Freedom of thought, freedom of expression and breaking silence

In one of my old vinyl recordings Pete Seeger sings “Die Gedanken sind frei”, “Thoughts are free”. In Nazi Germany expressing freedom of thought was a deadly endeavor that Hans Fallada made powerfully vivid in his novel “Jeder stirbt für sich allein”, “Every man dies alone”. In the former Soviet world, gruesome was the silence of parents for fear their children would inadvertently divulge dissident words heard at home.

Israel was born as a true democracy and still is very much so despite the violent hostility in which it was conceived, gestated, and developed. The press and whistleblowers can expose wrongdoings that powerful people at the highest level of government commit. Yet, repeated insidious undermining of freedom of expression granted by the Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel has prompted me to break silence. My outcry stems from the official inference that targets culture, arts, literature, and academic freedom. It endangers freedom of thought that spurs creativity.

The implementation of a new code of ethics that would prevent University professors to expose discriminatory rules targeting dissidents and Arab viewpoints is as venomous as the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Painter Yair Garbuz was denied the highest award granted by Israel because he is used deleterious wording to qualify a superstitious slice of the population that most certainly ignores his oeuvre and even his name. Yair Garbuz may have overlooked talisman worship is a remnant of strict obedience to rituals which shielded Jewish communities engulfed in oppressing environments. Still, the denial aims at muzzling the thoughts that feed his artistic imagination.

Cutting the funding of a theater because its program includes readings of Mahmoud Darwish poetry is another measure to quell dissident voices. The rhythmic sound of words gives poetry its magical sense. Translation loses this power but still carries the strengths of Darwish’s nostalgic images of a lost land. His voice needs to be heard although it strikes phony sounds to my ears. From his verses emerges also repeated reference to blood and weaponry revealing an atavistic hatred that distorts the true meaning of the past. Did he forget that the Arab sword conquered Palestine still inhabited by Jews and the murderous attack carried out 1300 years later by the armies of five Arab countries on the day following the rebirth of the Jewish State?

Government interference against freedom of thought culminated with the contradictory rulings about closure and reinstitution of public broadcasting. The hidden purpose of the saga was to silence criticism of the Prime Minister and of his household. Episodes could have raised laughter like medieval farces played in the forecourt of churches had they not threatened the livelihood of hundreds of people. Using economical pressure to muzzle embarrassing revelations and to promote political agendas is a pernicious form of public opinion control. I keep in mind that the media, commercial and public, are not always at the service of objective truth. They have their own agendas that exert control on the selection and presentation of the material they publish. The multiplicity of media that generates competition for ratings enforces self-regulation from which reliability finally emerges. Yet, perversion challenges even this form of check and balance when, during an election campaign, the owner of a leading newspaper, known for his sharp criticism of the Prime Minister, proposes to mitigate his attacks in return for limiting the diffusion of a competitor. Advertisement, which fuels commercial media, interferes with freedom of thought by shaping the way we purchase goods and entertainment. Still, the freedom of choice remains our own responsibility. Advertisers also have an impact on the contents of radio and television programs as they seek to reach the widest possible audience, often at the expense of quality and good taste. Freedom from these constraints is the main “raison d’être” of public broadcast because it is the channel of cultural innovation.

I find comfort in being able to write this post.

 

Between the color of the skin and the content of the character

Ethnic prejudice is deeply anchored in the soul of Homo sapiens. Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot to death Michael Brown. A police patrol called in to quell a family feud in Kafr Kanna, Israel shot and killed Kheir Hamdan. In both cases violence preceded the use of firearms. In both cases the policemen and the victims differed ethnically. In both cases the killing unleashed riots and turmoil.
Ethnic bigotry is the engine behind the riots that followed officer Wilson’s clearance by a grand jury. But ethnic bigotry has also creeped insidiously in the way we use politically correct terminology to designate some ethnic groups. The New York Times of 25 November 2014 described the Missouri grand jury that cleared officer Wilson as “a group of nine whites and three African-Americans.” Why did the newspaper not use the wording European-Americans and blacks? Why is black offensive and white is not? Anyhow, judging the Missouri jurors by the color of their skin, but not by the content of their character, the New York Times has put off Martin Luther King’s dream by another century.

Beheading is part of Islamic culture

Following the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, Venice tried to safeguard its commercial and maritime interests using diplomacy to contain the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. The delegation included Gentile Bellini, one of the leading Venetian painters as a cultural ambassador to soothe the conquerer. Although Islam forbids representation of the human figure, Gentile Bellini was charged to draw a portrait of the Sultan. To illustrate his artistic skills Bellini showed the Sultan a painting of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. The painting impressed favorably Mehmet. Still, he pointed out that the neck of the severed head protruded too much. Bellini was not convinced. So Mehmet ordered on the spot to behead one of his attending slaves (Moslems cannot be slaves) to prove he was right.

Beheading is a part of the Islamic culture. The way ISIS, alias ISIL, alias Da’esh, alias Hamas, alias Taliban, alias Jahbat El Nusra, alias Hezbollah, alias Al Qaida, alias World Jihad,. . . deals with human life of Infidels follows the dictate of the Prophet. The rule applies to non Moslems, but also to Moslems that do not obey the fundamentalistic interpretation of the Sharia. President Obama in his 25 September 2014 address to the UN general assembly denied the fight against ISIS was a “clash of civilization” and exhorted Islam “You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder.” Swedish new prime minister, Stefan Lofven in his inaugural address to Parliament on 3 October 2014 declared Sweden would recognize the Palestinian State in complete disregard of the thread that this unilateral recognition entails for Israel, the only democratic and human rights abiding nation in the Middle East. Do we witness again the “Munich syndrome”, that is the inability of the Free World to oppose tyranny before it is too late?

All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.*

* A mantra in Voltaire’s “Candide”, a satire against utopian optimism.

For the past twelve days Israeli have lived like the British, the French or the Americans, without the need to look for a shelter and run for cover. The 30-day cease fire interrupting rocket launches from Gaza to which Hamas, Jihad and Israel have agreed under Egyptian auspices is holding. As the involved parties keep radio silence, it may well be that under the cover of secrecy some sort of arrangement is underway. “All for the best?”

Suddenly headlines have turned to the forceful territorial control by Sunni Moslem ISIS (alias ISIL, Day’esh) of Northern Syria and Iraq, through ritual massacres against Yazidis, Shia Moslems and Kurds (Sunni), topped by the sacrificial beheading of two Infidel journalists. Fierce fighting in the Syrian Golan, near the Israeli border, opposes Syrian President Bashar El-Assad troops (Alawis, a Shia break away sect) and Sunni Jabhat El Nusra rebels who overran UN peace keeping units, abducting 43 UN soldiers from Fiji.

Headlines can now feed on the mass murders in Libya, where apparently tribal rivalry is the source of the conflict. Next on the list we have the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, a conflict that Samuel Huntington predicted many years ago in his “Clash of Civilizations” on the basis of ethnic cultural differences. Are we really “in the best of all possible worlds?”

Present, Past and Art

I just finished reading O’Connor’s book “The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece”. My wife came across the book while browsing in our local bookstore and fed it to me as ” a must reading.” Who am I to resist my wife’s request? The truth is we share a special attraction for Klimt’s paintings. We were familiar with ubiquitous poster reproductions of “The Kiss”, but an exhibit entitled “Vienne” at the Pompidou Museum in Paris revealed Klimt’s stature as a major art figure. Years later a visit to Vienna gave us the opportunity to discover the full scope of his talent and his impact on the social and cultural life of the city. It is easy to understand I was eager to follow my wife’s recommendation.

Ever since Zionism became a national movement with a territorial claim, the Arab world has used terror to obstruct the Jewish people’s endeavor to rebuild their homeland in parts of the desolate barren land that lays between the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In this historic perspective Zionism triggered the current conflict with Gaza as just another episode of what seems an everlasting struggle.

If you have reached to here in reading the post, you may ask what associates the two here above paragraphs. The link is Vienna. O’Connor brings to life the cultural elite of Vienna in which Jews were almost on a par with Gentiles. Ferdinand Bloch, a rich Jewish industrialist and his wife Adele Bauer, daughter of a banker, commissioned Klimt to paint a portrait of Adele that became “The Lady in Gold”. Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl is the figure who fathered the political credentials of the Zionist movement and formulated the framework on which the State of Israel exists today. He bears thereby a responsibility for the relentless hostility our country endures. Herzl was a prominent figure in the social and cultural life of Vienna in which the Austrian version of “Art Nouveau” burgeoned. He was a frequent guest in the circle of wealthy Jewish families that patronized Klimt. These Jewish families had become an integral part of the Viennese elite. They rejected Herzl’s national aspirations to end persecution. They sought instead to solve the “Jewish problem” by assimilation and inter-marriage into the Gentile high society. The glitter of wealth masked the fragility of the grounds on which assimilation was built. The Jews ignored early signals of rampaging antisemitism and were taken by surprise when the German Anschluss unleashed murder, beating, rape and looting, putting an end to a glamorous way of life. An ironic turn of fate illustrates the tragic extend of the Jewish elite’s collapse. Heydrich, the mastermind of the “Final Solution” of the Jewish problem elaborated at the Wannsee conference, chose the palace Ferdinand Bloch owned in Prague as his residence.

Like the Phenix that is reborn from its ashes, the surviving descendants of the Lady in Gold put up a successful legal fight to retrieve the looted painting from Austrian custody. It is now on display in a New York museum, under the aegis of American Jewish magnate Ron Lauder. In my view it is still in exile. Beyond its aesthetic qualities and the troubling glance glittering in Adele’s eyes, the painting bears the plight of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. Herzl’s Zionism has given birth to the Jewish homeland in Israel, a country opened to Jews wherever they are. The rightful ultimate harbor for the Lady in Gold is in Jerusalem side by side with the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Holocaust Shrine.

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Beyond Edge of Security and the Gaza conflict

History will remember the current Gaza conflict improperly baptized “Edge of Security” as a pendulum shifting between fruitless negotiation and indecisive combat, with Hamas driving the oscillations. The ministerial cabinet of Prime Ministre Nethanyahu and its many advisers somehow fail to understand that they are the dupes of the deceitful game that Hamas plays. Hamas in its Covenant opens by pledging “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Unless the Hamas leadership is stupid, which is hard to believe, it must have realized that its rockets will not obliterate Israel. So why does Hamas recurrently break the ceasefires and resort to its ineffective rockets? It is because this tactic activates the most powerful weapon in its arsenal: bannering the image of a blood dripping baby to ignate reprobation by public opinion, condamnation by democratic governments, boycotts, antisemitism, to which Israel is very sensitive. Hamas knows that launching its rockets from sites amidst densely populated areas will draw Israeli retalation that, despite restraining measures, finally results in high casualties. Article eight of the Hamas Covenant dictates this conduct: “Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.” The ordeal of the Gazans is part of the Hamas ideology,

Some may argue this ideology was born in despair. The majority of Gazans are offsprings of refugees that fled in 1948 during Israel’s war of independence and were since maintained in appalling living conditions in UNWRA camps. However, this is not the ground where the Ismalic fundamentalism germinated. In his 2003 book “Who killed Daniel Pearl” French philosopher Bernard Henri Lévy investigates Jihad fundamentalism to discover its most devoted followers among the priveleged Western educated. In “Thieves in the night”, a 1945 novel based on inquiries for The Times, Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian-British journalist, writes that Islamic militancy is the appanage of the well-off Arabs.

As a matter of fact, Hamas sees the eradication of Israel as a step toward a broader objective that has no bearing on the misery of the refugees: the establishment of the Islamic State in all lands ever conquered by the companions of the Prophet. For reference I include excerpts of the Covenant article nine “As for the objectives: They are the fighting against the false, defeating it and vanquishing it so that justice could prevail, homelands be retrieved and from its mosques would the voice of the mu’azen emerge declaring the establishment of the state of Islam, so that people and things would return each to their right places and Allah is our helper.” and article eleven: “the law governing the land of Palestine is the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement.” Even the blind can see Hamas draws its doctrine directly from Hitlerism. First exterminate the Jews then conquer the World. Reading the sections of the Covenant quoting “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” renders the parallel with Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” even more striking.

To overcome Hitlerism the Allied had to rout the German military might at the cost of Europe’s devastation and tens of millions of deaths. Is this the path that Israel should follow to end the Hamas threat? It is an option, but I believe less brutal options should be considered. In the first place, despite its fanatism, Hamas does not possess the military capabilities that foddered German expansionism. Secondly, although it can count on sympathy of 300 millions Arabs and over a billion Moslems, Hamas threatens Arabs and Moslems that have opted for a secular way of life. Divided interests of the Arab and Moslem World limit translating sympathy into effective support. De-fusing Hamas requires that bold new ideas emerge from the Israeli leadership that would resolve the territorial discontinuities between Samaria, Judea and the Gaza Strip to create a viable and dignified Palestinian Arab State prospering in peaceful harmony alongside the Jewish State.

Need to change the mood

The truce that temporarily stops the rockets from Gaza and Israeli ripostes has eased the tension which we have endured in the last few weeks. War, unrest, terror and violence are still raging in the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, They have bearings on our longings for a peacful tomorrow. Still, my ears are no more riveted to news broadcasts. I watched a ballet rendering of Mozart’s Great Mass by the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Opera dancers of Leipzig that lifted my spirits. The choreography created figures and movements suggesting the liturgical elements of the Mass. I marveled about the beauty and intelligence the human mind could create. I also listened to songs by Jacques Brel. One of them entitled “Il nous faut regarder – We must look” carries a hope that the gifts of peace lay behind dark skies.

“Beyond the concert
Of sobs and tears
And cries of anger
From scared men,
Beyond the din
Of streets and worksites,
Of alarm sirens,
Of troopers swearing
Louder than children
Who tell stories of wars
And louder than the adults
Who made us wage them,

We must listen to
The bird in the depths of the woods,
The murmur of summer,
The blood rising inside you,
Mothers’ lullabies,
Children’s prayers,
And the sound of the earth
Falling sweetly asleep.”

You can listen to the song at
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qMv0EwQswSE
and read the lyrics with an English translation at
http://lyricstranslate.com/en/il-nous-faut-regarder-we-must-look.html

The song was recorded in 1954 when memories of World War II were still vivid, the Korean war was just over, the French were fighting in Indochina. The defeat in Dien Bien Phu was about to end their colonial rule. Unfortunately, the sweet days promised in the song have remained promises. Wars and terror still shatter the lives of people and nations: Algeria, Vietnam, North Ireland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Chili, Argentina, Kashmir, Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq-Iran, . . ., with millions of deaths.
Despite this dismal list of conflicts, let us side with Francis Fukuyama’s view that fanatism and despotism are reducible traits of mankind. In his book “The end of history” he assesses that competitive drive will endeavor toward constructive excellence fulfilling the material and spiritual needs of mankind. This may be the future that Jacques Brel forshadows in his song.