‘This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender’

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Pete Seeger and the banjo

Pete Seeger with his banjo in 2004 (AP/Rebecca J. Rosen)

When I think of Pete Seeger, who passed away early this morning at the age of 94, in my mind he is never empty-handed. Always, always, always, he carried with him his banjo.

He was just 27 years old when folklorist Alan Lomax asked him about his odd choice of instrument in an interview.

“Hello there, Peter,” Lomax says.

“Howdy,” Seeger replies.

“Mighty nice music you’re making, Pete.”

“Oh, I’m just warming up.”

“What’s that funny looking guitar you’re playing?”

“Oh this isn’t a guitar. This is a banjo,” says Seeger.

“Well tell me: Is the banjo something new?”

“New? It’s about as new as America is.”

And age wasn’t all that the banjo and America have in common. The banjo is an instrument whose history reflects the nation’s: It was born in slavery, gained popularity on the minstrel stage, and, eventually, in Seeger’s hands, turned against its own past, becoming a “machine [that] surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”—at least, that was the proclamation written upon its head.

Seeger himself first fell in love with the banjo at age 16, when he attended a folk festival with his father in Asheville, North Carolina. At the time, the banjo was thought of as a “white” instrument, the province of poor Appalachian farmers. But, as Seeger explained in the interview above, the banjo hadn’t always been that way. “You see,” Seeger tell Lomax, “American negro slaves made the first real banjos, a couple hundred years ago, out of ol’ hollow gourds and ‘possum skins I guess.”

In fact, banjo historian Greg Adams told me, the banjo was first created by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean in the 17th century, a New World take on traditional West African instruments. The first North American reference to a banjo dates to 1736 in New York City, but most of the earliest references to American banjos come from the Chesapeake region. Generally speaking, Adams says, the banjo’s spread followed slavery’s.

It was in the 1830s and ’40s that white Americans started picking up banjos too, often in the context of racist minstrel shows, imitating slave life through the appropriation of slave instruments. The first white banjo performer, Adams explained, was Joel Walker Sweeney, a blackface minstrel performer, who was taught to play by African-Americans around Appomattox, Virginia, in the 1830s. It was through minstrelsy, Adams says, that “the banjo crossed over from vernacular traditions into American popular music and popular culture.”

From there, the banjo’s popularity continued to grow, flourishing both in a variety of genres at home—ragtime, vaudeville, early jazz, early country, bluegrass (led by the inimitable Earl Scruggs)—and abroad, particularly in minstrel performances.

It’s in the folk revival in the middle of the 20th century that Pete Seeger took the banjo and transformed it. “The banjo in the hands of Pete Seeger becomes this iconic representation of community and social justice and social awareness,” Adams says.

How did he do that? How did Seeger take an instrument—one with no inherent properties of justice, as evidenced by its history—and assign it a new cultural value?

There is no way to answer this but to observe the rarity of a force like Pete Seeger upon the Earth.

Sure, the banjo has a jaunty, inviting sound. Sure, it can be played in a variety of ways, making it suitable for a range of musical genres. But these qualities did not prevent it from being a prop of racist entertainment. They did not make it a symbol of community. They did not transform it into a “machine [that] surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

That was the work of man. One man, really.

Seeger’s banjo now resides at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio,where he donated it following an ill-fated attempt to sell it on eBay to raise money for Haitian earthquake relief. After watching bids climb to unimagined heights, Seeger canceled the auction. No machine to surround hate and force it to surrender should live in a private living room of a fancy home, after all.

Singer and liberal activist Pete Seeger dies at 94

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Singer and liberal activist Pete Seeger dies at 94

Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger passes away leaving impressive record of music and political activism. He also had an ambivalent if not contradictory stance on the issue of a boycott of Israel

He was variously hailed in social and traditional media as a hero, America’s conscience, and a man of the people. He also held an ambivalent if not down right contradictory position on the BDS movement, which works for a boycott of Israel.

Seeger died of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, his record company, Appleseed Recordings, said.

Pete Seeger (Photo: Michael Hardgrove)
Pete Seeger (Photo: Michael Hardgrove)

Seeger was well known for his liberal politics, working as an environmentalist, protesting against wars from Vietnam to Iraq. He was sentenced to prison for refusing to testify to Congress about his time in the Communist Party.

In 2010, Seeger visited Israel for a concert in support of the co-existence oriented Arava Institute which works on joint Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian environmental projects.

At the time, many pro-Palestinian organizations, including Adalah-NY, the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, signed a petition calling on Seeger to withdraw from the Arava event, prompting Seeger to take a clear stand on the boycott movement.

“My stand is supporting the boycott of Israeli products. I don’t know much about the artistic boycott taking place, but I understand the financial boycott. I don’t think there will be a human race here in another 50 years unless the entire world finds a way to communicate – whether it’s with pictures or music or food or sports. Words may come later, but we have to find a way to (talk) in some way,” he said at the time.

When asked to clarify his position, Seeger told JTA that he “probably said” he supported the boycott, but added that he was still learning about the conflict and his “opinions waver with each piece of information” he received.

Regarding the Arava Institute event he said he though it was “very important,” and added that such co-existence initiatives “should exist all over the world,” JTA reported.

Some time before the Arava Institute event, JTA reported the Seeger claimed he was resisting calls from the BDS movement to cancel his participation in the event, citing the need for dialogue.

“I understand why someone would want to boycott a place financially, but I don’t understand why you would boycott dialogue,” JTA quoted Seeger as saying.

Celebrated career

In January 2009, Seeger performed at a concert marking Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.

He then celebrated his 90th birthday in May of that year with a concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden that drew 15,000 spectators and performers, including Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez and Kris Kristofferson. Proceeds went an environmental group Seeger founded.

“Like a ripple that keeps going out from a pond, Mr. Seeger’s music will keep going out all over the world spreading the message of non-violence and peace and justice and equality for all,” Jim Musselman of Appleseed Recordings said in a statement.

Seeger and Woody Guthrie started the Almanac Singers in the early 1940s and in 1949 Seeger was a founding member of another key folk group, the Weavers. Those groups opened the way for Bob Dylan and another generation of folk music singer/songwriters in the 1960s and ’70s.

The Weavers had a No. 1 hit with a version of Leadbelly’s “Good Night, Irene” and by 1952 the group had sold more than 4 million records. The members soon drifted apart, however, after being blacklisted for links to the Communist Party.

Seeger and Lee Hays wrote “If I Had a Hammer” for the Weavers, along with the hit “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You”.

Seeger also wrote the modern classic “Turn! Turn! Turn!” with lyrics from the Bible’s Ecclesiastes and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” with Joe Hickerson. But he was modest about his songwriting.

“Hardly any of my songs have been written entirely by me,” he once said in an interview. “I swiped things here and there and wrote new verses” to old tunes.

Lost my heart to a banjo

Seeger, born on May 3, 1919 in Patterson, New York, was the son of two teachers at the famed Juilliard School of Music – his father an ethnomusicologist and his mother a violinist.

He became interested in folk music through his father, who directed family friend Aaron Copland to the music of West Virginia coal miners, resulting in the classical music works “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Another of his father’s friends was folk archivist Alan Lomax, who hired the younger Seeger to classify recordings at the Library of Congress in Washington.

A key moment in Seeger’s life was attending a mountain dance festival in North Carolina with his father.

“I lost my heart to the banjo,” he said later. “It was an exciting sound and there was a kind of honesty in country music that I didn’t find in pop music.”

In 1938, Seeger dropped out of Harvard University and took his banjo on the road. During his travels he met Guthrie at a benefit concert for California migrant farm workers.

Seeger’s career was derailed in 1951 when a book listed the Weavers as Communists. During the next year, the group’s record company dropped them and they were refused radio, television and concert appearances.

Seeger had been a Communist Party member but left about 1950. Still, he refused to answer questions from the US House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, was prosecuted and sentenced to a year in jail in 1961. The conviction was overturned on appeal but Seeger’s career did not begin to recover until the Smothers Brothers invited him to appear on their television show in 1967.

Seeger spent the next two decades performing on college campuses, at folk festivals and political rallies.

Despite his impact on American music, Seeger won just one Grammy for an album, 1997’s “Pete” in the best traditional folk album category. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1993.

In 2007 Springsteen won the best traditional folk Grammy for “We Shall Overcome – the Seeger Sessions,” a collection of songs popularized by Seeger.

He was a founder of Clearwater, a group to clean up the Hudson River, and wrote children’s books.

Seeger’s wife Toshi, who he married in 1941, died in 2013. They lived in upstate New York and had three children.

 

7 Big Lies Conservatives Want You To Believe About Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther KingLibrary of Congress

When you look at American history from a straight progressive versus conservative viewpoint, ignoring the changes in party affiliation (which have been complicated, but I attempted to explain them here), there have not been too many universally agreed upon conservative victories. Primarily because conservatives are conservatives and want things to stay the same. And things have changed.

When women wanted the vote, obviously, the people not wanting that to change would have been considered conservative. Those who wanted to keep Jim Crow would have been conservatives. Many of those who would have been considered heroes to the conservatives at the time would seem super backwards to almost anyone today. No one is going around wearing a Joseph McCarthy t-shirt, and cool kids on campus are not sitting around reading “The Bell Curve.”

So it’s easy to understand why they want, so desperately, to either be able to make progressive heroes their own, or–if they are not popular enough– to do everything they can to desecrate their memory. They want Susan B. Anthony, they want Frederick Douglass, and they want Martin Luther King, Jr. Some even want Che Guevara. Why? Because they’re cool. And who doesn’t want to be cool?

Since they’re still fighting with what Margaret Sanger fought for, they’ll make up straight-up ridiculous lies about how she was a total racist who wanted to abort all the black babies. They make up lies about all these people. And they will repeat them, and repeat them and repeat them, until people just hear them so often they assume that they’re true.

The “Martin Luther King was definitely a conservative Republican” meme has been pushed so hard that people are actually surprised now when one explains that he was not, and that he was, in fact, truly reviled by not only conservatives but also people who considered themselves “moderates.” He was considered a radical. Ronald Reagan’s response to his assassination was to say that “he had it coming,” because he was a lawbreaker.

The problem, however, isn’t just that conservatives want to adopt MLK as one of their heroes, but the false things they attribute to him in order to validate him as one.

1) He was a conservative Republican!

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Do you know what “conservative” means, even? It means maintaining the status quo. It means you don’t want things to change, and you certainly do not want them to change radically. You want things to stay the way they are. Martin Luther King did not want things to stay the way they were and believed in fighting for radical change. Duh.

Also, if he was a conservative, then why was he quite clearly surrounded by leftists and progressives all the time? Just asking. Or do you think that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were “conservatives” then? Also, I would like to submit those two as glaringly obvious evidence that being a Christian does not make someone a conservative by default.

As for the Republican thing? First of all, Dr. King stated repeatedly that he was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. Which, actually, was a very common stance amongst leftists in those days, because–quite frankly–both parties were pretty terrible. However, he did say this in regards to the 1964 Republican convention:

The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding at the Cow Palace of the KKK with the radical right. The “best man” at this ceremony was a senator whose voting record, philosophy, and program were anathema to all the hard-won achievements of the past decade.

Senator Goldwater had neither the concern nor the comprehension necessary to grapple with this problem of poverty in the fashion that the historical moment dictated. On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.

2) He was fiercely pro-life

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Ok, so MLK’s crazy niece Alveda is the one who first perpetuated this lie, but it’s total BS. As a conservative Republican herself, she’s spent several years desperately trying to appropriate her uncle’s legacy for the right– much to the chagrin of Coretta Scott King, mind you. Who will tell you in no uncertain terms that Dr. King was very definitely pro-choice.

Anyway, if you don’t want to believe the man’s wife when she tells you that King was pro-choice… uh, the fact that in 1966 he was the recipient of Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award for his support of choice and family planning, might tell you something. He not only accepted this award, but he gave a wonderful speech about the importance of family planning in regards to economic justice.

3) He totally hated the gays

Wrong again, friends. Now, there isn’t that much information out there on this. Why? Because it wasn’t something people talked about back then. It just wasn’t. Of course, one can assume that if this was a particularly strong belief of his, that he probably would have delivered a few sermons on it here and there, as he was not exactly someone who was known to hold back his feelings on anything.

However, what we do know is that one of his closest associates, and the primary organizer behind the March on Washington, was Bayard Rustin– who was an out and proud gay man, who fought both for civil rights and for gay rights. We know that King considered Rustin a close friend, and that his orientation was not a problem for him. As strange as it seems now, that was pretty radical for the time in which they lived.

4) He was viciously opposed to Affirmative Action

NOOOOOOOOOOOO. God no. BIG NO.

This is one of the BIG ONES. Conservatives tend to take the one thing they know about Dr. King other than that he was a Christian– the part of the “I Have a Dream” speech that goes “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” as evidence that he was opposed to Affirmative Action.

In reality? I’m pretty sure he would have supported it, given that it was pretty much his idea in the freaking first place.

Yeah. Really. King wrote a lot in support of similar programs in India to help those formerly in the “untouchables” caste, and America’s GI Bill, about how there should be a similar program here to help black people in terms of employment and access.  He stated that there needed to be ”a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law.” Given that there weren’t any Affirmative Action policies at the time, his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference created something similar – Operation Breadbasket. Clergy would call up businesses in the area to find out how many black people they had working there, and if the percentage was significantly less than the percent of black people in that city, they’d boycott that business.

For the record, probably every single damn thing most people believe about Affirmative Action is total bullshit. It’s not a requirement, it’s a tax break– and it wouldn’t be necessary if it didn’t already exist in first place, but to the benefit of white men who generally prefer hiring white men. Also, for the record, as far as college based AA programs go? Why do I never hear anyone complaining about “legacies” the same way I hear them complaining about AA? You think George W. Bush got into Yale on his own merits?

“Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

5) He would have supported the conservative rhetoric of being “colorblind”

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Oh come on. The conservative idea of a colorblind society is one in which they get to spit on your face and tell you it’s raining. I am pretty sure that MLK did not think that calling attention to systemic racism was a waste of time. He was not a “Oh, well, let’s just pretend everything is peachy keen so we don’t upset anyone” kind of guy. He was well aware that racism was much more than just some yahoos running around in white sheets.

6) Because of said “content of character” thing, he was definitely into free market capitalism

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Yeah, no. Pretty much his whole thing was wealth redistribution. Part of the reason he was hated by conservatives was because they thought he was a commie. He was also extremely supportive of unions.

“It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages”

“This will be the day when we shall bring into full realization the American dream — a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality — that is the dream.”

I could go on forever with these, because there are a hell of a lot.

7) That if he was alive now, he’d be one of them, and they’d totally love each other

Yeah, I’m sure they’d love him just as much as they adore Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I’m sure they wouldn’t scream and scream that he was being a “race baiter” or any some such, and that they’d listen intently whenever he spoke about racial issues. Totally sure that wouldn’t happen at all.

The fact is, because Dr. King is dead, they feel like they’ve got a little more leeway for their pipe dreams about how they’d totally be buddies now.

I have no problem with conservatives respecting Dr. King. They should, everyone should. But they should respect him for who he was, not for who they need him to have been. I don’t agree with every single person in history that I admire. Hell, almost all the philosophers of interest were giant misogynists. I don’t have to pretend they weren’t in order to like the other things they did.

For the record though, if conservatives really wanted a Civil Rights icon to call their own, they could always go with post-Black Panther era Eldridge Cleaver, who converted to Mormonism and became a super wacky Conservative Republican in the 80s. He even ran for office twice before going back to jail for burglary and crack possession. Although I’m not sure how they’d take to “Soul on Ice.”

More from Death and Taxes Magazine:

Read more: http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/213435/7-big-lies-conservatives-want-you-to-believe-about-martin-luther-king-jr/#ixzz2r3csCxF5

Canadian Prime Minister

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen have arrive in Israel today (Sunday) on an official four-day visit. The Canadian Prime Minister is accompanied by ministers, MPs and business people. This is Harper’s first visit to Israel and the first by a serving Canadian Prime Minister since 2000.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah will welcome Harper and his wife in an official ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The Netanyahus will later host the Harpers for dinner at their official residence in Jerusalem.

On Monday, Prime Minister Harper will be the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Knesset.

On Tuesday morning, the Canadian PM will meet with President Shimon Peres and attend a joint meeting of the Israeli and Canadian governments at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The Netanyahus will, afterwards, accompany the Harpers to Yad Vashem. An official dinner for Prime Minister Harper, his wife and the accompanying delegation will be held Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, the Harpers will tour Christian holy sites in northern Israel, after which they will go to Tel Aviv University, where Prime Minister Harper will receive an honorary doctorate and meet with students.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Harper have previously met in London in April 2013 and in Ottawa in March 2012.

Harper: Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you

 

Canadian PM met with many standing ovations, but in the end, was treated like family and interrupted by Arab MKs who relegated him to the Likud’s benches.

Stephen Harper, January 20, 2014

Stephen Harper, January 20, 2014 Photo: GPO/AMOS BEN GERSHOM

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper received a very warm welcome in the Knesset Monday.

The first speech in the Knesset by a Canadian prime minister was peppered with standing ovations, the enthusiastic likes of which may not have been seen since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the US Congress in 2011.

Statements like “through fire and water, Canada will stand with you” were met with rousing rounds of applause, and though clapping is against Knesset protocol, even Speaker Yuli Edelstein joined in.

The Canadian premier said he believes “it is right to support Israel because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland.

“Let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so,” he emphasized. “It is… a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.”

“The friendship between [Israel and Canada] is rooted in history, nourished by shared values, and it is intentionally reinforced at the highest levels of commerce and government as an outward expression of strongly held inner convictions,” Harper said in French and English.

Some of those shared values are “freedom, democracy and rule of law,” in which Israel “has long anchored itself,” he said.

“These are not mere notions,” he added. “They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability and economic prosperity may flourish.”

Palestinians also deserve these things, Harper said, expressing support for “a viable, democratic Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel,” though, “sadly, we have yet to reach that point.”

“I believe that a Palestinian state will come, and one thing that will make it come is when the regimes that bankroll terrorism realize that the path to peace is accommodation, not violence,” Harper stated.

Despite the nearly wall-towall support for Harper’s words as expressed by the many standing ovations, the “robustness of Israeli democracy,” as Netanyahu called it, was demonstrated several times with Arab MKs interrupting the Canadian minister as he spoke about anti-Semitism in some criticisms of Israel.

“We have witnessed in recent years the mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism and the emergence of a new strain…. People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East. As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel,” Harper stated.

“Don’t mislead; we want to boycott settlements,” MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) interrupted in English.

“Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state,” Harper continued, as MK Taleb Abu Arar (UAL-Ta’al) shouted: “It is.”

“Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: a state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish, as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, [a state] that is condemned – and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening. But this is the face of the new anti-Semitism,” Harper went on.

Tibi pointed at the coalition’s side of the plenum, shouting “That’s where the Likud sits; you should be there,” and then he and Abu Arar demonstratively walked out as the audience cheered Harper for his comments against anti-Semitism.

“What else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring – or excusing – the violence and oppression all around it?” the Canadian prime minister asked. “What else can we call it when Israel is routinely targeted at the United Nations, and when Israel remains the only country to be the subject of a permanent agenda item at the regular sessions of its human rights council?” Edelstein, who spoke before Harper, commented to him after his speech: “You’re not a guest, you’re family, because there were interruptions, which is unusual for foreign guests.”

Earlier, Netanyahu gave a speech in support of Harper, breaking protocol to give large swaths of it in English.

“You are a true friend in Israel,” he said. “The people in Israel thank you for your steadfast support.”

Netanyahu commended Harper for his “courage to stand for the truth and courage to say it” when faced with people “who try to deny the connection between [the Jewish people] and our land. You know the facts of our past well.”

Describing the necessity of security arrangements in the event of a peace agreement, Netanyahu quipped: “If I’m not mistaken, Yonge Street [in Toronto] is longer than the State of Israel, so we have no margin of error.”

“There are thousands of miles between the large Canada and the small – larger than life but physically small – Israel, but our nations are close.

It’s deep in our hearts,” Netanyahu stated. “We will always see Canada as a close friend.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) dedicated much of his speech to the Toynbee- Herzog debate at McGill University in 1961, in which his uncle, then-ambassador to Canada Yaakov Herzog, debated notoriously anti-Semitic British historian Arnold Toynbee.

“Since you’re part of the family, I won’t hide our disagreements,” Herzog said. “I believe we need to separate ourselves from the Palestinians while protecting Israeli security.

We need a Palestinian state near an Israeli one, based on 1967 lines with land swaps while annexing settlement blocs… We have to try everything for peace and back the great effort US Secretary of State John Kerry is investing and give him a chance,” Herzog stated.

“Enough is enough,” he added in English, and in a reference to Canadian-Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen called to “let the dove free.”

Herzog also did not miss the chance to take a dig at Netanyahu and his breach of protocol, pointing out that “the official languages here are Hebrew and Arabic, not English.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu said Sunday, “Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a great friend of the State of Israel. He has strongly opposed against attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel and has taken a praiseworthy moral stand against these attempts. I welcome his arrival together with his wife and the members of his delegation. We will work together to further enhance the important relations between our two countries.”

Vladimir Jabotinsky

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<p>Map of Greater Israel, a term used by Revisionist Zionism (explanation in comments) [480x688]<br /><br /><br />
Vladimir Jabotinsky,  (born 1880, Odessa, Russian Empire [now in Ukraine]—died Aug. 3, 1940, near Hunter, N.Y., U.S.), Zionist leader, journalist, orator, and man of letters who founded the militant Zionist Revisionist movement that played an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel.Jabotinsky began his career in 1898 as a foreign correspondent, but his popularity as a journalist led to his recall to Odessa in 1901 as an editorial writer. By 1903 Jabotinsky began to expound Zionist views for the restoration and creation of a Jewish national state in Palestineboth in his writings and in his oratory, of which he was a master. During the next decade, he continued to work as a journalist while traveling in Europe and crystallizing his Zionist views, which tended to be uncompromising and political, rather than cultural.

During World War I, he was convinced that the Ottoman Empire, then the ruling power in Palestine, would fall and that in this vacuum the Jews could colonize Palestine if they had demonstrated service to the Allies. He thus convinced the British government to allow military participation by Jewish refugees from the Ottoman Empire.

In 1920 Jabotinsky organized and led a Jewish self-defense movement (Haganah) against the Arabs in Palestine. The British, who then ruled the country, sentenced him to 15 years at hard labour, but this action provoked such an outcry that he was soon reprieved. In the 1920s he was active in many international Zionist organizations, including the World Union of Zionist Revisionists in 1925.

Testifying before the British Royal Commission on Palestine, Jabotinsky gave an impassioned expression of his Revisionist views. The source of Jewish suffering was not merely anti-Semitism, he said, but the Diaspora (dispersion) itself; the Jews were a stateless people. Assigning cultural Zionism a relatively low priority, he advocated the creation of a Palestinian Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan, with continued Jewish immigration to achieve a Jewish majority there, and employment of Jewish troops for self-defense as part of the permanent garrison. In 1940, while in the United States to visit Betar, the youth organization of the Zionist Revisionist Party, Jabotinsky died of a heart attack. His followers, who had already founded theIrgun Zvai Leumi terrorist group, active in Palestine in the 1940s, later founded the Israeli Ḥerut Party.

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NAFTALI BENNETT: PALESTINIAN STATE WILL DESTROY ISRAEL’S ECONOMY

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IN PASSIONATE SPEECH, BENNETT SLAMS TWO-STATE SOLUTION, THOSE CLAIMING PEACE TALKS IN ISRAEL’S ECONOMIC BENEFIT. ‘FOR DECADES THERE HAS BEEN DESIRE TO DIVIDE ISRAEL, EXCUSE KEEPS CHANGING: FIRST IT WAS PEACE, THEN DEMOGRAPHICS, NOW ECONOMICS’TO HIS VISUAL AID, BENNETT CAME ARMED WITH A MAP OF ISRAEL – WEST BANK INCLUDED – IN WHICH HE PORTRAYED JUDEA AND SAMARIA AS A MOUNTAINOUS SHIELD PROTECTING CENTRAL ISRAEL FROM WEST BANK PALESTINIANS. RELATED STORIES: 

POINTING TO THE MAP, BENNETT SAID: “COPY PASTE WHAT HAPPENED IN SDEROT TO THE REST OF ISRAEL. HOW WILL ISRAEL’S ECONOMY LOOK IF A ROCKET WILL FALL IN SHENKAR STREET IN CENTRAL HERZLIYA? WHAT IF ONCE A YEAR A PLANE WILL CRASH AT BEN GURION AIRPORT?” POINTING TO HIS SECOND VISUAL AID, A GRAPH SHOWING THE CORRELATION BETWEEN PEACE NEGOTIATIONS AND GROWTH OF ISRAELI ECONOMY, BENNETT MADE THE CLAIM THAT PEACE TALKS, AND THEIR ENSUING POLITICAL FALLOUT, HAVE A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON ISRAEL’S GROWTH, THE LARGEST ALLEGED DROP BEING REGISTERED AFTER FORMER PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK‘S CAMP DAVID TALKS WITH YASSER ARAFET. “ISRAEL BELONGS TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, THAT’S A FACT. BUT NOW I AM TALKING ABOUT ECONOMY. “FOR OVER 20 YEARS THERE HAS BEEN A DETERMINATION TO DIVIDE THE COUNTRY, ONLY THE EXCUSE HAS CHANGED. ONCE THEY SAID IT WAS FOR PEACE… THEN (LIVNI SAID) FOR APPEASING THE WORLD, THEN FOR DEMOGRAPHICS AND NOW ECONOMY.”

“WILL WE DIVIDE JERUSALEM BECAUSE OF THE ECONOMY? WILL WE GIVE UP THE GALILEE? OR WILL WE HAND OVER THE NEGEV BECAUSE OF INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE ON OUR TREATMENT OF THE BEDOUINS.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad

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Had it not been for his brother’s death in a car accident, Syrian President Bashar Assad would probably be practicing ophthalmology in London. 

 

In 1994, devastated by the accidental death of his oldest son Basil, whom he had groomed as his successor, the late President Hafez Assad pressed Bashar to abandon his career in medicine in the English capital to prepare for the presidency. 

 

Bashar was put on a fast-track military course and in 1999 he was promoted to the rank of colonel. 

 

President Assad feared that his second son’s lack of experience would spell the end of his Baath Party’s 30-year grip on power. Stricken by heart disease, Assad sidelined his competitors within Baath and arranged for Bashar to play an increasingly important role in running the country. 

 

Bashar cut his teeth on Lebanon where his father had imposed Syrian hegemony. 

 

Despite fears of unrest following Assad’s death, the presidency was smoothly transferred to Bashar in June 2000. 

 

Six months later, Bashar married Asma (Amah) Akhras, a British-born Syrian-Sunni computer systems analyst. A year later, their first son was born and named Hafez. 

 

In his first speech to parliament, Bashar told legislators: “Democracy is the basis for everything, but it is not proper to apply the democracy of others to us. And we can not live their history and culture. In the West, there are other habits. We must have our own democracy.” 

 

In addition, he announced that Syria demand ed that Israel fully retreat from the Golan Heights as a necessary condition for peace between the two countries. 

 

Bashar also endorsed Hizbullah’s continued military presence along Lebanon’s border with Israel and supported the Palestinians’ right to use violence against the Jewish State. 

 

Although he freed dozens of political prisoners and initiated a series of economic and social reforms at home, his foreign policy put him on a collision course with the United States. 

 

Assad ignored repeated calls by Washington that he stop supporting Hizbullah in Lebanon and allowing Palestinian terror groups to operate on Syrian territory. His failure to prevent foreign insurgents from crossing into Iraq and his alliance withIran added fuel to the fire. 

 

The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, for which Syria was largely blamed, was the final stroke that prompted Washington to pull its ambassador from Damascus. 

 

The assassination touched off massive street protests in Lebanon, forcing Syria to end its 29-year military presence in its smaller neighbor. 

 

A UN commission set up in April 2005 to investigate the assassination pointed to Syrian involvement in Hariri’s killing as well as in a string of attacks against anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. 

 

Over the last two years Assad made several peace overtures towards Israel , but many analysts claimed that these appeals were only an attempt to mend Syria’s relationship with the US and to boost its international standing. 

 

 

After the Israeli army’s poor performance against Hizbullah last summer , Assad warned that although Syria preferred to liberate the Golan Heights peacefully it would not hesitate to go to war against the Jewish State to achieve its goals if peaceful means failed.

 

Yair Lapid: We need to get rid of the Palestinians

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Yair Lapid is the Minister of finance . His fater was Tommy ” Josef” Lapid the minister of Interior Affairs in a previous government in Israel.

Finance minister tackles numerous pressing issues in Tel Aviv event, says settlements should be funded until evacuated, rabbis should not meddle in issues unrelated to halacha, ‘his brother’ Bennett was demoted to ‘cousin’

In what state is the relationship between Yesh Atid chairman and Habayit Bayehudi chairman, why are the settlements still funded by the State and what will be their future – Finance Minister Yair Lapid addressed all of these pressing questions Friday morning at a Tel Aviv panel event.

When Lapid was asked about the issue of women’s recruitment to the army and his past remarks noting that he would act to dismiss the chief rabbis for going against female IDF recruitment, he said: “I am not the minister responsible for (the chief rabbis), Naftali Bennett is.” The interviewer then comically noted: “Our brother”; yet Lapid cynically replied: “He has been demoted to cousin,” and stressed he believes Bennett should act on this matter.

“We are in an unprecedented struggle on the matter of equality of burden, and I don’t think it is right for the rabbis to say they forbid women from serving in the army. This cannot be and we will act against it, unless they retract their remarks.”

Related stories:

Lapid was asked about his opinion regarding the offshore bank account held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the island of Jersey, and responded: “Since the State comptroller said he would look into the matter, it is improper for the finance minister to address this issue beforehand.”

In regards to the affair involving Rabbi Pinto and senior police officers, Lapid provided an interesting commentary: “On an economic level, I want to draw the attention to the fact that the three Israeli tycoons that were notorious for consulting with rabbis are Moti Zisser, Nochi Dankner and Ilan Ben Dov. What is common to all three, apart from consulting with rabbis, is that their empires fell apart.”

Lapid at Tel Aviv panel event, Friday morning (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Lapid at Tel Aviv panel event, Friday morning (Photo: Yaron Brener)

Lapid added: “It saddens me to see Judaism turn into a combination of charms and interference in matters unrelated to them. If I have a rabbi, it’s Rabbi Shai Piron. If you’d ask him what’s the most rabbinical thing he ever did, it’d be adopting a disabled child, because that’s what a true rabbi does. He doesn’t sit with all sorts of high-ranked officers or tycoons and advises them on matters unrelated to Judaism or halacha.” These mixes are not good.”

Lapid stressed that he is not very familiar with the details of the affair but was hopeful that “the senior police officials did nothing wrong. I don’t think it only stains the police, but the chief rabbinate as well. The mixing of these two areas is unfit.”

‘Get rid of Palestinians’

Lapid was later asked about the political negotiation and the document that will soon be brought to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“There will be an outline to the framework agreement which will be discussed in the negotiations,” Lapid said. “It doesn’t mean you agree to anything, it doesn’t mean we think Jerusalem should be divided. It only means that these subjects are under debate as well and we don’t need to be the ones who are insubordinate.”

Lapid: Won't allow a non-democratic Israel (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Lapid: Won’t allow a non-democratic Israel (Photo: Yaron Brener)

“We say – peace is not the issue, we need to get rid of the Palestinians. It threatens us, it chokes us. Ultimately the State ofIsrael cannot continue on while unnaturally absorbing four million Palestinians. Eventually they will tell us, ‘if you don’t want to give us a country of our own, let us vote.’ And then, if we let them vote, it will be the end of the Jewish state. If we won’t let them – it will be the end of a democratic Israel, and I won’t allow that to happen.”

Lapid added: “We will have to pay a price for this breakup. The price now only means they will open up a series of issues within the negotiations, and then we will explain to what we agree and to what we disagree.”

The finance minister showed his support of PM Netanyahu: “I’m in the coalition because this is where things get done. And Yesh Atid bolsters the negotiations and supports the prime minister because he is running them correctly. It is not going to be easy, and every time we’re asked why we don’t resign from the government, I’ll say – to keep it going, not for it to end.”

Despite the political vision he presented, Lapid explained that until the settlements are evacuated, they must be properly funded: “Most of the budget for the Settlements Division is transferred to the Galilee and the Negev. And no new settlements are being established. The agreement requires the evacuation of 80,000-90,000 settlers. It is not only going to change the country, it’s going to change you and me. It will be the biggest Israeli drama since the State’s establishment, in terms of what it does to us. It’s going to be a drama that will tear us from the inside, but until that happens, there are people, good Israeli citizens, who live there, and I think it is perfectly fine to transfer money to continue their lives.”

When asked about the remarks made by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon about Kerry, he said: “It is indecent. Give credit to the defense minister that he thought he was talking in a private conversation, but even in such conversation he shouldn’t speak this way, and I am glad he apologized because that was the right thing to have done.”

Profitable Learning Curve for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Reblogged)

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In Taking Facebook Public, Reshaping It Around Mobile Phones, Chief Gained Focus on Bottom Line

Mark Zuckerberg has prioritized increasing Facebook’s ad revenue. Reuters

MENLO PARK, Calif.— Mark Zuckerberg needed help. Facebook Inc. FB +0.54% ‘s initial public offering in May 2012 had been a mess. And after turning a website born in his college dorm room into a company valued at $100 billion, the young chief executive was under pressure to prove he could sell lots of ads on smartphones.

Facebook has seen its shares rise and revenue from mobile ads jump up. How did CEO Mark Zuckerberg turn the company around after its ill-starred IPO? Evelyn Rusli joins digits. Photo: AP.

So he went for a long walk a few weeks later through the center of Facebook’s corporate campus here with Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, a top engineer at Facebook and friend who once was Mr. Zuckerberg’s teaching assistant at Harvard University.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to build a billion-dollar business in six months?” Mr. Zuckerberg asked. He wanted Mr. Bosworth to help lead the company’s shaky mobile-ad business, then bringing in almost nothing. Another part of the job: figure out all the ways Facebook could make money.

Ads didn’t sound like fun to Mr. Bosworth, but his boss persisted. Soon, the engineer was filling in the blanks of a spreadsheet that grew to about 80 pages long. The entries became the manifesto of an in-house project that Mr. Zuckerberg called “Prioritization.”

Interviews for this article with the CEO, Facebook directors and executives, and dozens of other engineers, friends and former employees laid out how Mr. Zuckerberg’s growing attention to the bottom line was part of a sea change by the often-stubborn, idealistic 29-year-old chief executive once called “toddler CEO” in Silicon Valley. Taking Facebook public and reshaping it around mobile phones forced him to grow up.

“It’s a story of a vertical learning curve,” says venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, a Facebook director and longtime adviser to Mr. Zuckerberg.

Introducing WSJD, the Journal’s new home for tech news, analysis and product reviews.

Reporter’s Notebook

Mr. Zuckerberg still wears jeans and a T-shirt to work, drives a black, stick-shift Volkswagen GTI and keeps the temperature in his glass meeting room, known as the “aquarium,” near 68 degrees to keep everyone alert. As a holiday gift, friends of Mr. Zuckerberg got socks decorated with the image of Beast, his white, woolly Hungarian shepherd.

Yet Mr. Zuckerberg has learned to embrace—or at least accept—the reality that he now is in charge of what might be bluntly described as the most visible advertising business in the world. It is a big leap for the college dropout who wrote in a letter to potential investors just before the initial public offering: “Facebook was not originally created to be a company.”

He embraced the idea in 2012 of selling more ads in Facebook’s prized “news feed,” the center of the screen where the social-networking site’s 1.2 billion members spend most of their time. The news feed is a constantly updated list of stories from people and pages followed by a Facebook user.

The intensified focus on advertising, long shunned as less important than the photos and status updates posted by users, generated a surge in new revenue from corporate giants such as McDonald’s Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. WMT -0.79% Analysts expect Facebook to announce later this month that its revenue jumped more than 40% in 2013 compared with a year earlier. About $3 billion of the company’s revenue—or more than one-third of the overall total—likely came from mobile advertising.

Facebook shares jumped 105% last year, compared with the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite’s rise of 38%. On August 2, the stock climbed back above its IPO price of $38, erasing a $50 billion slide in stock-market value. Facebook closed Friday at $54.56 a share.

Still four months away from his thirtieth birthday, Mr. Zuckerberg is worth about $20 billion. Last month, he pocketed about $1 billion in his first stock sale since Facebook went public, and separately he donated about $1 billion in stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Facebook’s CEO is putting new focus on the bottom line. Reuters

Mr. Zuckerberg bristles at the view of some people close to him that he has changed as a CEO. His primary mission still is to connect the world digitally with Facebook. “It drives me crazy when people write stuff and assert that we’re doing something because the goal is to make a lot of money,” he says.

Even in his most self-reflective moments, what Mr. Zuckerberg sees is a series of logical moves and adaptations that are part of what he calls a “continuous trajectory.” In an interview, he paused abruptly after saying the words “business review.”

“Uh, I’ve never used that term before,” he said with a smile.

Despite all the improvements, Mr. Zuckerberg must show that Facebook can out-innovate a steady stream of upstarts. Investors were rattled in October when Facebook reported a decline in use among young teenagers, some of whom are migrating to newer mobile-phone apps such as Snapchat. Snapchat messages automatically disappear in 10 seconds or less.

Last fall, Mr. Zuckerberg approached Snapchat with a takeover offer for more than $3 billion. Snapchat’s 23-year-old chief executive said no. Facebook previously tried to create a similar app called Poke, with Mr. Zuckerberg even contributing some computer code, but the project flopped.

A secret project called Firefly included a “social” phone that was to be created with HTC Ltd. of Taiwan—but was killed by Mr. Zuckerberg in mid-2012 because of glitches, according to people who worked on the project. An app for Google Inc. GOOG +0.21% ‘s Android operating-system mobile phones, known as Home, has failed to gain momentum since last spring’s debut, despite a big publicity push by Facebook. And a smartphone released by HTC and based largely on Firefly’s design has been a dud.

Mark Zuckerberg has prioritized increasing Facebook’s ad revenue. Shown, an employee at the Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Associated Press

Nasdaq’s board in Times Square in New York on Facebook’s trading debut Associated Press

Just a few years ago, Mr. Zuckerberg paid little attention to many of the numbers that are obsessions to shareholders. In 2010, he said there was “no point right now in having a massive profit.” He boasted that the ad business “factors in, like, not at all” to decisions about Facebook’s operating platform and user services. His No. 1 goal: increase the company’s total membership to one billion users.

“If you brought up revenue in an argument with Zuck, you would lose automatically,” says one former senior employee. He recalls being chided for mentioning revenue while discussing a new product. Mr. Zuckerberg says such comments are a reminder that Facebook was designed to care more about its mission than money.

At the time, most Facebook users looked at the site on a desktop computer. Ads usually were banished to the right-side gutter of the screen, the Facebook equivalent of Siberia.

By the end of 2011, though, the surging popularity of smartphones was causing Facebook users to spend less time on computers. “The IPO process surfaced how fast the mobile shift was happening,” says Facebook director Peter Thiel, a founder of PayPal and one of Facebook’s earliest investors. Executives worried that Facebook was falling behind at an alarming rate.

Internal data showed that many users were so frustrated by Facebook’s mobile software that they would quit the app and use their tedious mobile Web browsers to reach the social-networking site instead.

The smartphone shift also was a problem for Facebook’s ad business. There was no easy way for the company to relegate ads to the side of small screens, and Facebook had no mobile ads to sell anyway. Meanwhile, efforts to sell older types of ads on desktop computers were starting to lose their punch as more users embraced mobile devices.

“We pulled the lever, but this time, it didn’t work,” recalls one senior employee about 2012’s first quarter.

Just before Facebook went public in May 2012, Mr. Zuckerberg walked into the “aquarium” and did something that surprised everyone.

A group of Facebook engineers presented the latest mock-ups of ads for Facebook’s iPad app. The ads were marooned on a separate screen—and to the right of the news feed.

The CEO quietly studied them. “Why don’t we just explore ads in news feed?” he said, according to people at the meeting. Mr. Zuckerberg indicated that he would be open to the possibility of more types of ads there, including ones not tied to “likes.”

“Oh, my gosh, he’s actually open to it,” one executive present at the meeting remembers thinking. No one in the room asked Mr. Zuckerberg why. They were too worried he would change his mind.

“It’s not like I just decided to get more involved in ads,” he says now. “I needed to because basically the ad product had to be more integrated.” He adds: “And that created all these hard decisions that we needed to do well.”

Mr. Zuckerberg’s willingness to upend even what some people close to him describe as sacrosanct beliefs took on more urgency after Facebook’s bungled IPO, which subtracted more than 25% from the share price in its first 10 days of trading.

In public, he tried to play down the importance of the stock price. Mr. Thiel now says the CEO was more worried than he let on, citing the risk that Facebook employees who owned stock might get discouraged and quit. “I care about this because I want to retain my people,” Mr. Zuckerberg told senior executives in a private meeting.

Facebook’s first earnings report, which hit analysts’ targets but disappointed investors who wanted even more, sent the stock into another tailspin. The mood of some employees darkened.

A worried Mr. Zuckerberg asked Facebook executive Mike Schroepfer, one of his most trusted lieutenants, to interview engineers about morale. They were frustrated about the plummeting stock price and worried that top management couldn’t relate to their financial stress because those executives owned so many Facebook shares that they were rich despite the stock’s slide.

Mr. Schroepfer, usually an unemotional software engineer, choked up when he presented the results to a room full of engineers. “I know you are fathers, parents. I am, too, and I know that you have to think about putting your kids through school,” he said, according to someone at the meeting.

Mr. Bosworth, the Facebook engineer who agreed to help Mr. Zuckerberg hunt for new revenue, worked on his spreadsheet for about 1½ months, quizzing scores of employees. Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg began assigning revenue targets to certain product teams. Previously, he resisted the idea because he worried managers would become too fixated on money.

Over the next several months, Mr. Zuckerberg also grew to fully embrace putting “nonsocial” ads, or those that aren’t tied to a user’s “likes” or other signals, in the news feed. The shift came after Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product, showed the CEO internal data that suggested his previous resistance to nonsocial ads was hurting Facebook’s business.

Tests by the company showed that adding nonsocial ads improved the overall quality of Facebook’s advertising for users. “At the time, it kind of struck me as a crazy idea,” Mr. Zuckerberg says, since those ads veered away from Facebook’s traditional word-of-mouth-based pitches.

The CEO even compromised on a subject where he had rarely budged before: user experience.

Mr. Zuckerberg told Mr. Cox that some decline in usage would be an acceptable trade-off for higher ad sales, as long as Facebook made improvements elsewhere that more than offset the decline. The first test showed that more ads reduced user activity by 2%, below a target of a low single-digit percentage, while overall “engagement” rose by a much bigger percentage. Engagement is a broad gauge of user activity.

Facebook’s sales gain of 53% to $1.81 billion in the second quarter was the company’s largest jump ever. In July, a beaming Mr. Zuckerberg addressed most of the company’s more than 5,000 employees. “We did a good job,” he said. “We’re figuring this out.” A few days later, Facebook shares drifted above their IPO price.

Mr. Zuckerberg now meets often with Facebook’s biggest advertising clients, often spending hours with them. He has told customers to message him with ideas, which he will consider incorporating into product decisions.

At a visit last summer to the headquarters of Facebook ad client McDonald’s in Oak Brook, Ill., he learned how to cook an egg-white breakfast sandwich and asked the head of french fry taste tests why one batch he tasted looked a few shades lighter than fries served in McDonald’s restaurants.

Her answer: French fries sold at McDonald’s are cooked in oil that has been through multiple fry cycles. Mr. Zuckerberg said: “You have the greatest job ever.” His own Facebook page has long been peppered with McDonald’s and Chicken McNuggets references.

This year, Mr. Zuckerberg will have to wrestle with how to avoid turning off some Facebook users with too many ads, as some critics have warned. Some investors are antsy for Facebook to wow users with something new.

Mr. Zuckerberg says he is aware of the risks, but notes that user activity still is rising. The company does more than 35,000 surveys a day to monitor user sentiment, and the “driving force behind everything is that we’re trying to build the best experience for mobile,” he says.

Some of the changes at Facebook remind him of walkways at his old high school, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. As a student, he was befuddled by a meandering path to the campus cafe. The route seemed strange, so Mr. Zuckerberg did some research.

The answer? “Instead of choosing the path up front, they kind of waited and saw where people walked and put a path where people walked,” he says.

—Reed Albergotti contributed to this article.

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Ben Gurion: . . . if he were caught between the rise of al-Qaeda and Iran and the decline of the United States?

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What Would Ben-Gurion Do

What Would Ben-Gurion Do

David Ben-Gurion with IDF Commander Yossef Nevo and Mayor of Jerusalem Mordechai Ish-Shalom at an army post at the Jerusalem border, 1962. By David Harris.

Ofir Haivry in “Israel in the Eye of the Hurricane” calls for reviving David Ben-Gurion’s activist school of foreign policy. In building his case for the rightness of such a policy, Haivry provides us not only with an insightful survey of the historical development of Israeli strategy but also with a framework for comparing policies across time periods. His approach is particularly helpful in pointing out the complex interconnections among local, regional, and global politics.

But in taking the view from 30,000 feet, Haivry misses the specific dilemma that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now faces: Israel is caught uncomfortably between the decline of American power and the rise of al-Qaeda and Iran.

As Haivry observes, America is pulling back. In the words of former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, the Obama administration has determined that the United States is “overinvested” in the Middle East. President Obama, therefore, has shown himself to be deeply reluctant to commit the U.S. to any initiative designed to shape a new regional order. This standoffishness has resulted in a power vacuum. The vacuum is most obvious in Syria, where Shiite Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda are both growing increasingly powerful even as they vie with each other for influence.

For Israel, the dilemma arises not so much from America’s withdrawal as from the decidedly partial character of that withdrawal. Although Obama has taken one step out the door, the other foot is still planted firmly in place. At the United Nations General Assembly in September, for example, he targeted two problems for energetic solution: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. He could not have chosen two issues of greater concern to Israel. While other Middle Eastern leaders complain of an aloof and distant America, the Israeli prime minister finds himself hosting Secretary of State John Kerry nearly once a month. In short, Obama has boxed Netanyahu in.

 

As historical coincidence would have it, however, Ben-Gurion had to grapple with an analogous dilemma, and in doing so his activist school reached the zenith of its influence. In the mid-1950s, as radical pan-Arabism shook the region, the Eisenhower administration, which leaned toward the side of the Arab states, was singularly fixated on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The best way to achieve that goal, the President believed, was to force Israel to make painful territorial concessions.

And there was more. In 1955, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, the charismatic young leader of Egypt and champion of pan-Arabism, had signed a massive arms deal with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower chose to interpret Nasser’s move as a hedge against Israel rather than a rejection of the West per se. Rolling back Israel could therefore also serve as a means of wooing Nasser away from the USSR.

Not surprisingly, a significant gap in perception opened up between Jerusalem and Washington. The Americans fawned over Nasser; the Israelis increasingly saw him as an existential threat. As a result, Ben-Gurion was forced to adopt a bifurcated strategy. Wherever possible, he showed deference to the United States—making sure, for example, to cooperate with Eisenhower’s Arab-Israeli peace initiative. At the same time, in a practice that enraged the Americans, he did not refrain from launching aggressive border raids against his neighbors, including Egypt.

Events reached a high point in 1956 when, ignoring explicit American warnings, Israel launched a war against Egypt in concert with the French and the British. That coalition was itself very much the product of the preceding two years of Israeli activism. By demonstrating Israel’s willingness to act independently of Washington, and by showcasing considerable military prowess, Ben-Gurion had laid the groundwork for an alliance with France that in the next decade would prove a godsend to the newly independent Jewish state. It was, indeed, the French who roped the British into the coalition against Egypt.

 

Although much has changed since then, there is a good deal to be learned from this historical example. Specifically, if Israel were to revitalize Ben-Gurion’s activism in today’s circumstances, what goals would it pursue?

In addressing this question, Haivry himself argues in favor of “abandoning the preoccupation of the last decades with two issues at the expense of virtually all others: namely, the conflict with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat.” Ben-Gurion’s track record suggests otherwise, especially with regard to Iran.

In the 1950s, the Israeli leader’s top priority was arresting the advance of Egyptian militarypower. The Soviet arms deal gave Nasser an edge: an advantage that to Ben-Gurion represented a threat on the same order as the Iranian nuclear threat represents to Israel today. Indeed, if Ben-Gurion were reincarnated as an adviser to Netanyahu, he would undoubtedly draw a parallel between the rise of Iran as a nuclear power—and the American posture that has inadvertently facilitated that rise—and his own experience with Nasser.

Just like Egypt in the 1950s, Iran today presents a nexus of three key factors: malevolent intention, lethal capabilities, and strategic determination. None of Israel’s other antagonists on the Middle East scene exhibits such a multidimensional challenge. Al-Qaeda, to be sure, is fearsome. But Sunni jihadism in general is organizationally fragmented, militarily weak, and strategically inept. The danger it poses to Israel is real enough, but hardly rises to the level of an existential threat.

The primacy of the Iranian challenge raises a key question. If Ben-Gurion were alive today, would he urge Netanyahu to follow his example in 1956 and launch a strike against Iran that could, plausibly, turn into full-scale war? The answer is almost assuredly no.

Let’s assume that Israel actually possesses the military capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear program (a big assumption). In the event that led to all-out military confrontation, it would lack great-power support, something that Ben-Gurion regarded as an absolute prerequisite. In 1956, he gave the order to attack only after he had ensured the backing of Britain and France.

Netanyahu enjoys no such support today. Getting into a war with Iran all by himself would be easy enough. But getting out of it would require the good offices of the United States, which he cannot count on.

 

This, however, does not entirely nullify the activist option. Extrapolating from his behavior in 1954-55, but stopping short of war, Ben-Gurion would press forward with the most muscular policy possible, especially through an aggressive covert campaign against the Iranian nuclear program. All the while, using the model of Britain and France in 1956, he would search for actors willing to partner with Israel against Iran on the wider Mideast scene.

Granted, it is not entirely clear that such actors exist; but the possibility is insufficiently explored in Haivry’s analysis. For example, after discussing the three “clusters” of states in today’s Middle East, Haivry writes: “Israel is, to say the least, not a good fit for any of these regional groupings.” He thereby scants one of the most striking developments of the last three years—namely, the confluence of interests between Israel and the Sunni Gulf states, Saudi Arabia first and foremost.

A reincarnated Ben-Gurion would certainly investigate whether behind-the-scenes cooperation between Riyadh and Jerusalem was possible, and whether an activist foreign policy could help to solidify it. The arena offering the greatest potential for such cooperation is Syria, where shifting the balance against Iran’s proxy Hizballah is in the interest of both the Saudis and the Israelis. An additional advantage in Syria is that Netanyahu can act aggressively there without unduly complicating relations with Washington.

Of course, the impediments to cooperation between Jerusalem and Riyadh are considerable, and it would be difficult to pull off even a covert alignment with any effectiveness. But the Middle East is changing rapidly, and the stakes are very high. It would be a mistake to assume that yesterday’s impossibility will remain unthinkable tomorrow.

Who knows? In the process of courting the Gulf states, Netanyahu might even find other partners whose cooperation he could not have foreseen. After all, Ben-Gurion planned neither the alliance with France nor the alignment with Britain. It was his activism that generated both relationships. Activism, he understood, was a form of advertisement.