Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Great Pepper Caper and Other Stories

(Originally Published in The Times of Israel))

In what could be the greatest Middle East debacle since I reported on the Saudi Arabian pencils and panties scandal at this time last year, it has now been disclosed by Challah Hu Akbar, writing in the Elder of Ziyon blog, that three kinds of Israeli peppers were discovered on the shelves of Spinneys, one of Lebanon's largest retailers.

Heads are sure to roll. Things do not get much more embarrassing in the Boycott Israel/Hate the Jews world than to have wholesome food from your neighboring Zionist entity show up on your shelves. God forbid, it could be a Zionist conspiracy to supply nutrition to your population.

Not to worry. The man who discovered the offending peppers on the shelves of the Spinneys in Sidon contacted local authorities, who called the Lebanese Army. Apparently things are so calm and under control in Lebanon that the Army was able to bring in military intelligence and the police to go to work on this high-priority case.

The case is now appropriately with the military judiciary, which will investigate how14 bags of peppers clearly marked "Israel" got on the shelves of a respected Lebanese market.
In the meantime, sectarian fighting periodically erupts in various Lebanese cities and Hezbollah runs its own country within a country in southern Lebanon, where it has 60,000 missiles aimed at Israel, in violation of the U.N. resolution calling for the disarming of all military forces other than the Lebanese Army.

But, no worries. Lebanon will be safe from the great Israeli pepper invasion.

Bigots Can Apply

Many are debating the views of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama's pick to be Secretary of Defense. One does not have to even to consider his views to be appalled that the President would appoint him.

When the Senator was once asked why he was not taking the same positions or actions that other, pro-Israel senators were doing, the Senator did not just explain why he disagreed with the positions or actions. Instead, the Senator stated that the other senators were fearful of the "Jewish lobby" and that he was not the "senator from Israel," and made several other comments that implied intimidation or control by these nefarious Jews.

These comments group all Jews together, ignoring the fact that Jews have a broad spectrum of opinion on the appropriate U.S. position on Israel, and completely ignore the fact that the pro-Israel community is made up of people from many ethnic and religious groups. What the statements do is feed into stereotyping, bigotry, and hate.

Either intentionally or not, the Senator's statements conjure up the old Jew-hating notion of Jews controlling things and being evil and conspiratorial. These sorts of comments historically have been used to demonize and dehumanize Jews and, all too often, have led to their injury, persecution, and death.

Any individual who resorts to such language is a bigot and should be automatically disqualified from public service. The fact that the President would nominate such a person is offensive and insensitive. The fact that people who consider themselves advocates of sensitivity and inclusion would not wholeheartedly object is shameful and disappointing.

I am reminded of Senator Trent Lott, former Republican Majority Leader. At Senator Strom Thurmond's 100 birthday party (yes, he was 100 and still a senator), Lott made a toast recalling how people from the South had voted for Thurmond when he ran for President as the Dixiecrat candidate in 1948 and saying how the country would have avoided many of its problems if Thurmond had won.

Thurmond was an old-fashioned bigot and no one to be admired. Stupid comments made in the warmth of birthday candles for an old man who had done and said disgraceful things? Yes. Worthy of a resignation? Perhaps.

One man who praises an old bigot resigns as leader of his party, while a man who implicates some of the most base accusations against a long-persecuted religious group gets appointed to a top Cabinet post by the first African-American President.

A double-standard? Why?

Hypocrite of the Century

My nominee is Al Gore. Media outlets reported that Gore's take for selling his Current media network to Al Jazeera is $125 million. Al Jazeera was founded and is 100 percent owned by Qatar. Qatar's riches are derived entirely from fossil fuels. You will recall that Al Gore resurrected his public life and won a Nobel Prize by pointing out just how evil and damaging fossil fuels are.

As a U.S. Senator and as Vice-President, Gore championed working people, unions, and human rights. Qatar is a dictatorship. The current ruler got his job by overthrowing his father. Unions are banned in Qatar. The country has only 250,000 citizens, and foreign workers outnumber the citizens. Foreign workers are basically indentured slaves. Their movements and their ability to leave their jobs are restricted, and labor standards do not apply to them.

Al Jazeera will now get to broadcast to about 40 million Americans. It will also have the former Vice-President/fossil fuel fighter on its advisory board, giving it an imprimatur of respectability.

If Vice-President Gore thought it was the least bit embarrassing or inconvenient to sell his network and name to a company and country that paid him with money from a business he believes is destroying the world and that violates many of the principles he stood for during his long career, the truth of $125 million apparently was enough to overcome the embarrassment or inconvenience.

One of Gore's partners who is also reaping a huge payoff is Current co-founder Joel Hyatt, of Hyatt Legal Services fame. According to the Huffington Post, Hyatt told Current staff that he and Gore were "thrilled."

One would think so. They dumped a losing media outlet that had been through countless modifications and iterations on a willing buyer dripping with oil. However, I doubt that Hyatt's late father-in-law, Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum, would be quite so pleased. He is probably rolling over in his grave.

A few tidbits on Hyatt: Original name: Joel Hyatt Zylberberg. Why give up that last name? Doesn't Zylberberg Legal Services have a winning ring to it?

From Wikipedia: In 1990, Hyatt Legal Services paid a $157,000 judgment for illegally firing Clarence B. Cain, an attorney in their Philadelphia office because of his AIDS diagnosis.The case was the basis for the hit movie, Philadelphia.

Mr. Hyatt seems to be on a winning streak.

Names and Verbs

I noted the passing of Robert Bork. I think of two things when I recall Judge Bork. Firstly, he was the last person to think you should actually answer the questions when in a confirmation hearing to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. He paid dearly for doing that.

Secondly, Ted Kennedy went on the floor of the Senate to strongly denounce Bork. This was a turning point in the scrutiny given to the ideologies of Supreme Court nominees and to the reasons for voting against confirmation.

Moreover, the attack on Bork that was started by Senator Kennedy was so aggressive that it caused his name to be transformed into a verb--borked. This was the start of a terrible trend of nouns becoming verbs. It gave rise to food being "sourced" and many other transgressions of the English language.

I fear that this terrible trend will continue unless drastic preventive action is taken. The first person to say that the country is being "cliffed" should be exiled to a remote desert island for life.

Father Knows Best

Jeffrey Goldberg's report that President Obama believes that Prime Minister Netanyahu is a political coward who does not know what is best for Israel is no great surprise. It's not news that the two men are not great admirers of each other.

The fact that the President's comments surfaced just a few weeks before the Israeli election is also no great surprise. Despite the shock and horror expressed when some thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu might be trying to influence the U.S. elections, trying to influence elections in other countries is nothing new. There is even gambling in some of those countries.

It was no secret that the Clinton Administration clearly favored Shimon Peres over Netanyahu when those two faced off in the 90's, and that Rahm Emanuel hoped that the policies of the early Obama Administration would convince Israelis to dump Netanyahu for then-Kadima Leader Livni.

What was a bit surprising regarding the President's remarks were just how blunt they were and how condescending, perhaps even arrogant, they were toward the Israeli people.

The Prime Minister's actions and policies are well-known to the Israeli people, and they are about to give his party a plurality, thus giving him a leg up in forming the next government. Israel is a democracy and ultimately the people dictate the policy, and they choose leaders who reflect the policy they want.

So the President is basically saying that he knows better than the Israeli people what is good for them. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of  democracy and the wisdom of ordinary citizens.

My guess is that while the people he believes don't know what is best for them were living through rejections of proposals and deals, rockets from north and south after unilateral withdrawals, blown up buses and dance clubs and seders and restaurants with blood and guts of children spilled everywhere, and denials of their right to exist and of a connection to their holy city, the President wasn't paying all that much attention.

A good deal of this depressing history happened while he was still a young lawyer, Chicago community organizer, and Illinois State Senator. It is understandable if he had other things to concentrate on than the ordeals of a little nation on the other side of the world.

The President's statement is an appalling display of arrogance and naivete. I am sure that Chamberlain felt the same way about the Czech people and their prime minister.


  1. Entertaining and thoughtful, as usual, Alan. I shudder to remember the policy (?) wisdom of our own democracy that brought us 8 Bushy years--compliments of the judiciary. I imagine most Israeli voters don't give a fig, date or banana what Obama thinks about their ballot choices.

    Lynn S.

  2. Alan definitely one of the most interesting and all-encompassing blog entries/articles I've read in a long while. I always look forward to your new posts.