November 28, 2008

As I write these words, Mumbai is the focus of world attention as ten targets throughout the Indian city have been attacked  by an unknown terrorist strike force.  Over 143 people have been killed and hundreds more injured.  It didn’t take long for the pundit-ocracy to declare the attack another manifestation of the long string of Hindu- Muslim clashes, which predate today’s attack by more than 150 years. 


 But there are outstanding features of these latest series of attacks which distinguish them completely from anything that has gone before.   The first is the scale and sophistication of the operation.   The terrorists, landing by sea from Mumbai’s largely unpatrolled port, operated simultaneously to attack and occupy significant landmarks in the city.   As they accomplished this, they were able to target three of the most important members of the  Indian anti-terrorist unit in Mumbai  who were shot within minutes of one another.  Once taking charge of the hotels, they set up command centers in both, a military tactic previously unknown in terrorist circles.   The reconnaissance alone involved in planning, coordinating and executing this surprise assault was of extraordinary sophistication and on the level of a first world military operation. The targets must have been scoped out for months, if not years, and the financial resources that would make the training and arming of the operatives, extensive.  That funding could not have come solely from the ranks of the usual Kashmiri terrorist groups which have perpetrated bombings and attacks against India for decades.


The second unique aspect is the identity of the kidnapping victims chosen by the group.   In the two major hotels the assailants isolated Americans, Britons and Israelis and in another part of the town they led an assault on Chabad House which operates as Mumbai’s unofficial Jewish community center.  The fact that foreign nationals were chosen as kidnapping victims is already a major departure from previous attacks.   That a Jewish center was attacked and the rabbi and his wife kidnapped,  is an indication that these Islamists see their fight  as united with that of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, who have all conducted or facilitated attacks on other Jewish centers around the world.    They are all no longer simply dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state but to a confrontation with Judaism, Jewish life and the infrastructure that supports it.    Here were terrorists then making a statement, not to India, but the world:  Western civilization, not just India, is under assault and no place that supports Western ideals, policies and lifestyles will be safe from similar attacks in the future


India, with 1.2 billion people is one of most populous countries earth.  It is one of the “Asian tigers” whose extraordinary growth has fueled global economic expansion over the past twenty years.   But it is also a country, since its founding, that has suffered continuously from sectarian violence and internecine violence.   Attacks on Parliament in 2001 killing 70, on a train in Mumbai in 2006 killing 187, and in New Delhi earlier this year are only a few of the atrocities suffered by the country in this century.  But the country is also notoriously porous, its anti-terrorism infrastructure weak and immature and its intelligence services uncoordinated.   It is therefore a soft target for terrorist and a perfect for forum for the Islamists’ deadly form of political theater. 


However one cannot talk about India’s security problems without mentioning the country’s birth partner, Pakistan.  When the two countries were partitioned in 1947 over one million people died as revenge and reprisal killings by Muslim and Hindu nationalists roiled the sub-continent.   Three wars and countless border incidents since then have sown  a climate a deep hostility, suspicion and distrust.  Yet Pakistan suffers from its own scourge of terrorism from Islamic fundamentalists and the recent attempt of new Pakistani prime-minister Asif Ali Zardari at rapprochement with India is a recognition that the survival of both countries is now at stake. They must recognize that they  are unavoidably dependent on a  cooperative approach to destroying the Islamic fundamentalist fires that burn uncontained within their own borders.


Such cooperation, of course, should not just be regional, but international.   If the terrorist assault in Mumbai has now anything to teach us in the West, it is that terror still threatens us all;  that Islamic fundamentalists will take heart and courage from their successes on Thursday and Friday and that more such attacks are on their way.  Without a united international effort, possessed of  a central Allied command  and an intelligence network that is thoroughly coordinated between the Western aligned countries, the Mumbai assaults will inevitably be duplicated against other soft targets in Asia, the Americas and Europe.  The incoming Obama Administration should therefore be forceful in stating American commitment to leading this international effort and providing countries such as India and Pakistan with the training, armament, intelligence and networking resources that will assist them in their battle on the war’s front line. Such leadership is ultimately crucial to defeating the single greatest threat to life and liberty in the West.



November 28, 2008
 There is no more traumatic event in the history of the modern United States than the assassination of John F. Kennedy.   Not Pearl Harbor, not Watergate, not the Iranian hostage crisis and not even 9/11 can claim that honor.   The assassination, whose 45th anniversary took place earlier this week, is seared into popular consciousness because to many Americans the murder of JFK still remains inexplicable:  how was it possible  that such a vigorous and  articulate leader, whose administration augured such promise, could so quickly and easily be dispatched from history?   It shouldn’t seem unusual then, that over time his death became widely regarded as a virtual martyrdom, ushering in a hagiography that has elevated the deceased president to the ranks of American sainthood.  Although his image was carefully crafted well before his death,  it has since become embalmed in such a mixture of romanticism and nostalgia that it is often difficult to extract the real person from the myth.   American citizens were never given the opportunity to see the real Kennedy beneath the hype and likewise deprived of the chance to see what might have transpired had his Administration  been roiled by the shockwave of 60s radicalism.    They did not see the president’s hair turn grey; the bags and dark circles begin to form ominously beneath his eyes or the permanent lines cutting deeply into his cheeks. Nor would they see his Administration, which would likely have won a second term in 1964, detoured by the increasing discontent of the civil rights movement, burned by the failure of his Administration’s policies in Vietnam and rocked by sexual scandal.


But history has a way of stripping the most hardened patina from the sheen of legendary figures and Kennedy is no exception.    What it exposes about the 34th President is less heroic and more recklessly libertine than any of us would care to admit.   A cursory examination of both his military and political careers reveals some extraordinarily overlooked facts: that his family’s fortune derived from the shrewdness of a father who was a stock manipulator, bootlegger,  appeaser, isolationist, ruthless womanizer and virulent anti-Semite;  that JFK’s handling of PT109, a patrol boat that he captained in the Pacific in1942 and was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer, was an act of profound negligence that, had he not been an ambassador’s son, would have led to a court martial and not a decoration;  that his Congressional and Senatorial records produce scant evidence of effectiveness or focus and that he spent a great deal of those years on an unending pursuit of women; that he took full credit ( and a Pulitzer Prize in 1957) for a book that was largely ghost written by his aide, Theodore Sorensen;  that his first months as President witnessed two catastrophic failures – the poorly planned and disastrously executed Bay of Pigs invasion and the June, 1961 summit in Vienna with Soviet leader Nikolai Khrushchev.   His performance in the latter event was so underwhelming that Khrushchev immediately formed an opinion of the “boy President” as weak and vacillating.   It emboldened him to authorize the construction of a wall dividing  East and West Berlin and to continue secret Soviet deployments of nuclear warheads on Cuban soil.  His Cuban policy laid the groundwork for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962  which brought the United States to the brink of a nuclear war.



And then there were the women.


Thanks to an obliging press, there were no sexual scandals during Kennedy’s years in office.  But that wasn’t because there was an absence of material.  The Camelot idyll of Kennedy as a caring family man, complete  with a dazzling wife and  two precocious children  was of course a mendacious façade.  Kennedy reserved little time for either his wife or children and often put his own sexual needs before family and sometimes even before affairs of state. How far he went is still unknown but according to biographer Richard Reeves, the scale of his wantonness was made clear by his first private words uttered after winning  the presidency:  “ Now I can get as much tail as I want…”    In an early meeting with British prime minister Harold Macmillan, he was quite candid about his internal drive for new sexual conquests and in Hollywood his sexual profligacy was well known and catered to by friends such as Frank Sinatra and his brother-in-law Peter Lawford.    Perhaps Kennedy was an undiagnosed sex-addict, yet who can readily excuse the indignity of a press-wary  President of the United States scrambling over a backyard fence in a Los Angeles suburb after a late night tryst with Marilyn Monroe?


Kennedy’s relationships with Monroe, Angie Dickinson and. Judith Campbell-Exner are well known and have been written about extensively.  But it is also known that hundreds of other women from prostitutes to starlets to wives of associates were the beneficiaries of his curious  form of presidential patronage.   It is remarkable, given the range of his liaisons, that none of this leaked while he was in office.  But the Press in those days considered a politician’s personal life out of bounds and were otherwise loathe to taint the reputation of a man they admired.    His staff also developed failsafe methods: prostitutes, and many of the young women brought into the White House or whom the President consorted with on the road, were told that if they leaked their stories to the Press, they would be declared mad and locked away in an asylum. He was ably assisted in these cover-ups by his unofficial chief of staff Kenny O’Donnell, who regularly indulged himself in Kennedy cast-offs and by a retinue trained to provide warnings of the First Lady’s imminent approach in the West Wing.


Why should any of this matter today? What good is served by dredging up 50-year-old gossip?    It matters because while the general public had little idea of Kennedy’s recklessness, those in the know –  the political establishment, the press, and at least two of his successors – said nothing, setting a precedent for acquiescence, duplicity, cover up and moral turpitude that brought shame to the Presidency and Congress in the years to follow.  If the President was able to run the White House like a Turkish bordello, what was to stop others doing as exactly as they pleased under similar cover of propriety and executive privilege?


That lesson was not lost on Bill Clinton.  Thirty-five years after the assassination, the 42nd President, who had actively modeled his political career on Kennedy’s, was almost impeached by Congress for an attempt to cover up a sexual indiscretion.  It is not a stretch to believe that Clinton’s admiration for Kennedy extended to that man’s libidinous excesses and has inspired its emulation, both in and out of office


It is not possible to watch film footage of Kennedy’s assassination today without feeling sorrow for the loss of a vibrant and talented political life.  Nor is it easy to cast in a bad light a man in whose being so many hopes once resided and whose memory still inspires such reverence.  But as successfully as presidents are able to hide their secret lives from public view while in office, history has a determined way of sweeping away  fig leaves, exposing once pristine reputations to public scrutiny.   In modern times,  our leaders should be judged, not only on their performance in the political arena, but also on the course of their own moral leadership and the example they set for the country.  In the end, there can be no moral leadership without the personal moral conduct of the leader.    On this score, the presidency of John F. Kennedy was an abject failure.  And from Vietnam to Watergate to Monica Lewinsky we are still living with its consequences.


Avi Davis is the Executive Director and Senior Fellow of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles.



November 21, 2008

I first came in contact with the militancy of the Gay and Lesbian movement eight years ago.   The incident occurred after the passage of  California Proposition 22 in March, 2000 – the first time Californians had voted on the definition of marriage. That Proposition affirmed by a 61.4% majority, and for the first time by popular ballot, that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.      As I was driving down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles on a late night shopping run, I encountered a traffic jam, with cars stranded on both sides of the road unable to move.  I soon discovered the cause of the problem.    Approaching us from the west was a vast crowd of marchers bearing signs and banners in defense of gay marriage.  Many carried placards that read “Honk if you support gay marriage.”   Since I live in one of the bluest suburbs in an overwhelmingly blue state, it didn’t surprise me that many of my fellow travelers on Wilshire Boulevard that night chose to honks their horns.  But as I watched the crowd pass among the stranded cars I became inspired.  Here was my opportunity to exercise my democratic right and express a contrary opinion.  I did not honk.  What happened next, resembled something out of  A Clockwork Orange.  I found my car surrounded by angry young men in tank tops and t-shirts, pounding on my hood and rocking my car back and forth.  Furious voices commanded me to honk the horn, threatening further violence if I didn’t.  Perhaps it was stupid, but back then I stubbornly clung to the belief (and my steering wheel) that in a democracy, my right to a differing view on gay marriage, or any other issue, would be respected.  After several tense moments the crowd saw that I would not relent and began to filter away.  But the incident made me realize that intolerance was not beyond the ostensibly tolerant gay community and that violence and intimidation may well be ahead for anyone who refuses to countenance state sanctioned same sex unions.   

That prediction began to bear fruit last week as the opponents of the latest California proposition to ban gay marriage( Proposition 8, which, now a state Constitutional amendment, passed by a 52% majority) took to the streets to lodge their continuing protest to majority rule.   Not content to ensnarl traffic in numerous locations throughout the city, gay marriage advocates have begun to intimidate the Proposition’s proponents, organizers and donors.   Since donations to all political causes and candidates are required to be made public, it is fairly easy to ascertain the identity of any individual or business who gave money to the successful campaign.  Gay activists have therefore pored though campaign contribution databases and “outed” Proposition 8 donors on sites such as Facebook.com and craigslist.com.  More than two weeks after the passage of Proposition 8, the same opponents have shifted their protests to other arenas as well  — using boycotts to target and intimidate businesses or individuals who contributed to the winning side.

Some gay rights activists went onto the restaurant website yelp.com, giving bad reviews to eateries linked to the Yes on 8 movement.  Hundreds of protesters then picketed  El Coyote Restaurant in West Hollywood on November 13.  The picketing became  so disputive that LAPD officers in riot gear had to be called in.  It was all  because Marjorie Christoffersen, a manager of the restuarant and a daughter of El Coyote’s owner, had contributed $100 to the Yes on 8 campaign.

Robert Hoehn, vice president of the Carlsbad-based Hoehn Motors, gave $25,000 of his own money to the Yes on 8 campaign in February.  Soon after the vote he began to receive hundreds  of phone calls and his Honda dealership was picketed.  Since the proposition passed, he says, he has received a continuous stream of  “vitriolic messages and phone calls.”

A Mormon colleague of mine, who works for a prominent human rights oganization in Los Angeles, forwarded to me some love letters  – as he referred to them – that he had received from a gay activist doctor, after his name was discovered on the list of  supporters of Proposition 8:  


I live in Los Angeles, and am both an American Jew and gay. I find it extremely distressing that YOU, who works for an organization that is supposed to protect minorities and defend human and civil rights, donated a substantial amount of money to strip away the rights of gay and lesbian  people in the State of California. It is mean-spirited, bigoted, and hypocritical. “


 The writer then proceeded to demand that my colleague resign, retract his donation and contribute an equal amount to the campaign to retract Proposition 8.  If he did not, then:


“ I intend to begin a campaign for your resignation, first thing tomorrow, by calling your organizational headquarters in New York as well as numerous regional offices here in the USA and overseas.  I intend to contact as many community leaders and organizations as possible to let them know that they have someone working  among them who propagates hate and bigotry.”


So this is what it has come down to:  Advocates of gay marriage will castigate anyone who opposes their agenda to transform homosexuality into normative conduct as “ hateful” and “bigoted” and will harass and intimidate them until they give up their prejudicial stance.  Therefore the millions of voters, in California, Arizona and Florida, who cast ballots to actually amend their constitutions to affirm that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, can expect increasing legal assaults, harassment, militancy and even violence from a class that is unsatisfied with our democratic process and demands redress beyond it. 


But is it really “hateful” and “ bigoted”  to oppose gay marriage?  The truth is that the state sanctioned gay marriage would not substantially affect the benefits that  same sex domestic partners currently enjoy under California state law.  Under California  Law (Family Code § 297.5) domestic partners  have the same rights, protections, and benefits as married spouses. There are no exceptions.  Proposition 8 would not have affected existing legal rights in any way, except to affirm that the people of California believe that two people who are of the same sex should not have the right to place themselves in the same category as a woman and man who have united in a state of matrimony.  This is neither “hateful” nor “ bigoted” but the reaffirmation of moral and religious standards that a wide majority of citizens across the United States ( if the results of similar ballots in Arizona, Florida and Arkansas are to be believed) hold to be true and sacred. 

Is the determination to stick to a traditional view of marriage then an abuse of civil rights?    The answer is no.  There has never been a “civil right” to marriage. Marriage has, until very recently, been regarded as a moral and religious union between a couple committed to fidelity, longevity and the propagation of the species. To argue that the Constitution guarantees equal treatment to all citizens does not mean that its intention was to regulate the nature of relationships between individuals  or what it considers to constitute a  legitimate marriage, partnership,  business venture or even friendship. The suggestion that the Constitution of the United States was designed to define moral or physical relations between U.S. citizens has found no corroboration in existing legal scholarship.

 A New Hampshire government commission report, released in December, 2005 which investigated the issue of whether marriage is a civil right, concluded that it is not.   Collecting a broad range of opinions over 16 months, the report concluded that marriage “across essentially all societies and history has been defined as the union of a man and a woman.”  The current definitions of marriage as between a man and a woman “models both natural human sexuality and reproduction that commits to the health, safety, and welfare of both the individual and the community.”  By focusing on the long-standing legal aspects of marriage, rather than its divisive political aspects, the commission’s report reaffirmed that the real reason for marriage is the propagation and protection of children.  If you  accept that marriage exists to create and protect something beyond your own personal interests– or in other words, that it possesses a profound social utility that transcends both personal happiness and an individual’s need for fulfillment – then the traditional definition is correct and no argument about unfairness, prejudice or bigotry can dislodge it.

This, then, reflects the essential divide between gay marriage advocates and the traditionalists.   Gay marriage proponents are determined to convince you that state sanctioned homosexual unions have social utility since they promote dignity for a discriminated class of individuals.  It is a campaign for individual rights at the expense of social cohesion.   Traditionalists will tell you that marriage between a man and a woman is a fundamental building block of social order and that to interfere with its definition is to undermine our moral and social  balance and our prospects for civilizational continuity.    The movement away from social cohesion and moral order and towards  individual liberty and personal fulfillment has been the grand strategy, not just of gay activists, but of the entire secular humanist movement for over two and half centuries.  It is a campaign against religion and against the kind of moral certitude religion promotes.    For the majority then, the question at issue on November 4, was not whether gay couples should have the right to obtain happiness in life; it was whether the moral and social order of western civilization will have the means to survive.


This is perhaps the reason why the gay marriage initiative has been defeated so often and so regularly over the past thirty years.  We, as a people – as a majority no less-  are simply unprepared to allow one of the key components of our social order to be undermined. The battle has much in common with the struggle over whether intelligent design should be taught in schools.   The scientific community, terrified by what it frames as religious coercion and bigotry, has developed its own level of absolute intolerance when addressing any challenge to the accepted means of investigating the unknown.  Similarly, those advocates of gay marriage, while accusing others of hate and bigotry, have developed their own level of prejudice and denigration, a fact clearly on display  to me that night eight years ago on Wilshire Boulevard.   Sadly, it continues to bare its ugly visage in the boycotts and harassment of those who supported Proposition 8 and in the strenuous legal challenges now being mounted to over turn it.  Those who support this anti-democratic and potentially violent movement should be warned that they may be playing with fire.  For such a movement, while having succeeded through coercion and intimidation in obtaining their political ends, may thereby gain increasing force and command over our culture, resulting in demands for even more control over our hearts, our minds and our actions in the future.



November 14, 2008



The news story which appeared across the world on October 24th held a slight irony.  Yaron Svornay, an Israeli journalist, claimed to have found relics of Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass, in a dump on the outskirts of Berlin.  German locals in the area indicated that after the atrocities of November 8-9, 1938, when more than 200 synagogues and thousands of German Jewish homes and businesses were looted and destroyed, the government had hauled several hundred tons of debris to the site. Svornay, who only recovered a few items that could be said to clearly validate the spot as a Kristallnacht mausoleum, has asked the German government to excavate the dump to prove its historicity.  To date, the government has shown no interest in such an undertaking,


There is a good reason for their reticence.  Kristallnacht, whose 70th Anniversary fell this week, is an event  most Germans would probably rather forget.  The pogrom unleashed against the Jews of Germany and Austria on those  two days is a reminder of one of the darkest  episodes in a very dark period.    For Kristallnacht culminated nine centuries of state sanctioned pogroms against  European Jewish communities.  The word “pogrom” is actually a Russian word coined to describe state tolerated or sanctioned violence against ethnic groups.   And true to form, the Russians, by the late 19th Century,  had transformed the pogrom into something of a governmental art form – the most vicious and coordinated attacks against Jewish villages occurring in 1881-82 following  the assassination of Tsar Alexander II  and in 1905 with the brutal murders and rapes of Kishniev.   During the Russian Civil War, both Red and White Armies, remembering their anti-Semitic training, perpetrated unspeakable acts of violence against Jewish communities throughout Russia.   In one such attack, my own family suffered a devastating tragedy, when my maternal great-grandparents were burned alive in a Kiev synagogue. Their  youngest son (my grandfather)  was saved only when he was flung by his father from a second storey window.


The events of November 1938,however, took the pogrom to a new historic level.   Germans from left to right, socialist to fascist,  prided themselves on the differences that existed between themselves and their Slavic neighbors to the north.   The thought of mobs rioting through city streets, given a free hand by police and the army to ransack private property and murder at will, rebelled against all their cultured dispositions.  While millions of ordinary Germans may have been deeply anti-Semitic and already inured to Nazi brutality, nothing could have prepared them for the extent of the violence of those two days and nights.  While lurid newspaper accounts around the world reported the scale of the destruction  and massacre (in addition to the unparalleled physical destruction, over 100 Jews were murdered and 20,000 sent to concentration camps) Germans awoke on the morning of November 10th to the unhappy reality that the Russian north had come to Germany.


 It was also not lost on the Nazi leadership that Kristallnacht fell two days shy of the 20th anniversary of  the Armistice which brought about the surrender of the German army in the First World War.   That humiliation, which had scarred the psyches of countless Germans, had been blamed squarely on the Jews – a libel that Adolf Hitler utilized to extraordinary effect in summoning support for his twelve year long anti-Semitic campaign.


The reality is that Kristallnacht was never designed as an attempt to teach the Jews a lesson.   Instead, it was planned to inform the German people that in the 20th Century  German Jewish citizens could  be robbed, beaten and murdered and no one would intervene, much less protest.   In fact, the tepid response of the democracies (who still fumbled, hoodwinked, in the darkening shadows of Munich), confirmed that the German people would be able to settle their Jewish problem without too much concern about what the rest of the world might think.  In this way, the citizens of Germany were being psychologically prepared for a far more grisly undertaking –  dispatching the entire Jewish population of Europe. 


In our own day, we can see how well the lessons of Kristallnacht have been absorbed by dictatorial regimes.  The governments of  Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Chile, Guatemala and  Nicaragua have all, over the past 60 years, staged their own performances of Kristallnacht  which have then led to greater depredations against their own populations.   But more ominous still is the way in which restive minorities within democratic states are beginning to sense how  rioting – or the mere threat of it-  can be used to intimidate a majority population.   The Los Angeles riots of 1992, the French riots of 2005 and the Danish Cartoon riots of 2006 all possess echoes of Kristallnacht. Without a firm and unequivocal response to such violence, the continued  manipulation of minority grievances and the willingness to exact retribution against a dominant culture, may become more a hallmark of modern democratic life than any of us care to envisage.


The Jews of 1930s Germany, for all the suffering they had already endured, were not out of their minds in believing that “the pogrom” was a thing of the past and that such an event could never occur modern day Germany.   The shock of discovery that beneath the facade of  German civility raged a barbaric blood lust that would not be quenched by the mere enactment of  discriminatory  laws, is a reminder to us all that nothing should be taken for granted.  The notion that one can negotiate with a country whose leaders sanction  violence against their own population or that  states in general  should seek to appease their own minority groups who seek to intimidate through violence, should be dismissed as dangerous delusions.  The recently discovered relics of Kristallnacht in a Berlin dump, therefore represent far more than the ghost of a distant anti-Semitic event;  they are the reminders of  how quickly supposed  civility can transform into barbarity and how vigilant must the West remain in assessing the re-emergence of atavistic forces which impel state sanctioned violence and encourage mob rule.  


Avi Davis is the Executive Director and Senior Fellow of the American Freedom Alliance. 


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