why do we not picket the offices of the Anti-Defamation League or The Conference of Presidents or the offices or even the homes of Abe Foxman, Edgar Bronfman and Mort Zuckerman in the U.S. and Neville Nagler in the U.K.? Why do we not heckle Alan Dershowitz in the U.S. and Melanie Phillips in the U.K.? What about the U.K. Chief Rabbi who in his time has had lots to say about Israel and Palestine? Why do we not take the struggle to every synagogue and Jewish community centre in the world? After all, every Shabbat a prayer is said for the state of Israel in every mainstream synagogue in the land, most of which are focal points for Zionist propagandizing and fundraising, so why should these Jew who choose to combine their prayers and their politics be immune while at prayer from our legitimate protests at their politics? And for those few Jews who are really prepared to stand up and be counted for their solidarity with Palestinians, why can we not still give to them due honour and regard as we did to those few Americans who opposed American imperialism and those white South Africans who opposed apartheid?

The answer is that we are frightened. Even knowing that Jews are responsible and should be held accountable, still we are frightened. We are frightened because criticism of Jews with its woeful history of violence and discrimination seems just too dangerous a position to take it may open the flood-gates to a burst of Jew hatred. We are frightened that if we were to discuss the role of Jews in this conflict and in other areas and begin to hold Jews accountable, we might be labelled anti-Semites and lose support. And, perhaps most of all, we are frightened of the conflicted inner passions that confound us all whenever we come to look at these things.

Does speaking the truth about Jewish identity, power and history lead to Jews being led to concentration camps and ovens? Of course it doesn’t! It is hatred, fear and the suppression of free thought and speech which leads to these things whether the hatred, fear and suppression is directed against Jews or by Jews. Anyway, despite efforts to convince us to the contrary, we do not live in the thirteenth century. Californians are unlikely to pour out of their cinemas showing Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’ chanting “Death to the Jews!” And, at a time when Jews in Israel/Palestine, overwhelmingly backed by Jewish organisations in the west, are desecrating churches and mosques wholesale and brutally oppressing entire Christian and Muslim populations, we may be forgiven for finding it hard to get excited about graffiti daubed on some synagogue somewhere.

If we were to begin to engage with the role of Jews in this conflict, we may well be labelled anti-Semites and we may well, initially at least, lose support. The anti-Semite curse has long served as a frightener to silence all criticism of Jews, Israel and Zionism, and undoubtedly will be used to discredit our cause. But so what? They call us anti-Semites anyway so what’s to lose? Edward Said spent a lifetime picking his way through the Israel/Zionism/Judaism minefield and never once criticised Jews, and he was called an anti-Semite his whole life, right up to and even after his death. As a movement we have probably spent as much time being nice to Jews as we have speaking up for Palestinians, and for what? Where has it got us? We are not racists and we are not anti-Semites, so let them do their worst. We shall speak our minds.

For so long now Jews have told the world that black is white and not only that, but also if anyone should dare to deny that black is white they will be denounced as anti-Semites with all the attendant penalties. We are held in a moral and intellectual lock, the intention of which has been to silence all criticism of Israeli and Jewish power. In saying the unsayable we may set ourselves and others free. And think how it will feel the next time you are called an anti-Semite to say “Well, I don’t know about that, but I do have some very strong but legitimate criticisms to make of Jews and the way they are behaving….and I intend to speak out”?

And you never know; we may be pleasantly surprised. Israel Shamir, who has no trouble whatsoever in calling a Jew a Jew, was cheered spontaneously recently when he introduced himself from the floor at a London solidarity meeting. I saw it with my own eyes. His first English-language book has just been published; he corresponds freely and reciprocally with many highly respected figures and is on the boards of advisers of The Association for One Democratic State in Palestine and of Deir Yassin Remembered. Perhaps it’s all just a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. Perhaps we’re all just waiting for some innocent child to blow the whistle.

The situation facing the Palestinian people is truly terrible. Old political strategies have got us nowhere. We need a new and widened debate. It may be that a new and credible discourse which puts Jews and Jewishness at the critical centre of our discussions is part of that.

And one final point: In a previous piece, paraphrasing Marc Ellis I wrote:

“To the Christian and to the entire non-Jewish world, Jews say this: ‘You will apologise for Jewish suffering again and again and again. And, when you have done apologising, you will then apologise some more. When you have apologised sufficiently we will forgive you ... provided that you let us do what we want in Palestine.’

Shamir took me to task, “Eisen is too optimistic”, he said, “Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews…..the world is.”

Well, I don’t know about that, but, if as now seems likely, the conquest of Palestine is complete and the state of Israel stretches from Tel-Aviv to the Jordan River, what can we expect? Will the Jews of Israel, supported by Jews outside of Israel, now obey the law, live peaceably behind their borders and enjoy the fruits of their victory, or will they want more? Who’s next?

Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Remembered

Monday, December 12, 2005

J.Goldberg: AIPAC and an FBI sting


A pro-Israel lobby and an F.B.I. sting.
Issue of 2005-07-04
Posted 2005-06-27

Several years ago, I had dinner at Galileo, a Washington restaurant, with Steven Rosen, who was then the director of foreign-policy issues at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The group, which is better known by its acronym, aipac, lobbies for Israel’s financial and physical security. Like many lobbyists, Rosen cultivated reporters, hoping to influence their writing while keeping his name out of print. He is a voluble man, and liked to demonstrate his erudition and dispense aphorisms. One that he often repeated could serve as the credo of K Street, the Rodeo Drive of Washington’s influence industry: “A lobby is like a night flower: it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.”

Lobbyists tend to believe that legislators are susceptible to persuasion in ways that executive-branch bureaucrats are not, and before Rosen came to aipac, in 1982 (he had been at the rand Corporation, the defense-oriented think tank), the group focussed mainly on Congress. But Rosen arrived brandishing a new idea: that the organization could influence the outcome of policy disputes within the executive branch—in particular, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council.

Rosen began to court officials. He traded in gossip and speculation, and his reports to aipac’s leaders helped them track currents in Middle East policymaking before those currents coalesced into executive orders. Rosen also used his contacts to carry aipac’s agenda to the White House. An early success came in 1983, when he helped lobby for a strategic coöperation agreement between Israel and the United States, which was signed over the objections of Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, and which led to a new level of intelligence sharing and military sales.

aipac is a leviathan among lobbies, as influential in its sphere as the National Rifle Association and the American Association of Retired Persons are in theirs, although it is, by comparison, much smaller. (aipac has about a hundred thousand members, the N.R.A. more than four million.) President Bush, speaking at the annual aipac conference in May of 2004, said, “You’ve always understood and warned against the evil ambition of terrorism and their networks. In a dangerous new century, your work is more vital than ever.” aipac is unique in the top tier of lobbies because its concerns are the economic health and security of a foreign nation, and because its members are drawn almost entirely from a single ethnic group.

aipac’s professional staff—it employs about a hundred people at its headquarters, two blocks from the Capitol—analyzes congressional voting records and shares the results with its members, who can then contribute money to candidates directly or to a network of proIsrael political-action committees. The Center for Responsive Politics, a public-policy group, estimates that between 1990 and 2004 these pacs gave candidates and parties more than twenty million dollars.

Robert H. Asher, a former aipac president, told me that the pacs are usually given euphemistic names. “I started a pac called Citizens Concerned for the National Interest,” he said. Asher, who is from Chicago, is a retired manufacturer of lamps and shades, and a member of the so-called Gang of Four—former presidents of aipac, who steered the group’s policies for more than two decades. (The three others are Larry Weinberg, a California real-estate developer and a former owner of the Portland Trail Blazers; Edward Levy, a construction-materials executive from Detroit; and Mayer “Bubba” Mitchell, a retired builder based in Mobile, Alabama.)

aipac, Asher explained, is loyal to its friends and merciless to its enemies. In 1982, Asher led a campaign to defeat Paul Findley, a Republican congressman from Springfield, Illinois, who once referred to himself as “Yasir Arafat’s best friend in Congress,” and who later compared Arafat to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There was a real desire to help Findley out of Congress,” Asher said. He identified an obscure Democratic lawyer in Springfield, Richard Durbin, as someone who could defeat Findley. “We met at my apartment in Chicago, and I recruited him to run for Congress,” he recalled. “I probed his views and I explained things that I had learned mostly from aipac. I wanted to make sure we were supporting someone who was not only against Paul Findley but also a friend of Israel.”

Asher went on, “He beat Findley with a lot of help from Jews, in-state and out-of-state. Now, how did the Jewish money find him? I travelled around the country talking about how we had the opportunity to defeat someone unfriendly to Israel. And the gates opened.” Durbin, who went on to win a Senate seat, is now the Democratic whip. He is a fierce critic of Bush’s Iraq policy but, like aipac, generally supports the Administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Durbin says that he considers Asher to be his “most loyal friend in the Jewish community.”

Mayer Mitchell led a similar campaign, three years ago, to defeat Earl Hilliard, an Alabama congressman who was a critic of Israel. Mitchell helped direct support to a young Harvard Law School graduate named Artur Davis, who challenged Hilliard in the Democratic primary, and he solicited donations from aipac supporters across America. Davis won the primary, and the seat. “I asked Bubba how he felt after Davis won,” Asher said, “and he said, ‘Just like you did when Durbin got elected.’ ” Mitchell declined to comment.

aipac’s leaders can be immoderately frank about the group’s influence. At dinner that night with Steven Rosen, I mentioned a controversy that had enveloped aipac in 1992. David Steiner, a New Jersey real-estate developer who was then serving as aipac’s president, was caught on tape boasting that he had “cut a deal” with the Administration of George H. W. Bush to provide more aid to Israel. Steiner also said that he was “negotiating” with the incoming Clinton Administration over the appointment of a pro-Israel Secretary of State. “We have a dozen people in his”—Clinton’s—“headquarters . . . and they are all going to get big jobs,” Steiner said. Soon after the tape’s existence was disclosed, Steiner resigned his post. I asked Rosen if aipac suffered a loss of influence after the Steiner affair. A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table. “You see this napkin?” he said. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”

Rosen was influential from the start. He was originally recruited for the job by Larry Weinberg, one of the Gang of Four, and he helped choose the group’s leaders, including the current executive director, Howard Kohr, a Republican who began his aipac career as Rosen’s deputy. Rosen, who can be argumentative and impolitic, was never a candidate for the top post. “He’s a bit of a kochleffl”—the Yiddish term for a pot-stirrer, or meddler—Martin Indyk, who also served as Rosen’s deputy, and who went on to become President Clinton’s Ambassador to Israel, says. Rosen has had an unusually eventful private life, marrying and divorcing six times (he is living again with his first wife), and he has a well-developed sense of paranoia. When we met, he would sometimes lower his voice, even when he was preparing to deliver an anodyne pronouncement. “Hostile ears are always listening,” he was fond of saying.

Nevertheless, he is a keen analyst of Middle East politics, and a savvy bureaucratic infighter. His views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not notably hawkish; he once called himself “too right for the left, and too left for the right.” He is a hard-liner on only one subject—Iran—and this preoccupation helped shape aipac’s position: that Iran poses a greater threat to Israel than any other nation. In this way, aipac is in agreement with a long line of Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who fears Iran’s nuclear intentions more than he ever feared Saddam Hussein’s. (aipac lobbied Congress in favor of the Iraq war, but Iraq has not been one of its chief concerns.) Rosen’s main role at aipac, he once told me, was to collect evidence of “Iranian perfidy” and share it with the United States.

Unlike American neoconservatives, who have openly supported the Likud Party over the more liberal Labor Party, aipac does not generally take sides in Israeli politics. But on Iran aipac’s views resemble those of the neoconservatives. In 1996, Rosen and other aipac staff members helped write, and engineer the passage of, the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act, which imposed sanctions on foreign oil companies doing business with those two countries; aipac is determined, above all, to deny Iran the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons. Iran was a main focus of this year’s aipac policy conference, which was held in May at the Washington Convention Center. Ariel Sharon and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, among others, addressed five thousand aipac members. One hall of the convention center was taken up by a Disney-style walk-through display of an Iranian nuclear facility. It was kitsch, but not ineffective, and Rosen undoubtedly would have appreciated it. Rosen, however, was not there. He was fired earlier this year by Howard Kohr, nine months after he became implicated in an F.B.I. espionage investigation. Rosen’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, expects him to be indicted on charges of passing secret information about Iranian intelligence activities in Iraq to an official of the Israeli Embassy and to a Washington Post reporter. A junior colleague, Keith Weissman, who served as an Iran analyst for aipac until he, too, was fired, may face similar charges.

The person who, in essence, ended Rosen’s career is a fifty-eight-year-old Pentagon analyst named Lawrence Anthony Franklin, who is even more preoccupied with Iran than Steven Rosen. Franklin, until recently the Pentagon’s Iran desk officer, was indicted last month on espionage charges. The Justice Department has accused him of giving “national-defense information” to Rosen and Weissman, and classified information to an Israeli official. Franklin has pleaded not guilty; a tentative trial date is set for September. If convicted, he will face at least ten years in prison.

I first met Franklin in November of 2002. Paul Wolfowitz, then the Deputy Secretary of Defense, was receiving the Henry M. (Scoop) Jackson award from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a conservative-leaning group that tries to build close relations between the American and Israeli militaries. In the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Pentagon City, a shopping mall, were a number of American generals and the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon.

Franklin, a trim man with blond hair and a military bearing, is a colonel in the Air Force Reserve who spent several years as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has a doctorate in Asian studies and describes himself as a capable speaker of Farsi. In addition, he was a Catholic in a largely Jewish network of Pentagon Iran hawks.

Franklin was particularly close to the neoconservative Harold Rhode, an official in the Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon’s in-house think tank. Franklin was also close to Michael Ledeen, who, twenty years ago, played an important role in the Iran-Contra scandal by helping arrange meetings between the American government and the Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. Ledeen, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is one of the most outspoken advocates in Washington of confrontation with the Tehran regime.

The conversation at the banquet, and just about everywhere else in official Washington at that time, centered on the coming war in Iraq. “We may well hope that with the demise of a truly evil and despotic regime in Iraq, we will see the liberation of one of the most talented peoples in the Arab world,” Wolfowitz said in his speech. Franklin did not seem especially concerned with the topic at hand. As we stood outside the banquet hall, he said that Iran, not Iraq, would turn out to be the most difficult challenge in the war on terror.

Then, as now, the Administration was divided on the question of Iran. Many of the political appointees at the Defense Department hoped that America would support dissidents in an attempt to overthrow Iran’s ruling clerics, while the State Department argued for containment. Even within the Defense Department, many officials believed that it would be imprudent to make regime change in Tehran a top priority. “There are neocons who thought Iran should come sooner and neocons who thought it should come later,” Reuel Marc Gerecht, of the American Enterprise Institute, told me. As for Franklin, Gerecht, a former Iran specialist in the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Operations, said, “It’s fair to say that Larry was impatient with Bush Administration policy on Iran.” In the Pentagon’s policy office, I learned later, it was sometimes said that Franklin inhabited a place called Planet Franklin. Gerecht referred to him as “sweet, bumbling Larry.”

A year later, on a reporting assignment in Israel, I ran into Franklin at the Herzliya Conference, which is the Davos of the Israeli security establishment. He said that he was there on Defense Department business. We talked briefly about Iraq—it was eight months after the invasion—and, as we spoke, General Moshe Ya’alon, then the Israeli Army chief of staff, swept into the room surrounded by bodyguards and uniformed aides. “Wow,” Franklin said.

We stepped outside, and he talked only about Iran’s threat to America. “Our intelligence is blind,” he said. “It’s the most dangerous country in the world to the U.S., and we have nothing on the ground. We don’t understand anything that goes on. I mean, the C.I.A. doesn’t have anything. This goes way deeper than Tenet”—George Tenet, who was the director of central intelligence at the time. He continued, “Do you know how dangerous Iran is to our forces in the Gulf? We have great force-concentration issues now”—the presence of American troops in Iraq—“and the Iranians are very interested in making life difficult for American forces. They have the capability. You watch what they’re doing in Iraq. Their infiltration is everywhere.”

Franklin seemed more frustrated with American policy in Iran than he had the year before. “We don’t understand that it’s doable—regime change is doable,” he said. “The people are so desperate to become free, and the mullahs are so unpopular. They’re so pro-American, the people.” Referring to the Bush Administration, he said, “That’s what they don’t understand,” and he added, “And they also don’t understand how anti-American the mullahs are.” Franklin was convinced that the Iranians would commit acts of terrorism against Americans, on American soil. “These guys are a threat to us in Iraq and even at home,” he said.

Franklin was not a high-ranking Pentagon official; he was five steps removed in the hierarchy from Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary for Policy. For two years, though, he had been trying to change American policy. His efforts took many forms, including calls to reporters, meetings with Rosen and Weissman and with the political counsellor at the Israeli Embassy, Naor Gilon. According to Tracy O’Grady-Walsh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, he was not acting on behalf of his superiors: “If Larry Franklin was formally or informally lobbying, he was doing it on his own.”

Franklin also sought information from Iranian dissidents who might aid his cause. In December of 2001, he and Rhode met in Rome with Michael Ledeen and a group of Iranians, including Manucher Ghorbanifar. Ledeen, who helped arrange the meeting, told me that the dissidents gave Franklin and Rhode information about Iranian threats against American soldiers in Afghanistan. (Rhode did not return calls seeking comment.) Franklin was initially skeptical about the meeting, Ledeen said, but emerged believing that America could do business with these dissidents.

Franklin’s meetings with Gilon and with the two aipac men make up the heart of the indictment against him. The indictment alleges that Rosen—“CC-1,” or “Co-Conspirator 1”—called the Pentagon in early August of 2002, looking for the name of an Iran specialist. He made contact with Franklin a short time later, but, according to the indictment, they did not meet until February of 2003. In their meetings, according to several people with knowledge of the conversations, Franklin told the lobbyists that Secretary of State Colin Powell was resisting attempts by the Pentagon to formulate a tougher Iran policy. He apparently hoped to use aipac to lobby the Administration.

The Franklin indictment suggests that the F.B.I. had been watching Rosen as well; for instance, it alleges that, in February of 2003, Rosen, on his way to a meeting with Franklin, told someone on the phone that he “was excited to meet with a ‘Pentagon guy’ because this person was a ‘real insider.’ ” Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman met openly four times in 2003. At one point, the indictment reads, somewhat mysteriously, “On or about March 10, 2003, Franklin, CC-1 and CC-2”— Rosen and Weissman—“met at Union Station early in the morning. In the course of the meeting, the three men moved from one restaurant to another restaurant and then finished the meeting in an empty restaurant.”

On June 26, 2003, at a lunch at the Tivoli Restaurant, near the Pentagon, Franklin reportedly told Rosen and Weissman about a draft of a National Security Presidential Directive that outlined a series of tougher steps that the U.S. could take against the Iranian leadership. The draft was written by a young Pentagon aide named Michael Rubin (who is now affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute). Franklin did not hand over a copy of the draft, but he described its contents, and, according to the indictment, talked about the “state of internal United States government deliberations.” The indictment also alleges that Franklin gave the two men “highly classified” information about potential attacks on American forces in Iraq.

In mid-August of 2002, according to the indictment, Franklin met with Gilon—identified simply as “FO,” or “foreign official”—at a restaurant, and Gilon explained to Franklin that he was the “policy” person at the Embassy. The two met regularly, the indictment alleges, often at the Pentagon Officers’ Athletic Club, to discuss “foreign policy issues,” particularly regarding a “Middle Eastern country”—Iran, by all accounts—and “its nuclear program.” The indictment suggests that Franklin was receiving information and policy advice from Gilon; after one meeting, Franklin drafted an “Action Memo” to his supervisors incorporating Gilon’s suggestions. Gilon is an expert on weapons proliferation, according to Danny Ayalon, the Israeli Ambassador, and has briefed reporters about Israel’s position on Iran. According to Lawrence Di Rita, a Pentagon spokesman, it is part of the “job description” of Defense Department desk officers to meet with their foreign counterparts. “Desk officers meet with foreign officials all the time, not with ministers, but interactions with people at their level,” he said. The indictment contends, however, that on two occasions Franklin gave Gilon classified information.

The issue of Israel’s activities in Washington is unusually sensitive. Twenty years ago, a civilian Naval Intelligence analyst named Jonathan Pollard was caught stealing American secrets on behalf of an Israeli intelligence cell—a “rogue” cell, the Israelis later claimed. Pollard said that he was driven to treason because, as a Jew, he could not abide what he saw as America’s unwillingness to share crucial intelligence with Israel. Pollard’s actions were an embarrassment for American Jews, who fear the accusation of “dual loyalty”—the idea that they split their allegiance between the United States and Israel. For Israel, the case was a moral and political disaster. And there are some in the American intelligence community who suspect that Israel has never stopped spying on the United States.

Earlier this month, Ayalon told me that Israel does not “collect any intelligence on the United States, period, full stop. We won’t do anything to risk this most important relationship.” In any case, he said, there was no need to spy, “because coöperation is so intimate and effective between Israel and the U.S.” Ayalon also said that Gilon, who is returning to Jerusalem later this summer, remains an important member of his staff; in recent months, Gilon has attended meetings at the State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House.

In June of 2004, F.B.I. agents searched Franklin’s Pentagon office and his home in West Virginia, and allegedly found eighty-three classified documents. Some had to do with the Iran debate, but some pertained to Al Qaeda and Iraq. (A separate federal indictment, citing the documents, has been handed down in West Virginia.) According to a person with knowledge of Franklin’s case, the agents told Franklin that Rosen and Weissman were working against America’s interests. Franklin faced ruin—the documents found in his house could cost him his job, the agents said. Franklin, who did not have a lawyer, agreed to coöperate in the investigation of Rosen and Weissman, although apparently he was not given in return a specific promise of leniency. Soon, he was wired, and was asked to contact the two aipac employees. On July 21st, Franklin called Weissman and said that he had to speak to him immediately—that it was a matter of life and death. They arranged to meet outside the Nordstrom’s department store at Pentagon City.

A month before that meeting, The New Yorker had published an article by Seymour Hersh about the activities of Israeli intelligence agents in northern Iraq. Franklin, who held a top-secret security clearance, allegedly told Weissman that he had new, classified information indicating that Iranian agents were planning to kidnap and kill the Israelis referred to by Hersh. American intelligence knew about the threat, Franklin said, but Israel might not. He also said that the Iranians had infiltrated southern Iraq, and were planning attacks on American soldiers. Rosen and Weissman, Franklin hoped, could insure that senior Administration officials received this news. It is unclear whether what Franklin relayed was true or whether it had been manufactured by the F.B.I. The Bureau has refused to comment on the case.

Weissman hurried back to aipac’s headquarters and briefed Rosen and Howard Kohr, aipac’s executive director. According to aipac sources, Rosen and Weissman asked Kohr to give the information to Elliott Abrams, the senior Middle East official on the National Security Council. Kohr didn’t get in touch with Abrams, but Rosen and Weissman made two calls. They called Gilon and told him about the threat to Israeli agents in Iraq, and then they called Glenn Kessler, a diplomatic correspondent at the Washington Post, and told him about the threat to Americans.

A month later, on the morning of August 27, 2004, F.B.I. agents visited Rosen at his home, in Silver Spring, Maryland, seeking to question him. Rosen quickly called aipac’s lawyers. That night, CBS News reported that an unnamed Israeli “mole” had been discovered in the Pentagon, and that the mole had been passing documents to two officials of aipac, who were passing the documents on to Israeli officials.

Within days, the names of Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman were made public. The F.B.I. informed Franklin that he was going to be charged with illegal possession of classified documents. Franklin was said by friends to be frightened, and surprised. He said that he could not afford to hire a lawyer. The F.B.I. arranged for a court-appointed attorney to represent him. The lawyer, a former federal prosecutor, advised him to plead guilty to espionage charges, and receive a prison sentence of six to eight years.

At about this time, Franklin received a call from Michael Ledeen, his ally in matters of Iran policy. “I called him and said, ‘Larry, what’s going on?’ ” Ledeen recalled. “He said, ‘Don’t worry. Sharansky’ ”—Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident—“ ‘survived years in the Gulag, and I’ll survive prison, too.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He told me what was going on. I asked him if he had a good lawyer.” Ledeen called the criminal-defense attorney Plato Cacheris. “I knew him from when he served as Fawn’s attorney,” Ledeen said, referring to Fawn Hall, who was Colonel Oliver North’s secretary at the time of the Iran-Contra affair. Cacheris has also represented Monica Lewinsky and the F.B.I. agent Robert Hanssen, who spied for Moscow. Cacheris offered to represent Franklin pro bono, and Franklin accepted the offer.

aipac launched a special appeal for donations—for the organization, not for Rosen and Weissman. “Your generosity at this time will help ensure that false allegations do not hamper our ability or yours to work for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and a safe and secure Israel,” aipac’s leaders wrote in the letter accompanying the appeal.

But in December four aipac officials, including Kohr, were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia. In March, aipac’s principal lawyer, Nathan Lewin, met with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Paul McNulty, who agreed to let Lewin see some of the evidence of the Pentagon City sting. According to an aipac source, an eleven-second portion of the telephone conversation between Rosen, Weissman, and the Post’s Glenn Kessler, which the F.B.I. had recorded, was played for Lewin. In that conversation, Rosen is alleged to have told Kessler about Iranian agents in southern Iraq—information that Weissman had received from Franklin. In the part of the conversation that Lewin heard, Rosen jokes about “not getting in trouble” over the information. He also notes, “At least we have no Official Secrets Act”—the British law that makes journalists liable to prosecution if they publish classified material.

Prosecutors argued to Lewin that this statement proved that Rosen and Weissman were aware that the information Franklin had given them was classified, and that Rosen must therefore have known that he was passing classified information to Gilon, a foreign official. Lewin, who declined to comment on the case, recommended that aipac fire Rosen and Weissman. He also told the board that McNulty had promised that aipac itself would not be a target of the espionage investigation. An aipac spokesman, Patrick Dorton, said of the firing, “Rosen and Weissman were dismissed because they engaged in conduct that was not part of their jobs, and because this conduct did not comport with the standards that aipac expects and requires of its employees.”

When I asked Abbe Lowell, Rosen’s lawyer, about the firings, he said, “Steve Rosen’s dealings with Larry Franklin were akin to his dealings with executive-branch officials for more than two decades and were well known, encouraged, and appreciated by aipac.”

Last month, I met with Lowell and Rosen in Lowell’s office, which these days is a center of Washington scandal management. (He also represents the fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff.) Lowell had instructed Rosen not to discuss specifics of the case, but Rosen expressed disbelief that his career had been ended by an F.B.I. investigation. “I’m being looked at for things I’ve done for twenty-three years, which other foreign-policy groups, hundreds of foreign-policy groups, are doing,” Rosen said, and went on, “Our job at aipac was to understand what the government is doing, in order to help form better policies, in the interests of the U.S. I’ve never done anything illegal or harmful to the U.S. I never even dreamed of doing anything harmful to the U.S.” Later, he said, “We did not knowingly receive classified information from Larry Franklin.” Lowell added, “When the facts are known, this will be a case not about Rosen and Weissman’s actions but about the government’s actions.” Lowell said that he would not rehearse his arguments against any charges until there is an indictment.

Rosen said that he was particularly upset by the allegation that, because he had informed Gilon that Israeli lives might be in danger, he was a spy for Israel. “If I had been given information that British or Australian soldiers were going to be kidnapped or killed in Iraq, I think I would have done the same thing,” he said. “I’d have tried to warn them by calling friends at those embassies.” He wants to believe that he could return to aipac if he is exonerated, but this does not seem likely. aipac leaders are downplaying Rosen’s importance to the organization. “aipac is focussed primarily on legislative lobbying,” Dorton told me. Rosen’s severance pay will end in September, although aipac, in accordance with its bylaws, will continue to pay legal fees for Rosen and Weissman.

Rosen’s defenders are critical of aipac for its handling of the controversy. Martin Indyk, who is now the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, a think tank within the Brookings Institution, thinks that aipac made a tactical mistake by cutting off the two men. “It appears they’ve abandoned their own on the battlefield,” he says. “Because they cut Steve off, they leave him no choice.” Indyk wouldn’t elaborate, but the implication was clear: Rosen and Weissman will defend themselves by arguing that they were working in concert with the highest officials of the organization, including Kohr.

Until there is an indictment, the government’s full case against Rosen and Weissman cannot be known; no one in the Justice Department will comment. The laws concerning the dissemination of government secrets are sometimes ambiguous and often unenforced, and prosecutors in such cases face complex choices. According to Lee Strickland, a former chief privacy officer of the C.I.A., prosecutors pressing espionage charges against Rosen and Weissman would have to prove that the information the two men gave to Gilon not merely was classified but rose to the level of “national-defense information,” meaning that it could cause dire harm to the United States. Yet a reporter who called the Embassy to discuss the same information in the course of preparing a story—thus violating the same statute—would almost certainly not be prosecuted. Strickland continued, “Twice in the Clinton Administration we had proposals to broaden the statutes to include the recipients, not just the leakers, of classified information. The New York Times and the Washington Post went bat-shit about this legislation. They saw it as an attempt to shut down leaks.” If American law did punish those who receive, and then pass on, or publish, privileged information, much of the Washington press corps would be in jail, according to Lee Levine, a First Amendment lawyer. So would a great many government officials, elected and appointed, for whom classified information is the currency of conversation with reporters and lobbyists.

Strickland, who said that he had spent much of his career at the C.I.A. “shutting down” leaks, called the aipac affair “uncharted territory.” It is uncommon, he said, for an espionage case to be built on the oral transmission of national-defense information. He also said, “Intent is always an element. If I were a defense attorney, I would argue that this was a form of entrapment. The F.B.I. agents deliberately set my client up, put him in a moral quandary.” He added, however, that although a jury might recognize the quandary, the law does not. “Just because you have information that would help a foreign country doesn’t make it your job to pass that information.”

Even some of aipac’s most vigorous critics do not see the Rosen affair as a traditional espionage case. James Bamford, who is the author of well-received books about the National Security Agency, and an often vocal critic of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby, sees the case as a cautionary tale about one lobbying group’s disproportionate influence: “What Pollard did was espionage. This is a much different and more unique animal—this is the selling of ideology, trying to sell a viewpoint.” He continued, “Larry Franklin is not going to knock on George Bush’s door, but he can get aipac, which is a pressure group, and the Israeli government, which is an enormous pressure group, to try to get the American government to change its policy to a more aggressive policy.” Bamford, who believes that Weissman and Rosen may indeed be guilty of soliciting information and passing it to a foreign government, sees the case as a kind of brushback pitch, a way of limiting aipac’s long—and, in Bamford’s view, dangerous—reach.

Other aipac critics see the lobby’s behavior as business as usual in Washington. “The No. 1 game in Washington is making people talking to you feel like you’re an insider, that you’ve got information no one else has,” Sam Gejdenson, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut, says. When Gejdenson opposed a proposal to increase Israel’s foreign-aid allocation at the expense of more economically needy countries, aipac, he said, responded by “sitting on its hands” during his reëlection campaigns, despite the fact that he is Jewish. “It’s like any other lobbying group,” he said. “Its job isn’t to come up with the best ideas for mankind, or the U.S. It’s narrowly focussed.”

aipac officials insist that the case has not affected the organization’s effectiveness. But its operations have certainly been hindered by the controversy of the past year, and the F.B.I. sting may force lobbyists of all sorts to be more careful about trying to penetrate the executive branch—and about leaking to reporters. And aipac now seems acutely sensitive to the appearance of dual loyalty. The theme of this year’s aipac conference was “Israel, an American Value,” and, for the first time, “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, was not sung. The only anthem heard was “The Star-Spangled Banner.”