An Officer and a Spy : A Review

October 8, 2015

An Officer and a Spy (Robert Harris)

It is now 80 years since the death of Alfred Dreyfus and 120 years since the end of l’affaire which bore his name. When most people think of this tragic episode in fin-de-siècle France they usually conjure, not images of the defenestrated Jewish officer who became a scapegoat for the French military’s intelligence lapses, but rather of an Austrian journalist covering the trial, who, sickened by the anti-semitic tauntings of the Parisian crowds, soon became the founder of the national political movement known as Zionism.

But Theodor Herzl, as romantic and fascinating a lead character as he might have suggested, does not appear at all in Robert Harris’ latest work An Officer and a Spy, his fictional account of the Dreyfus Affair.  In fact, the tornado of antisemitism, which tore through France and  swirled around Dreyfus and his two trials in the late 1890s, barely plays any role at all.  While there are gratuitous references to mobs screaming “Death to the Jews” and “Kill the Jew Traitor” and deprecatory references by the French High Command to the hated “Jew” Dreyfus, this appears as little more than background noise in the propulsive narrative and not a central focus.

By and large the antisemitism of the age is less a concern for the novelist than is the character of his central protagonist, Colonel Georges Picquart.

Picquart, who became the effective head of  French Intelligence in the wake of the first Dreyfus trial is the novel’s first person narrator and central character.  His counter-espionage investigations reveal that Dreyfus was wrongly convicted and that the real spy, who had delivered military secrets to the  German General Staff in 1894, was a French major, desperate for cash and low on loyalty. But the French High Command had pinned its flags to the Dreyfus mast and so they decided to dig in. Picquart was quickly quarantined and then sent on pointless intelligence gathering missions to the south of France and then onward to Tunisia where he wasted away for months in a lonely frontier outpost while the High Command conspired to send him on suicide missions into North Africa’s deserts.

Picquart retaliated by becoming one of the first of modern whistle blowers and through his lawyer would inform both the French intelligentsia as well as the radical  left of the scandal, both of whom would seize upon the cover- up to draw attention to the corruption of the Nationalists in the French parliament.  The roar of outrage grew into a crescendo when novelist Emile Zola published his famous front page essay, J’accuse which  would not only directly name the individual French generals responsible for the miscarriage of justice, but would land Zola himself in a heap of trouble as the libel suits poured in.

Throughout the languidly paced novel, which revolves largely around the sensational trials of the period, we meet some handsomely drawn characters: the florid Major Hubert- Joseph Henry, Picquart’s second- in-command, who plays a central role in the attempt to frame Dreyfus;  The calculating and politically ambitious General Auguste Mercier, French Minister of War, who leads the cover up and never ceases, until the day he dies, to express his belief in Dreyfus’ guilt; Pauline Monnier, Picquart’s long time mistress, who gets caught up in the scandal and almost loses her family as a result and Fernand Labori, attorney to Zola, Picquart and Dreyfus, who just avoids death from an assassin’s bullet.

In the epicenter of this tumult is, of course, the character of Alfred Dreyfus himself , whose ordeals on Devil’s Island, off the coast of Guyana in South America are recounted through the verbatim correspondence ( often sequestered by French Intelligence and not always delivered to their intended address) between the incarcerated prisoner and his wife, over a period of four years.  His words describe a hell hole where the prisoner endures endless privation and restrictions and which might have driven a less stoic and courageous man to suicide.

But Dreyfus’ self-belief and his perfervid conviction that French justice would ultimately prevail, were enough to prevent his collapse into depression or send him into a death spiral.  He survives to be vindicated and restored to his former command.

The story is in many ways a narrative tour de force, and although ponderous at times,  still drives the reader hungrily onward  with the  question of what will become of both Picquart and Dreyfus, whose fates become curiously intertwined.

Still, well acquainted with the history of the time, I come back to the many pages left inexplicably blank in the book, pages that could well have been filled in with descriptions of the rancor and hatred on the street for Jews , investigating the breadth of its hold on the French imagination and how such antagonism could not only survive, but flourish in so-called enlightened 19th Century France.

Alas, you will not find much of this in An Officer and a Spy.

For a real grasp  of that animus we need to look beyond Harris and refer to the words of Emile Zola himself, written in 1896, even before the full impact of the Dreyfus trials would steamroll France,  foreshadowing some of the horrors of the approaching century:

” For several years I have followed, with growing surprise and revulsion, the campaign against Jews in France. I see it as a monstrosity, by which  I mean something outside the pale of common sense, of truth and justice, a blind, fatuous thing that would push us back centuries, a thing that would lead to the worst abominations, religious persecutions with blood shed over all countries.”

It stupefied him that that such fanaticism should have erupted:

” In our age of democracy, of universal tolerance , when the movement everywhere is toward equality, fraternity and justice, we are at the point of effacing boundaries, of dreaming the community of all peoples, of holding religious congresses where priests of every persuasion embrace, of feeling that common hardship unites us in brotherhood. And a bunch of madmen, of imbeciles of knaves, has chosen this moment  to shout at us: ‘Let’s kill the Jews, lets devour them, lets massacre, lets exterminate, lets bring back stakes and dragonnades.’

 

LITERATURA Y MÚSICA: Émile Zola

 

Zola, in these words, was painting a picture of a civilization which beneath its veneer of elegance, élan and openness was sick to its core. This is a characterization only hinted at in Harris’ novel  – and a sorely missed opportunity it is.

Nevertheless, An Officer and a Spy leaves a nerve tingling sense of how even the most sophisticated and accomplished of civilizations can verge on collapse when a maniacal hatred of the other obtains a grip on its consciousness and then tips it off kilter.

In our present day and age one might  refer to any number of parallel political climates where conformity of views is demanded and dissent systematically persecuted.  Certainly our College campuses, particularly in regard to it raging anti-Zionism ofer a compelling analogy to  intolerant, hypocritical 19th Century France.  The  re-emergence of rampant antisemitism in Europe, driven by Muslim fanaticism and yet unimpeded by enlightened European opinion and activism, is a cause for extreme concern.

But we might also compare the case of”climate skeptics” – those individuals who voice doubts or present scientific data which contradict claims of anthropogenic global warming and are vilified, ridiculed and howled down as “deniers” and “traitors” by academics, the press and even political leaders.

Thus when Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island seriously suggests that climate skeptics should be subject to criminal indictment or when the New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan proclaims that the NYT may well begin referring, as her paper’s policy, to climate contrarians as “deniers,” we might all begin to hear the echo of those Parisian streets of 130 years ago and shudder with the possible consequences.

Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

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Good News Among the Bad

September 17, 2015

As the Jewish New Year of 5776 entered, news arrived that offered cause for the gravest concern. In England the British Labor Party had just elected Jeremy Corbyn, a viciously anti- Zionist agitator who has lent moral support to Hamas and Hezbollah, has maintained close associations through the years with antisemites and Holocaust deniers and is unapologetic in his embrace of the local Muslim Imams who call for the destruction and conquest of the West. This is, of course, coupled with the likely admission, in the near future, of hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees into European cities, which will only exacerbate the tensions in those societies between secular society and its unassimable Muslim minorities, thereafter, inevitably, spurring further attacks on Jews; And of course the Obama Administration has just secured Congressional support for the most catastrophic diplomatic agreement since the 1938 Munich agreement – directly endangering the national security of the State of Israel.

All of us who live in the West must see the tragic trajectory that our foolish leaders have now committed us to – enabling, rather than crippling our enemies; providing them with the means of facilitating our destruction instead of stanching their supply of weaponry and providing diplomatic cover and access to funds which will be used to finance future attacks against us.

How to respond to all this bad news?

With the recognition that at no other time in history have the Jewish people been fortunate enough to possess a State of their own which is equal in military prowess and intelligence gathering to any other such force in the world; that the Israeli economy is booming, despite the country’s continuing diplomatic isolation – and this is because the world wants and needs what it has to offer – technological creativity and know how on a scale that it can find almost nowhere else in the world; that the State of Israel will, within the next few years, become a net exporter of natural gas, controlling, as it does , one of the world’s richest deposits of the energy resource beneath its Mediterranean sands – making the State an extremely vital supplier whose link with the West will be guaranteed and enhanced – particularly in the event that Russia veers further and further into autocracy, territorial expansionism and isolation from Europe. And that the Jews of Europe, understanding that the contagion of antisemitism that doomed them 70 years ago, has not died but instead resurfaced in a new and more virulent strain – will increasingly bring their resources – financial and physical to the State of Israel, adding wealth and sophistication to an already fascinating, polyglot society.

I thought about all this recently after a recent encounter on a trip to Europe.

On a flight to Amsterdam, I sat next to a fellow whose accent I immediately recognized as Australian. We struck up a very friendly conversation that continued for hours, comparing our interests in Australian sports and talking about favorite haunts in Melbourne. I discovered that he was Jewish and was moving to Berlin with his German wife, who was pregnant with his first child. Near the end of the flight he asked me about my final destination and when I told him it was Israel, his expression soured:

” Aw, mate,I could never go to that place. Can’t stand the thought that Jews are practicing apartheid just like the South Africans. ”

When I asked him if he had ever visited Israel to discover if this accusation was true for himself, he said he hadn’t and that he wouldn’t and that his mind is made up and that I would be wasting my breath to try to convince him otherwise.

I was quiet for a while and then I said;

“Mark, you know 75 years ago, Jews who had babies in Berlin – and chose to stay there, were almost certainly signing their childrens’ death warrant. It wouldn’t have mattered to the authorities that you were an anti- Zionist, a non-practicing Jew or that your wife was non-Jewish. The Nazis didn’t care about any of that. They took you if you had the least ounce of Jewish blood in your veins. The Nazis may well be gone but don’t think that you or your children or grandchildren will always be guaranteed to have it as good as you have had it in Australia and America all this time. Thirty years years from now, you, your child and your grandchildren may thank G’d,- even if none of you believe in Him – that there is a state in the world willing to accept you and your descendants because every other country in the world has shut its doors to the plight of the new German Jewish refugees.”

He turned away and we didn’t speak for the rest of the flight. But I realized that I had just confronted the same blinkered, festering self-hatred that I have seen in the writings of Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein – intellectuals and activists who have joined with and given succor to the Jewish peoples’ enemies.

On this Rosh Hashana, let us then remember the miracle of the post-Holocaust, Jewish renaissance around the world; the extraordinary success of the people of Israel in building a flourishing democracy in a sea of hatred and contempt and the assurance that because that state exists, the Jewish people will live on and thrive and that the welfare and security of our grandchildren and great grand children is guaranteed because of it.

Shana Tova – Happy New Year -and may we all be blessed with health, peace, security and prosperity in the coming year.

With the elevation of Mr. Corbyn, the Labour Party is in the hands of the hard left for the first time in decades.
nytimes.com|By STEPHEN CASTLE

A Child Born in Israel

February 18, 2015

By Avi Davis

In July, 1923, a 20-year-old Polish Jew named David Czmielewski and his older brother Yitzhak stepped ashore at the Port of Jaffa determined to help build the Land of Israel. Economic opportunities however were sparse and he found it hard to make a living. Despondent, he was forced to leave five years later. Yet he never gave up the hope of one day returning.

David Czmielewski thereafter traveled to Australia and became David Davis. He was my grandfather.

His dream, never quite realized in his own lifetime, nevertheless transferred through the generations to his son and several of his grandchildren who all established homes in the State of Israel. Today he has twelve great-grandchildren living in the land. Three great-grandsons have served or are serving in the IDF. One is about to enter training in the Golani Brigade and a fifth has been selected as a candidate for a pilot training course in the Israeli Air Force.

Last week, his first great-great grandchild, Shira Perlmuter, was born in Petach Tikva to my niece Avital Perlmuter(nee Davis) and her husband Sagi. She represents the fifth generation of the Davis/ Czmielewski family in the land of Israel.

She is a beautiful, living testament to Jewish determination and commitment. May she live a long, happy, prosperous life and may she be joyously blessed with many children of her own.

 


Jonathan Sacks: Right on Western Civilization; Wrong on Islam

February 2, 2015

by Avi Davis

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is almost certainly one of the leading religious figures in the world today.

As the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, he commands attention -not only for his former illustrious position, but equally for his erudition in Jewish law, his undoubted grasp of the dynamics of the political world and for his vast store of secular knowledge which embraces the disciplines of philosophy, literature, psychology and sociology.

He is beyond question one of the most worldly Jewish leaders to emerge since the polymath Maimonides took up a pen in the 12th Century and he is deeply admired for it.

I have read a number of Rabbi Sacks’ books including To Heal A Fractured WorldThe Dignity of Difference and Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning- all of which have fascinated me with their insights into the modern world and its challenges for both Jews and non-Jews alike.

Most impressive to me has been his understanding that the fate of Israel and the Jewish people is tied inextricably to the fate of western civilization.  In book after book, article after article, he propounds this same point  – our futures are bound together and those who attack Israel and the Jewish people are in fact attacking the very idea of civilization itself.

So I greeted with some anticipation Rabbi Sacks’ essay in the  Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Review titled The Return of Anti Semitism  which sought to address the recrudescence of antisemitism in the 21st century.

As usual I learned a great deal from this essay.   Among Rabbi Sacks’ many insights are that antisemitism is only contingently, even accidentally, about Jews.   Jews die from it, but they are not its only victims.   The elimination throughout the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia of hundreds of Christian communities is an incontrovertible extension of  antisemitism.   Thus he can assert: “ The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.”

 

Auschwitz survivor Miroslaw Celka walks out the gate with the sign saying ‘Work makes you free’ after paying tribute to fallen comrades at the ‘death wall’ execution spot in the former Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp on Jan. 27

Traditional Christian antisemitism, from the time of the Crusades onward objectified the Jews as having “mysteriously yet actively sought the harm of others”.  They were suspected of being actively involved in destroying the foundations of civilization.

Why, then, such a focus on the Jews?  Sacks posits that it always amounts to a peoples’ sense sense of their humiliation.   Societies which have suffered military defeat, widespread plague or the onset of the collapse of self confidence learn to externalize their pain by focusing on an explanation which provides clear and simple answers for it. Thus:

“By turning the question “What did we do wrong?” into “Who did this to us?”, it restores some measure of self-respect and provides a course of action. In psychiatry, the clinical terms for this process are splitting and projection; it allows people to define themselves as victims.”

This of course goes a long way to explaining what happened to the Muslim world after careening into its rapid decline in the 17th Century.

So far, so good.   It is when we reach the end of the essay that  we might find ourselves startled by an awkward conclusion. In pointing out how imbedded hatred destroys civilizations the author makes an impassioned plea for amity:

“Judaism, Christianity and Islam are religions of love, not of hate…… All of us—Jews, Christians and Muslims, brothers and sisters in Abraham’s family—must choose another way.”

The implication in this final paragraph (although not implicit in the essay itself) is that both Judaism and Christianity, in their purest form, exist on the same moral plain as Islam – as if they all profess the same fundamental values.

Is it political correctness which impels Sacks to make such a lachrymose and nonsensical statement?

For surely this thoroughly erudite and omnivorous scholar knows that Islam, from its very founding was not a religion of love or of peace;  that Islam did not acquire its anti- Jewish animus only in recent times but it was implicit in the religion from from its very inception. Muhammed set the example for what was to become a long tradition of Islamic antisemitism.  The oldest extant biography of Mohammed, that by Ibn Ishaq in the 8th Century, is replete with the Prophet’s evident hatred of Jews. He had individual Jews  asssasinated if he felt they had either insulted or disobeyed him;  When Muhammed gave the command to “kill any Jew who falls in to your power,” one of his followers, Ibn Mas’ud, assassinated  Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant.  The Jewish tribe the Banu Qurayza consisting of between 600 and 800 men was exterminated while the Banu’l Nadir were attacked and dispossessed of their wealth.

Besides these specific acts of atrocity perpetrated against Jews in the 1400 years since Muhammed began his ministry, one can see how Jew hatred gained its foundation in the Koran, the hadith and in the sira (the earliest Muslim biographies of Muhammed) to the point where the existence of a virulent antisemitic thread in Muslim scholarship becomes undeniable.

This was conclusively summed up in 1996 by Sheikh Muhammed Sayyid Tantawi who became (and remains) the Grand Imam of Al- Azhar University in Cairo:

” The Quran describes the Jews with their own degenerate set of characteristics ie: killing the prophets of Allah, corrupting his word by putting it in the wrong places, consuming the people’s wealth frivolously , refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do and other characteristics caused by their deep seated lasciviousness….only a minority of the Jews keep their word….all Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims. the bad ones do not.”

There could be no more poignant an example of Islamic Jew hatred emanating from the heart of Islamic scholarship today than this.

Isn’t it time then for our religious leaders to take off their rose colored glasses and begin to comment on this world for how it really is?  While Jonathan Sacks has provided us with a very accurate analysis of why antisemitism emerges and how it wreaks damage on the societies where it gains its firmest foothold, it is counterproductive for him to keep pretending that the scourge is a phenomenon that only becomes evident in broken, humiliated civilizations.

Antisemitism should be recognized as dangerously inherent within Islam itself – infecting the societies that revolve around it – and that without a total reformation of the precepts and tenets of Islam it is likely to continue to exist not just as a cancer eating away at the core of the Muslim world but as a contagion which will eventually envelop humanity.

Shying away from this reality and pretending that Islam seeks only peace and exhibits love lends it just more cover for its continued propagation of the oldest of the world’s hatreds and enables it to attract even more adherents to its destructive force.

 

Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of the Intermediate Zone 

 

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The Echo of Auschwitz 70 Years Later

January 25, 2015

By Avi Davis

So here we stand once again before the gates of Auschwitz.   Seventy years ago the Russian army liberated this camp.   What, we might ask, did they first experience as they approached the gates emblazoned with the unforgettable motif Arbeit Macht Frei?

 Contrary to what most people think, the first experience of Auschwitz for the Russians was not the scenes that would later become immortalized in still photographs and film footage.   Rather, it was the overpowering stench of death carried in the air as the soldiers approached from ten miles away.  When they finally reached the camp gates, the scene of utter desolation could barely be believed, even by hardened soldiers who had survived the Battle of Stalingrad and witnessed its horrific carnage.

Bodies were stacked in places ten feet high; young children, clothed in rags, stumbled from the barracks, emaciated skeletons;  Young men and women, some only in their teens, looked aged well beyond their years, haggard, lice infested and covered in grime.  The footage that cameraman Alexander Vorontsov and director Irmgard von zur Muhlen, took that afternoon, offered us images that have become indelibly stamped on Western memory.   In addition to the utter destitution of the scene, the camera pans across mountains of personal possessions confiscated from the prisoners — nearly half a million suits and dresses and tens of thousands of eyeglasses. The gas chambers, the portable gallows, the warehouse that held countless bags of human hair ( 7.7 tons of it!) and the glare of the silent survivors as they stared unblinking at the camera, were the living reminders of how western civilization had turned on itself.

But the parallel tragedy of the day is often forgotten. Nine days before the liberation, as the Soviets approached the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, Nazi SS officers forced nearly 60,000 inmates to march west.  Only 7,000, too sick and enfeebled, remained in the camps.

The death march of the winter of 1945 was the final gift of the Nazis to Western civilization.  Although there were many death marches, from most of the concentration camps such as Buchenwald and Treblinka, the Auschwitz Death March is by far the best known and involved the most inmates.  The prisoners, were marched toward Wodzisław Śląski (German: Loslau) and were put on freight trains to other camps.  Of the 60,000, 15,000 prisoners died, either through summary execution, exposure or exhaustion, their bodies thrown into ditches or left to rot on the road where they fell. They marched in the bitterly cold Polish winter 180 miles in 45 days, with very little to eat or drink and no warmth, sleeping in open fields, barns, warehouses–anywhere they could find shelter along the way. They finally arrived at Camp Hirschberg, near the Czechoslovakian border. Many of the survivors of the march would not be liberated until the very last days of the war.

There is no color film that survives from the day of liberation at Auschwitz.   That is perhaps appropriate since color itself, a symbol of vibrancy and life, had become  the nemesis of the Nazi operation at Auschwitz. The drabness of the camp, its dank, gray barracks, the colorless prison uniforms and the stark parade grounds represent the Nazi attempt to erase any semblance of normalcy from daily life and convince Auschwitz’s inmates that this new world was the only one they would ever know.

Yet if anything stood in defiance at Auschwitz, it was the resilience of nature itself – the blue of the sky, the green of the nearby forests and the warmth of the sun.   Even in the bitterest months of incarceration, the surviving inmates took heart from these reminders that the earth still spun on its axis, that the seasons would still arrive and depart, and that nature, indifferent to Nazi terror, was the one thing that that terrible military machine could not control.   This knowledge infused them with the hope that the Nazi regime was itself transient and would one day be swept away by the tide of history.

Such a moment of realization is beautifully captured in a scene from Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning.   Frankl once visited a young woman in Theresienstadt’s infirmary.   The young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when Frankl talked to her, she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge:

 “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here-I am here-I am life, eternal life.”

The will to live, the determination to defy terror and resist evil, takes its inspiration from many sources, but among the most important of them is the sense that human life has purpose and free will is our most important weapon in affirming it.  As Frankl himself states, “Everything can be taken from a man but the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We who are blessed with greater freedoms than any other human beings in history, might then wish to use this week’s commemoration to recall that nothing in nature, even a couple of blossoms on a chestnut tree, should be taken for granted.  We might want to reinforce the notion that humanity’s course, in defiance of the nihilistic fatalism that dominates so much of our culture, derives from the exercise of our free will.   And we might want to remember that how we choose to live our lives, as both individuals and communities, will ultimately determine our collective fate.

Many Holocaust victims learned that the art of survival involves more than just putting bread in your mouth.  It also embraces a certain moral world view, one which connects one’s being’s fate to another’s and through love, compassion and caring builds unassailable bonds between them. It is a trait, lest we ever forget, that is distinctly human.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of  The Intermediate Zone.


Argentina’s Rendezvous With Truth

January 20, 2015

by Avi Davis

The discovery of the body of Argentinian federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman in Buenos Aries on Monday morning brought into confluence two of Argentina’s recurring nightmares: the terrorist bombing of 1994 which destroyed the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aries and the lawlessness of the 1970s and early 1980s when a military junta governed the country and made its opponents disappear.

Nisman had spent the better part of a decade investigating the destruction of the AMIA building (Argentine Mutual Israelite Association) on July 18, 1994 .  The bombing killed 85 and injured hundreds – most of them Jews.   It was the deadliest urban bombing in Argentinian history and the worst antisemitic atrocity in any country since the end of the Second World War.  

In the time between the bombing and the present day, those behind the attack have not been brought to justice, although it is widely accepted that Hezbollah, financed by Iran, had been integrally involved in its execution.  What is not as well known is the extent of the involvement of the Argentinian police, military and even political leaders in perhaps the bombing but certainly its cover up. Nisman, a dogged investigator, was due  to make substantial revelations, with reams of evidence implicating the government of Isabel Kirchner, her foreign minister  Hector Timmerman and several other leading political figures in a cover up of Iran’s direct involvement in the 1994 atrocity.

The 22 year long investigation into the bombing has become a veritable hornet’s nest of corruption, incompetence, timidity and latent antisemitism.  It has swept up into its net such luminaries as former President Carlos Menem (1989-99), who is being brought to trial, accused of helping to hide the tracks of the local accomplices of the attackers; a federal judge named Juan José Galeano, who had at one time administered the case but on a charge of “irregularities” due to mishandling of the investigation, was impeached and removed from his post; and former investigator Claudio Lifsschitz  – abducted and tortured by men who told him not to investigate Argentina’s  Secret Intelligence Services for their involvement in the plot and cover up.

On the Wednesday before he died, Nisman had filed a criminal complaint against President Isabel Kirscher, Foreign  Minister Hector Timmerman and other political leaders.  He was scheduled to appear before Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday to deliver his evidence, which he had declared, “substantial and irrefutable.”

Nisman’s body was found in the bathroom of his condominium with a hand gun by his side.   A single bullet, fired at point blank range to his temple, was the cause of his death.  This apparent suicide, however, did not leave a suicide note nor was there was any sign of forced entry.

Who would not be deeply suspicious of the fact that a man in his early 50s, on the brink of probably the most important moment in his legal career, would choose to kill himself?  Those who knew Nisman have described him as a man not given to fits of depression or anxiety and extremely confident of the tightness of his case against the government.

He must have also known that his life might be forfeit and that Argentina’s ruling elite would not long allow such a brazen challenge to its integrity.

It is the same ruling elite that in January, 2013  signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran to establish a “truth commission” to investigate the AMIA Bombing.  It was designed to “analyze all the documentation presented to date by the judicial authorities of Argentina and Iran…and to give its vision and issue a report with recommendations about how the case should proceed within the legal and regulatory framework of both parties.”   The Truth Commission was later quashed by Argentina’s Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

This astonishing governmental gambit aroused David Harris from the American Jewish Committee to comment: “the idea of establishing a ‘truth’ commission on the AMIA tragedy that involves the Iranian regime would be like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht.”

There can be few in Argentina who truly believe that Nisman’s death was a suicide.  Thousands of people thronged the streets of Buenos Aries on Tuesday to demonstrate against the government and to proclaim the obvious – Nisman had been murdered.

The death of the prosecutor must stir to life painful memories for Argentinians of the days of the Dirty War  – a period of state terrorism, commissioned by the ruling junta from 1976 to 1983 during which right-wing death squads hunted down and killed left wing guerrillas, political dissidents and anyone believed to be associated with socialism.  The campaign against los desaparecidos (the disappeared) occurred domestically in Argentina via kidnappings, mass shootings and the casting of citizens from planes to their deaths. Additionally, 12,000 prisoners, many of whom had been convicted extra-judicially, were detained in a network of 340 secret concentration camps located throughout Argentina.

This unhappy history is only a backdrop to a country that has perennially defaulted on its foreign debt, has the streets of its cities riven with crime and for decades has become a haven for former Nazis, exiled dictators, drug smugglers and international crime syndicates.

In other words Argentina is the model of the failed nation state, an example of a polity so riven with corruption and lawlessness that the events of July 18, 1994 seem in hindsight to have been completely predictable.

The search for truth in Argentina for the cause of one of the most tragic days in its history, has not stopped the Israelis from targeting those it already knows to have been behind atrocity. In an interview with the Buenos Aires-based Jewish News Agency in January ,2013, Itzhak Aviran, who was the Israeli ambassador to Argentina from 1993 to 2000, said most of the people behind the AMIA attack were eliminated by Israeli security agents operating abroad.

Unfortunately though, those Argentinians complicit in the bombings and responsible for its cover up remain at large and may in fact still control the reins of power.

One day justice will come to these Argentinian leaders.  But in the meantime lets hope that Argentina’s rendezvous with truth will proceed and the memory of Alberto Nisman will be vindicated by his determined successors who will refuse to be intimidated by the return of a Government mandated campaign of disappearances.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance  and the editor of  The Intermediate Zone

 


The Other Side of the Chanukah Story

December 20, 2014

By Avi Davis

Almost anyone who celebrates Chanukah today knows at least the rudimentary outline of its story.   A righteous Judaean clan in the 2nd Century BCE led a vigorous uprising against Greek- influenced Seleucid rulers who had desecrated the Temple and outlawed the traditional practices of Judaism.   The revolt led to the recapture of Jerusalem, the purification of the Temple and the establishment of an independent Jewish state.  A  small vial of oil found in the Temple, when no other could be located, burned for eight days, becoming an eternal symbol of the miraculous regeneration of the Jewish people.  The Maccabees, the name of the guerrilla  army, led by the five Hasmonean brothers who were its successive commanders, have gone down in history as symbols of Jewish endurance and revival.

 

But a few things have been forgotten.  The first is that the war that Chanukah commemorates was in fact a civil war, fought between Hellenizing Jewish reformers and Jewish traditionalists whose Temple-centric life had been severely compromised by Greek influence and rule.  Simon, the lone surviving brother became ethnarch after 34 years of civil strife.

After Simon and his two oldest sons were murdered by a son-in-law in 134 BCE,  Simon’s third son, John Hyrcanus (134 BCE -104 BCE) took power.  Although his 30 year reign has been looked upon kindly by Jewish history, the fact that Hyrcanus took a Greek name as a monarchical title, was a portent of things to come.

 

 

It was during the reign of his son and successor Alexander Janneus (104 BCE – 76 BCE)  that the Hasmonean legend began to disintegrate. Alexander had no interest in the religious fervor of his ancestors and exhibited a particular hatred for religious rigorist sects such as the Pharisees and Essenes.   He carefully aligned himself with  the upper class Sadducees and in one incident massacred 6,000 Pharisee worshipers in the Temple courtyard after receiving a personal insult from them during the Feast of Tabernacles  The incident spurred the renewal of a civil war which resulted in 50,000 Jewish deaths. In one further event, after returning to Jerusalem following a victorious campaign in the north, Alexander had 800 of his Jewish male prisoners crucified, but not before murdering their wives and children before their very eyes.

The point of recalling this gruesome tale is to illustrate a historical truism. History often comes full circle, rendering meaningless the achievements of previous generations because memory has lapsed and the commitment to former ideals has evaporated.  The Hasmoneans began as liberators and ended as oppressors.  They started as fervent adherents to Judaism and concluded as its deniers. In the end, they far more resembled the Greek inspired Hellenizers they had fought to eliminate than the vaunted redeemers portrayed in legend.

Ancient Judaea’s contemporary political incarnation, the State of Israel, has much to glean from the historical trajectory of the Hasmoneans.   As a country which formed 66 years ago with high ideals and the promise of Jewish renewal, it may have lost its bearings.  Indeed, for the past few decades, Israel progressively lost its grip on its identity as a Jewish state, buffeted as it has been by post-Zionist academics, a universalist Supreme Court chief justice and a relentless campaign by Palestinians who claim that a Jewish state has no right to exist. The government response to this campaign of delegitimization-   the Israel National Identity Bill, which seeks to reaffirm the Jewish identity of the state  – has led to the collapse of the Netanyahu government and will become a major issue in the forthcoming Israeli elections.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be no Judah the Maccabee but his instincts are very much in keeping with his ancestor’s desire to revivify the Jewish spirit of the land, even though he may realize that in doing so he might run afoul of abstract democratic ideals.  But not to do so runs the risk of fragmentation of the state over time into a multicultural polyglot, portending a future in which Jews may one day be discriminated against and even persecuted in the very country designed as their refuge.

It is important to remember that leaders cannot predict how their descendants will act or how their legacy of achievement will be treated.    But the burning question the full Hasmonean story presents to us is:  how can nations protect the memory of past struggles and make them meaningful and relevant for the current generation?  Ironically, the institution of the Festival of Chanukah was such an attempt.  And in large part it succeeded.   But the nagging question remains – why did  things go so terribly wrong in ancient Judaea within such a relatively short period of time?  This Chanukah, that question, given many of our current global challenges, should be firmly on our minds, as much as it is on the great Hasmonean triumphs of 2000 years ago.

 


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