A Toast to Jerusalem's Great Finks' Bar

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:53

    Dead or Alive The front page of last week's International Herald Tribune?probably the dullest newspaper around, made even duller by the liveliness of European papers when compared to the grayness and sanctimony of The New York Times and Washington Post, which make up the IHT?carried a reproduction of an advertisement by the State Dept. that offered "Up to $5 Million Reward" for information in bringing Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to justice. The ad carried the State Dept. seal and the pictures of the three men. They are wanted for "genocide and crimes against humanity." This according to Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, James Rubin and the rest of the liars and con men who now plague a once-honorable department. Mind you, collecting the moolah isn't going to be as easy as, say, bombing Belgrade. The advertisement stipulates that the bounty hunter will collect only if the trio is "transferred to, or convicted by, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia..." In other words, it's a crock of bullshit. Karadzic and Mladic are either in the Serb zone of Bosnia?both heroes to their people and well protected?or in Serbia proper. Milosevic is the president of the Yugoslav Republic and has an army to protect him from being kidnapped by persons unknown. What the $5 million reward actually is is a cheap publicity stunt by the clown-lawyers who make millions out of human rights.

    But before I go on about the abuses these shysters are guilty of, a word about another reward, also of $5 million.

    As soon as I read about the above, I rang the "Top Drawer" board of directors and asked them to fly to Gstaad for a meeting. (And if you believe that, dear readers, you'll believe even Bill Clinton.) The board voted unanimously to offer five mil to bring to justice the real culprits: Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Tony (the grinning hyena) Blair.

    Unlike the State Dept.'s reward, ours is the real thing. Five million dollars will be paid to any person or group that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the trio. All three stand indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law, the laws or customs of war, and the 1949 Geneva Convention. The three conspired to wage an illegal war against the sovereign state of Yugoslavia in violation of innumerable articles of the UN, of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the laws of treaties, of the Helsinki Accord final act of 1975, of the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, and even NATO's own 1949 charter. Furthermore, the three organized the wanton killing of thousands of unarmed men, women and children; the devastation of cities and villages; and the destruction of cultural and historic institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education.

    Pretty good, don't you think? All one has to do is wait a while. I don't expect the Draft Dodger to be immediately arrested by outraged citizens and flown to Belgrade to be tried by his peers. In order to collect the reward one has to be patient. Sooner or later one of the unholy troika will make a mistake and take a vacation, say, on a Greek island. Or a Caribbean one. (Although the sight of Madeleine Albright in a bathing suit is enough to scuttle any kidnap plans.) That is when an eager-beaver bounty hunter should pounce. But he will not be out of the woods right away. The venue of the trial is tricky, to say the least. Alas, the Hague is out because the judges over there are in cahoots with the gangsters. The only places where the ghastly threesome can have a fair trial is Belgrade, perhaps Zagreb, even Moscow, or maybe in a neutral place like Baghdad. Personally I prefer the latter, because the first thing they'll do if any of the three are convicted is cut off their tongues. (Clinton, being both a liar and perhaps also a thief, will lose hands and tongue.)

    The most convenient place would be Havana. Castro, being a criminal himself, knows how to hold show trials. And with "Top Drawer"'s generous reward, he should be the chief bounty hunter. Go on, Fidel, now that you can't get it up anymore, show the world you still have cojones. Instead of shooting down unarmed Piper Cubs, try to force Air Force One down, let the showgirls and various rich ass-lickers go free and hold an open-air, televised trial.

    But better to wait. Even the gutless Gore will go to war if a sitting president is kidnapped, but probably not if an infamous rapist, liar, suborner and perpetrator of many other sins is grabbed and made to cool his heels in Havana. It all began with Pinochet, but it might, God willing, end with Blair or Clinton.

    Back to the lawyers. The grinning hyena's pregnant wife, Cherie Blair, is the one who thought up the ad. Her new law firm, Matrix, specializes in human rights abuses. The trouble is it specializes only when the abused have money. A case in point: Last week an English documentary showed horrific tortures being inflicted on poor Ivory Coast men arrested on the basis of tipoffs. They were being beaten and tortured in order to confess to crimes that were not even specified. Needless to say, not a word from Matrix. That's because a condition for joining Matrix is showing that you will be able to bring in a minimum of $200,000 worth of business a year. None of the poor wretches being beaten half to death has 1 percent of 1 percent of that kind of money, so the silence from the human rights defenders-lawyers remains deafening.

    The arbitrariness of who gets to be prosecuted under international law is the real scandal. It has everything to do with domestic politics, and nothing with human rights. At least "Top Drawer"'s $5 million offer cannot be called a publicity stunt, or selective. It's first come, first served, and may the best man collect.

    George Szamuely The Bunker Rough Justice Prosecutors are a vindictive and opportunistic lot. Last year Justin Volpe was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment for violating Louima's civil rights. Last week three police officers were convicted of conspiring to obstruct justice. The events that took place in the precinct house that night were terrible. But prosecutors should not be allowed to do what they like without anyone asking any questions. On Aug. 9, 1997, police officers from the 70th Precinct were dispatched to disperse a large crowd brawling outside a club in Brooklyn. There was a fight and one of the police officers, Volpe, was knocked to the ground. Volpe believed the assailant was Louima. Police officers Charles Schwarz and Thomas Wiese arrested Louima. According to Louima, at one point on the way to the precinct, the officers got out of the car and proceeded to beat him severely. At the police station a handcuffed Louima was dragged to the bathroom and violently sodomized with a stick by Volpe. The Haitian was subsequently taken to a hospital with serious injuries to his bladder and rectum.

    It was an election year and New York went crazy. Within days state prosecutors brought charges against Volpe, Schwarz, Thomas Bruder (Volpe's partner) and Wiese. Then federal prosecutors stepped in and took over the case. This was rather outrageous. In the past, the federal government has pushed aside state authorities by claiming that locals could not be trusted to prosecute white-on-black crimes. But no one seriously believed that in New York in 1997 state courts were likely to go easy on whites. There was only one reason why the federal government stepped in: to make sure punishment would be extra severe. That way the Rev. Al Sharpton would be pacified, there would be no riots and no one would accuse Rudy Giuliani of racism or of being soft on cops. Kings County D.A. Charles Hynes stepped aside and promised that "the appropriate punishment for...these vicious acts...will be available in the federal system."

    The state of New York had charged the police officers with aggravated sexual abuse, which carries a maximum of 25 years imprisonment. By any reckoning, 25 years for assault that led neither to death nor to serious permanent injury can hardly be described as lenient; still, it wasn't life without parole. Violation of civil rights, however, does carry a life sentence.

    At the trial last May, Volpe pleaded guilty and threw himself on the mercy of the court. Judge Eugene Nickerson sentenced Volpe to 30 years in prison. The prosecutor had asked for life without parole, but 30 years is still a ludicrous sentence?it's what people get for second-degree murder. What Volpe did was dreadful and he should go to prison. But 30 years! Sodomize someone with a stick?seven years at most. Volpe was a cop, so there are aggravating circumstances. Double the sentence, then?15 years maximum.

    While prosecutors were high-fiving each other over the fall of Volpe, the rest of their case was looking rather shaky. First, Louima had hired attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Barry Scheck. Since the government had already embraced the cause of Louima as its own, it was not legal protection Louima sought. He needed them to extract a cool packet from the city. For that he would need to embellish his story, establish that he was victimized by the Police Dept. as a whole, not just by one cop. Louima's story changed. There was his claim?subsequently withdrawn?that somebody at the station had cried, "It's Giuliani time!" Initially, he had said that Volpe alone attacked him in the bathroom. At the trial, Louima stated that another officer held him down while Volpe sodomized him. He could not identify who allegedly held him down in the bathroom. He thought it might have been the driver of the patrol car that took him to the precinct. That driver was Charles Schwarz. But Louima couldn't identify Schwarz as the driver. In fact, he admitted that Schwarz and Officer Wiese, the passenger, looked rather similar. Luckily, two officers, Eric Turetzky and Mark Schofield, came forward to say that they saw Schwarz take Louima toward the bathroom area. Neither of them saw him going into the bathroom with Louima.

    The jury acquitted Wiese, Bruder and Schwarz of beating Louima on the way to the station, but convicted Schwarz of civil rights violations?an astonishing verdict: The prosecution's case had rested largely on Louima's testimony and now the jury was effectively saying that it did not believe him. It convicted Schwarz, but only because of the two police officers who testified against him. Yet no one was able to place Schwarz in the bathroom at the time of the assault. Since Schwarz is facing possible life imprisonment, this is pretty rough justice.

    Having failed to convict Bruder and Wiese, the government immediately announced that it would prosecute them again, this time for obstructing justice. They obstructed justice by claiming Schwarz had not taken part in the rape of Louima. This was a little tricky. Suppose Schwarz really had taken no part? After all, Volpe himself testified at the recent trial that Schwarz was not in the bathroom. Not to worry, blustered Alan Vinegrad?chief prosecutor in the case?because you can have a conspiracy to obstruct justice even if the crime never happened. "Conspiracy to obstruct justice" is one of those legalisms much beloved by prosecutors. Anyone at any time who is not denouncing someone to the police is "obstructing" justice. In any case, what was the prosecution's evidence? The officers made 58 telephone calls to one another in the days following the assault. Obviously they were trying to get their stories straight. However, neither tapes nor transcripts of these calls are in existence. Chances are that these were just frightened young men calling one another for reassurance. No matter how awful the crime you always end up hoping the prosecution loses.

    Charles Glass The London Desk A Toast to Mr. Fink Jerusalem?During the mid-1950s, most of the hacks in Jerusalem signed a tablecloth at Fink's Bar and Restaurant. It hangs today in a frame on the stairwell leading to the restrooms. On their way back from the lavatory, inebriated journalists may linger over signatures of their predecessors, among them A.J. Liebling of The New Yorker, Kennett Love of The New York Times, Robert Kee and Claire Hollingworth. Seeing the names of those who covered the Suez War in 1956 leads to thoughts of journalists who chase soldiers onto battlefields and the hostel-keepers who make the journalists' lives bearable. In the league of such places, Fink's is one of the best. Fink's opened in 1932 as a Viennese coffee and pastry house. Fink, an Austro-Hungarian emigre, soon hired as his waiter David Kurt Rothschild, an urbane Munich Jew who had served as a noncommissioned officer in the British Military Police in Palestine. Rothschild became Mr. Fink's partner and later, true to the traditions of his family name, bought the whole restaurant. When World War II began, Fink's was a British officers' club, off-limits to other ranks, and home to both Arabs and Jews.

    It was sometime just after the October 1973 war between the Arabs and Israelis that someone took me there for dinner. On the ground floor in the old part of West Jerusalem, just off King George Street, it was smaller than my room at the American Colony Hotel. A counter for a bar, five or six tables, some old prints on the wall and three rows of bottles, it wasn't really much of a place. Or didn't seem to be.

    I was living in Lebanon when I made my earliest visits to Fink's for dinner, my favorite dishes being the wiener schnitzel, the steak and the goulash. Lebanese law prohibited residents like me from visiting the Zionist Entity, something the Lebanese police reminded us of in 1974 when they arrested me and Peter Jennings from ABC and held us all day in a dingy downtown jail. In Dave Rothschild, I found an Israeli who knew Beirut better than I did. That is, he knew it before 1948. Pouring me a whiskey one night, he asked if I had been to Chez Marika. It had been Lebanon's best brothel during the French Mandate. Just behind the Prefecture of Police in the city's center, Chez M had thrived under the protection of Dave's friend, the French Prefect himself.

    When I returned to Beirut, via Cyprus, I found it. By then, it was a rundown spot whose hookers were mostly poor Egyptian girls patronized by Syrian and Palestinian dockworkers for whom the usual fare was about a dollar a go. The upmarket whores, such as they were, worked the more salubrious Casino du Liban and nightclubs, like the Crazy Horse, in Phoenicia St.

    I carried Dave's greetings to mutual friends in Beirut, including Abu Said Aburish. When Dave first met him in the 1940s, Abu Said was a driver for a British journalist named O'Dowd. A Palestinian from Bethany, Abu Said became a journalist himself and was dean of the Beirut press corps by the time I moved to Lebanon in 1972. (His son, Said Aburish, wrote in Children of Bethany about his father's brief career as an assassin for the Mufti of Jerusalem, who assigned him to shoot Hugh Foot, later Lord Caradon, in retaliation for Britain's notorious perfidy to the Arabs. Abu Said rode around Foot's house on a bicycle with a concealed pistol that was so conspicuous he never had a chance to use it.)

    Dave Rothschild, alas, died about five years ago. His son-in-law, Moulli Azraeli, and his dignified waiter of 50 years, Yitzak Burg, keep the torch alight. "In Israel," Moulli said, "we are keeping the secular tradition. Fink's is a liberal tower." The food is defiantly non-kosher, the ambience relentlessly nonsectarian, in a city whose secular elite is ceding territory to the religious fanatics of Judaism and Islam.

    At Fink's the mind wanders to historical tragedies that have befallen the Middle East since Mr. Fink poured his first cup of coffee in 1932. There are no more Jews, or hardly any, in Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad and Cairo. Most of the Christians have left or are leaving Palestine. In Iran, the Zoroastrians, Baha'is and Jews are relic communities, whose bulk has long since moved west. The Turks long ago drove out the Armenians whom they did not massacre. The once-vibrant sea of peoples is an archipelago of ghettos, making the tiresome battle between Israelis and Arabs look more foolish every day. The real war is between secular, cosmopolitan society, a minority everywhere, and the understandably frustrated masses forced into the closed embrace of religious intolerance.

    Let battle commence. Open the borders. Close the torture chambers. Stop the Likud bill to enshrine torture in Israel. Shoot the demagogues and dictators. Let the mullahs and rabbis throw wigs and veils over their women and burn books. I toast Mr. Fink, Mr. Rothschild, Mr. Azraeli and Mr. Burg, as well as the teachers at Hebrew University and the American University of Beirut, who are struggling to keep back the darkness. I drink to the health of Edward Said, Israel Shahak and the memory of Issam Sartawi, who was murdered for opening an early dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. I applaud Bassam Eid, the Palestinian who is monitoring the brutal practices of Yasir Arafat's torturers the way the best Israelis have kept a watchful eye on theirs. I'm with them all at Fink's.


    Classicus Feature March Madness Pace T.S. Eliot, in this part of the world the cruelest month is March, hands down. Never mind the weather (wet or warm or cool), it's the pagan festivals that really get one down. Now, your correspondent seeks not the reputation of a curmudgeon, but honestly it's enough to dampen the spirit of the most ardent optimist. Epicurus said, "Dum vivimus vivamus"?if we must live then let's live!?but he didn't have to put up with Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, the Oscars and the monthlong agony of basketball "Madness." "Mad as a March hare," wrote Lewis Carroll, because hares are unusually wild in March, their rutting season. That's their excuse, but what's ours?

    There was a time when Mardi Gras was the last bacchanalia before the somber, frugal 40 days of Lent. Lent is hardly observed anymore. You won't see too many empty tables at La Grenouille or Swifty's, but they still let 'er rip on Mardi Gras. The principle locus loco, thank God, is in New Orleans, where they go quite nuts, the chief manifestation of which is an uncontrollable desire on the part of the nubile female population to expose their breasts on Bourbon St. There are some historical precedents. On "Fat Tuesday" in medieval Paris there used to be a parade through the streets accompanied by mock priests and a band of tin instruments in imitation of a Roman sacrificial procession. In Germany it is an occasion for men to crossdress and wear silly wigs. In Regency England it was known as "Pancake Day," an occasion not only for gluttony but also for the great "Derby Day" final of that fine old limey blood-sport, cockfighting.

    Next on the agenda is St. Patrick's Day, which used to be an occasion for the Hibernians of New York to show their pride and numbers. Some cynics say it was an occasion for the swells to stand at their 5th Ave. windows and watch their servants march by. Are not the Jews so much wiser in staying at home on their great days? Rather than displaying themselves on the streets they make their power and numbers apparent by turning New York into a ghost town.

    Annually, the greatest matter of contention associated with St. Patrick's Day has been whether Irish-American gays and lesbians will be permitted to march as a distinct platoon under their own peculiar banner. And the chief item of curiosity will be where the politicians stand on the issue. Sensible folk say Halloween is now reserved for the expression of sexual diversity, and it should be left at that. Besides, such défilés are perhaps better restricted to Greenwich Village. It wouldn't be nice to upset Cardinal O'Connor under the circumstances. But, who knows what will happen? As they say in Lancashire, "There's nowt as queer as folk."

    If you are a betting man, here's a tip: the bookies have American Beauty at even money to win the best-picture Oscar in a very weak field. Only the presidential horse race presents a lamer contest. By the way, if you haven't seen American Beauty, stay away and don't let your kids see it, unless you want money to be paid to see child pornography, pedophilia, justification of drug-trafficking, loafing, adultery, with mockery of the U.S. Marine Corps thrown in for good measure. Oh, and a final scene features the protagonist taking a bullet in the back of the head, and you get to see his brains on the wall. What shit! The Brooklyn Museum "Sensation" exhibition is a kindergarten show-and-tell by comparison. And don't fall for the "But, it's so well acted" argument. That's like saying about Hitler, "Well, okay, but he was a great speaker."

    Great speakers, without scripts, as we are painfully reminded at every Oscar ceremony, our celluloid thespians are not. We've seen a Rotarian receiving his award as undertaker of the year make a more amusing acceptance speech. Jack Nicholson is the exception, but he doesn't win every year.

    Well, you know what the insiders say about acting: the most important thing is honesty, and once you've learned to fake that, you've got it made!

    The madness of King Basketball is the final chapter. The ludicrous spectacle of the flower of America's university population disporting themselves in homeboy, baggy "shorts" down to the knee, competing for millions of dollars for their institutions is unique in the annals of scholarly pursuits. Ironically, Stanford, the "Harvard of the West," is the number one seed in the region. So where is the real Harvard? Can't the Cantabs afford to buy any players? Wouldn't it be nice if Harvard could rake in a pantload of loot and stop continuously begging its alumni for money? Maybe not. A distinguished alumnus we know steadfastly refuses to give on the grounds, which he is not shy of telling his class agent, that Harvard has too much money.

    Supposedly, you have to be a qualified student to attend either of these great universities, but one wonders. Bill Bradley was probably the greatest Ivy League basketball player of all time. It's no secret that he had one college board score in the 400s, and a Princeton classmate tells us that he was generally known as the stupidest man in the class. Yet he became a Rhodes Scholar, a United States senator and, well you know the rest. And he seemed to be holding his own in the debates with Vice President Gore. You can't deny his competitiveness, and he seems to be brighter than our football president, Gerald Ford. So maybe there is something to be said for basketball. At least you don't get whacked in the head as often.

    Okay, the games are great, and when you get down to the Final Four it's pretty tense. Let's hope that Duke makes it. We particularly like the way the undergraduate fans paint their faces blue like Druids. Nice pagan touch that.