Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jimmy Carter's descent into Israel-bashing

For the past couple of months, former President Jimmy Carter has been touring the country like a rock star, touting his deceptively-titled book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." The book, which has become a best-seller, is riddled with so many factual errors that Carter's criticism of Israel loses its validity.

I commented on the book in a previous posting ("The myths about Israel," 12/17/06). At the risk of repeating myself, I feel obliged to comment again because the book is attracting so much attention. It has disseminated so much nefarious information about Israel that the book is undoubtedly influencing the views of the uninformed and providing red meat for anti-Semitic hate groups.

Emory University Professor Kenneth Stein, a Middle East expert who was the Carter Center's first executive director and collaborated with Carter on a previous book, has quit the center to protest Carter's demonization of Israel. So have about 15 other Carter Center associates and supporters.

Carter's cynical use of the book's insulting title is clearly meant to smear the Jewish state by equating the plight of of the Palestinians to the former victims of government-mandated racial separation in South Africa. Inside the book, however, Carter lamely confesses that there is "no semblance of anything relating to apartheid with the nation of Israel."

So why the title? Carter's simplistic explanation: He wants to provoke debate on the Israel-Palestine issue. He makes the offensive argument that American Jewish interests have stifled public criticism of Israel.

I was once an admirer of Carter and am stunned by his descent into Israel-bashing. The book is unworthy of a man who helped negotiate the 1978 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

One of his most outrageous errors is the claim that Israel invaded Jordan in 1967 to acquire the West Bank. He forgets history: Jordan first bombarded West Jerusalem despite Israeli warnings to stay out of its war with Egypt.

Carter is also factually incorrect that UN Resolution 242 requires Israel to retreat to the vulnerable pre-1967 armistice line. Actually, the resolution calls for negotiations to determine Israel's boundaries with a Palestinian state.

Still another falsehood is Carter's charge that Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Barak rejected President Bill Clinton's land-for-peace proposal in 2000. The fact is that Israel agreed to a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank. Carter should have called Clinton to find out what really happened.

Criticizing Israel's controversial security fence and border checkpoints, Carter misrepresents their purpose. Israel does not seek to "imprison Palestinians," as the ex-President argues, but to keep terrorists out. Carter shows little patience for such nuances and barely recognizes that Arab terrorism is the reason for the Israeli policies he denounces.

Carter fails to acknowledge that Israel has consistently offered to surrender territories acquired in defensive wars in exchange for the suspension of Palestinian terrorism and formal Arab recognition of its right to exist. As Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recently said: "Israel has tried direct negotiations, negotiations in steps, and unilateral moves. In the end we receive terror."

Carter's book makes the extraordinary claim that the violence has mostly been initiated by Israelis and that Palestinians have played little role in creating the mess that exists in the region.

Stein writes that Carter's book is "replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, and simply invented segments." For readers interested in a detailed dissection of those errors,I suggest Stein's web site ( and a site containing Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz's analysis (

I have tried to figure out why Carter's role has changed from impartial mediator into aggressive advocate of the Palestinian cause. Dershowitz has hinted that one factor could be that he has been influenced by the substantial financial support the Carter Center has received from the Arab Gulf State rulers.

I believe there is a more subtle factor in play, as an Israeli who has accompanied Carter on his visits to Israel, has suggested. Carter is an Evangelical Christian well versed in the Bible. He is also naive. I think Carter has apparently been disappointed--perhaps even disgusted--that Israel's secular leaders have failed to live up to the lofty ideals of their ancestors, the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament.

He evidently expected Israel, because of its Biblical antecedents, to be governed by an exceptional moral political code that no other nation practices and is unattainable in today's world.

In the past Carter has boasted that he is "a friend of Israel." His new book demonstrates that with "friends" like him, Israel doesn't need any more enemies.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

MEMOIR: My first college professor

The winners of the George Polk Awards for excellence in journalism in 2006 were announced this week. Although not as well-known as the Pulitzer Prizes, which honor literary achievements and musical composition as well as journalism, the Polk Awards are limited to the news business. A roll-call of the winners over the past 58 years include the nation's most distinguished people in the field.

The awards commemorate George W. Polk, a Columbia Broadcasting System foreign correspondent who was murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war. His body was found floating in the Bay of Salonika. He had been shot in the back of the head at point-blank range. Ever since, a controversy has raged over whether his killers were Communists or the right-wing military government they were battling. Polk had acquired enemies on both sides because of his unbiased reporting.

The Polk Awards have a special meaning to me because Polk was one of my first two teachers as a college freshman. I don't remember the name of the other one. But the publicity surrounding both Polk's murder and the subsequent publicity over the annual awards in his honor have firmly established him in my memory.

In February 1942 I was enrolled as a night school student at New York University. Polk had been a Paris correspondent for the now-defunct New York Herald-Tribune and was now assigned to the paper's foreign news desk in New York. He was also working as a part-time journalism instructor at NYU. I was one of about a dozen students in his class.

Polk had a reserve commission as a Navy pilot. As I recall, he was called up for active duty when the course ended in early June. Several months later, I learned that he was serving on Guadalcanal.

Although my exposure to Polk in the classroom was so brief, I remember him as an excellent lecturer. His subject was the history of journalism, a required course for journalism majors. It was not the kind of subject likely to excite young, aspiring journalists eager for an energetic career as reporters.

I recall, however, that Polk made the subject vivid, introducing us to the early 18th Century career of John Peter Zenger and regaling us with tales of more modern and important journalistic figures. Zenger, who is not exactly a household name to the general public, was a German-born printer and editor in New York City during the Colonial era. He played a vital role in the development of the freedom of the press in America.

Zenger was tried and acquitted on sedition and libel charges against the British governor in 1735. The Zenger decision has been celebrated for laying the groundwork for the responsibilities of both the media and the government in a functioning democracy. Polk, my first college professor, was killed while reporting in a foreign environment where the principles of a free press were unknown.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Madness in Iraq

The Bush Administration's decision to send more troops to Iraq is sheer madness. Polls show that the majority of the Iraqi people wants the U.S. to leave. Indeed, some American generals concede that the U.S. presence in Iraq is as much a factor in the country's bloody violence as the sectarian strife between the Shiites and the Sunnis.

Nevertheless, the Bush Administration insists on having American soldiers play referee in that country. Now it is compounding the Iraqi chaos with its "surge" in U.S. troops. The Administration boasts that it has "introduced democracy" to Iraq. It cites the recent elections and the creation of a parliament and constitution as signs of success. The most effective test of Iraqi democracy, however, would be an Iraqi parliamentary vote on whether U.S. troops should remain or depart.

The purpose of the so-called "surge" is to control the raging sectarian violence by merging more American soldiers with the Iraqi army and police force. The idea is that the combined force will be able to establish security by suppressing both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite militias.

But there are basic problems. By all accounts, both the Iraqi army and police force are riddled with members of the Shiite militias. So loyalties, often based on tribal ties, are hard to determine, and U.S. troops are often unable to distinguish genuine friends from foes. The situation is complicated by the growing conflict between rival Shiite militias.

The Bush Administration argues that if the U.S. "cuts and runs," neighboring Iran, a nation hostile to U.S. interests, will take control of Iraq. But it's too late; Iran's powerful influence with the Shiites who now rule Iraq is already evident.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently visited Tehran to confer with his fellow Shiites. Another frequent Iraqi visitor to Iran is the radical Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-U.S. firebrand. Indeed, al-Sadr may have found refuge in Iran from American forces.

The Sadr link to Iran was recently confirmed by Sari al-Askari, a member of Sadr's bloc in parliament. Interestingly, al-Askari also functions as a a political adviser to Prime Minister al-Maliki. This is the convoluted political environment into which George W. Bush has wandered.

Meanwhile, it is becoming evident that the Sunni insurgents are being supported by elements in Saudi Arabia, a supposed American ally. There is no evidence that the Saudi government is officially involved in Iraq. But the Saudi government--like other Sunni nations such as Jordan, the Gulf States, and Egypt--is worried about a Shiite Iran takeover of Iraq and may be overlooking the unofficial aid to Iraq's Sunni insurgents.

In the past, left-wing critics of the Iraq war have charged that Israel instigated the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The toppling of Saddam Hussein was certainly a benefit to the Israelis. But it's hard to imagine such hard-nosed characters as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld heeding the advice of foreigners to go to war.

In fact, most Israeli strategists now believe that the chaotic situation in Iraq has harmed vital Israeli security interests. Iraq's western Anbar province has become increasingly dominated by militant jihadi Sunnis, including Al Qaeda. More important, the American occupation of Iraq has strengthened Israel's primary enemy, Iran.

According to Yossi Alpher, a veteran Israeli security official, and other authoritative Israel sources, Israel's former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a friendly fashion, pointedly warned Bush not to go into Iraq without a viable exit strategy and not to occupy the country, even though Sharon conceded that Saddam Hussein was a menace who may have possessed atomic weapons.

Sharon told Bush, Alpher writes, "Please remember that you will conquer, occupy and leave, but we have to remain in this part of the world....Israel, he reminded the American President, does not wish to see its vital interests hurt by regional radicalization and the spillover of violence beyond Iraq's border."

In public, Sharon played the silent ally. He neither criticized nor supported the Iraq invasion. Israeli officials visiting Washington were instructed not to encourage the U.S. invasion plan so that Israel could not be blamed for its failure.

Perhaps if Sharon had made his criticism of the Iraq invasion public, citing the dangers posed to Israeli interests, he would have quickly disproved the hateful argument of the left-wing critics and their academic cohorts that Israel was responsible for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

MEMOIR: Cracking up under pressure

The tragic, much-publicized case of Lisa Nowak, the female astronaut charged this past week with attempted murder, is a classic example of how some one struggling with enormous personal pressures can suffer an emotional crackup. Her story reminds me that I witnessed a similar case during World War II while serving in the Army in India.

Capt. Nowak, who flew in the Discovery shuttle mission last July, is accused of intending to kidnap or kill a female rival for the affection of another astronaut. In view of the high-powered, exceptional demands of an astronaut's job, her bizarre behavior was so extraordinary that it is evident that she suffered a nervous breakdown.

The victim whose crackup I observed 63 years ago was exposed to a far lesser type of personal pressure. But his irrational symptoms were similar, and the outcome even more tragic. The victim shared a tent with me and three other GIs. While I can recall the details of what happened to him,I do not remember his name. For purposes of this story, I will call him Arnold.

He was only about 20 years old, my age then, but he had already graduated from college before his induction into the Army. I remember him as an intellectually brilliant and shy young man with an odd personality. He worked as a cryptographer in the regional Air Corps message center that our outfit operated. Arnold had no friends, and I rarely saw him without a book in his hands during his off-duty hours. The men in our outfit regarded him as an eccentric, and he became a victim of teasing and bullying.

Looking back at the pattern of his behavior,I believe he might now be considered a victim of Asperger's Symptom, a neurobiological disorder and a form of autism that was not recognized until recent years. People diagnosed with Asperger's have normal or even superior intelligence, but they suffer a marked deficiency in social or communications skills.

One afternoon I walked into my tent and was shocked by what I saw. Wearing only his underpants, Arnold was standing on a stool with an electric light bulb in his mouth. His right arm was stretched up so that he could thrust his hand into the electric outlet installed in the tent's ceiling.

If this had been some one else other than Arnold, I would have considered his behavior a childish joke. Arnold, however, did not have a sense of humor, and the anguished expression on his face suggested that this was a serious display of abnormality.

I pulled Arnold off the stool and removed the bulb from his mouth. I was quite frightened by the weird look on his face. He was very agitated and refused to talk to me. Another one of my tent mates came in, and we quickly walked Arnold to our outfit's headquarters.

As I can recall the situation, Arnold was placed in a jeep and driven to the base dispensary. I never saw him again. Several days later, my tent mates and I were instructed to gather Arnold's possessions and deliver them to a hospital located at a nearby base.

We later learned that Arnold had been put aboard a troop ship sailing out of Calcutta and headed back to the States. After a few days at sea, we were told that he jumped overboard. His body was never recovered.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

MEMOIR: Wartime pen pals

I find that one of most interesting features of blogging is exchanging comments with other bloggers. The result has been a sort of "pen-pal" relationship I have developed via e-mail with several men and women I would never have otherwise known. I doubt very much whether we will ever meet, but the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with them makes the Internet so fascinating. The situation reminds me of "pen-pal" experiences I had during World War II.

Before my induction into the Army,I worked briefly as an office boy for RKO Radio Pictures, where I voluntarily joined a labor union, the United Office & Professional Workers of America. I was an idealistic kid who was highly sympathetic to the labor movement, reflecting my father's own liberal political views.

I don't recall enjoying any special benefits from my union membership. My salary remained at $16 a week and there were no additional fringe benefits offered to me. But the idea that I, a mere 17-year old, could affiliate with an organization of so-called "professionals" was another motivation to join the union. RKO's office employees were not required to become members.

After I entered the Army, the union continued to mail me its newspaper. Each issue contained a plea for the members to write to "our boys in the service." I sent my military address to the publication, updating it each time I was transferred to a new location. Like most other lonely young soldiers, I was eager to receive mail, especially since I had been shipped to India after only eight months of service. Frequent letters from my mother were not enough to satisfy my desire for links to the outside civilian world.

I didn't have any regular girl friend at the time. But I began to write occasionally to two girls who were college night-school classmates I had dated briefly. Both were journalism students like me. They always responded, but I don't recall the exchange of any meaningful romantic sentiments in our correspondence.

The volume of mail zoomed after my name and Army address were published in the union newspaper. I became the envy of the guys in my outfit whenever there was mail call. Because my civilian address was also listed in the paper, virtually all the letters came from single young women in the Metropolitan New York area. Invariably, the letter-writer included what presumably was her own photograph.

It was obvious that the wartime shortage of young civilian men had produced many lonely young women eager to know a man in uniform, even if it was only through the mail.I responded to every letter that I received, but I eventually narrowed down my regular correspondence to about a dozen girls who were the prettiest and appeared to be the most interesting.

In addition to the single New York area girls with whom I became pen pals, I began to correspond with a middle-aged woman who lived in Glendale, Calif. She had a son who was an officer in the Navy. Her husband was an insurance agent who belonged to my union. After seeing my name and address in his union's paper, I assume she thought it was her patriotic duty to write to a lonely young soldier stationed overseas.

Her frequent letters were often accompanied by fruit cake or other gifts. I believe she developed a special interest in me because I told her that my ambition was to become a writer. She had formerly been the secretary to Upton Sinclair, a popular author during the 1920s and 1930s.

Sinclair wrote more than 90 books. The most famous was "The Jungle," an expose of the horrid conditions in Chicago meatpacking plants. The book launched a government investigation of the industry, resulting in the enactment of strict Federal regulations on food processing. Sinclair was also an unsuccessful Socialist candidate for Congress, and his ex-secretary shared his left-wing political views.

Indeed, her extreme left-wing sentiments were so ardent that she seemed particularly interested to learn that my mother was born in Russia. At that time, of course, the Soviet Union was our wartime ally. Sympathy for the Communist state was not yet regarded as subversive as it became only a few years later.

I informed the lady that my mother had been brought to the U.S. from Russia as a child and had no emotional or family connections with the Soviet Union. As I recall, she was disappointed to learn that. But she did send me a copy of an Upton Sinclair book that was personally autographed to me.

Foreign policy and domestic politics, of course, never figured in my correspondence with the bevy of young ladies who survived my selection of female pen pals. After a durable postal relationship was established with them, a handful of the more adventurous types began to write in slightly erotic terms, which strengthened a libido that really didn't need a boost.

I was inhibited from responding in the same tempo. The problem was that all our outgoing mail was censored. In my case, the censor was my company commander. I was the company clerk and sat at a desk only a few feet from his.I was highly embarrassed that he was reading all my outgoing letters.I found it difficult to get too personal with my long-distant girl friends, knowing that the captain sitting next to me would enjoy reading any romantic sentiments that I might want to express.

So my letters were usually devoted to exotic, but certainly not erotic, material--descriptions of the Taj Mahal and the streets of Bombay and Calcutta and innocent details of my military life that were not subject to censorship. I always wondered how my unknown female correspondents reacted to my failure to respond to their postal romantic advances. They would have to wait until I came home.

When I finally returned to the U.S. after the war, I began to arrange dates with my lady pen pals. I narrowed the group down by eliminating girls I considered "GU"--geographically undesirables because they lived in Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island. The GI Bill of Rights enabled me to return to college as a full-time student, and I was now living at home with my parents in the Bronx. I did not own a car, and I was not eager for long-distance subway trips.

None of the postal romances ever developed into serious relationships. Most of the girls were as pretty as the pictures they had mailed me. But none were as sexually aggressive as their letters had suggested. They had taken poetic license to satisfy a lonely soldier overseas.

Moreover, I was now steadily dating one of my pre-Army college girl friends. She had graduated during my absence and was now working as a newspaper reporter. None of the former pen pals could compete with her for my interest.

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