‘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

Jp16kOccupy Wall Street

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

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.”

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.”

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.

Francis Looks to the Developing World in Appointing New Cardinals

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ROME — Pope Francis continued reshaping the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday by appointing his first group of cardinals with an emphasis on Asia, Africa and Latin America, even as he also made omissions that signal his distaste for the traditional clerical career ladder.

Nine months into his papacy, Francis has sought to shift the tone of the church, with a special focus on helping the poor. On Sunday, he named cardinals from small, poor countries like Haiti, Burkina Faso, Nicaragua and Ivory Coast. He also named a second cardinal for the Philippines, a heavily Catholic nation struggling to recover from a devastating typhoon.

“The idea is definitely to move to the south,” said Alberto Melloni, a prominent Vatican historian.

For any pope, appointing cardinals is a chance to shape the direction and future of the universal church, since the 120 members of the College of Cardinals elect new popes. Francis was elected last March after the resignation of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who stepped down amid scandals at the Vatican.

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Pope Francis named 16 new cardinals and three emeritus cardinals at the Vatican on Sunday. Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

But Francis’s appointments to the college are also part of his larger plans for the church, which include overhauling the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the Vatican, and opening a broad debate on the theme of family that could touch on delicate issues like homosexuality and divorce. The cardinals are expected to meet on Feb. 22 at the Vatican for a consistory, a formal meeting, to begin discussions. New cardinals will be formally appointed at that meeting.

For centuries, Europeans, and especially Italians, dominated the College of Cardinals, even as growth in the church shifted to Latin America, Africa and Asia. This disconnect became glaring during the consistory in February 2012, when more than half of those in attendance were European, even though the numbers in the pews were stagnating across the Continent. Benedict, who had named a heavy share of Europeans and Italians, responded in his final group of appointments by choosing cardinals outside Europe.

Now Francis, who is from Argentina and is the first non-European pope in modern times, has continued that trend and seems likely to keep doing so. This time, Francis named 16 new cardinals, along with three other emeritus cardinals above the age of 80 (who are not eligible to vote in future conclaves to elect a pope). Of the 16, nine are from Asia, Africa or Latin America, six are from Europe (including four from the Roman Curia) and one is from Canada. None are from the United States.

Candida R. Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, called it “noteworthy” that no American cardinals were named but said the United States was already well represented with 11 cardinals.

“The disproportionate representation of wealthy nations in the College of Cardinals is something that Francis is trying to rectify here, in keeping with his general concern for the poor,” she said in an email.

The Pope’s Choices For New Cardinals

BRITAIN

CANADA

GERMANY

ITALY

SPAIN

SOUTH

KOREA

HAITI

BURKINA FASO

PHILIPPINES

ST. LUCIA

NICARAGUA

IVORY

COAST

BRAZIL

CHILE

ARGENTINA

Even as Francis selected a diverse range of cardinals from around the world, he chose only three from South America, where the pope previously served as a cardinal in Buenos Aires. He elevated Mario Aurelio Poli, his handpicked successor as archbishop in Buenos Aires, as well as Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, the archbishop of Santiago, and Orani João Tempesta, the archbishop of Rio de Janeiro.

Among the other choices outside Europe were Andrew Yeom Soo jung, archbishop of Seoul, South Korea; Chibly Langlois, bishop of Les Cayes in Haiti; Jean-Pierre Kutwa, archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano, archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua.

Francis also used his appointments to send unequivocal signals about the curia, the Italian church and the pastoral style he favors. In the past, winning appointment to lead a powerful department in the Roman Curia often meant that the red hat of cardinal would follow.

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The pope instead overlooked several department heads. Of the four curial officials he did select, three are allies that he has named to key positions, including Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the second-in-command at the Vatican.

Mr. Melloni, the Vatican expert, said Francis had also made it plain that the old career track in the Italian church — which has long enjoyed broad influence in the Vatican — no longer applied. Francis did not elevate archbishops in Venice or Turin, even though cardinals have traditionally led both dioceses. Meanwhile, he did name Gualtiero Bassetti from Perugia, a smaller diocese that has not had a cardinal for more than a century.

“He is not bound by the idea that if you are in a certain diocese, it is sure you will be a cardinal soon,” said Mr. Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies, a liberal Catholic research institute in Bologna. “He is making clear that he does not want to enter or accept any of the mechanisms used before to make careers.”

Vatican experts also noted that Francis favored men who had worked long years as priests before becoming bishops, and who had shown the sort of merciful pastoral style he advocates. And the Vatican also highlighted the selection of Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla as an emeritus cardinal. He is 98, and served as the secretary for Pope John XXIII, who will be canonized by Francis in April during the continuing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.