Thursday, January 31, 2008

Winograd Report II

The essential military failure of the Second Lebanon War is contained in this paragraph from the Winograd press conference.
"Overall, we regard the 2nd Lebanon war as a serious missed opportunity. Israel initiated a long war, which ended without its clear military victory. A semi-military organization of a few thousand men resisted, for a few weeks, the strongest army in the Middle East, which enjoyed full air superiority and size and technology advantages. The barrage of rockets aimed at Israel's civilian population lasted throughout the war, and the IDF did not provide an effective response to it. The fabric of life under fire was seriously disrupted, and many civilians either left their home temporarily or spent their time in shelters. After a long period of using only standoff fire power and limited ground activities, Israel initiated a large scale ground offensive, very close to the Security Council resolution imposing a cease fire. This offensive did not result in military gains and was not completed. These facts had far-reaching implications for us, as well as for our enemies, our neighbors, and our friends in the region and around the world."
This paragraph states the obvious loss of deterrence by the IDF and the apparent lack of concern of the higher echelons for the status of the civilian population in the north. Both of these factors will come back to haunt us. Hizbollah and others will consider this a victory and will certainly try again.
Apart from this comparative military debacle, the political leadership, now exemplified by PM Olmert, failed to accept full responsibility for the failures of the conduct of the war and resign. This too does not bode well for the future of political leadership in Israel. Everyone should send a message to the PM's office and tell him to resign. Here is the address: At present 57% of the public feel that Olmert should resign while 33% think he should not (poll reported today on IBA News). Only by such a campaign can we let Olmert know that he does not have the confidence of the majority of the public as he goes into far-reaching and dangerous negotiations with the PA leadership.

Winograd Report (summary)

Jerusalem is snowed under both by snow and responses to the Winograd Report on the conduct of the Second Lebanon War. This analysis is based on a translation of the press conference summary given by Justice Winograd on Wednesday (attached) following the presentation of the full Report to the Government.
There is no doubt that the Report constitutes a blistering criticism of the political and IDF leadership regarding its preparedness for the war. While this cannot be attributed only to the then current leadership, nevertheless the responsible parties failed miserably in their functions before and during the war.
Before the war there were several options, notably either a powerful air campaign and/or a ground campaign, but it seems, from the Report, that no decision was made in the initial stages as to how the war would or should be conducted. There were failures of decision making and communication, in that the leadership of the IDF failed to communicate the options to the political leadership. As a consequence the idea that the air attacks could resolve the issues of the war, notably the need to stop the rocket attacks on northern Israel and the return of the two Israeli hostages, was never clearly discussed, and there was no "exit strategy."
Further, the ground offenses in southern Lebanon were conducted in a half-hearted and ad hoc manner with insufficient preparation and without an overall strategic plan. Since orders were continually reversed there was great confusion on the battlefield. Together with the lack of sufficient supplies, both military and food/water, this resulted in a loss of morale as well as unnecessary fatalities. However, the performance of the individual soldier/reservist in the IDF was not criticized.
Only in the last 3 days of the 33 day war did the political echelon decide on a massive ground assault of southern Lebanon. While this was too little too late, there was no evidence that this was carried out purely for domestic political reasons, but rather to affect the final ceasefire agreement. However, notwithstanding the loss of a further 33 lives it failed to achieve significant goals.
As a result of the failures of the war and the criticism leveled in the Interim Winograd Report (which dealt only with the period leading up to the war), both the then Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, and the Chief of Staff Dan Halutz resigned, together with several other high ranking IDF officers. Only the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remains from that leadership.
However, since the Winograd Committee decided not to apportion personal blame and because the second part of the Report on the conduct of the war was less critical of Olmert than the Interim Report, PM Olmert has decided not to resign.

Herewith the official Likud press response to the Report:
In response to the announcement of Judge Winograd the Likud says that the Winograd report is extremely harsh and places clear responsibility for the failures on the political leadership.
Prime Minister Olmert as head of the executive branch must take personal responsibility and resign.
Mr. Barak, who promised to leave the government no later than the release of the final Winograd report, must keep his promise and quit the government. If Barak was looking for a reason to avoid resigning he could not find one in this report.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Liverpool RESPECTacles

I would like to draw your attention to an exceptional Holocaust exhibit that was organized in Liverpool, UK. Most Americans only know Liverpool as the origin of the Beatles, but it is a major city and port in England. This year it has been chosen as European Capital of Culture, and was independently selected in a nation-wide competition to host the national Holocaust event in Britain.
One of my most steadfast correspondents is Naomi Kingston, who is an activist in Jewish affairs and a former Headteacher of the King David primary school in Liverpool. RESPECTacles was the brainchild of Holocaust Project Director Jean Evans. She called the main exhibit in the Ballroom of the Town Hall "RESPECTacles" by combining two relevant words. They collected 110,000 pairs of spectacles . The glasses were handed in by people, including many well known personalities, such as Tony and Cherie Blair, Elton John, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Harry Potter, and is Jewish), and many were sent from other parts of Britain, the USA..and Australia. There was also a dinner that the the Mayor of Liverpool presided at and 700 people sat down to a kosher meal in the St. George's Ballroom.
The Ballroom in Liverpool Town Hall is mirrored at both ends so 110,000 spectacles gave the appearance of stretching into infinity….they became 330,000 pairs of glasses in the mirrored reflections. At the infamous Wannsee Conference a list was drawn up of all the Jews in Europe intended for extermination. In 1939 there were 330,000 Jews in Britain - and 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children who arrived on the Kindertransport to safety in Britain.
The exhibit included historic material, some of it lent by local survivors of the Holocaust who had moved to Liverpool and surroundings after WWII. A very special occurence was the unexpected receipt of an e-mail from Sonoma, California, from the nephew of a former British Army officer. He sent a letter that was found among his Aunt's possessions and only discovered when she died. This letter was a copy of a typed account of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp by the British forces, dated May 15, 1945, and signed by Col. H.L.W. Bird.
He described how they had found 23,000 bodies and 28,000 live people in deplorable condition, starving and in rags, of whom more than 6,000 subsequently died despite attempts to save them. The reading of this unexpected historical record brought tears to many eyes.
Great honor should go to Jean Evans, Naomi Kingston and many others who played vital roles in organizing this memorable 2008 national British commemoration of the Holocaust. To see a full report of this exhibition and event click on:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Another day

Today is international Holocaust Memorial Day, Jan 27, the day that the Russians liberated Auschwitz in 1945. Israel has a different day, so there were no public commemorations here. In the rest of the world they use this day to remember all forms of genocide, so that the specific connection with the Jews is deliberately downgraded. I heard Sir Iqbal Sacranie being interviewed on BBC saying that the reason why the British Muslim League reversed its boycott of Holcaust Memorial Day was that they were able to also include other holocausts, such as those in the Balkans and Rwanda (he didn't mention Darfur). This is another example of how the mulitcultural liberal fascist view opposes Jewish particularism and Jewish suffering.
Last night another terrorist attack occured near Jerusalem when a policewoman sitting in a car was stabbed. The perpetrator was caught. That was the third incident in 48 hrs, yet the police said they were not connected (?) And these are the "moderate" Palestinians, not the bad boys of Hamas.
Today also PM Olmert met with Pres. Abbas and Ahmed Querei in Jerusalem, and discussed the current status of the situation, including Gaza. Olmert told them that Israel would not allow a humanitarian catastrophe to occur in Gaza, and today the Israeli Supreme Court issued an injunction against the State for disrupting the flow of oil to Gaza. In effect they were setting political policy in place of the Government, and Olmert loves to go along with this, since it absolves him of any actual action.
Meanwhile for the fifth day the Egyptians were unable to take control of their border with Gaza, and there is danger of a mini-Hamastan being developed in northeastern Sinai, centred on the town of El Arish. There are already rumors that Hamas are using the port to receive weapons shipments, and the Egyptian security forces, trying to prevent the spread of terrorists throughout Egypt, reported capturing 5 armed groups trying to infiltrate Egypt proper. The IDF have sealed the Israeli border with Egypt and have issued warnings to all Israelis in Sinai to return urgently and not to travel in the region.
The situation is very volatile. The destruction of the Egyptian border has been a small victory for Hamas, but eventually Egypt must take control of its border and this will almost certainly result in armed clashed with Hamas gangs. The outcome is uncertain.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


While we usually talk of political fanaticism, such as Islamism that seeks to take over the world, there are other kinds. Now that I go twice a week to the gym I see examples of people putting the shape of their bodies before anything else in a clearly fanatical way.
I do admire the young men whose muscles bulge with power, and I told my trainer, Yuri, that when I come back again I'm going to ask for his body. But, there are some young men I see tying huge weights to their waists and then doing pull ups, or lifting weights that are clearly at or beyond the limits of their capability. I also admire some of the young women, only from an esthetic point of view. But, there is one young woman that is always on the ellipitcal (ski) machine when I am there twice a week, when I arrive and when I leave, and she is racing at such a fast pace (sprinting actually) that it is inhuman. I asked about her and they told me she does that for 4 hrs four days a week. To me this is a kind of fanaticism. She is already very thin, and probably bulemic, and yet she is there racing away staring into space all the time I am at the gym. It is positively disturbing, there must be something wrong with her.
But, in her case we can see the nature of her fanaticism, it is aberrant human behavior. We have all seen the videos of young women who have starved themselves to death thinking in their minds that they are fat. This happened to a young Israeli fashion model Hila Elmalich who died last year, and they established a fund in her name and introduced rules for Model agencies and shows here.
But, in the case of political fanaticism we cannot see the visual signs of the disease until it is too late and people have been blown up. We usually deal with the political basis of such acts, but in reality, although there may be rational and/or irrational political reasons/excuses for these acts of terrorism, in effect it is a human disease. This disease of the mind that allows people to kill others without qualms. I know that the woman in the gym is ill, and is not harming anyone else but herself. But, when I see her it reinforces the notion that fanaticism is a disease and that there are a certain proportion of young men and women in different cultures that are by nature fanatics. They come out of the woodwork when the times are ripe, as in Europe during WWII, as in the Balkans recently, and for a long time in the Middle East. It seems that political grievances, especially feelings of inadequacy and defeat, combined with Islamist theology, bring out this fanaticism in many Muslim youth.

Friday, January 25, 2008


While all attention was focussed on the Gaza Strip and the breakdown of the Egyptian border, other political events were occurring in Israel. The Organization of Bereaved Families of soldiers killed in the second Lebanon War held a meeting in the Knesset on Wednesday, attended by eight Kadima MKs among others, and blasted PM Olmert, calling on him to resign.In the speech he gave at the Herzliya Conference the next day, sponsored each year by the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, Olmert answered them and many other critics. He basically said that he will not let considerations of politics interfere with his responsibility to negotiate peace with his Palestinian partners. In other words, whatever mistakes he made, and whatever the Winograd Report, to be released next week, concludes, he will hang on to power. This is what we have come to expect from cynical politicians.Friday night there were two terrorist attacks in the Jerusalem area. At Pisgat Zeev north of Jerusalem a border post was fired on by two terrorists, one security guard was killed and a policewoman injured. The gunmen got away. In the south of Jerusalem near Kfar Etzion, two terrorists broke into a Yeshiva, and stabbed two people in the library, but the teacher managed to wrest a pistol from one of the attackers and shot both of them dead! This is life in Israel.Meanwhile the Egyptians have been embarrassed by Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza, since although they sent in their security forces, prepared to do battle, Hamas merely sent in a bulldozer and opened another big hole in the fence. The free flow of Gazans into Egypt may herald a new relationship that gives more responsibility to Egypt for Gaza and allows Israel "off the hook" somewhat. PM Haniyeh has threatened that he will likewise send 500,000 people to break down the Israeli border. Given the incompetence and stupidity of this Govt. I doubt that they have made any preparations for such an onslaught, but clearly the IDF guards, although they shoot anyone who comes up to the border fence, will not shoot on a crowd of civilians.The main danger in the situation of the open Gaza-Egyptian border for Israel, is that although Egypt signed an agreement with Israel whereby they undertook to control security at the Gaza border, they have not been doing this. So the terrorists, under Iranian guidance, are probably "smuggling" more rockets, and longer range ones, over the border as I write this. No doubt this will result in more Israeli casualties and a deterioration of the situation. Something that Iran wants and Egypt tolerates while pretending to be "moderate." Also, Israel has banned all travel near the Egyptian border for fear of Palestinian terorrists who have escaped Gaza via Sinai and will try to infiltrate Israel to kill and capture innocent Israelis.The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution 50:1 condemning Israel for the "collective punishment" of the Gaza population, without a single reference to the 4,200 rockets and mortars that have been fired into Israel in the past few years. And the 30 other countries present, including most of the EU, abstained rather than voting against! This is as cynical as it gets. The UN Security Council has also been discussing the Gaza situation, and there at least the rockets have been included in the draft resolution. However, because of this, Libya, this months SC Chair, is blocking presentation of this resolution because it contains this "impediment."I say that having withdrawn completely from Gaza, and not owing the Gazans anything, and being in a state of war with them, we should simply stop all supplies and let them rot. Let them get their supplies from Egypt and Iran!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gaza and Egypt

There is a civil war between two groups, the nationalists and the fascists. No, this is not Spain in 1938, it's the Palestinians in 2008. Many have commented that the period now is like the pre-WWII period, with Iran playing the role of Nazi Germany.
In the case of Gaza, it is the Islamofascists of Hamas who are in power and there is no likelihood that they will ever allow another popular election with real opposition. In other words, once they won, just like Hitler, they will retain power until defeated.
There is a great deal of hypocrisy exhibited by many nations regarding the situation in Gaza. In WWII, Britain bombed Dresden to extinction, killing ca. 200,000 civilians. One reason that they did this was supposedly to show the nearby Russians that they had no compunction about killing civilians in a war. Of course, the Russians murdered millions and the US engaged in a form of genocide when they deliberately bombed Tokyo, that mainly consisted of wooden houses, causing a firestorm and killing ca. 350,000 people, the highest single total of the war (more than at Hiroshima).
So why the big fuss over some oil deliveries. Israel has been supplying Gaza with ca. 75% of its electricity needs from the Israeli grid for years while the rockets have been falling in Israel, killing people and making life unbearable. Yet, our Govt. has been so stupid that they have continued to supply this. Also, note that Hamas chose to close down hospitals when they had plenty of electricity from the Israeli grid to keep them open. It was all PR and of course it worked.
The Govt. went to the trouble of proclaiming Gaza a "hostile" entity months ago, but never did anything about it. Defense Minister Barak reduced the electricity supply by 5% but then rescinded that. Now when they cut off some land supplies usually trucked in, the whole world makes a big fuss. So they immediatley rescinded their order again, and sent in tons of fuel and 8 truckloads of medical and food supplies, including flour and cooking oil. Why should the Gazans live nicely while they make the lives of the people of Sderot and surroundings a misery? Screw them!
Of course, Egypt sees fit to criticize Israel, while at the same time the Gazans to blew multiple holes in the Gaza-Egyptian fence and allowed them go back and forth with complete freedom. Who knows how much explosives and weapons they have "smuggled" into Gaza, and they could bring in food and oil if they wanted to, but they don't need to since Israel is supplying that! So now that the Egyptian-Gaza border is open, let Egypt take responsibility to ensure no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, why should it be Israel's responsibility.
Anyway, nothing will dislodge Hamas from Gaza except a fight, and at some point this must be undertaken. The "moderate" Fatah Palestinians under Pres. Abbas of the West Bank nevertheless see fit to criticize Israel for stopping supplies to their enemies in Gaza. Not until Hamas is defeated and Abbas controls Gaza would they be able to negotiate a deal for all the Palestinians, and even Olmert has said that no deal is possible without Gaza being included.
While Gaza is a small sideshow to the main event of Iran, nevertheless it is an important one. How can the West ever expect to confront the Islamofascists if they make such a fuss about Israel not supplying our enemies with cakes and the fuel to cook them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gaza policy

There are many reasons why one could criticize the Olmert Government over its handling of the rockets being fired into our country from Gaza. They have allowed this situation to continue without effective response for far too long. Targeting individual terrorists is good, but evidently not sufficient, and firing artillery shells into empty fields also did not suffice. Allowing the citizens of Sderot to be left unprotected against this onslaught was disgraceful, and allowing conscripts to sleep in unprotected tents within range of the rockets was criminal.
But, what is most disconcerting is that once a policy is decided upon, the Government, prinicipally the PM and Defense Minister, cannot stay the course for more than a day. They cut the supplies of oil to Gaza, but never thought that Hamas would use this as an effective PR tool by turning off all the power, including to hospitals, in Gaza City, even though they have plenty of electricity being supplied from the Israel national grid.
Now the Govt. has resupplied Gaza, because of world pressure and their own incompetence. I think I speak for the majority of Israelis when I say that this Government's handling of the situation is unconscionable. There is no reason why we should supply our enemies, and there is no reason why we should be concerned for their humanitarian needs when they are not concerned about ours. The majority of Israelis want to see drastic action taken against Gaza, such as cutting off all supplies, including electricity, and we want to see it now! Only forceful action, short of a military invasion, can persuade the terrorists in Gaza that continuing to fire rockets at Israeli towns and citizens is not in their best interests, whatever the world might think.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Media distortion again

What an irony, when most of the world's news media is caught again in a Palestinian media distortion (shades of Muhammed al-Dura), blaming Israel for the shutdown of the main electricity generating plant in Gaza City, Israel meanwhile continues to supply approximately 2/3 of all Gaza's electricity from the Israeli grid. What has stopped is the fuel that was being trucked across the Israel-Gaza border, and that has stopped because the terrorist organizations have upped the number of rockets being fired into Israel to ca. 50 per day! However, this direct cause of this situation is often completely ignored in the media, as if Israel were stopping this supply and closing the borders for no reason at all!
Not only that, if Gaza is indeed a hostile territory as the Knesset determined and there is in effect a state of war between Hamas and Israel, then why in any case should Israel supply Gaza with anything! It is only because of Israel's stupid self-defeating interpretation that we are anxiously keeping the Gazans alive, with electricity, food and drink, while they are bombarding us. We are supplying electricity that they are using to run their lathes to make rockets and launchers to fire at us! And it's not because they are "innocent" civilians, they voted for Hamas, and in all polls they support by a large majority the use of suicide bombers and rockets against Israeli civilians. So why shouldn't they suffer.
Even though Gaza is receiving 3/4 of all its electricity needs from outside (some also from Egypt), it was Hamas that chose to close down the generating station in Gaza City, for the publicity. They have plenty of other supplies being smuggled in from Egypt, including guns and explosives, so why don't they use the same channels and the same tunnels to smuggle in more fuel. They certainly have enough money to buy it since recently they were pledged b$7.5 for the next 3 years, which is ca. $5,000 per Gazan per year. So give me a break, with the poor, suffering Palestinians, they are among the richest poor in the world. The media will never learn their lesson, they are willingly manipulated out of their liberal anti-Israel bias, never mind that Hamas is a terrorist organization intent on the destruction of all western values. Does the US military in Iraq willingly supply al Qaeda with electricity, food and water? It's pure nonsense!

China in Israel

Every month we go to our subscription concert of the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra, that plays in the new auditorium co-owned by the Herzliya Municipality and the Israel Air Force. It's less than 30 mins drive away in Herzliya. This month they had a special concert on Chinese music.
This was under the auspices of the Chinese Embassy, and the Ambassador Zhao Jun spoke fluently in English. The concert was introduced by Herzliya Mayor German (pronounced with a soft "g" in Hebrew, note that German in Hebrew is "Ashkenaz"). The Israeli Govt. was represented by Minister of Sport, Culture & Science Majadle, who is the first Arab in the Israeli Cabinet. He spoke briefly in Hebrew (with appropriate platitudes) and recognized the presence of about 10 other Ambassadors, including Germany, Mexico, Ecuador, etc.
The guest Conductor was Yi-an Xu, who has trained in the West. He first conducted two Chinese pieces of music followed by Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The two Chinese pieces were of course westernized for orchestra. The first was a lyrical tone poem called "Reflections of the moon on Erquan," based on an old folk melody but attributed to Hua Yanjun. It was very nice but sounded better when played on the original instruments (we heard a short recording).
The second piece was "The Yellow River" piano concerto, that was much more lively and sounded (too much) like a Hollywood sound track. There was no composer listed for this piece, for although it was first conceived by a Chinese musician returning from study in Moscow, and was written in the style of Rachmaninov, it was subsequently recomposed by a Committee of ten! It was later revised by Madame Mao with a Committee of 6 selected musicians (in other word they recomposed it until she accepted it) in appropriate nationalistic (bombastic) style. In typical Maoist style the final movement is entitled "Defend the Yellow River!" and contains the old national anthem ("The East is Red") that is rarely heard in China these days. The piano soloist Nadia Weintraub was excellent, she trained in Tel Aviv and at Juilliard in NYC, and attacked the music with gusto.
We were surprised to discover that Beethoven was Chinese and was born in a log cabin on Mount Hsu near the Yangtze River (OK, I'm making this up!). Actually it was unclear why they included Beethoven in this "Chinese" program, either it was because they had no more Western-style Chinese music they could play or because it was an opportunity for a Chinese conductor to show that he could produce an acceptable version of a western classic (what could be more classic than Beethoven's 7th?). Needless to say he did an excellent job, and the applause was vociferous.
Why do the Chinese bother with Israel, when the Israeli population is less than the error in determining the Chinese population! Its not purely cultural, there must be a good reason, mainly defense (although they are against sanctions on Iran). Anyway 6 million Jewish Israelis are equivalent to ca. 60 million of any other country in terms of productivity (I hope they think so)!

Sunday, January 20, 2008


There have been so many anti-Israel attacks recently that amount to anti-Semitism, that one loses count. Here are a few of the most prominent:
1. The Jimmy Carter Book: The former President who vented his anti-Israel animus in his book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid," accuses Israel of being an apartheid state. Total nonsense, but millions of people have read it or heard about it.
2. Walt and Mearsheimer: Two misguided academics who in their articles and book entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy " resurrect that old chestnut that the pro-Israel lobby in America (read Jewish lobby) controls US foreign policy. Sheer nonsense, but believed by many.
3. The Academic Boycott of Israeli universities: initiated in Britain by a group of pro-Palestinian academics including several Jews such as the Roses, who are communists. They found that targeting the leftist academic unions was their best path, but so far they have not suceeded mainly because the unions are afraid of litigation.
4. Ms Magazine: refused to accept an ad placed by the American Jewish Congress, inocuously showing three women who have reached high levels in Israeli Society, Dorit Beinish (Chief Justice), Tzipi Livni (FM) and Dalia Itzig (Knesset Speaker). Their excuse was that it was too political, but we all know this was another case of anti-Semitism masquerading as liberal anti-Israelism.
5. Arun Gandhi, grandson of the famed Mahatma Gandhi, in an article entitled "Jewish identity can't depend on violence" in the Washington Post (known for its pro-Palestinian bias), blamed most of the violence in the world on Israel and the Jews. So outrageous and anti-Semitic was this statement that he was forced to issue a retraction. This is another example of "liberal fascism." His grandfather famously advised European Jews to passively accept German persecution, that lead to the Holocaust.
All these, and many more, constitute a broad and continuing campaign to smear Jews and Israel. They do of course tend to support the violent actions of the Palestinians and the Iranian-supported Hizbollah in Lebanon, although professing nonviolence. For example, the BBC in a recent report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, failed to mention that Israel takes the actions it does in response to a continuing rain of rockets (now at ca. 50 a day) from Gaza into the Negev. Somehow they fail to give this murderous violence against Israeli civilians any coverage or credibility. Nevertheless, contrary to Gandhi's assertion, we will use whatever violence is necessary to survive and defeat those who act against us.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Containment of Iran

Since the US and its western allies managed to defeat the Soviet Union and Communism, it should be easier to defeat Iran and Islamic terrorism. After all the Soviet Union was a huge and well armed nuclear power that was in direct conflict with the West and had a much larger population (over 300 million) than Iran (68 million) and was much more industrialized.
So superficially it might seem that using the same strategy that defeated the USSR would work against the lesser enemy of Iran. The strategy used by the US against the USSR was "containment," i.e. not allowing the USSR to expand its political system into other areas. After the Iron Curtain was raised across Europe, the US and western European nations had armed forces on alert to prevent any military expansion of the USSR and was always active in attempting to defeat their tactics, such as the Berlin airlift of 1948-9. The Wars in Korea and Vietnam were undertaken by UN forces in order to prevent further Communist expansionism, although with mixed success.
The policy of Containment was attributed to George F. Kennan, a leading US diplomat and defense expert, who in 1947 published an article proposing this approach that was taken up by the US Defense establishment. After the Vietnam War, as both sides realized that neither could win any direct military engagement, the US Govt. policy changed to that of Detente. It seems that now we need a restatement of such a containment policy to encompass the Shi'ite revolutionary regime in Iran and its satellites, Syria, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
This is quite different from the former strategic situation in the Middle East in which Israel was (and still is) facing a combination of Sunni Arab military regimes, and the US and some western countries supported Israel. This situation gradually segued into one in which Israel became self-sufficient militarily and did not need direct US or other intervention (even though depending on US military supplies), and western European support gradually whittled away.
Now the Europeans as well as the Americans find themselves under attack from a combination of extremist Sunni and Shia Islamism, the most dangerous form of which is supported by Iran, in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza.
The main reason for Pres. Bush's tour of the Middle East, just concluded in Egypt, was to try to draw the stable, moderate Sunni Arab forces together into an anti-Iranian alliance. However, the two main difficulties he faces is that first, these countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are very leary of being on the same side as Israel, which is the main declared target of Iran's regime. And even before Bush left Washington, in a little noted move, the Saudi Government stated that they would not allow their territory to be used by US or other forces directed against Iran. So they are as usual playing both sides.
After his trip, I hope that Pres,. Bush sits back and looks at the map of the Middle East with a calm and jaundiced eye. He will see that there is only one powerful and reliable US ally in the whole region, namely Israel. Egypt is unreliable and is an unstable dictatorship, where the dictator Pres. Mubarak is both ill and undemocratic. The Saudis are both undemocratic and unreliable, and the Gulf States are too small and insignificant militarily to be a factor. It is odd that Bush did not visit his good friend King Abdullah II in Jordan on this trip, but in a way that indicates that Jordan is already in his pocket, for what it's worth.
So if we see Iran as the main instigator of State-sponsored military action against the US and the West, then we need to have an explicit policy of containment of its form of Islamism. This will include both its isolation thru sanctions as well as selected military actions if necessary.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Palestinian islands

The situation in Gaza has hotted up. After the killing of an Ecuadorian volunteer by a sniper from Gaza on Monday and the firing of ca. 28 rockets into the Negev, the IDF responded with a raid on Tuesday that killed 18, including the terrorist son of Hamas FM Mahmud Zahar. Today the terrorists, including Hamas, rained ca. 50 rockets into Sderot and nearby kibbutzim, the most in any single day, thus upping the ante.
The Israeli Government is not responding effectively and is not preventing the firing of rockets, partly because PM Olmert is more concerned about his political survival than the situation around Gaza. Today, as expected, Avigdor Lieberman took his Israel Beiteinu Party out of the Coalition, leaving Olmert with a small majority of 7 seats. It is expected that other parties will follow after Jan 31 when the Winograd Report is issued, thus possibly leading to the collapse of the Govt. and new elections.
But, what to do about Gaza? You may have noted a huge difference between Gaza and the West Bank in terms of the amount of active terrorism from there. This is because Israel has constructed a security fence around the West Bank, but also the IDF occupies the territory around the 7 major cities that constitute the PA (Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and Kalkilya ) and can enter these cities any time it deems necessary for Israeli security. For example, today the head of the Islamic Jihad military wing in the West Bank, Walid Obeidi, was killed in a gunfight in Jenin. In this way, by monitoring the terrorist activity and taking preemptive action, the number of terrorist acts in Israel have been reduced to manageable proportions.
Gaza is also cut off from Israel by an effective security fence, but the smuggling of rockets and explosives into Gaza from Egypt is so extensive now that these have become the greatest threat to Israel. Israel needs to mount an operation like Operation Defensive Shield of 2002, which after the end of any further Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank under the Oslo Accords, allowed Israel to surround the Palestinian cities and attack them at will. Even though Gaza is under Hamas control there is no reason why a similar situation could not prevail there.
Let Israel undertake DSII (as suggested by Yuval Steinitz) and occupy the regions around the Gaza cities and isolate Gaza City, Beit Hanun, Rafah, Khan Yunis and set up roadblocks and checkpoints between them, just as in the West Bank. These checkpoints isolate the local terrorist groups and catch many terrorists in the act of smuggling arms and explosives. By surrounding these Palestinian islands, Israel can prevent the rocket launching and reduce the situation to the same as that on the West Bank. At the same time the IDF will avoid having to enter the centers of these cities and engage in close house to house combat, which favors the defender. But, the IDF can then take care of each city one at a time.
Although this is not an ideal solution, Israel can maintain this posture indefinitely, occupying all territory except for the PA cities, and isolating them from any major cooperative military activity. Thus, the Palestinian islands will exist as an archipelago in an Israeli sea, and they cannot obtain contiguity without the express agreement of Israel as a result of mutually acceptable negotiations.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

War and Peace

Israel finds itself in the invidious position of having war and peace at the same time. On the one hand, peace negotiations are underway with the Fatah leadership of the PA, while on the other hand, at the same time a mini-war in continuing with Hamas in Gaza.
Today a Palestinian sniper shot dead an Ecuadorian volunteer working in the fields of a kibbutz close to the Gaza border. In response to this and 28 rockets fired into Israel, the IDF went into action in southern Gaza. A large firefight developed and the IDF killed 17 Palestinians, many with rockets from helicopters, at least 10 of which were identified as terrorist gunmen, including a son of the Hamas FM Mahmud Zahar. This is his second son killed, and he is the only original founder of Hamas remaining alive. No Israeli soldiers were hurt in this action.
It has been reported that in the past two years ca. 2,000 Palestinian terrorists have been killed in Gaza. However, it is estimated that there remain about 18,000. So although their losses are considerable, they are not crippling. Nevertheless, they are no match for the Israeli forces.
Ironically, at the same time that Zahar was saying that the Israeli attack was planned by George Bush and his buddy Mahmud Abbas, Abbas himself was calling the result an Israeli "massacre." So much for our peace partners.
There is still talk in Israel of whether or not the IDF will be ordered to make a major incursion into Gaza to really take out the Hamas military capability. However, PM Olmert is on record as preferring not to do this. Conventional wisdom is that he is scared because of what happened when he decided to attack Lebanon in 2006. But, there the IDF used the air force and only made a ground invasion a few days before the end of the war, much too late according to most commentators. It seems he is now making the same mistake in Gaza
This is not the first time that "war" and "peace" (fighting and negotiations) have coexisted in Israeli history. But, where is Tolstoy just when we need him. He would find Israel today fertile ground for a comparable novel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Coalition crisis

Israeli politics are especially byzantine at this juncture, with the so-called Annapolis talks underway between Israel and the PA and with the Winograd Committee Report expected to be issued next week.
PM Olmert definitely does not want to resign, but his Coalition could fall apart if one of the Coalition partners withdraws their support for either of the above two reasons, either because they are against the PA negotiations or are shocked by the incompetence of Olmert as revealed in the Report. If they do so, there are several possible outcomes:
1. Yisrael Beitanu, the most right wing party in the Coalition (11 seats) may depart because the PA negotiations now include core issues such as Jerusalem, that they consider a red flag. In fact, its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, has arranged a press conference for Weds when it is thought he will announce this move. But, then Olmert would still have a slim majority (67 out of 120) in the Knesset.
2. The Labor Party under Defense Min. Barak could bolt the coalition mainly due to the Report findings. This would cause the downfall of the Coalition and lead to new elections. But, Barak is less likely to do this if Lieberman has already left the Coalition. Also, Barak doesn't think Labor is strong enough yet to challenge Kadima or Likud.
3. The Kadima Party could try to replace Olmert with another leader, possibly FM Tzippi Livni, and then try to maintain the coalition. This is very unlikely since Olmert would rather lose the Govt. than see it taken away from him by his own party which would mean the end of his career.
4. The Report findings are so damaging and public pressure is so intense that Olmert will be forced to resign and then elections must be held in about 3 months. This is very unlikely to happen, since everyone knows that Olmert is/was incompetent, but if he holds a majority he will cling to it like a drowning man.
5. United Torah Judaism is bribed to join the Coalition to replace some of the lost votes. Olmert bribed Shas to join by reestablishing the Ministry of Religious Affairs under their control, so it is quite conceivable that UTJ can likewise be bought.
If that happens and Labor does not leave, then this Kadima-led Coalition will be the sorriest, most opportunistic and incompetent Government Israel has ever had. A majority of Israelis hope that Olmert's Coalition will collapse and new elections will revert to the status quo ante.

Monday, January 14, 2008

From Bobby to Bhutto

We recently watched the movie "Bobby," which is mostly about the ordinary people in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where Bobby Kennedy went to celebrate his win in the 1968 California Democratic Primary election, and was then assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan (may he rot in hell). It reminded me that Arab extremists had interfered in American politics long before 9/11. And even today in 2008 they are subverting the process of democracy in Pakistan by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, for all her faults a force for democracy. So for over 40 years they have murdered and blown up to get their way, they are afraid of the ballot box.
Sihan Sirhan murdered Robert Kennedy because he was sympathetic to Israel, that's all it took. The date was June 5, exactly one year after the victory by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. The fact that Kennedy was the favored candidate of millions of young, poor, black and brown people, as well as many whites, meant nothing to Sirhan beside that one political stain. And this is true of most of the Muslim extremists today, if you even have a slight sympathy for Israel, then you are disposable.
Sirhan Sirhan called himself a Palestinian, but as his name proclaims his family came from the area of Wadi Sirhan in the center of the Jordanian desert. His family moved into Palestine when it was under the British Mandate because of the prosperity engendered by the influx of Jews, looking for work like so many thousands of others. And within a generation they regarded the land as their own, while the Jews who had come in earlier or even later, as far as they were concerned, had no rights whatsoever. When the war occured in 1948 and his family fled to the USA, instead of dwelling on his luck, he stewed in the hatred of the Jews who had provided the work that thousands of Arabs had found there. And instead of working for a better life for himself he needed to take the life of one of the best and brightest that the US had produced (whether or not you agreed with his politics). Sirhan Sirhan subverted the process of politics in the USA by his heinous act.
Similarly, whether or not you think that Benazir Bhutto was an honest democrat, the terrorists who assassinated her in Pakistan were intent on subverting the process of democracy and leadership there. Its true that democracy is of Greek origin, and is a Western concept. But, actually it is of universal significance, and is the best means of Government that humankind has yet invented (according to Churchill). Why are they so afraid of it? Because they believe in a religious dictatorship that allows no free expression of ideas and votes, and since their belief is mandated by God (and Mohammed) they have no compunction in murdering whoever stands in their way, be they infidel or Muslim.
Muslims and Arabs are not the only groups to practice assassination, but the term was invented for them and they are the primary practitioners of it. We must mourn the loss of those who have thus been removed from the scene, but press on with our democratic processes and our rights despite their attempts to disrupt them. On to the primaries and the votes and the Presidential race in the USA, in all its glory and garishness.

Dangerous incidents

The incidents in the Persian Gulf where US warships were approached by Iranian speedboats, and in one instance fired at them, have a strange familiarity. Remember the Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964 that lead to the Congressional Resolution that allowed Pres. Lyndon Johnson to send the first large US forces to attack Vietnam. At first these Persian Gulf incidents sounded exactly like that, except that the US warship was not fired upon, so far. However, these incidents could be used to justify an aggressive military response to the Iranian Govt., if the US were looking for such an excuse. Pres. Bush issued a statement blaming the Iranians and warning them not to repeat such incidents. If history is any judge, and "if we don't remember history we are doomed to repeat it," then a war could mushroom out of this kind of minor incident.
While the world is not paying particular attention to these near-clashes, other incidents have occurred that are symptomatic of the forces of evil, that Pres. Bush recognized, as trying to stir up trouble. Two Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel, fortunately causing no damage or injuries. Israel protested these firings at the UN Security Council, and the Council voted to reprimand Lebanon for a specific breakage of the ceasefire agreement of SC Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War of 2006. While no organization accepted responsibility for these rocket firings and Hizbollah denied its involvement, some have blamed al Qaeda, since these firings were designed to bring conflict back to the region. As far as the UN and Israel are concerned, if the rockets come from Lebanese territory, then Lebanon is the responsible party. The Lebanese Army and the UNIFIL peacekeeping force have been patrolling the area north of the Israeli border up to the Litani river in order to prevent such attacks. However, to show their power, a terrorist attack was mounted at the same time against a UN patrol along the coast near Sidon and a jeep was destroyed. So far noone has claimed responsibility for these attacks, which the UN Secty. Gen. has criticized.
In Gaza, on two occasions in the past four days, the American International School has been attacked with rockets and shootings, and has been largely destroyed. The Palestinian Principal wondered why they would attack a Palestinian school with Palestinian pupils. But, as the last vestige of American influence in Gaza, the school was a target for Hamas to show its disapproval of the Bush visit to the region.
There are reports that Syria is rebuilding the site where the IAF destroyed a possible nuclear facility a few months ago. Some speculated that they wouldn't be stupid enough to rebuild a nuclear facility in the same place with so much attention focussed on it, but no one has vouched for the intelligence of the Assad regime.
All of these incidents show a stirring of the "forces of evil" under the banner of Islamism and with the support of Iran. They cannot but presage danger for the free world.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The sycophant and the dreamer

After his meeting with Bush a few days ago Netanyahu called Olmert a "sycophant" of the US President, and I think he was right. Olmert appears to be smiling and agreeing with Bush at every turn. Even when Bush said that Israel must end the "occupation" and stop all "settlement building" on the West Bank, Olmert made no public disagreement. The fact is that from 2001 Israel gave up the populated cities of the West Bank to the PA, and in 2005 removed all settlements and forces from Gaza. And what did we get for it, a renewed intifada and rockets every day into the Negev.
They are calling Gaza the "invisible elephant in the room" because noone talks about it, neither the Americans nor the Israelis nor the Palestinians. That is because it doesn't fit into the neat equation that Bush has dreamed up, namely that once progress is made and the West Bank is both prosperous and peaceful (what he calls "spiritual progress"), the Gazans will automatically change their minds and instead of supporting the extremists of Hamas, they will transer their loyalty to Fatah and Abbas. This is pure wishful thinking and pie in the sky. Bush and many others fail to realize that the basis of the Palestinian antagonism to Israel (and Jews) is not based on economic considerations. It is based on ideology, namely religion, nationalism and hatred. These are similar to that manifested by the Nazis and are not subject to being bought out.
Bush made a blunder at the dinner the night before his departure, when he met members of the Coalition, and he asked Eli Yishai, the leader of Shas, and Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, to "look after our friend Olmert," in other words don't bolt the coalition and cause Olmert's Govt. to fall, but stick with him. This is unacceptable interference in Israeli internal affairs, just as if Olmert were visiting the US and advised some Senators to support a particular candidate for President. It would cause a furore, but here it was glossed over.
On the positive side, Olmert stood firm against direct criticism by Secty. of State Rice that building in Har Homa is not "a settlement" but is in fact a suburb of Jerusalem and is not subject to any agreement, including the Road Map, however many times Abbas complains about it. Also, in private discussions, Olmert and his team pointed out that giving up the "occupation" of the West Bank is contingent on a cessation of terrorism as required in the Road Map and Annapolis agreement, i.e. that Israeli security comes first!
Another positive outcome was Bush's restatement that there would have to be alterations in the West Bank borders to accomodate "current realities," i.e. the existence of densely populated Israeli towns within the West Bank (such as Ma'aleh Adumim, Kfar Etzion, Ariel and Efrat). There is no way that Israel will give up these towns, and they constitute only ca. 5% of the area of the West Bank.
Bush also mentioned "compensation" as a payment to Palestinian "refugees" in Arab countries in place of their "right of return." If he can persuade the Arab countries to support this alternative he may be on the right track to improve the lot of the Palestinians who have been kept in a limbo of camps and welfare for 60 years as a political weapon against Israel. However, it is unlikely that the Islamists and the nationalists will easily accept this rational solution.
For all the criticism of Bush in general (he is "stupid") and in particular (his views on the Middle East are sophomoric), nevertheless as President of the USA he came first to Israel, made a very positive impression, and while here also went to Yad Vashem at his own request and seemed genuinely moved. It may be that he is raising Palestinian expectations and is partaking in the dangerous game of placating the extremists and adding to the illusion of a Palestinian State that will be neither democratic nor peaceful, but rather another terrorist entity, right next to Israel. For that he would certainly go down in history, although not as he expects.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sincerity, contiguity and viability

In his speeches while visiting Israel, Pres. Bush has said that both PM Olmert and Pres. Abbas are "sincere" in their desire for peace. PM Olmert in his speeches has said that he and Pres. Abbas are sincere in their desire for a peace agreement. My question is, how do they know that Abbas is "sincere." They have only his words on which to judge his sincerity, a notoriously bad basis. Remember how many times Arafat said he wanted "the peace of the braves." What annoys me most is why is the Israeli leader vouching for the Palestinian leader's good faith. I'll bet Abbas never says that Olmert is "sincere."
Of course, a better means of judging Pres. Abbas' sincerity for peace is to look at his actions. As the Editorial in today's J'sam Post says, Pres. Abbas says one thing and does another. For example, one of the first things he is supposed to do is to stop terrorism, but when the IDF went into Nablus last week they found a huge terrorist operation in full swing, and no evidence that the PA is attempting seriously to curtail it. The PA let out wails of outrage, partly at being found out for the liars they are. Another area is incitement, the JP pointed out that the PA official radio station, that is now (since the Hamas takeover in Gaza) directly under Abbas' control, has the idolization of martyrs in its children's programs. This had been removed for some time, but while Pres. Bush was there in the PA today, it was showing.
So on what basis do Bush and Olmert vouch for Abbas' sincerity. They are attempting to bolster him as "their" Palestinian leader, as opposed to Hamas and the other terrorist groups. And no doubt he is more "moderate" than they are. But, to call him "sincere" and vouch for his honesty and good faith in the glare of media attention is really too much! Let him first prove his sincerity by his deeds, and then we might be able to believe him.
Certainly Pres. Bush has shown that he is a brave man, to actually go to Ramallah, into that nest of terrorists and killers, during a large and violent anti-US demonstration. Of course, he had excellent security, but still it was a risk. Especially since in Gaza, Hamas had a major demonstration calling for Bush to be killed, and there was an American al Qaeda video also calling for him to be greeted by bombs and not applause. Even if Bush believes that Abbas is sincere, he knows that he does not control the terrorists in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank, and so going there was definitely risky.
After his meetings in both Israel and the PA, Bush made a statement this evening in Jerusalem, in which he projected a "viable and contiguous" Palestine State. How is that going to be accomplished without splitting Israel? In order for Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) to be joined there must be a connection east of Jerusalem, which would cut Jerusalem off from the Dead Sea. In order for Gaza and the West Bank (Judea) to be contiguous that would divide Israel across the middle. I don't see how this can be accomplished without Israel suffering irreparably. If one State has to be non-contiguous, let it be the Palestinian State, not Israel that is already contiguous. In any case, probably no Palestinian State can be viable, given the economic conditions, the welfare mentality, the internal divisions, the lack of democracy and the endemic violence. I salute Bush for trying, even if belatedly in his term, but it really can't be done, certainly not in one year.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Confessions - Part 9, The Brezhnev Demonstration

V The Brezhnev Demonstration
One of the highlights of the pro-Soviet Jewry movement was the huge demonstration organized in Washington DC when Chairman Brezhnev of the USSR made his first visit to the USA in June, 1973. Although this was a national undertaking, organized by the NCSJ, I was head of the local organizing committee. The plan was to have a rally at the Congress, with a stage and speakers, and then a march down Constitution Avenue, turning at 16th Street to the White House and then circling the White House. The route is important for what happened later. By this time the Soviet Jewry movement had grown tremendously and a huge crowd was expected.
Through my contacts I heard that the JDL was planning to disrupt the demonstration. I had some meetings with them, and we came to a compromise. In exchange for us letting them march with their own banners, they would agree not to disrupt the demonstration or march. I gave this information to the JCC leadership and although they were unhappy, it was better than the alternatives. As the day drew nearer, the plans became more concrete. There were to be a group of academics in gowns and mortar boards leading the parade, each carrying the name of a Soviet Jewish refusenik scientist or academic who had been refused permission to emigrate. Since I was one of the main organizers, and an academic myself, I was to lead the parade.
I had marshals organized from a group that I was affiliated with called the Jewish Athletic League, which was basically a Jewish karate club. I had taken karate lessons with them for about 6 months until I hurt my leg; because of confusion some people thought that I was a member of the JDL, but that was never the case. I had the JAL organize the security at most of the large Jewish demonstrations in DC, and they gave us a measure of confidence. On one notable occasion a group of Nazis showed up from Virginia, sporting their swastikas, there was a fight and they were thoroughly beaten, as well as their cars being attacked (tires slashed) as they retreated. The police, most of whom were Black, did not do much to protect them.
On the day there was great excitement. The speeches were organized by the NCSJ, and several eminent Senators spoke. When the March was ready it was my turn, with my marshals to direct and lead the huge crowd of many thousands. Just as we were going down the steps on the west side of the Capitol, the JDL group suddenly appeared and pushed themselves to the front. They were carrying a man dressed in a striped prison garb inside a cage on their shoulders, and there were several hundred of them. I quickly told them that they could participate in the March but not at the front, as that would make it appear as if it was their March. Also, we had these eminent academics to lead the March. They threatened to stop the March unless I agreed to them leading it. There was some pushing and shoving, and I tried with others to hold them back until the academics got to the front. Eventually they agreed to accept second place in the March, since the academics were already out front.
I was incensed that the JDL would break their word and embarrass the whole Jewish community in front of live TV cameras by trying to disrupt the March. I thought of a way to trick them. As we walked down Constitution Avenue, I told the academics to continue and not turn at 16th Street, then I went back and told the other marshals to turn the March down 16th Street after the JDL group had passed it. With the crowd stretching all the way back to Congress it would take them a long time to realize what had happened and they would never get back to the front of the March. I stationed myself at the 16th Street intersection and waved the JDL group to continue following the academics. I had told the academics to walk about half a block then break up and individually cut across the grass of the ellipse back to the March.
Then I lead the JDL further down Constitution Avenue. By the time we came level with the Washington monument the JDL realized that they had been duped. I started to run, hoping they would follow me and went diagonally across the ellipse but in the opposite direction away from the March. A group of them did follow, predominantly youngsters, and they were shouting “get the guy in the gown!” There I was, running with my black cloak incongruously flowing out behind me, holding onto my mortar board. They were catching up to me, so I turned and faced them. I was prepared to fight, but I shouted at them “I’m not your enemy!” and they stopped and gradually backed away.
Meanwhile the March had progressed, and the JDL, after retracing their steps had a hard time getting back into the throng. I ran back to the head of the March, but it was too late to have the academics lead as a group since we had been dispersed. Nevertheless it was a great success, and even Isaac Franck of the JCC congratulated me on the March and what I had done to trick the JDL. Later that day I met William Perl of the JDL and we patched up our argument and he also congratulated me on the March. I thought that it was ironical to be congratulated by two such opposite leaders of the Jewish community on the same day. Overall the demonstration had a great impact and helped enormously to convince the Soviets that they faced serious opposition.

Over the years I became disillusioned with the new executive leadership of the Jewish Community Council in Washington. In 1982 I had to deal with the consequences of the Lebanon War, and it was not easy, but we managed to put Israel’s valid case. Then times changed, radically. The Jews were released from the USSR, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Israel became relatively stronger as a result. I gradually became older and wiser and stopped being the “activist” I had been. So by the mid-80’s it was time to leave the Jewish scene in Washington to a new and younger generation and move on.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Confessions - Part 8, Return

Returning to London was like returning to another planet. I had been instructed to call a number to be picked up at the airport. I had been warned to remain vigilant till in safe hands. But, instead of being whisked from the airport I was told to take the subway across London and call from a certain station. Since I had to do this I decided I might just as well go home and see my family and dump my cases. So after a relieved homecoming and a cup of tea I called the number again. "'Where have you been?" Brief explanation. Very suspicious. Now my instructions were to walk down a certain street and a car would pull alongside. In this way I found myself back at the same house as before, now for the debriefing.
When A had briefed me he had tape-recorded the conversation. So now I had brought my own tape recorder and one cassette, enough for 1 hours playtime. But, incredibly the debriefing lasted eight hours. There were three tape recorders, mine, A's and D's all running, and several other people flitting in and out. Most of the questioning was done by X, D's boss. Since I was leaving early the next morning for the U.S. and since I had to repack and make a few phone calls, and in any case was exhausted from the journey, I first gave them an overall outline of the meetings in Moscow, and the important results. I also let them make copies of the papers.
But things quickly became more complex. Minute details were requested, "how did he look?", "what was he wearing?" . . . then they were (naturally) very interested in IA, and lo and behold, after a few minutes of checking told me he was a Colonel Vasky of the KGB. It seems too pat now - but it was an unreal experience. The most difficult part was when they began to put me on the defensive "what's the matter, don't you want to help the Soviet Jews", “only this way can we find out if one of them is an informer", "are you trying to gloss over something". They didn't actually physically restrain me, or threaten me, but now I know in a very small measure what a real interrogation must feel like. And these were my "friends".
I told them practically everything. At times I regretted it but on a minute by minute schedule it is difficult to avoid. At times things got confused, and this made me even more defensive. The thought kept recurring, which I gave voice to, what if my one percent suspicion of them was correct (within me it was growing exponentially). Finally, when I was practically tottering they called a stop (they had not let me use the telephone during the interrogation), and delivered me home. We were all good friends at the end, they even said I had done a “good job", to which I replied I had done what I considered right.
As I told them I would, when I got back to the States, I did some checking and, although to this day I know nothing more definite about them (nor want to), I believe they were genuine.
Many Jews have visited the would-be emigrants in the Soviet Union in the last few years. Many other people have had more dramatic and damaging experiences in the Soviet Union than I. But, I present the above description as one man's experience from a particular point of view under prevailing circumstances. There were implications. Fortunately for me the very day of my leaving the USSR the scientists I had met - now having more cases to quote - called an unprecedented news conference in Moscow and told the world about the infamous Soviet education exit tax. The morning of my arrival it was reported in the New York Times and Washington Post. This made my task a lot easier. I also gave copies of Levich's letter to certain people, and an op-ed piece on it appeared in the Washington Post.
As a result of this and other contacts, a few of us set up the Committee of Concerned Scientists, principally to help the Soviet Jewish scientists. This is now an on-going organization, which has interested itself in the U.S. - U.S.S.R. Scientific and Technological Exchange Agreements initiated by President Nixon with Chairman Brezhnev in May, 1972. We believe the treatment of scientists within the Soviet Union in the broadest context, including such so-called dissidents as Andrei Sakharov, cannot be dissociated from the exchange of scientific information for the greater benefit of the U.S.S.R. However, these views are expounded upon elsewhere.
[*In his book "Refusenik: trapped in the Soviet Union," (Houghton-Mifflin, 1981) Mark Azbel tells a story (p. 252-253) that confirms my activity in 1972 in the Soviet Union. I was the mysterious unnamed "American scientist" and it was through my mistaken intervention that Mark Azbel made the decision to begin the process of emigrating from the Soviet Union, thus becoming a refusenik:
"During a break from the meetings, while we were all moving around, and making one another's acquaintance, an American scientist came up to me and introduced himself "I wonder if I could talk to you for a minute," he said. "Could we step outside and take a walk before the conference starts up again?" In the Soviet Union, where "the walls have ears," this is an invitation you hear very often—but hardly from a Western scientist! I accepted, and we left the building. When it was possible to talk without being overheard, he began with a question that simply astounded me.
"Is it true that you want to go to Israel?" I was really amazed, because I had told no one of my intentions. But I decided not to lie about it, and said yes.
"Well, I'm a friend of Veniamin Levitch. I know that you and he are very close. He's told me a lot about you." Once more I was astonished, because Professor Levitch and I didn't know each other particularly well. But I didn't want to let Levitch down: maybe now that he had applied for his visa, he needed all the support he could get from other scientists, and he may have had some very good reason for mentioning me to this man. So again I said yes.
"What I wanted to ask you is this," said the American. "Do you have any suggestions to offer as to how someone like myself could help? What can we do to assist the people who are trying to get to Israel?"
I had a great many ideas; I had thought about it constantly for an entire year. Nothing could have been more encouraging than this question. Because the Soviets valued their international scientific contacts and presumably would not want seriously to alienate scientists from other countries, I felt that concern on the part of friends from abroad was a tremendous asset to those of us who were trying to emigrate. Here was someone who evidently was willing, not only to interest himself in the trials faced by beleaguered fellow-scientists, but to take some risks on their behalf I was very grateful to have met him. We conferred for a couple of hours.
It was more than a year before I discovered why this man had sought me out. When he heard my name and ascertained that I was a friend of Professor Levitch, he concluded it would be most unlikely that there were two Professors Azbel, both of whom knew Levitch, and both of whom were hoping to leave for Israel. So he believed I was the man about whom he had heard. This was a mistake. There was another Azbel, David, who had recently applied for his exit visa, had been refused, and who at that time—although a man over sixty years of age—was about to start the battle on behalf of Soviet Jews for which he later became so well known."]
It was Professor Levich who coined the term "Slaves of the Twentieth Century" to describe the scientists who are mere chattels of the state. Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" provides us with the historical insight needed to understand the full implications of that phrase. While my own experiences were comparatively mild, I nevertheless feel Western Scientists should be aware of the circumstances. We pose no real threat to the Soviet State, we seek only to help individuals, thereby perhaps to improve human society.
I remember fondly the time I was invited to the home of Sen. Edward Kennedy, in Maclean, Virginia, when Prof. Levich was finally released from the Soviet Union. He was affiliated with Tel Aviv and New York Universities until his death several years ago. In telling my story I eliminated some events, not only because of considerations of space, but also for fear of affecting the situation of others still trapped at that time in the Soviet Union. The eventual release of all the people mentioned here, and the downfall of the Soviet Union, happily have made these considerations outdated.

Israeli Arabs

A recent poll conducted among Israeli Arabs by the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem as reported on IBA News had an interesting result, that 62% would prefer to remain Israeli citizens rather than transfer to a future Palestinian State. Only 18% said that they would prefer to transfer their citizenship to a Palestinian State and 20% did not know or did not care. In a similar poll conducted by the Israel Inst. for Democracy last year reported in Ha'aretz a similarly high proportion of Israeli Arabs (75%) supported retaining a democratic and Jewish State. This shows that the majority of Israeli Arabs are satisfied with their citizenship in Israel, where they have human rights, freedom of speech, representation and assembly and all the protections of a democratic society, rather than risk being controlled by a chaotic and terrorist-infested Palestinian State that might look like the current PA.
I have a few personal experiences that are consistent with this outcome. Several years ago I asked 3 Israeli Arab Masters students in the Hebrew University (two Christians and one Muslim), and all three said they had no desire to join a Palestinian State. The foreman (named Mohammed) of the Israeli Arab crew doing the renovations in the building where my studio is located, looks, acts and sounds like an Israeli (his Hebrew is certainly better than mine). A female graduate student at the HU who comes from a village near here told of her struggle to achieve independence as a woman from her family/culture (ironically she would certainly not be allowed such freedom in an independent Palestinian State, that most liberals support).
One reason why the Israeli Arabs, including those in East Jerusalem who hold Israeli id's but are not full citizens, prefer to remain within Israel, is that they receive generous state welfare payments for unemployment, retirement and health benefits (note that the majority of them do not pay their taxes or municipal rates). They know full well that they will lose these benefits if they were to transfer or be transferred to a Palestinain State. So the irony is that transfer of the 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel would result in their impoverishment and their loss of human rights that they now have. In any negotiated peace deal, if it ever is possible, the rights of these Arabs to choose to remain as Israeli citizens should be respected. However, those whose choice is not to remain Israeli citizens must also be respected. If they don't want to remain Israeli citizens then let them be transferred to the supposed Palestinian State. This is a fair way of dealing with the demographic issue in Israel.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Confessions - Part 7

Five Israelis were registered at the Congress, notwithstanding the usual harassment (last minute visas, Israeli flag not displayed until protested). However, two of them were not actually Israelis, but American scientists who had been working in Israel at the Weizmann Institute when they had applied, and had been considered as Israelis. I knew one of these people very well, but the other I had not met. Quite naturally he was at the "rump session". I arranged to return that evening to Levich's apartment for a social gathering, bringing Shneior Lifson and several others. For some reason I had to leave the session earlier than most and with another American couple took a taxi. As we were leaving this second "Israeli American" (let's call him IA) accompanied us and asked to share our taxi to the hotel. The couple asked if they too could go to Levich's apartment and since Levich's daughter-in-law was right there we asked her. She said fine and at that moment we got into the taxi. Once in the taxi IA exploded in a veritable avalanche of questions; "could I come to Levich's" "who are you?", "how do you know Levich?" and so on. Natural curiosity?
Perhaps, but my friends in London had warned me to beware of any person who was unusually curious about my activities. While I could not refuse to take him to Levich, I did feel reluctant at introducing someone I knew not at all, and who seemed rather strange. Apart from his demeanor, he had not an American, but rather a German accent, and was a post-doctoral student in West Germany! After we got out of the taxi my friend said "he was obviously pumping you about things you were reluctant to tell him, but he wouldn't give up". So my next problem was how to avoid taking this unknown quantity into Levich's apartment.
We were due to meet for dinner at the Rossiya Hotel and then leave thereafter for Leninsky Prospekt. Fortunately, this arrangement floundered on the incompetence of the Soviet system. Not only was it impossible to choose one's own table, people were seated as they arrived with others already present, but in general it took two hours to have a meal, with most of the time spent waiting for service as well as for food. Nothing in our experience could compare to the poor service in one of the best restaurants at one of the best hotels in Russia. As I was finally leaving someone ran down the length of the restaurant - (you guessed) it was IA, and wanted to make sure we would not leave without him.. I assured him we would be back at the appointed time outside the entrance to the restaurant and we made our getaway. I had decided not to return for him - when as we were walking through the lobby of the hotel we saw Benjamin and Tanya Levich hurrying in. Apparently they had been invited to meet with Professor Kendrew, Nobel laureate and (retiring) President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Biophysics, in his hotel room - a tangible result of the letter and our meeting the previous day. So my problem was solved. How could I have returned to meet IA to take him to Levich when Levich was here. We waited for the Levichs, and with several others returned with them to their apartment. I believe the meeting with Kendrew helped, because Yevgeny Levich was left unmolested for several months thereafter.
At the Levich apartment we had a pleasant social gathering, meeting with several other would-be immigrants. During the evening Levich inquired after the letter he had handed to Edsall, and Lifson, who was also on the Council, said it had been discussed by the Western members. But, the majority, not wanting to embarrass the Soviet organizing committee, had agreed that it should be raised by the new President of the IUPAC, Fyodor Lynen of W. Germany (also a Nobel laureate) with his Soviet opposite number in the morning. Levich felt this was a serious error, since nothing would be accomplished by this private representation, and further according to well-established procedures, the Soviet organizer would ask for the letter and that was the last that would be seen or heard of it. After a discussion, Lifson suggested that he write an explanatory note and that I leave immediately (it was already 11 p.m.) and deliver it to Lynen. The note would request that Lynen return the letter to me, but he should discuss its contents with the Soviet organizer. Not wanting to carry out this difficult task alone I persuaded Bob to accompany me, and at about midnight we found ourselves knocking on the hotel door of this eminent, but very pleasant and unassuming man. Fortunately, he was not asleep, and with no more than a few words of explanation, he handed the letter back to me.
The next morning who should appear behind me as I entered the bus to the University, but IA. I mumbled my excuse, and there followed what could be described as a tete-a-tete, covering all those intimate details such as philosophy of life, marriage, etc. It was now a question of who was pumping whom. I never saw him after that.
Around the Soviet Union over 100,000 Jews had applied to emigrate to Israel. Among these were several families who had experienced great personal tragedy. And one of the foremost among these was the surviving family of Peretz Markish, who had been one of the leading Jewish writers in the Soviet Union. His loyalty to the Soviet regime during the difficult days of World War II could not be questioned, since he was (allowed to be) one of the organizers of the Jewish Anti-Fascist League. However, being both an intellectual and a Jew were dangerous in themselves after 1945, and Markish was arrested and with 23 other leading Soviet Jewish intellectuals was executed on August 25th 1952 in the cellar of the Lyubyanka Prison in Moscow. Was it any wonder that his wife and son, Esther and David, were among the first of those who wished to leave the Soviet Union. On the 20th anniversary of the "night of the murdered poets" I was privileged to-visit the Markish apartment and talk with them and their friends. Many had gathered, and others came and went to mourn the loss of these leading Jewish thinkers - the flower of their generation. But how many died unknown.
The situation of the Markish's was complicated by the fact that David's wife Irina, in one of those sadistic quirks of the Soviet system, had been given permission to emigrate the day after their marriage. She had gone and was now trying to aid their release. Her activities included a dash onto the Center Court at Wimbledon, and now we were shown newspaper clippings of that event. Fortunately the combination of pressures proved too much for the Soviet apparatus and eventually they reluctantly let the Markish family go, deprived long since of its worthy head. [Esther Markish has since told her story in "The Long Return," Random House, 1978)].
At these gatherings, and elsewhere, I met further people, some whose names were known to me and others not. Some I asked specific questions, others, especially those newly applying, I asked for the commonplace details of their lives. I was gradually building up a file of information. This was considerably added to several days later when Levich gave me the listing of scientists in the Moscow area, all of whom had applied to emigrate. It was written in both English and Russian, but in capital letters, and described people in the third person (one cannot be too careful). It was also agreed that I should attempt to take out the letter written by Levich. In addition, Alexander Voronel had given me a package of reprints of his scientific papers to pass to an American colleague.
One strategy that my friends in London had suggested was to transfer some material to others who could be trusted and would be less suspect. I had my friend take photos of the papers with one copy for each of us. I kept the original of the Levich letter, and simply mixed it in with my voluminous notes - which I had partly brought along for the occasion. One of my favorite memories of Moscow is of the two of us in a sweltering bathroom, with tap running, and he taking photos of the papers on the toilet seat.
It was only during these last two days that we were obviously followed. We had been "tailed" by a police car after leaving Levich's apartment. And at Voronel's apartment, they had pointed out the black car with the men sitting in it in full view just up the block. As they said, on their own territory they have no need to hide. Also, I had been propositioned by women calling late at night in the hotel. The first night it had been 11 p.m., in Russian, the second at midnight in French - the third night at 2:30 a.m. a woman's voice in English said "shut your window". That was the only time that I was really scared. How the hell did they know my window was open. The windows stretched from floor to ceiling, and we were very high up. On an impulse I yanked the telephone cord out of the wall and placed the table in front of the window (it was much too hot to close it), but it was difficult to get to sleep after that. I believe that was the main motive behind these late calls, and to be sure you were where you were supposed to be. Some others had received similar calls and felt the warning to close the window might have been to protect us from the prevalent fumes of the forest fires, but I doubted that the Soviet authorities were that concerned about our health.
Two mornings before we were due to leave I was surprised to be followed down the corridor by a man no more than 50 feet behind me, all the way to my friend's room. Then just across from his room on the roof of a section of the building another man was looking straight at us (or so it seemed). My friend poked his head out of the door and sure enough someone was waiting there. We considered various maneuvers, and finally we went in opposite directions down the corridor. Apparently not wanting to be seen too closely the agent retreated. We met later, and were not aware of being followed, but probably were.
Apparently my new Soviet Jewish friends were interested in me too. They wondered why I was asking so many questions. They asked me to meet with them, and so with Victor Yachot I took a train ride to the outskirts of Moscow. There we were met by three others, and at the end of the line took a walk into the Ismailovsky Forest. In apparent seclusion a further question and answer period transpired. This time I felt I had to assuage their curiosity, and told them almost everything. Even though I had been sworn to secrecy I felt I had to mention the supposed underground Jewish group in London, which had prepared me so well, although my own credentials were good enough. Clearly it was my degree of detailed knowledge and questions which had made them curious. Of course, it had occurred to me that one of them was a "plant" or "agent provocateur", but since I felt they were all trustworthy, and I indeed knew no more than I had told them, there was little else that could transpire. We then made an arrangement for future meetings which could be used if all telephone contact was cut off (as indeed it would be in July 1974 during President Nixon's second visit). During our talk one of them would occasionally take a walk around to detect any listeners. Another strange image I have of this visit was the experience of sitting alone in the forest while the four of them discussed me in incomprehensible tones. But all seemed well, until on the way back we "lost" two of them, only to find they had walked ahead and entered the station by a different entrance. Such an inconsequential detail, except for the circumstances.
The night before I was due to leave I was asked to visit the Levich's apartment for a last time. In the street walking from the station to the apartment I was told something important had arisen. Apparently the Soviet authorities were instituting an education tax on all emigrants. Only two cases had been reported so far in the provinces but a friend (they still had some) had warned them that a secret decree of the Supreme Soviet had been passed instituting such a measure. Henceforth all technically qualified people would have to retroactively pay (grossly overpay) the Soviet Government for their supposedly free education. I was urged to tell this to everyone I could. Levich wrote introductory notes to Senators McGovern, Kennedy and Javits (Jackson was not then the leader he later so effectively became). My friends were extending their visits to other Soviet cities, but I was flying straight back to London from Moscow, and the following day on to the States.
So I left them, wondering how I was going to pass this message by myself to the world. But, that was not the end. We went out for a last walk around the city and suddenly on returning to the hotel we were surprised to find Levich and his daughter-in-law Janna waiting there for us. apparently their telephone had been cut off that very evening. They asked that I call another number in the morning since they feared for Yevgeny that night.
Contact with the Levichs has been maintained in one way or another. But that did not stop the authorities from snatching Yevgeny from the street in April 1973 and keeping him in Siberia, from where he was released on May 15th, 1974.
Leaving the Soviet Union is not easy for a tourist. You need three forms just to leave your hotel. The first is from the concierge (read KGB informer) who has to certify that your room is in order, namely that you haven't stolen anything from the workers' hotel. This is how the saga of the "Chainik" occurred.
In Soviet hotels there are buffets on several floors which are useful for snacks and small meals (especially considering how slow the restaurants are). In my room was a teapot, which after several days I realized one was supposed to take to the buffet and have filled with life-giving "chai" or tea. One morning I did this, but unfortunately forgot it when I left. It was impossible to converse with the ladies at the buffet using a phrase book when I returned that afternoon. I gave up. Waiting for my form on the morning of my departure - not realizing the nature of the formality - another lady had to be called to check the room - I was suddenly assailed by the word "chainik". Then I realized the problem. But these ladies wanted 10 rubles for a replacement and it was easy to converse with them using a phrase book. I wanted a receipt-"Nyet"; then I would not pay 10 rubles. O.K., then five rubles or no form. Never wanting to leave a place so badly I paid up. At least I know I was exploited by the workers rather than vice-versa, which gives me a nice little moral edge.
But that's not all. One then has to go to the reception, and with the first form claim a second form (all hotels are prepaid) which then one takes back to the concierge to obtain the release of one's bags. She then gives one a third form to use for transportation to the airport. Without that no one will take you. Then we were driven in separate cars to the airport - inefficient but better security.
I will not attempt to describe the chaos at the airport. But, the customs search was an interesting little experience. Perhaps I should have been more concerned since the letter from Professor Levich could have been considered a "provocation". But, I knew that what I was doing was right. So I got on a line, and when I reached the front an officer showed a piece of paper to the customs man and they gave me the treatment. While he was searching my suitcase under the watchful eyes of the officer, another man was brought in. He could only be described as an "apparatchnik". Dark blue suit, metal rimmed glasses, crew-cut hair, extremely serious; conformity to a caricature. He called in an interpreter and the five of us played games for an hour. The only relief I had was that it was all done in the open. The "apparatchnik" spent a long time looking through my papers. There were several files, and he could not be blamed - I hope he wasn't - for missing a few "state secrets". Several friends came over to see what was happening, which also gave me a kind of edge. So they didn't really give me a body search, although they investigated the contents of my pockets. Things only got really serious when they discovered the packet of reprints from Voronel. Since they were in Russian and they were scientific they aroused a great deal of interest. To no avail I explained (as was stated on each) that these were reprinted from Soviet scientific publications, which are available in the U.S.A. Most of them were confiscated, since I did not have the appropriate export form! Then came a difficult moment, I was asked to sign a form describing the material confiscated. Since this was all in Russian I refused. The apparatchnik said I would not be allowed to leave without signing. I asked for the interpreter to read each word to me and checked with my dictionary. The plane was due to leave in a few minutes, so I signed. I thought of Voronel, and his wife, and teenage son with diabetes, and the whole Soviet history of conspiracies. But, that is the way it was. To the best of my knowledge nothing happened to Voronel, and I sent back word of the fate of his reprints. They were probably checked over for pinholes.
Actually my experience was mild. Another friend, Harry Saroff, an older established scientist, who made the mistake of visiting Levich a few days later (by which time news of the letter may have reached the Soviets) and then going directly to the airport from there, was given the full treatment -- isolation room, told to undress to his underwear, interrogation, his toothpaste and medicines were emptied out and he was threatened. Harry is a tough character. Since he was totally innocent I think he rather enjoyed the experience. He was not the only one who exchanged words with the KGB, but my two substitutes had no trouble. One went through customs carrying a huge samovar for which he didn't have an export license either, but it was bought for hard cash, and wasn't potentially anti-Soviet.

Beating about the Bush

Pres. Bush is scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem tomorrow. Before leaving Washington, Bush stated that Israel's "settlement policy" is an impediment to progress in the peace process. This is what both Secty. of State Rice and Pres. Abbas of the PA wanted him to say. But, Pres. Bush's own views, as stated in the past, is that he does not want to intervene directly in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and he personally does not want to pressure Israel to divide Jerusalem. However, in order to appear to be fair between the two sides and in order to follow Rice's advice, he has publicly put pressure on PM Olmert to stop all further building activities on the West Bank. Accordingly Olmert has issued a decree that all future building on the West Bank must be approved directly by him. However, Bush would actually be relieved if Olmert did not slavishly follow both Rice's and his advice, but rather pushed for what is in Israel's interests. In that respect, Olmert is seen by Bush to be a weak vassal, rather than an independent and strong leader, like Sharon was. However, Bush cannot be seen to be more Zionist than the PM of Israel.
All three of the leaders involved in the upcoming meetings are weak. Bush as a "lame duck" with one year to go of his presidency, is looking for any way to improve his standing in history. However, he does not want to go down in history as the person who caused the division of the city of Jerusalem, unless he can be sure peace will ensue. However, there is no likelihoood of peace because first, Abbas can't control the West Bank and the many terrorist organizations that are active there, second Abbas does not control Gaza where Hamas rules, and third, his Israeli poodle, Olmert, is in great danger of losing his job. So any commitment that either man gives to Bush may not last longer than one week. In fact, one of the main aims of the Bush visit now is to try to strengthen Olmert's hand. But, Bush will not do this by pressuring Olmert to stop settlement building.
During his visit, Bush is apparently going to propose an international force in the West Bank to take over responsibility for security between the IDF withdrawing and the PA taking over, according to an agreement to be reached. Apart from the fact that no such agreement is in the offing, who will consititute this interim international force, NATO, the EU, Jordan and Egypt, the US? This is fraught with terrible choices, since first Israel cannot trust any international or Arab constituted force, and if the US puts its own men in, they will immediately be a target for the terrorists, and Israel will get the blame for any American soldiers killed.
Other factors have also undermined the effectiveness of Bush's strategy. One of his main reasons for coming to the Middle East is to foster a coalition against Iran. But, the recent CIA National Intelligence Estimate has greatly undermined his strategy regarding the nuclear ambitions of Iran. Also, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan has put the stability of that crucial country in jeopardy. There are few who would put any bets on Bush's strategy now.
On January 31, the Winograd Committee is due to publish its final Report into the conduct of the Second Lebanon War, and the consequences for Olmert are likely to be grave. While Olmert has said that he will not resign, nevertheless, there is likely to be severe public and political pressure on him to do so, both in the Knesset and in the coalition.
So while Bush will be wined and dined, and while there will be the full panoply of a State occasion, behind the facade any perceived progress in the Annapolis-Road Map peace process is likely to be futile.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Confessions - Part 6

The Soviet Union was still an under-developed country. This fact hit me as we arrived in Moscow - an unusually shabby capital. I was staying in the modern "Rossiya" hotel - a huge monstrosity of a hotel. Notwithstanding its size (reputedly 5,000 rooms) each floor had its "concierge" - checking you in and out.
The room was quite respectable - but no air conditioning in the sweltering heat of the hottest summer ever on record. A pall of smoke hung above the city. I assumed it was fashionable pollution. But after several days I was told it was due to a huge forest fire burning 150 km south of the city. Although it was plain to see, it rasped one's eyes and nose, it was apparently not reported in the newspapers until several days later when a small item appeared, as I was shown, saying "our gallant firefighters have brought under control . . . ".
I waited for a day to acclimatize myself and then made contact. I took a bus laid on for the Congress to the University. I walked for a long way to find a telephone booth overlooking Gorki park. (The Soviet authorities don't want too many telephones - the more there are the more taps needed.) I made several calls, and several contacts. That evening I met Victor Yachot at Karl Marx Square.
Victor was a young engineer, who had applied to emigrate to Israel 18 months before. After due ceremony at his place of work, replete with anti-semitic remarks of the vilest forms, he had been thrown out of work, but had not, of course, been granted permission to emigrate. I asked him to take me to see Professor Levich. He took me through the marble halls of the Moscow subway. Such a spotless contrast to the grime of the London Underground I knew so well. He told me, openly and loudly, how it had been built by slave labor, and how hundreds of thousands of human beings, under commissioner of Public Works Kruschev, had toiled to their deaths down there. He said he normally preferred to walk rather than take this subway, erected on the crushed bones of humanity. He had a strong personality.
He took me to Levich's apartment on the fashionable Leninsky Prospect. Benjamin Levich was a corresponding member of the USSR National Academy of Sciences, and a physicist of international repute. As such he was one of the most eminent of those who had applied to emigrate to Israel. The Soviet authorities would naturally be reluctant to release someone who had risen to such a level in their hierarchy, but was still a prisoner within their perfected order. We shook hands warmly and he drew me quickly into his book-lined, cluttered study. One of the first things he did was write on a slate on his desk, "there are good devices here, be careful". So while we exchanged pleasantries, we also exchanged comments on a small pad. Each piece of paper was retained for final destruction (torn or burnt and flushed down the toilet, as per instructions - Victor thought it was a good joke, but the Levich's were serious enough). They had applied the previous April to leave. All the family - Tanya, Benjamin's charming wife, a translator, his oldest son Alexander, an architect and Yevgeny, an astrophysicist at Moscow State University, and their wives, Valentina and Janna.
Things were bad for them. Professor Levich had been dismissed from his position as head of the Department of Theoretical Physics at the Institute of Electrochemistry of the National Academy of Sciences. He was still a corresponding member of the National Academy of Sciences, this required a two-thirds vote for expulsion. He was supporting his family of six people on a stipend from the USA and royalties from his books. I met Yevgeny, who struck me as a very bright young man. It was explained to me that he had a condition from childhood usually referred to as ulcerative colitis, and high blood pressure. For this reason he had been given exemption from military service. Now, however, the authorities were attempting to reverse themselves, even though at 26 he was several years past the normal age for conscription. That was the main threat, since once he was in the Red Army how could the family leave - and for how long would they keep them on the pretext of "State Security".
I asked Professor Levich if he could get for me a list of scientists and other technically qualified people who had applied to emigrate. He showed an understandable reluctance, lists of people in the Soviet Union could mean an organization and that could mean serious trouble. But he said he would see what he could do - given also the circumstances that several were out of the city due to the oppressive heat. In fact, Yevgeny was leaving on a vacation with his wife and another couple in two days time. I bade them good-bye and Victor took me almost all the way back to the hotel.
The following day, after elaborate precautions I met another contact, who turned out to be a friend of Victor's and so we both went off to meet him too. Then they took me to meet Vladimir Slepak, one of the elders of the movement to emigrate - a "vatik" he and his family had then been waiting four years and they are still in that purgatory. Slepak's telephone had long since been cut off, so he was at another friend's house, where he was to receive a call from England. We went up dark flights of stairs in a dingy apartment block, a contrast to the comparative luxury of the Levich's. Big forbidding iron doors. The very top one opened to our knock to reveal a sharp, energetic little man, Vladimir Zaslavsky, one of the few biologists awaiting emigration (most are physicists or engineers). There with Vladimir Slepak and his wife, we had a pleasant evening and conversation. In the midst the telephone rang and it was Greville Janner, member of Parliament and Chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Committee for Soviet Jewry, on the line for Slepak. I too had a word with Janner and mentioned the coincidental fact that here we were talking from London to Moscow and our fathers had been neighbors in the East End of London. He asked me to obtain photographs of "our friends there," since they had spoken often, but lacked that personal bond conferred by the sight of a recognizable and unique human face. I promised to do so, thinking of a friend who was attending the conference and who as usual had a magnificent camera with him. Naturally, I assumed flash equipment would be necessary to take their portraits indoors. Finally, five of us left Zaslavsky to his old American magazines, arranging to meet the next day to take the photographs.
The next day I couldn't make contact with any of them. Finally I got through to Victor Yachot, and he told me abruptly that Yevgeny Levich had been arrested while driving to vacation, outside the city, that they did not know where he was, and that I should call back later. He rang off. It sounds so natural now to describe it that way, but then, for me it was like a bombshell. I had met him so recently, and now he had been "snatched", I couldn't help but worry that it had been my meetings with them that had precipitated this.
In the meantime I was attending the scientific conference at the University and touring Moscow like the other tourists. As well as renewing friendships with western scientists at the conference, including my camera-toting friend, from Toronto. Finally I learned that somehow Yevgeny had been able to get word to his parents that he was being held at a military hospital usually reserved for higher officers (the class system in the Soviet Union is very rigid). They and a group of other "refuseniks" had gone there and created a scene. In addition I was told that news items of the arrest had appeared in the western Press and over the radio. Benjamin Levich was able to meet with a senior administrator (probably KGB, the secret police) and insisted that they either bring charges or release his son. His son had refused to sign anything and insisted on knowing what charges were being brought against him. He was told that he would receive excellent medical treatment here in Moscow if he signed his cancellation of exemption of military service. If he did not he would be conscripted anyway and sent to Siberia. Finally, they relented in the face of the inevitable publicity and released him to his waiting family and friends, but he had to report the next morning.
That night I went to see the Levichs and they were clearly very shaken by the experience. I asked if I could be allowed to help, and in view of the presence of a distinguished gathering of Western scientists in Moscow at that very moment suggested that Benjamin Levich meet with some of them if it could be arranged - and tell them how his son had been dragged from his car, beaten and driven off to detention in the very same city; and now the harassment was to continue. It was agreed, and he sat down and began to compose a letter of protest to the International Congress of Biophysics, and I said I would call him the next day.
One significant point I remember from that night was his taking a book of Soviet law in his hand and saying in effect "with sufficient knowledge of this we may yet out-maneuver them". Under the random terror practiced by Stalin the things that they had done that day would have been so unthinkable as to incur immediate execution. Now it was the knowledge of their fate in the West which in large measure protected them in their unequal struggle with the post-Stalin Soviet authorities. It reminded me of the speech of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's "A Man for all Seasons", of erecting a thicket of laws to protect himself from the devil.
The following day, Saturday, I approached three eminent scientists of my acquaintance and explaining the situation asked if they would meet with Professor Levich. They were John Edsall, Professor of Biological Chemistry at Harvard University, Harold Scheraga, Professor of Biochemistry at Cornell University and Shneior Lifson, Scientific Director of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. All three willingly agreed, and we met that afternoon in a restaurant adjoining the Rossiya Hotel. Levich and his wife Tanya told the story of Yevgeny's arrest, and continuing harassment (he was required to report each morning for interrogation), and also handed them a handwritten letter which was addressed to the Congress and protested his own exclusion from it. Of course, this contradicted all the rules of non-discrimination under which international scientific organizations are supposedly governed. John Edsall, a wonderful human being and one of the leading American biochemists, agreed to hand it to the Secretariat of the Congress, of which he was a member. Naturally, we hoped that Soviet knowledge of this concern for the Levich family would act to protect Yevgeny. Nevertheless such is the nature of Soviet society that whenever the waiter came by the Levichs would modulate the conversation.
While the Levich matter was going on, other activities occupied my attention. On Saturday (Sabbath) morning I went with a group of Jewish scientists to the Moscow synagogue on Arkhipova Street. There I met Victor Yachot, Vladimir Slepak and several others. I was also intrigued to meet a group of young high school students who were learning Hebrew together (an Ulpan) - although this was a "dangerous" activity. A dispute had arisen over obtaining Hebrew books. As Victor Yachot pointed out, while these young people were very idealistic, they had not yet committed themselves to migration to Israel, and as such no single one of them could be trusted. It was best therefore if each group went its own way, since the authorities would be glad to have a potential case of distribution of anti-Soviet propaganda (in the form of Hebrew books) to bring against those who had applied to emigrate in their already precarious position.
One American couple collected some interesting stories outside the synagogue, which included close contact with this particular group of high school students, and also a tragic story from an old man named Kreisky about his son being imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital. (later efforts confirmed his story, and eventually the old man was allowed to emigrate and after much pressure his son was released and allowed to follow him.)
We then met Slepak and the others, now including Alexander Voronel. This personable and modest man had made important contributions in the field of critical phenomena. We met in Red Square on a bright sunny afternoon, and instead of taking the photographs in a secret indoor setting, we simply sauntered down to the Moskva River and, with a typical Russian electrical Power Station as a background, took their pictures.
The following day, Sunday, several people were invited to Voronel's apartment for an informal seminar. This was a purely scientific gathering, which those ousted from their jobs and not able to practice their science, including even exclusion from libraries, were in the habit of holding on Sunday afternoons. With the Congress in progress from which they were excluded it would be an important gesture if some Western scientists attended.*
[* This type of "rump" session was enlarged the following year with about 50 people who were attending the International Magnetism Conference in Moscow in July 1973, and subsequently led to the organization of a unique conference set for July 1974 which unfortunately coincided with President Nixon's visit to the USSR. All the conference organizers were arrested and held for several weeks and the conference was quashed.]
I promised to ask several colleagues, and so on Sunday afternoon a group of us took taxis to Voronel's apartment, where we met several more of the scientist-refuseniks. We heard an introduction from Benjamin Levich followed by a seminar on the organization of Israeli Science by Professor Lifson. Since these people had committed their lives to inclusion in Israeli science they eagerly listened to what for most Western scientists would have been a pedestrian subject, but for them was a glimpse of a tantalizing unknown.