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Where and How European Jews Are Winning

July 22nd, 2014 - 3:29 pm

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Jews are dramatically under attack in France, but Judaism is booming in Italy.

The mounting campaign against French Jews was notably on display with attacks against Parisian synagogues last week, and with big anti-Israel demonstrations over the weekend despite an official ban.  Some Jews are increasingly considering emigration — the French emigration rate to Israel is up 60% — and many others are attempting to conceal their religious identity.

As I have written in some detail, things are quite different in Italy, where big pro-Israel demonstrations are common, kosher restaurants, especially in Rome (the biggest Italian Jewish community at around 15,000), are very popular, the old Jewish quarter around the synagogue has become trendy and pricy, and Jewish festivals abound.  There is even a trend, especially and unexpectedly in the south, towards conversion to Judaism.  The chief rabbi of Naples recently wrote to the governors of the six southern provinces, proposing an annual day of  commemoration of the forced conversion of the southern Italian Jews during the Inquisition, and some of the governors are likely to embrace the proposal.

Why the striking contrast between France and Italy?   Why are the French Jews so frightened, while the Italians are doing so well?  There are many differences, some historic, others linked to the contemporary behavior of the Jewish communities.  I think the lessons from the Italian Jewish revival should be taken to heart by Jewish communities elsewhere, including the United States.

First, the very different national traditions.  Keep in mind that France has the largest Jewish community in Europe, while Italy’s is one of the tiniest.

Most people think “Germany” when they think about European antisemitism, but modern mass antisemitism was a late 19th century French invention that subsequently spread to other Western countries.  Its infamous early appearance was the Dreyfus Affair, when a Jewish military officer was falsely accused  and then convicted of treason.  Theodor Herzl attended the trial, concluding that Jews would never be welcome in Europe, and needed their own state.  Thus was Zionism born.

The current campaign against the French Jews is in part a continuation of that old-fashioned right-wing antisemitism, intimately tied to nationalist and longstanding Catholic Jew-hatred, in part a result of radical Islamism, with deep roots among the expanding Arab community, and in part encouraged by radical leftist hatred of Israel and Jews who support it.

In contrast, there is no tradition of mass antisemitism in Italy.  While the fascist regime did many terrible things, Jew-hatred never gained mass appeal.  Unlike France, there was no popular antisemitic movement in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  As in France, many Muslims have come to Italy, but they are much more assimilationist and much less Islamist (roughly 5% of Muslims in Italy are regular mosque attendees).  As for the Catholic majority, Pope Francis is the third consecutive pro-Jewish pope.  When his Jewish friends from Buenos Aires come for a visit, he orders kosher takeout from those popular restaurants around the synagogue.  The Vatican reacts critically to antisemites, which counts for a lot in Italy.

In addition, while both countries have center-left governments, French President Hollande has no pro-Jewish background comparable to that of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who assisted the Florentine Jews when he was mayor, and even arranged for the illumination of the city’s synagogue.

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The World Is Returning to Normal

July 21st, 2014 - 4:57 pm

Of all the popular myths about “how the world works,” the most dangerous to us at this moment is the one that goes “peace is normal, war is an aberration.”  Truth is, war is normal and peace very unusual.  We’ve lived through a happy time, ever since the Second World War.  Thanks to American superpower, and the destruction of the totalitarian regimes in Rome, Berlin and Moscow, we’ve had a happy period of relative peace.  Very few big wars.  Little genocides (China is exceptional, but they changed to accommodate the global pattern).  Deterrence (as in “mutual assured destruction”) mostly worked.

That was a rare time.  Now we’re getting back to normal.  There’s a good reason for that old Roman wisdom “if you want peace, prepare for war.”  It’s because “peace” most always happens when somebody wins a war, and then imposes conditions on the losers.  That’s what “peace conferences” are all about.  Our recent happy time was the result of war, and our adoption of the Roman wisdom.  We smashed our enemies, we created military alliances to deter our new enemies (NATO, etcetera), we built and maintained a big arsenal on land, air and sea.

We prepared for war to make peace possible.

It worked so well and lasted so long that we forgot why we were doing it. Over time, the “peace is normal” myth took hold and its attendant policies — “future wars will be economic, not military” and “guns to butter” — came to define our strategic thinking.

Moreover, Americans have always been conflicted over foreign policy.  We have always wanted two incompatible things at once:  we want to export the American model, and we want to stay out of other countries’ affairs.  We have invariably waited until the eleventh hour before fighting.  In the last century, we were torpedoed into the First World War by the Germans, bombed into the Second World War by the Japanese, and frightened into the Cold War by Stalin.

Then came 9/11 and we were reminded that there are (always) enemies out there.  In time, we forgot that, too, and now, having deceived ourselves into believing that peace is normal, we are trying to talk our way out of the global war.  It won’t work.  It never has.

So we’re back to normal.  War, and the runup to more war, is the order of the day, as it has been for most of human history.  Our real options are the same as they have always been:  win or lose.  Both lead to “peace,” but the one is a happy peace while the other is an extended humiliation.

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We discount many of our enemies’ public statements as sheer propaganda, or bravado, or just stuff “for domestic consumption,” but what if it’s what they actually believe?  What if Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and the Caliphate crowd think that the Almighty is on their side, that the U.S. and Israel are on the run, and that Judgment Day is imminent?  What if Vladimir Putin is dead set on restoring a Russian Empire?

In other words, what if our domestic-profit-and-loss model of foreign policy has very little to do with our enemies’ intentions and beliefs?

A remarkable quantity of the “analysis” of the current unpleasantness is devoted to explaining what is “really” going on inside the various hostile regimes and organizations around the world, the tacit assumption being that foreign policy is only understandable in the context of domestic disputes, power plays, schemes and whatnot.  Thus, Putin’s maneuvers regarding Ukraine or Moldova are reflections of inner turmoil, Hamas’s attacks on Israel show us the internal divisions of the movement, and the proclamations of one or another Caliphate are the result of power struggles within the Islamist universe.  Thus, Iran’s annoying refusal to come to terms with “the West” is because of an ongoing spat between Iranian reformers and hard-liners.

I think we ought to take their announced intentions more seriously, especially at the very top.  I think Putin, Khamenei, Mashaal, Abbas et al. are trying to avenge what they see as historic catastrophes, and I think they are their allies are trying to dominate and destroy us.  I think they despise and fear our freedom and democracy, both of which threaten their tyrannical rule.

So I think they hate us both for what we are, and for what they believe we have done in the recent and ancient past.  I think these are strong convictions, and I don’t think we are likely to talk them out of them.

Swift rightly said “you can’t reason someone out of something he wasn’t reasoned into in the first place.”

In other words, there is no easy, conflict-resolution negotiation way out of the war that has been launched against us.  Our enemies will wage that war until they have either won or lost.

Footnote:  this means that, contrary to the multiculti dreams taught to Western students, all men are NOT the same, do NOT want the same things, and will NOT come to the same conclusions when presented with the same “information.”  Lee Smith has some very good thoughts about the ways in which our foreign policy makers are more like Hollywood movie actors than serious strategists.

All of which brings me to the battlefields of Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon….

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My heart goes out to Jeffrey Scudder, who was thrown out of CIA after trying to get some documents declassified.  His story, captivatingly told in the WaPo by Greg Miller, will be incomprehensible to those who have been spared the Kafkaesque experience of trying to get the agency to cough up important old stories.  I’ve been there, and Mr. Scudder’s story, albeit very unusual, rings true.

He’d had a promising career in various overseas postings, and he had the sort of personality that you’d think CIA would cherish:  intense, tenacious, highly patriotic.  Sounds like a great dinner guest.  In one of those personnel moves driven by the intelligence and foreign policy establishment’s managerial gurus, he was moved to a sleepy corner of the CIA forest:  the unit charged with reviewing material for possible declassification and public release.  There he found more than a thousand files, mostly from long ago, that he felt should be released.  Some were.  Many weren’t.  So when he moved on, to a position in counterintelligence, he filed an FOIA request for some of those still-classified stories.

At that point, the agency fired him, after an “investigation” that normal people would call harassment, that involved a 6 a.m. search of his house and interrogation of his family, seizure of his child’s and wife’s computers, etcetera etcetera and so forth.

The WaPo story dutifully reproduces the agency’s explanation, involving Mr. Scudder’s alleged mishandling of classified documents, but you can pretty much ignore that stuff.  The CIA often invents things about documents it want to retain.  Or maybe even destroy, as I found out over many years.

In the late 1970s I learned of the existence of an operation conducted by the U.S. government in Italy shortly after the end of the Second World War.  The operation was called “gyre” (from “Jabberwocky,” which led me to believe that James Jesus Angleton, the head of U.S. military intelligence in Italy during the war, had been involved).  The “gyre” file had a lot of material on the Italian Communist Party, going back to its founding (1921).  According to what I was told, that material documented the true nature of the party, which was very closely linked to Soviet intelligence.  As it had both a public and a clandestine component (known to adepts as the “armed party”), the structure was designed to deceive outsiders.  They could only see the public party, but not the clandestine part, and certainly not the close cooperation with the Soviet spooks.

I requested the file, but was told that the documents were properly classified, and thus not available.  I asked why documents from the early 1920s, dealing with our enemies, were properly classified.  I was told that the source was still alive.  So that was that…until 1981, when I became special adviser to the secretary of state, and had plenty of security clearances. One day I told this story to Bill Casey, who arranged for me to read the file, albeit with a caveat:  I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  It seemed redundant to me (I was  bound by an agreement to keep ALL secrets secret, right?) but I signed.  And I read it.

It’s a very important file for anyone who wants to fully understand Soviet espionage, and of course for anyone curious about the Italian Communist Party.  I can’t say much more about the contents except that the description given to me was very accurate.  I waited about ten years, when I learned that the source had died, and again requested the file.  Rejected again!  This time on the grounds that “there were no such documents.”

I pointed out that I knew they existed.  Indeed I had read them, so I was in a plight similar to Mr Scudder’s:  trying to make public documents I had actually seen, convinced they were important, knowing they did not involve any secrets that could damage American interests.  But CIA just said there were no such documents, so what could they do?

Then came the Mitrokin files…

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Iran and the Straw Man

July 1st, 2014 - 2:28 pm

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The estimable Sohrab Ahmari of the indispensable Wall Street Journal editorial page does some helpful reporting from London, telling us about leading British advocates of a deal with Iran.  Mr. Ahmari thereby confirms the durability of that famous line about the newspaper: “Interesting paper — opinion on the news pages and news on the editorial pages.”

He interviewed three leading proponents of making deals with the Khamenei regime, and they trot out the usual “arguments,” above all the presumed importance of giving international support to the  imagined moderation of President Rouhani, so that the presumed hard-liners around Supreme Leader Khamenei will be forced to make concessions.  Of the three, the best-known is former Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who talks about a recent trip to Iran as if it were a Western metropolis:

“Tehran looks and feels these days more like Madrid or Athens than it does, say, Mumbai or Cairo,” he wrote in a January op-ed.

“I know that Tehran is not Madrid,” Mr. Straw told me. “My point was that’s what the city felt like from the narrow perspective of the journeys that I was making. That was all. It feels more like those cities, Athens too, it felt to my entirely subjective judgment, than, I think, Cairo or Mumbai — what it felt like looking out from the car.”

Which gives a fairly alarming picture of strategic “analysis” by one of Great Britain’s most influential characters.

But then, we already knew a great deal about Jack Straw’s vision of the Islamic Republic.  He was the mastermind of one of the many failed attempts to set up a grand bargain between the United States and Iran, back when George W. Bush was in the White House and Condi Rice was at Foggy Bottom.  Straw convinced Rice that the time was ripe for settling matters with the mullahs, and he arranged for the secretary of state to talk to Ali Larijani, then the West’s favorite Iranian official.  After months of talks, the Americans involved believed they had reached an agreement with Larijani — the usual deal, the Iranians promise to stop enrichment and we lift sanctions — and the signing and/or celebration affair was scheduled at UNHQ in September, 2006.  Condi and her right-hand man, Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, flew up to New York for the happy occasion, but Larijani’s plane never took off.

So Mr. Straw has not only advocated a deal with Iran, but has vigorously acted in a very British way — manipulating his U.S. colleagues — to try to accomplish it.  Many thanks to Sohrab Ahmari for showing that Straw is a man of strong convictions.  Pity they’re so dangerous for us all.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)

Throughout the battle of Iraq, it was clear that there could not be decent security there so long as the mullahs ruled in Tehran. They made no secret of their intention to drive us out and dominate Iraq. Indeed, top Iranian leaders, as well as Syrian dictator Bashir Assad, made public announcements that once we had brought down Saddam Hussein, it would be their turn, and they would use the same methods that had driven us out of Lebanon in the mid-1980s.

To that end, the Iranian regime provoked all manner of violence, from tribal to ethnic, because they believed they were better able to operate in chaos. In these bloody conflicts, the Iranians sometimes supported both sides. They backed al Qaeda (Abu Musab Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, worked for years out of a Tehran base) and they backed Shi’ite terrorists like Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

This strategy was very difficult for us to comprehend, because it wasn’t possible to simply pick one side and support it.  The same holds true in Syria: Iran supports pro-and anti-Assad terror groups (I think this started as a scheme to acquire influence in any successor regime). Nor were we willing to acknowledge that Iran would continue to destabilize Iraq.  As the slaughter in Syria got worse, it became ever more urgent for Iran to control Iraq.  Why?  Because if Assad fell, Hezbollah would either have to relocate or risk disintegration, and Iranian strategists, from Supreme Leader Khamenei on down, picked Iraq as Plan B.

We could have acted effectively in these battlefields; the best strategy was to support the tens of millions of Iranians who hate the regime. But President Obama and his people do not want that. They act as if they want the Iranian regime to win, the latest evidence being the squeals of delight about possible “strategic cooperation” with the mullahs, our most openly hostile enemies.

It is folly to expect real cooperation from the Iranians. They think they are winning on every front (they aren’t; they are at mortal risk from their own citizens), and that Obama will never do anything to thwart them (this rings true). So they won’t do anything to improve our standing or national security. They will just continue to work for our destruction and domination.

Why does this appeal so much to the Obama administration?

*****

image illustration via shutterstock /  Filip Bjorkman

I was in the room in 1985 during the US/Iran/Israel negotiations that eventually led to Iran-Contra, and while I had no authority to make commitments for the American government, I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and talk at length with the others.  It was not a happy experience, and it was worsened by the knowledge that, while we spoke, a top American CIA officer was being tortured to death by the Iranians.

Hostage negotiations between a Western democracy and a hostile totalitarian regime lopsidedly favor the evil regime.  Its leaders do not care about human life, while ours are often driven by concern over the fate of their citizens.  You can see that in the case of Israel, which releases hundreds of terrorists for a single Israeli hostage, and you can see it in those US/Iran/Israel negotiations back in ’85:  President Reagan was very passionate about saving our hostages, as Israeli prime ministers, including Begin and Netanyahu, have been about saving theirs.

Our leaders have long claimed that we don’t pay for the release of hostages, nor do we negotiate with terrorists.  False on both counts.  Indeed, I don’t know of any democratic country that doesn’t do both.  To stay with Iran, President Carter negotiated a deal for the release of the diplomats from our Tehran Embassy–the deal entailed the release of Iranian funds blocked in US banks–and Reagan’s several deals with the Iranians sent weapons to the mullahs.  More recently, Obama’s negotiations with Iran have also included American hostages in Iranian jails, as we know from the fact that he raised that question with Iranian President Rouhani during their phone conversation last September.

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Mirrors and Veils: The Bergdahl Perplex

June 1st, 2014 - 8:39 pm

I will confess to a dark suspicion that when Robert Bergdahl, standing next to President Obama, said in Pashto to Bowe Bergdahl, “I am your father,” it was some sort of coded message.  I mean, what in the world was that all about?  Does any father have to say such a thing to a son?  Did he think Bowe didn’t know who his father was?

But then I started to ask questions of people who had followed the Bergdahl saga, and they calmed me down a bit.  The elder Bergdahl seems a bit odd.  Look at the pictures.  “A hippy,” one of my best sources said.  A guy who’d gone to Idaho to pursue a lifestyle reminiscent of the romantic sixties:  love, peace, and the expansion of the mind.  Or so they say.  And it connects well with the story of Bowe, leaving his base in an “intoxicated state,” which, if true, can’t mean alcohol, which is forbidden in such places.  It might mean pot, or hashish, however.  Berkeley, California, on the plains of Afghanistan.

I think, as I always do when confronted with “breaking news,” that we are some distance from the truth.  We don’t have the real facts just yet, and, contrary to all our frenzied desire to know everything right away, it’s a good idea to take a deep breath and analyze the odors.

One good place to start is where Brad Thor does:  forget about the Taliban, they weren’t holding Bowe.  He was a captive of the Haqqanis, which Thor nicely describes as a mixture of terrorism and mafia, “80% Sopranos and 20% Al Qaeda.”  He then asks an important question:  what did the Haqqanis get for Bergdahl?  That’s exactly right, because four of the Guantanamo terrorists were indeed Taliban, and hence low priority for the Haqqanis.  So?

So we need to ask how much money the Haqqanis got, or how many weapons, or maybe diamonds, I don’t know.  We probably arranged for the payment–it’s illegal to do it directly, I believe (although CIA has done it, as has the military, usually under the guise of “providing information”)–and the Qataris may have thought it was a good investment.  But something of value had to be given to the Haqqanis.  I don’t believe they turned over Bowe as a favor to the Taliban.

It is also possible that the Iranians were involved….

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Roman Jews: We Are Not Afraid

May 27th, 2014 - 6:00 pm
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Judaism is booming in Italy, and has become chic in recent years.

 

A terrorist struck at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on Sunday.  The police are trying to find the killer, but meanwhile, two days later, crowds of people came to the Jewish Museum in solidarity…in Rome.

Riccardo Pacifici, the president of the Rome Jewish community, spoke in a way the Belgians and other European Jews should have:

“It’s time to show these rogues, these murderers, that we are not afraid, they do not intimidate us. We will march together and take them to jail,” according to Italy’s Il Messagero newspaper on Monday.

While many Jews on the other side of the Alps are so frightened of being attacked, they are either leaving or trying to conceal their Jewish identity, it is quite different in Italy, as I detailed recently in Tablet Magazine.

In Rome, the Jews have developed a reputation for being tough guys, and they’ve proved the image is correct.  Ever since the main synagogue on the banks of the Tiber was bombed by Palestinian terrorists in 1982, the Rome Community have organized self-defense groups that have gone after antisemitic groups in the city.  They have staged public demonstrations, smashed the headquarters of Jew-hating groups, and occupied courtrooms where Nazis were on trial, lest the judges think there was little public concern about the verdict.

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As usual, the Italians are operating outside the box.  The “European” elections in Italy weren’t really about Europe, and it’s hard to fit the amazing results into the pattern you’ve been reading about regarding France, Great Britain and the other EU countries.

The elections were nominally for the European Parliament, an honorific body that has no legislative standing (it only ratifies measures from on high, it can’t initiate anything) but good salaries and amazing slush funds for travel, lodging, and associated expenses.  This time around, however, the vote was taken to be a referendum on the new prime minister (Matteo Renzi, the 39 year old from the center-left Democratic Party (PD) who has been in office barely three months).  His noisiest and most threatening challenger was Beppe Grillo, a foul-mouthed former professional comedian who leads the 5-Star Movement.  Grillo called for the total rejection of the political class (above all, Renzi) and promised that, once he won the European vote, he’d demand the government fall and then he would win national political elections and purge the whole political system.

Instead, Renzi carried the PD to unprecedented success:  more than 40% of the vote.  No Italian party had won 40% since the Christian Democrats in 1958.  Moreover, his PD was the only governing party on the continent to improve its standing compared to past elections, and most Italian commentators, including some who expected Grillo to win (he got about 21%, half of Renzi’s) are now saying that Renzi is in full control, and if members of his coalition balk at passing his key reform measures, he can threaten them with new national elections they know they will lose.

Which is quite something for a 39 year old who just a couple of years ago, as mayor of Florence, badly lost the PD’s primary and faced an uncertain future.  We seem to have an answer to the basic question about Matteo Renzi.  Everyone knew he was smart and ambitious, but nobody knew if he had the charisma, toughness and cunning required to govern Italy.   Now we know that he does.

Good news for Italians, who will shortly head the EU for six months, thereby giving Renzi an additional platform to advance his pro-growth programs.  Combined with the electoral battering of the bureaucratic parties that have been running Europe, and the strong popular support for nationalist, Eurosceptic leaders in France and Britain (and a mild rebuff to Chancellor Merkel in Germany), there is at least some chance that Brussels’ misguided policies of top-down hypercontrol of European enterprise may be loosened.

It’s suitably ironic that the new star of European politics is a young Florentine, running as leader of the country’s biggest left-wing party, who is universally believed to be a conservative.  Maybe even a neoconservative.

Perhaps Scott Walker, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz should campaign as Democrats.