Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

October 22, 2015

Cheapening the Holocaust

By David K. Shipler

            As if the Palestinians hadn’t done enough to Israelis, Prime Minister Netanyahu now blames them for the Holocaust by fabricating a tale that Hitler had not planned to exterminate the Jews of Europe until the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, suggested it in 1941. Netanyahu thus lends his office to the sordid practice of manipulating and distorting the Holocaust, a timeworn occupation in the Middle East.
            When Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, posters appeared in Jerusalem depicting the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, wearing a tie covered with swastikas, doctored from the backwards swastika pattern on the tie he inexplicably wore when he addressed Israel’s parliament in 1977. Begin was shown as the obsequious Jew with a yellow Star of David on his lapel, the label the Nazis had required. Pedestrians walked past the posters unfazed, accustomed as they were to such smears.
            If Begin ever saw those caricatures, he must have been stung. He himself had survived the Holocaust by fleeing Warsaw for Lithuania, where he was arrested by the Russians, spent a year in Soviet prisons, and was released to join the Polish army. In 1982, I happened to interview him in his office soon after he had been called by President Ronald Reagan, who had likened the carnage during Israeli’s bombardment of West Beirut during the war in Lebanon to “a holocaust.”
            “He hurt me very deeply,” Begin told me, “and I said to him, ‘Mr. President, I know what is a holocaust.’”

October 13, 2015

The Cold War Quagmire

By David K. Shipler

                You’d think with all the hand-wringing in Washington over Russia’s foray into the quagmire of Syria that some Middle Eastern plum was about to fall into Russia’s lap—at American expense. And so it would be if the Cold War rivalry were still operating, when every gain by one superpower was considered an equivalent loss by the other. But that’s not the case now, and it’s time for both Russia and the United States to abandon the zero-sum game in favor of a more carefully calibrated set of calculations.
                The two countries’ interests are not identical, their strategies differ, and their motives diverge. They are headed for a proxy war, each arming different factions. But their fundamental national security concerns overlap significantly, and both would surely find solace in a stable Syria—even a secular dictatorship—where ISIS, the Islamic State movement, had been crushed. American ideals notwithstanding, a Jeffersonian democracy in Damascus is not in the cards. So there is room for inventive Russian-American cooperation.
                Vladimir Putin doesn’t do democracy—not at home, not abroad. He doesn’t accept the American faith that a pluralistic political system will naturally arise from the ashes of a destroyed dictatorship. It is painful to recognize that he has a point, at least as witnessed in Egypt, Libya, and Iraq. The next country on that list would be Syria, should President Bashar al-Assad be overthrown. One form of autocracy would surely be exchanged for another.
Putin comes out of a deep Russian culture that abhors a power vacuum and fears anarchy—especially when they occur in his own back yard.