Saturday, November 23, 2013

Son of Israel, Caught in the Middle. By Dwight Garner.

Son of Israel, Caught in the Middle. By Dwight Garner. New York Times, November 19, 2013. Review of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. By Ari Shavit. New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2013. 445 pp.

The State of Israel. By Leon Wieseltier. New York Times, November 21, 2013. Review of My Promised Land. By Ari Shavit.

The Old Peace Is Dead, but a New Peace Is Possible. By Ari Shavit. New York Times, March 12, 2013.


“If you want everyone to love you,” Saul Bellow wrote, “don’t discuss Israeli politics.” Yet when Bellow went to Israel for several months in 1975 to research a nonfiction book, all he did was talk politics — and everything else. It was what he loved best about Israel, the “gale of conversation.”
Ari Shavit’s new book, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” is a gale of conversation, of feeling, of foreboding, of ratiocination. It takes a wide-angle and often personal view of Israel’s past and present, and frequently reads like a love story and a thriller at once. That it ultimately becomes a book of lamentation, a moral cri de coeur and a ghost story tightens its hold on your imagination.
Mr. Shavit is an eminent Israeli journalist, a columnist for the newspaper Haaretz, a television commentator, a man of the left, the possessor of a well-stocked mind. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.

“My Promised Land” combines road trips, interviews, memoir and straightforward history to relate Israel’s story. The book taps his existential fear for his country, and his moral outrage about its occupation policy. He dilates especially on Israel’s essential, combustible duality.
“On the one hand, Israel is the only nation in the West that is occupying another people,” he writes. “On the other hand, we are the only nation in the West that is existentially threatened. Both occupation and intimidation make the Israeli condition unique. Intimidation and occupation have become the two pillars of our condition.”

His book takes its time to get going. We are introduced to his great-grandfather, a British Zionist who visited the Holy Land in 1897 and saw that the place was his people’s future. We meet Jewish orange growers who moved there in the 1920s, and pioneers of the kibbutz movement.
These pioneers are a heady success story, their collective work and brawny forearms an inspiration. Yet, in their labor, Mr. Shavit spies the seeds of the anguish that is to come, for Palestinians and Israelis both: “All this idealistic socialism is just subterfuge, future critics will claim. It is the moral camouflage of an aggressive national movement whose purpose is to obscure its colonialist, expansionist nature.”
Mr. Shavit chooses the people he interviews with care, and presents their stories Studs Terkel-style, as streaming oral histories. These don’t overwhelm the narrative but add depth and complexity. To comprehend people’s opinions, the author understands, he must allow them to relate the stories of their childhood. These childhoods, as they were for most of the world’s European Jews in the first half of the 20th century, tend to be harrowing to absorb.
“My Promised Land” shifts into higher gear in its middle sections, with the claiming of the Masada fortress in the 1940s as a symbol for Zionism, and with the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. This book’s middle 200 pages are almost certainly the most powerful pages of nonfiction I’ve read this year.
It’s not just that Mr. Shavit lays out the story of Israel’s founding with clarity and precision. This is a story we’ve read before, in a stack of books that, laid end to end, would wrap 88 times around the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It’s that he so deliberately scrutinizes the denial he locates at the heart of Israeli consciousness.
This book’s central chapter is probably the one about how the Palestinian citizenry was driven from the Arab city of Lydda in 1948. Many were killed; some were tortured during interrogations. There was looting. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, long columns, were driven from their homes into the desert. In expulsions like this one lie his country’s original sin, the author argues, beyond the settlements of its later expansion.
“Lydda is our black box,” he declares. “In it lies the dark secret of Zionism.” Mr. Shavit is a powerful writer about denial. The miracle that is Israel, he says, is “based on denial. The nation I am born into has erased Palestine from the face of the earth.”
It’s among Mr. Shavit’s gifts as a writer and thinker that he can see this fact plainly yet condemn “the bleeding-heart Israeli liberals of later years who condemn what” was done in Lydda “but enjoy the fruits of their deed.”
A heartsick patriot, he adds: “If need be, I’ll stand by the damned. Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the State of Israel would not have been born. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have been born. They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter and my sons to live.”
There is so much more in “My Promised Land.” There are disquisitions on Israel’s wars, its nuclear program, its culture, its religious zealots, its intellectuals, its shifting demographics. The author writes with terrific feeling about Tel Aviv’s furious club scene in the 2000s, a generation dancing on the abyss.
With tragicomic wistfulness, Mr. Shavit captures an essential Israeli longing for peace. “We’d prefer our Israel to be a sort of California, but the trouble is that this California of ours is surrounded by ayatollahs.” About the Palestinians, he declares: “We squeeze, and they squeeze back. We are trapped by them, and they are trapped by us.”
I cannot say that “My Promised Land” is an optimistic book. It does not arrive with ready-made solutions. Its tone will entirely please neither side. Mr. Shavit’s gift is for seeing plainly, its own variety of sanity. He blames right-wing politicians for goading the Arab world with Israel’s expansionism. And he ends by taking a penetrating look at Iran’s nuclear program, one he fears will wipe his country from the planet.
About the prospects for peace, he leaves you feeling far worse than when you came in. The more you know, this book suggests, the closer the shadows creep.
In the end, he plaintively says: “I wonder how long we can maintain our miraculous survival story. One more generation? Two? Three? Eventually the hand holding the sword must loosen its grip. Eventually the sword itself will rust. No nation can face the world surrounding it for over a hundred years with a jutting spear.”


HERE is the bad news: the Old Peace is dead.
It was first wounded in 1994 when, a year after the Oslo accords, Israel let Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, return to the West Bank, and a result was a deadly bus bombing in central Tel Aviv.
The Old Peace was injured again in 2000, when, at a Camp David summit meeting, Israel agreed to establish a free Palestinian state in Gaza and in nearly 90 percent of the West Bank, and Mr. Arafat refused. The outcome? The second intifada, with its suicide bombings and the loss of more than 1,000 Israeli lives, left the people of Israel again traumatized.
The third blow came in 2005, when Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip and the response was not the emergence of a prosperous, self-governing Palestinian territory, but the establishment of a Hamas-controlled rocket base that has periodically terrorized southern Israel.
The death knell for the Old Peace finally sounded in December 2010, with the start of the Arab awakening, which toppled secular dictators like Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, while turning Bashar al-Assad’s Syria into a ghastly slaughterhouse. Corrupt yet stable tyrannies, which had supported a fragile peace with Israel, have been replaced by nascent Islamist republics and failed or failing states.
In these new circumstances, no Arab leader has the legitimacy needed to negotiate a lasting peace; no Arab government can be trusted to enforce it; and Israelis justifiably feel there is no reliable Palestinian partner who can guarantee it. The Old Peace, the dream of numerous direct talks from 1991 through 2010, died in the caldron of the Arab Spring.
But here is the good news: a New Peace is now a promising option. Having brought down tyrants who had paralyzed public life and public debate for decades, the peoples of the Arab world are focusing on the internal problems of their societies: poverty, corruption, lack of freedom and opportunity and an overall failure to establish a decent, functioning Arab modernity.
At the same time, an Israeli social justice protest movement that began in the summer of 2011 — filling the streets of Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and then quickly spreading to mass demonstrations across the country — is quietly changing the political system. It has placed major pressure on the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and helped account for the January elections, in which the party of the television host-turned-politician Yair Lapid came in a surprising second.
Israelis are also focusing on their internal malaise: a dysfunctional government; a financial oligarchy; rising inequality, cost of living and pressure on the middle class; poor public education; and the disproportionate power wielded by ultrareligious parties — adding up to a failure to construct a functioning Israel that truly represents its citizens and provides for their needs.
Make no mistake: Arab and Israeli social conditions are not at all identical. Egypt remains an oppressive, developing society reliant on American aid, while Israel is a thriving, high-tech democracy. But there is an intriguing link between the Arab Spring sweeping the Middle East and the protest movement changing the face of the Jewish state. As both Arabs and Israelis look inward, the Old Peace is dead, but a New Peace might be born.
The New Peace will be very different from the Old Peace. There will not be grandiose peace ceremonies in Camp David or at the White House, no Nobel Prizes to be handed out. The New Peace does not mean lofty declarations and presumptuous vows, but a pragmatic, gradual process whereby the New Arabs and the New Israelis will acknowledge their mutual needs and interests. It will be a quiet, almost invisible, process that will allow Turks, Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis to reach common understandings. The New Peace will be based on the humble, pragmatic assumption that all the participants must respect, and not provoke, one another, so that conflict does not disrupt the constructive social reforms that all seek to promote.
New Peace might have all sorts of manifestations. A real Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank rather than a romantic Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement which is not feasible at the moment. An Israeli-Egyptian water-supply development project that would reinforce the fragile peace between the countries. An Israeli-Turkish gas deal that would bring together two of America’s most reliable allies and encourage them to work as regional stabilizers. A Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian program that would channel some of the riches of the Persian Gulf to keep the peace in Palestine. A secret Israeli-Hamas deal that would give Gaza more autonomy and prosperity while halting its rearmament.
Mr. Obama’s strategy must focus on designing and fostering initiatives like these. The United States alone can orchestrate this kind of regional cooperation. Its aim should be to prevent nationalistic crises and religious eruptions from endangering a new, tentative promise: Israelis and Arabs rebuilding their nation-states while creating healthy, middle-class societies.
As Israel forms a new government, it needs a new strategic concept toward the Palestinians. The Arab world needs new organizing principles for its fledgling states. And America needs a new Middle East vision — one aimed not at grand and unattainable all-encompassing solutions but at incremental steps to temper the flames of extremism, tribalism and hate.

Bill Maher Pays Tribute to JFK by Slamming Ronald Reagan. By Melissa Quinn.

Bill Maher pays tribute to JFK by slamming Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin. By Melissa Quinn. Red Alert Politics, November 23, 2013.

Bill Maher Contrasts “Sex Machine” John F. Kennedy with “Amiable Square” Ronald Reagan. By Matt Wilstein. Mediaite, November 23, 2013. YouTube.

How Britain Invented Freedom – and Why We Need to Save It Now. By Daniel Hannan.

How Britain invented freedom – and why we need to save it now. By Daniel Hannan. The Spectator, November 23, 2013. Also here.

ABC’s Amy Robach Discloses Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Plans Double Mastectomy.

ABC’s Amy Robach Discloses Breast Cancer Diagnosis on Good Morning America, Plans Mastectomy. By Evan McMurry. Mediaite, November 11, 2013. YouTube, YouTube.

ABC News’ Amy Robach Reveals Breast Cancer Diagnosis. By Amy Robach. ABC News, November 11, 2013.

ABC’s Amy Robach Has Breast Cancer, Will Undergo Double Mastectomy. By Jack Mirkinson. The Huffington Post, November 11, 2013.

ABC News’ Amy Robach Diagnosed With Second Tumor, Plans To Return To Work. By Catherine Taibi. The Huffington Post, November 22, 2013.

Ronald Reagan: How Can We Not Believe in the Greatness of America?

“How Can We Not Believe in the Greatness of America?” Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union, January 25, 1984. By Ronald Reagan. The American Presidency Project. University of California at Santa Barbara. Video at YouTube.


But we know that many of our fellow countrymen are still out of work, wondering what will come of their hopes and dreams. Can we love America and not reach out to tell them: You are not forgotten; we will not rest until each of you can reach as high as your God-given talents will take you.
The heart of America is strong; it’s good and true. The cynics were wrong; America never was a sick society. We’re seeing rededication to bedrock values of faith, family, work, neighborhood, peace, and freedom—values that help bring us together as one people, from the youngest child to the most senior citizen.
. . . .
People everywhere hunger for peace and a better life. The tide of the future is a freedom tide, and our struggle for democracy cannot and will not be denied. This nation champions peace that enshrines liberty, democratic rights, and dignity for every individual. America’s new strength, confidence, and purpose are carrying hope and opportunity far from our shores. A world economic recovery is underway. It began here.
We’ve journeyed far, but we have much farther to go. Franklin Roosevelt told us 50 years ago this month: “Civilization can not go back; civilization must not stand still. We have undertaken new methods. It is our task to perfect, to improve, to alter when necessary, but in all cases to go forward.”
It’s time to move forward again, time for America to take freedom’s next step. Let us unite tonight behind four great goals to keep America free, secure, and at peace in the eighties together.
We can ensure steady economic growth. We can develop America’s next frontier. We can strengthen our traditional values. And we can build a meaningful peace to protect our loved ones and this shining star of faith that has guided millions from tyranny to the safe harbor of freedom, progress, and hope.
Doing these things will open wider the gates of opportunity, provide greater security for all, with no barriers of bigotry or discrimination.
. . . .
Our second great goal is to build on America’s pioneer spirit— [laughter] —I said something funny? [Laughter] I said America's next frontier—and that's to develop that frontier. A sparkling economy spurs initiatives, sunrise industries, and makes older ones more competitive.
Nowhere is this more important than our next frontier: space. Nowhere do we so effectively demonstrate our technological leadership and ability to make life better on Earth. The Space Age is barely a quarter of a century old. But already we've pushed civilization forward with our advances in science and technology. Opportunities and jobs will multiply as we cross new thresholds of knowledge and reach deeper into the unknown.
Our progress in space—taking giant steps for all mankind—is a tribute to American teamwork and excellence. Our finest minds in government, industry, and academia have all pulled together. And we can be proud to say: We are first; we are the best; and we are so because we’re free.
America has always been greatest when we dared to be great. We can reach for greatness again. We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic, and scientific gain. Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade.
A space station will permit quantum leaps in our research in science, communications, in metals, and in lifesaving medicines which could be manufactured only in space. We want our friends to help us meet these challenges and share in their benefits. NASA will invite other countries to participate so we can strengthen peace, build prosperity, and expand freedom for all who share our goals.
Just as the oceans opened up a new world for clipper ships and Yankee traders, space holds enormous potential for commerce today. The market for space transportation could surpass our capacity to develop it. Companies interested in putting payloads into space must have ready access to private sector launch services. The Department of Transportation will help an expendable launch services industry to get off the ground. We'll soon implement a number of executive initiatives, develop proposals to ease regulatory constraints, and, with NASA’s help, promote private sector investment in space.
. . . .
America was founded by people who believed that God was their rock of safety. He is ours. I recognize we must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it's all right to keep asking if we’re on His side.
. . . .
A society bursting with opportunities, reaching for its future with confidence, sustained by faith, fair play, and a conviction that good and courageous people will flourish when they’re free—these are the secrets of a strong and prosperous America at peace with itself and the world.
A lasting and meaningful peace is our fourth great goal. It is our highest aspiration. And our record is clear: Americans resort to force only when we must. We have never been aggressors. We have always struggled to defend freedom and democracy.
We have no territorial ambitions. We occupy no countries. We build no walls to lock people in. Americans build the future. And our vision of a better life for farmers, merchants, and working people, from the Americas to Asia, begins with a simple premise: The future is best decided by ballots, not bullets.
Governments which rest upon the consent of the governed do not wage war on their neighbors. Only when people are given a personal stake in deciding their own destiny, benefiting from their own risks, do they create societies that are prosperous, progressive, and free. Tonight, it is democracies that offer hope by feeding the hungry, prolonging life, and eliminating drudgery.
When it comes to keeping America strong, free, and at peace, there should be no Republicans or Democrats, just patriotic Americans. We can decide the tough issues not by who is right, but by what is right.
. . . .
How can we not believe in the greatness of America? How can we not do what is right and needed to preserve this last best hope of man on Earth? After all our struggles to restore America, to revive confidence in our country, hope for our future, after all our hard-won victories earned through the patience and courage of every citizen, we cannot, must not, and will not turn back. We will finish our job. How could we do less? We’re Americans.
Carl Sandburg said, “I see America not in the setting sun of a black night of despair . . . I see America in the crimson light of a rising sun fresh from the burning, creative hand of God . . . I see great days ahead for men and women of will and vision.”
I’ve never felt more strongly that America’s best days and democracy’s best days lie ahead. We’re a powerful force for good. With faith and courage, we can perform great deeds and take freedom’s next step. And we will. We will carry on the tradition of a good and worthy people who have brought light where there was darkness, warmth where there was cold, medicine where there was disease, food where there was hunger, and peace where there was only bloodshed.
Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.
Thank you very much. God bless you, and God bless America.

Was the Kennedy Assassination a Right-Wing Coup D’√Čtat? By Dick Morris.

Kennedy Assassination a Coup D’√Čtat? By Dick Morris. Video., November 22, 2013. YouTube.

Remembering JFK. By Dick Morris. Video., November 23, 2013. YouTube.

JFK conspiracy deniers are in denial. By Oliver Stone. USA Today, November 21, 2013.

The Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board Final Report (1998). National Archives. PDF.

The Gray Lady’s “Israel Lobby” Fixation. By Seth Lipsky.

Gray Lady’s “Israel lobby” fixation. By Seth Lipsky. New York Post, November 21, 2013.

Let’s Make a Deal. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, November 19, 2013.

Friedman on the Israel Lobby. By Ira Stoll., November 20, 2013.

George Will on “Cynical Lawlessness” of ObamaCare Delay.

George Will on “cynical lawlessness” of ObamaCare delay. Video. The Kelly File. Fox News, November 22, 2013. YouTube.

God, the Founders, and George Will. By Conrad Black. National Review Online, January 9, 2013.

The danger of a government with unlimited power. By George F. Will. Washington Post, June 3, 2010. Also here.

Religion and the American Republic. By George F. Will. National Affairs, Summer 2013.

George Will: Religion and Politics in the First Modern Nation. Video. johndanforthcenter, December 11, 2012. YouTube.