Backtalk, June 11, 2007

What’s up with Putin?

What’s up with Putin? The Russians feel U.S. encroachment into the former Soviet Union is starting to represent an existential threat to the Russian Federation. It’s evident American elites are in the dark, and they ought to be aware the neocon empire has tweaked the Russian bear’s nose a little too much – the Russians, rightly, feel very threatened, and are acting accordingly. This isn’t about empire for them; this is about preserving the long-term future of the Russian Federation. I suggest Mr. Bock go to Moscow and discuss with them how they feel about U.S. incursions into the Baltic Republics, Ukraine, and Serbia.

Americans today live a narrative quite unlike that lived by the rest of humanity – it’s a self-reinforcing narrative. A lot of it is based on false premises, misperceptions, and an American view of the world, which, frankly, can border on the bizarre.

~ Fernando Leza

Sam Karpov’s Backtalk

“The attack was inherently intentional as all military attacks are. It was simply a case of mistaken identity. Do some more research, Justin, and then apologize.”

Sam Karpov’s comments about the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty are misleading at best. Earlier this year, I wrote to the secretary of the Army – the department charged with investigating the Israeli attack on the Liberty – and sent the same letter to the Department of the Navy.

Here’s part of the reply I received from Richard Jackson, special assistant to the judge advocate general for law of war matters:

“Admiral John S. McCain, commander-in-chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, was authorized by his superiors to convene a Court of Inquiry into the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.

“That court’s findings? ‘The USS Liberty suffered an unprovoked attack by the Israeli air and naval forces in international waters off the coast of the UAR. The U.S. secretary of state communicated to the government of Israel that the “attack must be condemned … for its reckless disregard of human life."’ And this: ‘In fact, the U.S. government concluded that the Israeli government was culpable for the attack; the government of Israel apologized for the attack and paid U.S. claims for the 34 deaths and the injuries and damages caused by Israel attacking the Liberty in international waters.'”

A case of mistaken identity? Hogwash. The savage and brutal attack lasted nearly three hours. Israel continued to attack even though the U.S. flag was clearly visible.

Israel used machine guns to strafe survivors trying to escape in lifeboats.

But hey, don’t believe me: go to the USS Liberty Web page and see for yourself.

“Following their torpedo attack, the torpedo boats moved up and down the length of the ship (both the port and starboard sides), continuing their attack, raking the ship with cannon and machine-gun fire. In Malta, crewmen were later assigned the task of counting all of the holes in the ship that were the size of a man’s hand or larger. They found a total of 861 such holes, in addition to ‘thousands’ of .50 caliber machine-gun holes.

“Survivors report that the torpedo-boat crews swept the decks of USS Liberty with continuous machine-gun fire, targeting communications equipment and any crew members who ventured above decks.

“Damage control firefighters, who had already risked their lives merely by appearing on deck, had to abandon their efforts because their fire hoses had been shredded by machine gun fire.”

~ Greg Bacon

Who Lost Russia?

I sometimes wonder at the logic behind decisions such as this. What were Bush and his advisers thinking of when they came up with this mad scheme? Is this so different from the Soviet Union attempting to site missiles on Cuba? The excuse that it is to counter some imaginary threat from Iran would be laughable if only it were not an indication of how paranoid and insane the current administration is. Imagine if Russia were able to use Canada and Mexico as bases for missiles and early warning systems: how would the U.S. react?

This is just another example of the Bush regime attempting destabilize the world.

~ Andy Cheshire, England

Cheney Misstates Military Oath

Could it be any clearer – the fact that the vice president of the United States, to forward his personal un-American agenda, intentionally misstated, as David Henderson so clearly indicates, the military oath? Can anyone still have any doubts about what the vice president thinks about the Constitution and the rule of law?

Does anyone still not understand what place lawlessness plays in this administration’s policies? Does anyone still not understand the immense danger this administration poses to the United States and the sacred principles it was founded on?

~ Carl Mattioli

Israel: Mythologizing a 20th-Century Accident

Gabriel Kolko gets several of his basic facts wrong. First, it is not true the Jews in Europe had “little in common.” As he points out, the bulk of them were in czarist Russia (mainly in the areas that are now Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus) and adjoining parts of Austria-Hungary, 5 million were in Russia alone, and another 2 million had recently emigrated to the Americas. They shared a common language (Yiddish, the native language of 97 percent of Russian Jews, according to the czarist census of 1897) and culture, as well as religious heritage, although they did not constitute the majority in a large, contiguous area (being concentrated in mostly Jewish towns and cities), unlike, say, their Polish or Ukrainian neighbors, whose national sentiments were more favored by geography.

From Russia, Kolko takes a jump to the Jews of the Arab world and observes that they were very different. If he had taken an intermediate step, from the czarist empire to the Ottoman Empire, he might have perceived a more gradual transition. He would have seen the Jews of the Balkans and Anatolia (a community about one-tenth the size of the Polish-Russian Jews) sharing a common life employing the Ladino or Judeo-Spanish language, culturally distinctive Aramaic speakers in the Kurdish areas, and then, in the great cities and towns of the Arabic-speaking world, finally communities roughly conforming to his model of being distinctive from their non-Jewish neighbors by religion primarily (although their Arabic dialects were often quite distinctive and always written in Hebrew script).

Kolko also curiously underestimates the sympathy for Zionism among Eastern European Jews in the early 20th century (a sympathy I don’t happen to share, but it makes me wonder where Kolko gets his information from). The stories told in Walter Lacquer’s book on the history of Zionism of Herzl being welcomed like a quasi-messianic liberator on his visit to Russia to negotiate with czarist officials spring to mind. The prominence of Zionist parties in the Polish parliament after Poland achieved independence would seem to be another indication of widespread support of some degree (Kolko’s point about the support not being of such degree as to want to emigrate to Palestine oneself is well taken – an old joke says that a Zionist is a Jew who wants to get another Jew to give money so that a third Jew can go to Palestine). This also jibes with my impressions from Eastern European Jewish relatives and acquaintances who lived through that epoch and with the opinions expressed by Jewish writers in Yiddish and other languages.

Finally, Kolko is wrong (like many commentators on the Arab-Israeli conflict) on the role of Hitler: the Jewish population in Nazi Germany and Austria was a drop in the bucket, demographically. Neither they nor the much more numerous Eastern European Jewish refugees in the DP (displaced person) camps after World War II decisively tipped the ethnic balance in Palestine. The Zionist leadership in Palestine was determined to achieve a Jewish state (despite their official statements that they were willing to share Palestine), come what may. If Hitler and the war and the Nazi genocide played a role in creating the Jewish state, it was a facilitating role, by shaping a climate of opinion that saw the Jews as victims and making Jews distrustful of assurances from others.

~ Lee Goldberg

Gabriel Kolko replies:

This writer should read Yuri Slezkine. He should read Ha’aretz daily. Or Shlomo Ben-Ami’s new book.

Hungarian Jews do not speak Yiddish; German Jews speak German and perhaps understand Yiddish. Yiddish is not spoken in Israel save by ultra-orthodox. There are zoning laws against falashas/shvartzes in some Israel suburbs. The place is a mess; migration out is now enormous.

I am completely literate in Yiddish and know a fair amount of Hebrew, and if the writer wishes to continue in either language, fine; otherwise the exchange is ended. I also worked on an immigrant ship from Marseilles to Haifa, 1949, and have experience in Israel 1949-50. The writer knows a bit but is very confused.

Previous Backtalk