During the 2008 presidential campaign fiery evangelical leader John Hagee got into trouble after a sermon had surfaced in which he suggested that the Holocaust was a divine act meant to drive the Jews to the land of Israel.
This sermon led Republican presidential candidate John McCain to reject Hagee’s endorsement and distance himself from the controversial pastor.
Hagee, the leader of Christians United for Israel, has since worked to explain his views and prove his credentials to the Jewish community.
This week, Hagee invited Nobel laureate Ellie Wiesel to be his guest for an hour-long interview on his TV show.
The highlight of the interview: Hagee repeatedly attempts to make a tie between the Holocaust era and the current threats facing Israel from Iran. Wiesel stresses there is no comparison you can make to the Holocaust, although he is also alarmed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
And more on Hagee and the Holocaust remembrance: Last month his group sponsored a two week trip for Christian students to Poland and Israel, similar to the March of the Living trips taken by many Jewish teens.
In the Forward’s interview with Larry Franklin, the man once accused of being an “Israeli mole,” Franklin speaks candidly of his five-year ordeal since he was named as a key suspect in what became known as the AIPAC case.
But Israel wasn’t the only issue on Franklin’s mind. In the interview he reveals that while working at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, he did some serious investigations into the trustworthiness of Iraqi opposition figure Ahmed Chalabi, and reached the conclusion the man was a fraud. “I smelled a rat,” he said of Chalabi, who in the run-up to the Iraq war was a darling of many neoconservatives in Washington, including Franklin’s boss Doug Feith.
Franklin recalled meeting with Chalabi’s chief of operations at the Frankfurt, international airport in Germany and later at the Pentagon. He quizzed sources from third and forth countries and eventually, he said, “I received absolute proof from my two best sources on Iraq that he [Chalabi] betrayed us in spades.”
But Franklin admitted that he “didn’t try hard enough” to warn his bosses about Chalabi. He was more focused on the threat he saw emerging from Iran, and said he attempted to get the administration to pay attention to Iran’s possible role as a spoiler in Iraq.
Checking out Iraqi opposition leaders wasn’t Franklin’s only secret overseas mission. In December 2001, Franklin and his Pentagon colleague Harold Rhode joined Michael Ledeen, the former Reagan administration adviser, for a series of meeting with Iran-Contra affair figure Manucher Ghorbanifar.
For three days in Rome, they discussed possible cooperation with the exiled Iranian opposition figure in toppling the Islamic regime in Iran.
The CIA had placed Gorbanifar on its “do not meet” list because of his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, but Franklin and his partners received special authorization, presumably from the National Security Council, to hold the meeting. Franklin said he tried tirelessly to get representatives of the intelligence community to join the meeting, but they refused.
The Rome meetings yielded little results. Although Franklin said the information received from Gorbanifar saved American lives in Afghanistan, he believed that the plan to overthrow the ayatollahs in Iran was “amateurish” and that it would have “gotten Americans killed, would have embarrassed the United States and we would have been out of the money we would have given him.”
Upon returning to Washington, Franklin conveyed this message to “the vice president’s top aide at the time,” and said he encountered disappointment. “It didn’t make me popular, but I’m glad I did it,” he said.
The Gorbanifar track was not revisited since.
And one more Franklin tidbit:
In an interview he gave to Congressional Quarterly, Franklin identified one of the people who suggested he fake his suicide in order to avoid testifying in the espionage trial as “definitely a Zionist.”
Documents identifying the people involved in the event are still sealed as a result of a court order.
In other news from Washington, Jewish leaders have begun receiving invitations to a July 13 meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. This will be the first face-to-face meeting since Obama took office and it comes at a time when relations between the administration and Israel are shaky. Jewish groups have generally avoided criticizing Obama’s demand for an Israeli settlement freeze, but they have called for ensuring that Arab partners also live up to their commitments.
Here’s an interesting take on the unrest in Iran. Chic clothing firm Daphna Levinson has placed an advertisement in several newspapers. It reads: “Iranians, good luck with your revolution to freedom.” The picture shows “before” and “after” pictures supposedly on this theme. The “before” picture features a woman covered up in a black burka-like robe; the “after” picture comes from the latest Daphna Levinson catalog.
Israel’s main cable TV companies, Hot and Yes, are engaged in a price war. This has seemingly caused the companies to give the third degree to any customer who dares to call up to cancel.
Hot customer services: Hello
Me: Hello, I would like to cancel my TV subscription.
Hot customer services: Why?
Me: (trying to avoid an inquisition) There isn’t much to watch.
Hot customer services: I don’t understand your reason. Me: Look, I simply don’t want Hot TV anymore.
Hot customer services: (long pause….) Have you become ultra-Orthodox?
Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan’s blog
If there was an Israeli “Obama Girl,” chances are that she would be approaching middle age.
The American president may have been a big hit with young Americans, but in Israel, it’s apparently the young who are the most skeptical about him.
Bar Ilan University, together with the Anti-Defamation League, have polled Israelis on their attitudes towards Obama, and presented results in two categories: those under 42, and those over.
Among the older respondents, 41% said they felt the new U.S. president was capable of making the right decisions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the figure among younger respondents was just 32%. The pattern was similar when people were asked whether they believed President Obama would maintain friendly relations with Israel. Among older respondents, 41% said yes; among younger respondents, the figure was 34%. Obama’s policy on Iran also gets more approval among older Israelis. Some 60% of younger Israelis are against him talking to Iran, whereas 42% of younger respondents share that position.
Aside from the age factor, the survey provided interesting findings about the way Obama is viewed. Back in 2007, Bar Ilan research found that 73% of Israelis considered the U.S. president — then George W. Bush — friendly to Israel; the figure today for Obama was 38%.
The poll also asked people if they are in favor of an Israeli strike on Iran if that country’s nuclear program is not halted. Two-thirds of Israelis were; 15% were against such a strike.
On a lighter note: What do you think this flag looks like? It’s actually the municipal flag of the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Gat, but the resemblance to the Iranian flag isn’t lost on the city’s officials and residents.
At a council meeting yesterday, one councilman showed the Iranian flag and said it looks too similar to the municipal flag. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is unlikely to change his, even though Kiryat Gat’s came along first (56 years ago; Iran’s was chosen only after the Islamic Revolution of 1979). So the councilman said his city should come up with something new; some of his colleagues, however, gave him short shrift — saying that the city shouldn’t surrender its heritage just because of Iran’s taste in colors.
Here’s the portion of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Durban II speech that caused dozens of Western diplomats to walk out of a session yesterday at the U.N. racism conference:
The U.N. has since said that Ahmadinejad’s address would have been even more inflammatory; he apparently left out a previously planned reference to Holocaust denial that was in the original text of his speech.
In response, a former Israeli chief rabbi today — Holocaust Remembrance Day — invited Ahmadinejad to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. “Under the international umbrella of the United Nations, the president of Iran appeared dripping with hatred toward the Jewish people,” Rabbi Yisrael Lau said during a speech at Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. “… Come to Yad Vashem, we’ll show you all of the archives documents and memoirs. We will present you with all the evidence until you are convinced that the Holocaust actually happened.”
One day after Atlantic writer and blogger Jeffrey Goldberg announced that he would be “checking out for a while” — taking a blogging break to “buy some horseradish, among other things” — Roger Cohen, in a New York Times op-ed that referenced Goldberg’s recent interview with Benjamin Netanyahu, accused Goldberg (a Forward alum) of being the prime minister’s “faithful stenographer.”
Goldberg, who had spoken with Netanyahu on the topic of Iran, isn’t the only one at the receiving end of Cohen’s accusations. Cohen, in the aforementioned op-ed, charges Israel with “crying wolf” and Netanyahu with “fear-mongering” about Iran. The op-ed columnist writes that leaders of the Jewish state have long exaggerated both the timeline of the regime’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, and the likelihood that, when they are acquired, they would be used. He takes issue with Netanyahu’s description, in his conversation with Goldberg, of Iran as a “fanatic regime that might put its zealotry above self-interest” and “a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation” — contending that the mullahs prize self-preservation, above all. Cohen’s evidence: Their regime “has survived 30 years, ushered the country from the penury of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, shrewdly extended its power and influence, cooperated with America on Afghanistan before being consigned to ‘the axis of evil,’ and kept its country at peace in the 21st century while bloody mayhem engulfed neighbors to east and west and Israel fought two wars.”
The accusation Cohen levels against Goldberg is odd. That’s because Cohen, of late, has been taken to task for allegedly parroting in this and other op-eds the Iranian regime’s contentions of its munificent treatment of the Islamic Republic’s remaining Jewish residents. In a February column, Cohen wrote:
Still a mystery hovers over Iran’s Jews. It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquility.
Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.
That may be because I’m a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran. Or perhaps I was impressed that the fury over Gaza, trumpeted on posters and Iranian TV, never spilled over into insults or violence toward Jews. Or perhaps it’s because I’m convinced the “Mad Mullah” caricature of Iran and likening of any compromise with it to Munich 1938 — a position popular in some American Jewish circles — is misleading and dangerous.
Following the publication of that piece, Cohen visited a Los Angeles synagogue and sparred with Iranian expats — many of whom expressed concern that “Cohen’s evaluation was dangerously naive at best and, at worst, a mockery of their own experiences,” according to a JTA report. At that Los Angeles event, Cohen acknowledged that, during his recent reporting trip to Iran, he had paid $150 a day to an Iranian translator, who was also responsible for filing a report on his activities to Iranian authorities. It’s hard to dig too deep when you’re being tailed by a minder.
This morning, on the heels of his Passover hiatus, Goldberg wrote this “Memo to Roger Cohen” on his Atlantic blog:
Everyone knows that the first rule of writing a New York Times column is: Never attack your critics, particularly in personal terms. Columnists for the Times have scaled the Mt. Olympus of punditry; when they attack their critics they demean their lofty position, and inevitably draw more attention to the criticism than it would otherwise receive. Roger Cohen never learned this rule. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to have gotten under Cohen’s skin. He is a Jewish apologist for an anti-Semitic regime, and he should be reminded often that he has debased himself. But in a way, I’m disappointed that he’s so easily rattled.
As the country is busy speculating whether the brand new Benjamin Netanyahu-led government will end up going to war with Iran, a former member of Iran’s Khomeini government has said that Israelis are over-estimating the life expectancy of the Iranian regime.
“I guarantee that within two years Iran’s regime will collapse,” Ayatollah Dr Mehdi Haeri Khorshidi told an audience at an international conference at Haifa University called “Looking at Iran.”
Khorshidi, who now lives in exile in Los Angeles, was justice minister in Khomeini’s first government and was imprisoned for five years after that for criticizing the regime. He said: “Iran has powers that can stun and even defeat the government. There are other elements that wish to separate state and religion.
“They see that as long as Islamic rule forcibly clings to the government, religion is connected with all that is bad, which harms [the religion]. These elements include religious persons, university lecturers, judges, and members of parliament.” He added: “We need no foreign element to replace the regime for us. We can and must do it alone.” Once the regime is replaced, the Ayatollah predicted, the new government will be on friendly terms with Israel too.
He said of the state of academia and culture in Iran: “Fifty percent of the university openings are reserved for people associated with the government, and in order to be accepted in the remaining places, the candidates must undergo tests that are of political character and not at all related to the study material.
“A respected 106-year-old Ayatollah, who can no longer see or hear, determined that using satellite is forbidden since it provides only sex-related films. For fifteen years, it was forbidden to use video machines, because the religious bodies feared that the youth would use them to view sex films. Thankfully, today the thirty million youths are less interested in the government’s propaganda against the West.”
Khorshidi said that the poor state of the Iranian economy is bad news for the government. “Prices go up twice a day and inflation is higher than 50 percent,” he said. “In the past we have seen despotic regimes that have been able to survive for extended periods, but there the financial situation was reasonable. Due to the impossible financial state of affairs in Iran, along with the youths’ desires, the only thing that preserves the regime is the military – but how long can this situation continue?”
To commemorate the festival of Nowruz — marking the beginning of the Persian New Year — American President Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres have each recorded friendly messages, embedded with challenges, for the people of Iran.
Obama, in his statement, also available with Farsi subtitles, said:
The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right — but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.
His comments can be seen in their entirety here:
Peres in his message, broadcast on Israel Radio’s Farsi channel, said:
With great pleasure, I offer you this blessing on your holiday, a day of renewal that brings with it happiness and hope of a new day, of better days and a blessed new year.
… Unfortunately, the relations between our two countries have hit a low point, stemming from ideas that compel your leaders to act in every possible way against the state of Israel and its people. But I am convinced that the day is not far off when our two nations will restore good neighborly relations and cooperation in thriving in every way.
… At the start of the New Year, I urge you, the noble Iranian people, on behalf of the ancient Jewish people, to reclaim your worthy place among the nations of the enlightened world, while contributing a worthy cultural contribution.
Israeli “New Historian”-turned-Cassandra Benny Morris has penned a grim prophesy in today’s New York Times:
Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months — and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country’s nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.
Read the rest here.
Ha’aretz’s resident Jeremiah, Ari Shavit, paints a pretty grim picture about where the past two years have left Israel vis-à-vis its enemies:
Here are the results of Israel’s war against Hezbollah so far. Hezbollah is bringing home a living murderer, and Israel is bringing home two dead soldiers - over whose capture it sacrificed 160 other soldiers and civilians.
Hezbollah celebrates a symbolic victory, and Israel is in ideological crisis.
Hezbollah has won almost complete political control over Lebanon, and Israel wallows in irrevocable political chaos.
Hezbollah is armed with 40,000 rockets threatening most of Israel’s territory, while Israel has no response.
Hezbollah increases its firepower four or five times, and Israel remains feebly silent.
Hezbollah doubles its fighting alignment and sets up numerous outposts north and south of the Litani River, which will force Israel to conquer half of Lebanon in the next confrontation, while Israel remains paralyzed with confusion.
Feeling its power, Hezbollah is demanding the Shaba Farms area as well, while Israel is stammering its way to the next withdrawal.
Two years after an ephemeral militia provoked a regional superpower, the militia is growing stronger than ever, and the regional superpower is in a state of turmoil, degeneration and foggy stupor.
And, he argues, things aren’t much better on the Palestinian, Iranian and Syrian fronts.
Read the full article here.
Hat tip: Jeffrey Goldberg
UPDATE: It is worth noting that not everyone in the Arab press is hailing Hezbollah’s “victory.”
Writing in The New Republic, Ha’aretz’s Shmuel Rosner suggests that if Israel attacks Iran, it may not do so with the expectation that it will stop Iran’s nuclear problem. Rather, he writes, Israel might attack Iran in the hope of “stirring the pot” — of forcing an international community that seems increasingly resigned to the idea of nuclear Iran realize the urgency of this issue and the necessity of stepping up diplomatic pressure on Tehran.
…According to this line of thinking, which has adherents among some high-ranking officials and former officials in the Israeli defense establishment, focusing on the tactical questions surrounding such an operation — how much of Iran’s nuclear program can Israel destroy? how many years can a bombing campaign set the program back? — is a mistake. The main goal of a hit would not be to destroy the program completely, but rather to awaken the international community from its slumber and force it to finally engineer a solution to the crisis. As one former Israeli official put it, any attack on Iran’s reactors — as long as it is not perceived as a military failure — can serve as a means of “stirring the pot” of international geopolitics. Israel, in other words, wouldn’t be resorting to military action because it is convinced that diplomacy by the international community cannot stop Iran; it would be resorting to military action because only diplomacy by the international community can stop Iran.
Of course, as Rosner notes, such an outcome may not necessarily follow. Indeed, such a strike attack could yield, along with Iranian retaliation, international anger at Israel.
Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit poses the following hypothetical:
In November, after Senator Barack Obama becomes president-elect of the United States, outgoing president George W. Bush inflicts a severe blow on Iran. That could take the form of a naval siege, the flexing of American military muscle, or even an all-out air strike targeting Iran’s nuclear program.
Under ordinary circumstances, people would reject out of hand such a wild scenario. The American public does not support the idea of opening a second front in the Middle East, and America’s political, military and intelligence establishments are fearful. A military move, even a semi-military one, carried out by an outgoing president would be unprecedented and illegitimate; it would be perceived as the final insane trumpet call of a thoroughly off-the-wall administration with a committed religious outlook.
He thinks that this scenario may have “little likelihood” of happening, but, he adds, “little likelihood is not zero likelihood.”
The upshot of confronting Iran? Shavit writes:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel a “filthy germ” and a “savage beast.”
Speaking of Hezbollah terrorist chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated last week, Ahmadinejad said Israel was behind the death of this “righteous man.”
“The West created a dark and filthy germ known as the Zionist regime, which has attacked the countries of the region like a savage beast,” the Iranian president said in a televised speech.
Now, I’m eagerly waiting for Ahmadinejad’s latest remarks to be explained away by the folks who so helpfully iinformed the world that Ahmadinejad’s previous statement to the effect that Israel should be wiped out was actually misunderstood and that, in any case, it was really nothing to be overly concerned about.
The folks who run the Web site of a new Iranian government-sponsored English-language TV network— the Islamic Republic’s answer to CNN and al-Jazeera English —apparently don’t get the concept of satire.
Ha’aretz’s man in America, Shmuel Rosner, thinks that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University was a win for the Iranian president and a clear loss for Israel. He explains that Ahmadinejad’s speech, and the accompanying controversy, helped to underscore his message, namely, as Rosner puts it, “It is not Iran versus the world, but Iran versus Israel.”
The protesters outside only served to reinforce his claims, as many were Jews wearing skullcaps who carried signs protesting his Holocaust denial and calls to wipe Israel off the map. To many, this serves as further proof that Iran is only a problem for Israel, or at most for the Jews.
Ahmadinejad aimed precisely for that. “It’s the Israelis, stupid” was his primary message. Forget about the “Palestinian problem,” Ahmadinejad was telling his listeners. “Instead, we need to solve the Israeli problem — and finally bring peace to the Middle East.” While he did not explicitly reiterate his calls for Israel’s destruction, in practice, the message could not have been clearer.
The pro-Israel camp consoled itself with the knowledge that those who are familiar with the regional complexities, and with Tehran’s antics, will surely realize the absurdity of Ahmadinejad’s proposal.
But the average American is not familiar with the regional complexities. He is tired of the region’s fighting. To him, Ahmadinejad’s idea may sound tempting.
Read the full article.
Bintel Blog reader James Holstun objects to an earlier post of mine in which I quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Holstun writes:
I know that this is a widespread accusation — it’s on THE WEB, after all, so it must be true! But people who speak Farsi note that this is a tendentious mistranslation of Ahmadinejad’s comments, and I haven’t seen any refutation… See http://democracyrising.us/content/view/736/164/.
In the era of pre-emptive attacks, it is appropriate to exercise a little caution in one’s accusations, unless one’s aim is precisely to heat things up and prepare the way for a pre-emptive attack based on a non-existent threat. Ahmadinejad is a Jew-hating scumbag, but that’s not an adequate reason to reduce Tehran to a heap of glowing rubble.
There has, indeed, been a great deal of debate over how to translate Ahmadinejad’s now-infamous remark. University of Michigan historian Juan Cole and others have argued that “wiped off the map” is a mistranslation — a mistranslation, moreover, that is being used to beat the drums of war against Iran. “I smell the whiff of war propaganda,” Cole warned The New York Times.
Last month, far-left icon Noam Chomsky spoke about Iraq to students at Newton South High School. He came at the invitation of the Massachusetts high school’s Social Awareness Club. The choice of speaker sparked no small measure of outrage (which isn’t surprising, given that it sometimes seems as if the famed MIT linguist never met a problem he couldn’t blame on American foreign-policy). The invitation to Chomsky — no great friend of Israel — particularly irked members of Newton’s large Jewish community. In response, the school’s Jewish Student Union is calling in the heavy artillery: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who will speak at Newton South on June 5.
I don’t have much to add, except that this presents a convenient opportunity to recount a highlight from a 2005 debate at Harvard between Dershowitz and Chomsky. In the course of arguing that many countries have better human rights records than Israel when responding to terrorism, Chomsky declared:
Israel and the United States are both threatening Iran with destruction. Preemption, according to Dershowitz, would require that Iran be carrying out targeted assassinations in Israel and the United States.
What makes Chomsky’s statement that much more unhinged is that it came only a month after Iran’s president called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Talk about turning the world on its head…
You can watch the full video of the debate here. The bit mentioned above comes one hour and 20 minutes into the video.
UPDATE: Bintel Blog reader James Holstun disputes my characterization of Ahmadinejad as having called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Read my response here.