Friday, March 31, 2006

Planting the Seeds of Peace in the Middle East: Book Review

Planting the Seeds of Peace in the Middle East

Inheriting the Holy Land:An American’s Search for Peace in the Middle East
by Jennifer Miller
$24.95 259 pp.
Random House

Dov Burt Levy
Jewish Journal North of Boston, March 31, 2006

When asked if I could review “Inheriting the Holy Land,” I wasn’t too keen on reading a book written by a 24-year-old only recently out of college. However, cover blurbs by Madeleine Albright, Shimon Peres, and Elie Weisel convinced me give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed.

Jennifer Miller is an excellent observer, interviewer and writer. In fact, this young woman is extraordinary.

The book springs from the author’s experience with Seeds of Peace, an organization aimed at promoting coexistence by bringing Israeli and Arab kids to a summer camp in Maine. Miller participated in the program during high school and was a counselor during her college years at Brown University. Her research began in Israel and the Palestinian areas in 2003 and the book was published in September 2005. This young woman does not waste time.

Miller wanted to see how effective the Seeds of Peace experience was, whether it resulted in promoting important values like openness, compromise, acceptance of differences, and to what extent these young people — many very close friends during summer meetings in Maine — continued their friendships back in the Middle East.

What did she find? Everybody had retained some feelings about their Seeds experience — some more, some less. These were good and decent youngsters, but going from peaceful, idyllic Maine to the reality of suicide bombings and Israeli military actions doesn’t make notions of peace, if not friendship and brotherhood, an easy go.

For example, Miller writes about two 15-year-old boys: Omri, an Israeli patriot who wears a large Star of David and his father’s army dog tags around his neck; and Mohammad, a soft-spoken and modest East Jerusalemite with incongruently flashy metallic sneakers.

The two were best friends during the Seeds experience, and the author caught up with them in Jerusalem just after a bus bombing in July 2003 ended a period of calm. Omri said: “I’m pissed off. I want to scream bad things, but I don’t, because I am a Seed. I feel really confused and I don’t know what to do; I’m a Seed but I’m also an Israeli.”

When asked if he talked to Mohammad, he replied, “I don’t have much to say to him right now. His nation hurt me. I don’t need to call him.”

When Miller phoned Mohammad, he said: “I think it’s wrong to kill innocent people … They shouldn’t have done this bombing, but what else can Palestinians do? This stuff will happen even when we are Seeds. We have to accept that we are in a conflict.” He hadn’t called Omri after the bombing even though an unwritten rule of Seeds’ etiquette was that Palestinians called Israelis if Israelis were targeted and vice-versa. Mohammed said: “Omri knows how I feel about the bombings.” Miller was not so sure he did.

This is just a fraction of much anecdotal material, which together provides a better picture but not definitive one. But it is a place to start, a place to think about how in the world — and these internecine conflicts are all over the world — something good may be played out in the future.

Miller’s participation in the Seeds of Peace movement also earned her access to many people and places. About a quarter of the book is a journalistic report of mostly private interviews with the main characters in the Israeli-Palestinian saga: Peres, Arafat, Ehud Barak, Colin Powell and others.

I hope you will love, as I did, Miller’s questions and the candid responses that often were so far from the public persona you know from the media. Her eye for scenery and place is sharp, her questions provocative, and for unspoken reasons (perhaps her unthreatening youth, charm and attractiveness, or the fact that Miller’s father is a State Department diplomat), the national figures answered in revealing ways. I learned a lot about these political characters, plus the humor — particularly the interview with Arafat — was very welcome.

Miller also interviews those less prominent, such as Jewish settlers, Arab refugees, soldiers, students and even the family of a young woman suicide bomber. Tough visits for Miller, but she seems to have gotten it right and had the courage to report faithfully.

No doubt, dear reader, you are wondering how a recent college graduate gets these interviews, writes a book, finds a major publisher and gets it all into print within two years.

Who knows exactly? But being the daughter of Aaron Miller, a negotiator at the Oslo and Camp David peace summits, was a big plus, wouldn’t you think?

As for the young author, she says: “My book is hopeful because it proves the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not the fight of good against evil. It proves that Israelis and Palestinians are not wired to hate each other … Young people in both societies have real potential to rise above their immediate circumstances, if given the opportunity to do so.”

Time to End the Hijacking of Politics by American Super-Patriots

Time to End the Hijacking of Politics by American Super-Patriots

DOV BURT LEVY
Jewish Journal North of Boston www.jewishjournal.org
March 31, 2006 copyright 2006

Funny thing is happening in America. The citizens, according to polls, are way down on approval of the president, disappointed in the Congress, mad at the bureaucracy’s ineptitude, and furious with the shenanigans of lobbyists.

On the other side, congressional and presidential politicians are merrily tuning up for the 2006 congressional and the 2008 presidential elections.

What I am worried about is how super-patriotism will rear its hateful head in these elections.

Here’s the story: I, and most people, believe that everybody whose work, study or volunteer efforts help the nation to function better is patriotic. For what is patriotism but love of country and willingness to work — and even sacrifice — for it?

Super-Patriots are different. They sell, through demagoguery, a fanatical brand of patriotism. This fanaticism has them wrapping themselves in the flag and unleashing conspiracy theories about some citizens (particularly their political opponents) subverting the nation. Theirs is a fixed and unchangeable view of the world. If you don’t share it, then you are, by definition, unpatriotic. You may even be a traitor.

The main tactic of super-patriotism, besmirching the opponent’s patriotism, is becoming well entrenched in American political rhetoric. Shame on us that it often works. And sadder still that many young people see it as normal, simply how politics are played out.

Examples:
Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.) continues to call for changes in our Iraq policy and for a plan to bring the troops home. Murtha is a twice-wounded Vietnam War hero and an ardent military supporter who visits wounded soldiers every week in our military hospitals. The White House had the chutzpah to equate Murtha’s criticism with surrendering to terrorists and compared him to Michael Moore, the controversial filmmaker.

During the last presidential campaign, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth twisted facts to question the patriotism of Senator John Kerry.

Max Cleland, incumbent senator from Georgia, was defeated in the 2002 election by an opponent arguing that he was more patriotic than Cleland and used TV attack ads featuring a photo montage of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Who is Max Cleland? Only a Vietnam hero, triple amputee, former Secretary of the Veterans Administration, and National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans.

If the Super-Patriots can call into doubt the loyalty of genuine war heroes like Murtha, Kerry and Cleland, imagine how they would treat lesser mortals like you and me. When these tactics are used against opponents without backfiring, it’s time to be very concerned.

When you think about it, doesn’t it make you laugh (or cry) that a controversial piece of national legislation is called The Patriot Act. Argue or vote against it and what are you? In fact, the unpatriotic invective directed against Max Cleland called his support of the Patriot Act into question.

So, you ask, what does all this have to do with the Jewish community?

Just like for every American citizen: a lot. But, super-patriotism usually comes along with an enemy, a scapegoat, a group they charge as responsible for all the troubles of society. Put the domestic enemy in their place, get rid of them, is what they usually preach. And Jews have traditionally been a group of choice to scapegoat.

Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy was the highflying Super-Patriot of the 1950s. While McCarthy did not play the anti-Semitism card, many lesser-known super patriots in that era rode the gravy train of super-patriotism and anti-Semitism. One of the most successful was Gerald L.K. Smith, whose organization, The Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, published a monthly magazine titled “The Cross and the Flag.”

Not subtle at all, was he? Smith’s attacks on Jews, Catholics and African-Americans produced profits of at least $250,000 a year, which in those years was, as they say, real money. Thankfully, political parties shunned him like the plague.

Now that super-patriotism is being mainstreamed into political life, we must pay attention and fight it at every opportunity. Stay tuned for the upcoming elections.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Muslim-American Woman Challenges Muslim Leaders

A Muslim-American Woman Challenges Muslim Leaders

Dov Burt Levy

An Arab-American psychiatrist based in Los Angeles is fast becoming the most famous woman in the Muslim — and Jewish — worlds.

Unlike other luminaries like Queen Noor of Jordan and Suha Arafat, Dr. Wafa Sultan has a profound message to deliver, one that challenges the actions and teachings of extremist Muslim religious and political leaders everywhere.

Only a month ago, on Feb. 21, she appeared on Al Jazeera television and, according to the New York Times, became “an international sensation, hailed as a fresh voice of reason by some, and by others as a heretic and infidel who deserves to die.”

Over one million people have seen the interview, with numbers rising daily as people send the Internet address to their entire mailing list. (If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing something important: Go to www.memritv.org and click on Favorites’.)

Here is an excerpt: “The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship.”

Sultan is not afraid to confront the particular hatred for Jews that Muslims have fostered in their schools and mosques. She continues: “The Jews have come from the tragedy [of the Holocaust] and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. Humanity owes most of the discoveries and science of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. Fifteen million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge.”

“We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people. The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a Mosque, kill a Muslim, or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people, and destroying embassies.”

Sultan is finishing a book that is due to be published next year. In May she is scheduled to appear at the American Jewish Congress meeting in Israel. I hope Jewish organizations don’t take all her time; her voice is for Muslims to hear.

She has received many death threats and we can only hope she has adequate protection. Conversely, she has received great praise from around the world some of which can be read at www.annaqed.com, an independent website critical of Arab politics.

Sultan’s message and newfound prominence raise a serious question for me. That is, if I applaud and encourage Sultan in her confrontation with the contradictions, evils and misdeeds of the Muslim world, how can I not at least listen with an open mind to those who would criticize the Jewish community, and particularly the State of Israel?

There are many people writing books, giving speeches, and outlining what they call Israel’s faults or crimes. Much criticism is repetitive and some is downright hateful and obsessed. Basically, I have turned most of them off.

But now, call it an unanticipated consequence of Dr. Sultan’s challenge to the Muslim world, I shall listen better and evaluate more carefully the criticism of the Jewish community.

Before you bury me in letters, I am not equating Israel’s faults with those of the Muslim world. Not by a long shot. But Israel is far from perfect and needs, like every nation and institution, continued evaluation.

Friday, March 10, 2006

How to Fix the AIPAC Espionage Mess

How to Fix the AIPAC Espionage Mess


DOV BURT LEVY
Jewish Journal North of Boston March 10, 2006



Three men sit humiliated in Washington, D.C. today because their jobs and reputations have been destroyed. Their legal costs are mounting beyond ten (or 20) year’s salary, and one of them is already sentenced to jail time.

No, I am not talking about Jack Abramoff or Congressmen Tom DeLay or Randy Cunningham.

I am talking about Lawrence Anthony Franklin, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman.

On Jan. 20, Franklin, a Defense Department Middle East analyst, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on three counts of passing classified military information about Iran and Iraq to Rosen and Weissman. (Franklin is not Jewish.)

Franklin is expected, as part of a reduced sentence, to testify at the trial of Rosen and Weissman, both former senior staff members at AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. The pair are charged with passing classified information to reporters and the Israeli Embassy in Washington. The Rosen-Weissman trial begins next month.

Here’s the story:

Though it has not been disclosed how, FBI agents learned that Franklin had met with AIPAC staffers and confronted him, without a lawyer present, on June 30, 2004. Franklin agreed, in return for a reduction in the charges against him, to sting the AIPAC staff members by sharing information about a bogus Iranian plan to capture Israeli agents.

Let’s get real. Washington is a city filled with people talking government policy programs every day of the week. Restaurants would be half empty without that business. Thousands of registered lobbyists would be out of jobs.

While bribing legislators is the domain of very few, some 90 plus percent (who knows the exact percentage?) of some 30,000 registered lobbyists work to support or oppose government programs by providing information to Congress, newspaper reporters and think-tank academics.

Any day of the week, a Medicare official lunches with the AARP, a Department of Energy wind turbine scientist with some senior Sierra Club staff, state department officials with a Washington Post columnist.

Officials want their policies understood and supported; lobbies want their members to know how close they are to the pulse of government. Journalists want background information and scoops. Think-tank fellows want timely and relevant information.

The line between official secrets and what already appeared in some publication, or was mentioned at a Georgetown dinner party, or already discussed on C-Span, is often very blurry.

Franklin didn’t ask for money, as most spies do, and none was offered. Discussions were held in open, public places, not at 2 a.m. in a deserted underground garage. Franklin apparently thought the pro-Israel lobby could be an ally against the growing threat of Iran.

The sting itself is suspect. Would you or I have acted differently and not passed along information to save the life of an agent of a friendly country? No citizen who was not a government employee has ever before been charged with giving classified information to a third party, as Rosen and Weissman now are.

Let’s get back to the FBI’s handling of the case. Apparently the people involved in the sting feared that, if the top brass in the Justice Department or White House knew the details, they might quash the investigation. So, less than two months after the first direct encounter with Franklin, the information was leaked to the press and made front-page news.

If it weren’t so serious it would be a bad joke: FBI officials running a case charging three men with leaking government information leaked government information themselves.

Now is the time for President Bush or Attorney General Gonzales to end this totally embarrassing and needless government action and drop the charges against Franklin, Rosen and Weissman. These three men, in my judgment, did not commit espionage and should not be dishonored, impoverished and jailed.