Stormin' Norman When I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was drinking illegally in the Irish bars of Los Angeles. That was some 30 years ago, when tough guys used to collect money for the Irish Northern Aid Committee, NORAID. In some of those bars, like Molly Malone's on Fairfax Blvd., Irish bands stirred the tribal blood by playing rebel songs. I remember joining in "Bold Fenian Men" and "Wild Colonial Boy." Good drunken stuff, just like the donations to "the cause" of killing British soldiers. Jaysus, you'd a thought the famine was still on and the Black and Tans were a rapin' the countryside again. Officially, the money went to help Catholic families displaced by the Protestant ethnic cleansing of Belfast and Derry after Bloody Sunday. Unofficially, the boyos with the money boxes swore we were helping the IRA.
NORAID's bag men cynically exploited historic injustices to support the contemporary IRA, an organization that has had some genuine heroes in its ranks but also many extortionists, thugs and murderers. Many in the Irish Republic denounce the IRA, but no one calls them self-hating Irishmen. Or tries to censor them. Or stops them from getting jobs. Perhaps Norman Finkelstein, who just came to London to promote his new book, The Holocaust Industry, should have been born Irish. A few pints of Guinness, a verse of "Risin' of the Moon" and a punch in the nose would set his world to rights. But poor Norman is defiantly Jewish, and he's having a devil of a time with some of his kith and kin.
When Norman arrived in London the other day, the targets of his criticism had already mobilized against him. Jonathan Freedland wrote in the liberal daily The Guardian, "It is perhaps easy to write off a critic like Finkelstein as a self-hating Jew, but it is striking to hear someone who appears to have nothing but contempt for his own people." In the ludicrously reactionary Daily Mail, Tom Bower accused Finkelstein of giving succor to the enemy: "The emotional denunciation by a Jew of his fellow Jews is, for anti-Semites, an unexpected windfall..." Stephen Howe, in The Independent, the daily belonging to Ireland's Tony O'Reilly of Heinz ketchup fame, called the book an "unimpressive little volume" and added, "The standard accusation will be that he is a self-hating Jew. There will be efforts to silence him." Howe does not explicitly accuse Finkelstein of self-hatred, but he condemns both the book and its author: "His obsessions, and the fury they invoke, also tell us something about the spirit of the age?something pretty unpleasant." Not to be outdone, Jay Rayner wrote in the once-respected and now ignored Sunday paper, The Observer, "Norman Finkelstein, the son of concentration camp survivors, has launched a personal pogrom with The Holocaust Industry, attacking almost every orthodox tenet of the study of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis. And a lot of people now hate him for it."
Jaysus, what did Finkelstein do to antagonize the Bold Zionist Men? I read the book, which is excellent, and went along to a debate the other night between Finkelstein and a director of the Imperial War Museum's Holocaust Exhibition. The venue was the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) on the Mall that runs between Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. While Norman prepared to discuss his book to a packed house inside, patriotic Britons outside were celebrating the 100th birthday of the Queen Mother. History lives in this town. Finkelstein went first, taking 15 minutes to summarize the book. His thesis is that Jewish suffering has been exploited to shore up American support for any and all Israeli policies since 1967, to enable various organizations to control the money gained from the German state and Swiss banks rather than distribute it all to the real survivors, and to help some in the elite of Jewish society to assimilate into the upper echelons of American society.
He said in the ICA debate that things went wrong when the Nazi holocaust became The Holocaust. As anyone who has studied philosophy knows, using the definite article "the" means "there is one and only one," in this case, holocaust. Finkelstein believes there were many, with differences and similarities to the genocide of Europe's Jews: the genocide of Armenians, Roma (Gypsies) and American Indians. I'd add Tasmanians and Tutsis in Rwanda. Admitting that others suffered does not diminish the Jewish tragedy, but Finkelstein says the "ideology" of Holocaust studies relies on this "uniqueness doctrine." Its other pillar, he said at the ICA, is the "doctrine of eternal Gentile hatred of the Jews." Norman concluded the doctrine was "devoid of scholarly value, but it has political utility."
He's had a few supporters in the press here, notably Victor Sebestyen in the Evening Standard, and the ICA audience for the most part applauded him loudly. During the questions, many of which were hostile, Finkelstein received the most support from Israelis.
One surprising aspect of the debate is the assertion in several British newspapers that The Holocaust Industry has caused controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. Alas, not yet. Other than New York Press, Finkelstein's publishers Verso tell me that the rest of the American press has virtually ignored it. In London, people may be kicking Norman Finkelstein, but they are also kicking his ideas around. What's going on in New York?
Melik Kaylan The Spy
I Am a Character Hillary Clinton should be so lucky. I appear by name in three speculative works of fiction in this last year alone. Kurt Andersen assigned me the first role, a walk-on part in his Turn of the Century. The sturdy pilgrims who sojourned beyond page 300-something will know that I appear as a mere limo driver. Make of it what you will. No doubt you'd be right. My theory: it was his way of making sure I read at least half the book.
The second in order of sheer length is not yet in print. It's authored by another friend, Quentin Letts, the former New York bureau chief for The London Times. Quentin moved back to England became the top parliamentary commentator for The Daily Telegraph, then The Daily Mail. He's a household name over there and his novel will certainly make a splash. I can't give away the title but can say that I'm cast as Professor of Victim Studies at Columbia University. Quentin's idea of a tortuous joke. I'm Turkish born, and Turks are either the ultimate victimizers (of Armenians and Kurds, among others) or the victims du jour (as immigrant workers in Germany).
The third is a noirish French novel set in present-day New York by my buddy Gregoire Carbasse, entitled Des Pepins dans la Grosse Pomme (The Pips in the Big Apple), just published last month by Hachette. Like the Irish poet or the Russian dancer, the genuine French intellectual always seems minted and issued by nature as a perfected archetype. In real life, besides being a novelist and a smoky ladies' man, Gregory runs a publishing house for exquisitely crafted limited-series photographic books that sell for thousands of dollars each. All this at age 30.
Gregory is a one-man talent riot but, well, enough about him. In the fiction, I'm a worldly but cerebral heroic figure able to navigate the city's darker labyrinths of Afghan emigres and Russkie mafiosi with rugged assurance. I like to think that any and all resemblance to people or places in the real world is entirely intentional and highly accurate. In the book I'm a kind of cicerone for Eddie, the lead man. Page after page you will find me unfurling superior laconic observations such as "Le Russe est mechant et sans scrupule aucun, repliqua Melik du tac au tac," or "cette petite declaration impromptue est bien touchante, trancha Melik," and so on.
Carbasse is a nom de plume. Thereby hangs a lovely yarn. Gregory set his first mystery novel in Switzerland, where he lived a while and dated a girl who worked at the Geneva branch of Sotheby's or Christie's. There, Gregory heard a great deal about the auction houses' illicit Swiss shenanigans through his girlfriend. He wove the stories into the book. But then he had to use an alias so she couldn't be identified as the source.
This is what Gregory found out: The Swiss offices of the major auction houses provide them with enormous streams of revenue illicitly because they are often used by clients to launder money. The clients might be Russian oligarch-mafiosi or top political figures such as the Mitterrand family of France. Say a Russian tycoon wants to export millions of dollars out of Russia. He arranges to make a public purchase of an artwork in Switzerland. It has to be public, because he needs to show authorities the legitimate paper trail. The dollars exit Russia openly. The art is paid for with great fanfare in Geneva and brought back to Russia. The money goes into the seller's local Swiss account?which is the tycoon's own secret account. In effect, he sold the object and bought it from himself. The money is now available to him in Europe.
You might know that the Gorbachevs became art-obsessed for a while. As you can imagine, drug lords use the same technique to bring billions of narcodollars into legal circulation. Once they pay for the artwork, their money is reborn. It now exists officially and can be used openly to purchase houses, cars, yachts and weaponry. The hitch, of course, lies in the artworks. First, they have to be purchased cheaply and secretly. Yet when they go on sale for a fortune, they have to look vaguely worth it. Plus, no outsider must bid against the item at auction. Can you imagine the comedy, otherwise? The drug lord needs to buy the object for, say, a million and someone else outbids him? So word goes out that the final bid must be a million and no one should interfere beyond that.
Now imagine the number of people in Switzerland complicit in or at least cognizant of the process. Apparently, in the case of the Mitterrand family of France, it's an open secret. Being French, they naturally added a pleasing layer of political theater. In that case, the Mitterrands pay for a great painting, say, and make a display of buying it back for France. In reality, they probably owned it first, smuggled it out to Switzerland, then purchased it from themselves?for the glory of the republic.
Those of you who might be curious about such things can have a little fun spotting the fishier transactions. It's easy. Go back over past auction catalogs of sales in Switzerland and note which artworks went for way over their logical value. The sellers are often anonymous, but not always.
The moral of the story? Well, it's multilayered. Never believe that the auction houses are in financial difficulty. Always get their ex-employees drunk at dinner and pump them for stories. Watch out if the Clintons start to collect expensive art, even if it's only in a novel. Do not outbid them in an auction.
Taki LE MAÎTRE
Turn It Off I have been cruising the Greek islands and visiting friends who own private islands in the land of feta, souvlaki and sunshine. As far as I'm concerned, this is where it all started?Western Civilization, that is, when in 490 BC the Athenians defeated the Persians in the battle of Marathon?confirmed by one John Stuart Mill.
The weather has been perfect, the sea calm and clear, but the good news is that I haven't looked at a television or movie screen in one month. As a result I've read four history books, improving my mind along with my suntan.
Which brings me to the point I wish to make: if we don't go back to books?and by that I mean books by dead white males?Western Civilization is kaput, finis, curtains. One of the stewards on board, Paraskevas, which in English means Friday, as in Robinson Crusoe, is a case in point. I've dealt with crews and sailors all my life, but never have I met a more genial, eager-to-please and happy sailor. Although Greek, he grew up in Tashkent under the Soviet Union. Overhearing a conversation I was having about Pushkin, he proceeded to analyze Eugene Onegin like a professor, and in clearer terms. When I asked him how he knew so much about Pushkin, he told me Pushkin wasn't the only poet, but also Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, you name them.
"We grew up very poor, and our only pleasure was reading at night, after work. My childhood was a very happy one as a result. I never saw a movie until I left Tashkent, and never grew to enjoy films. As a result, reading opened up my imagination."
Following this we sat down to dinner. Three young women, daughters of our friends, and recent Ivy League graduates, asked what "The Charge of the Light Brigade" meant. I was incredulous. "What about Pickett's charge in Gettysburg?have you heard of that?" I asked. They had not. "What the hell did you major in, Rastafarian studies? Gender studies?" I demanded. The latter, it turned out. But the girls, who could not, incidentally, have been nicer, did know all about Friends, Sex and the City and other such crap.
Which brings me to yet another point. Television and Hollywood are the twin barrels murdering our children and our culture.
Alas, reading and writing are tools of an elite. The rest of America learns by watching television. The trouble is that it's an era of manipulative, politically correct schlock that requires ever-increasing doses of violence and sex. Mind you, if Hollywood had remained the Hollywood of the 40s and 50s?Mom, apple pie, my country 'tis of thee, etc.?I would not protest. Good always triumphed over evil back then. Budd Schulberg's novel What Makes Sammy Run? was a cautionary tale in which Sammy Glick was a villain. No longer. To my horror, Sammy Glick is now perceived as a character reference, a man whose gifts for bluff and betrayal are prerequisites in today's world. The villain of the 40s is a yuppie hero in the year 2000.
The moral breakdown of our society is not all due to Hollywood, needless to say. Gender studies and p.c. are also culprits. But make no mistake about it: There is a direct connection between trash television and the decline of our culture. Advertisers have long understood the profound impact a commercial has on consumers. Politicians spend millions every year buying space to influence voters. Why should it be any different with tv programming?
Along with Natural Born Killers, which prompted copycat murders in the United States, Colors, another movie that glorified drive-by shootings, came out just before Los Angeles recorded one of the highest homicide rates in America. In fact, it was a "how-to" for shooting people from a car. But the moment anyone dares suggest a halt to this unspeakable rubbish, the legend of the dreaded censor is immediately invoked by the left in general, and the media elite in particular.
Over the last eight years, the Hollywood elite have ponied up millions and millions for the Draft Dodger's two presidential campaigns. Yet with the exception of a few benign remarks about violence, the Clinton-Gore gang is not about to do anything about the poisoning of our children's minds and souls. Not that the parents are any help. Children eight years and older spend almost three hours a day watching television. Two thirds of children eight and over have tv sets in their bedrooms, and six in 10 families have no rules about watching television.
So, what is to be done? Easy. As television stunts the development of the brain and encourages copycat behavior, let's also play the antitobacco game. Let's use the only protest weapon left to us: the lawsuit?a class-action lawsuit for hundreds of billions against Hollywood and television industries for the impairment they have caused to millions of Americans. The targets are limitless. Advertisers, television manufacturers, studios, anyone connected with the rubbish.
One thing is for sure. They will change their tune quicker than one can say Paraskevas, or even Alexander Pushkin. In the meantime, while we wait, turn off the idiot box and hit the books.
George Szamuely The Bunker
Rupert's Hillary Suppose it had been reported that 26 years ago Rick Lazio?or, better still, Rudy Giuliani?bitter at having lost a congressional election, had launched into his campaign manager and called him to his face a "fucking Jew bastard." How would Hillary Clinton have reacted? More than likely she would have professed herself profoundly "disturbed." After repeatedly demanding a full explanation, she would at some point have shown magnanimity and made a great show of "accepting" her opponent's denials, while insisting that he commit himself to fighting bigotry and prejudice for the rest of his life and to the enactment of "hate crimes" legislation.
The truth is, there are few more vicious practitioners of the politics of "antiracism" or "anti-anti-Semitism" than Hillary Clinton. Which is why her current predicament is so richly deserved. In State of a Union, Jerry Oppenheimer lists three witnesses to Hillary's alleged outburst: the target himself, Paul Fray; his wife Mary Lee; and Neil McDonald, an Arkansas political consultant. Their assertions are not exactly resonant with credibility, but then neither are Hillary's denials. As Mickey Kaus has pointed out, Hillary contradicted herself at her Westchester press conference: "First (according to an unofficial transcript) she said, 'And the president and I were the only other two people there, with the two people who were there, and it did not happen.' Later she said, 'I don't remember being in the room. If there was a meeting between the president and me and the two of them I don't have any recollection of what they're talking about.'"
While the supposedly acutely intelligent Hillary is unable to recall much, her husband remembers the meeting very clearly: "She might have called him a bastard. I wouldn't rule that out. She's never claimed that she was pure on profanity."
Hillary is now invoking the usual sanctimonious piety about the "continuation of the politics of personal destruction that I think is so bad for our country." Yet slander and "personal destruction" are her specialty. Earlier this year she told the Independence Party, the New York wing of the Reform Party, that she would never run on its line. "I cannot and will not, as the price for any endorsement, embrace or excuse those who use hateful rhetoric to separate and divide," she droned on self-righteously. "If this party allows itself to become defined by the anti-Semitism, extremism, prejudice and intolerance of a few shrill voices of both the right and the left, you will be doing yourselves and our state a great disservice."
Recently she also issued a dreary denunciation of Pat Buchanan and "his history of anti-Semitic, divisive and intolerant comments." Hillary never bothers to justify any of her insulting and outrageous characterizations. She is only out to destroy her opponents' reputations. No doubt Hillary?original as ever?saw Buchanan as a safe target for abuse. Yet no one?not Norman Podhoretz, not Abe Foxman of the ADL?has ever come forward to say that Buchanan used language as crudely anti-Semitic as Hillary's allegedly was that night.
Even during the present senatorial campaign, Hillary has not passed up the opportunity to play the "anti-Semitism" card. In January, at an event organized by CORE, Mayor Giuliani appeared on the same dais as Jorg Haider, leader of Austria's Freedom Party. Giuliani did not know that Haider was there. Hillary demanded to know what Giuliani was doing hanging out with Haider. She also released a letter she had written to Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, asking people to "express their concern" about Haider's joining Austria's government. Haider's record of "intolerance, extremism and anti-Semitism should be of concern to all of us," Clinton wrote. (The words are identical to the ones she used to characterize the Reform Party and Pat Buchanan. Hillary is a slave to the cliche.)
The First Lady also likes to put the Holocaust to good use. Back in 1996, when she was a target of Kenneth Starr's investigation, she showed up at her husband's State of the Union address accompanied by Elie Wiesel.
The Clintons, however, are fortunate in their enemies. Just as Hillary's campaign was floundering, this silly little story from 26 years ago came along, which could well propel her to victory in November. Suddenly the woman seems almost sympathetic, as Rupert Murdoch's hacks trot out once more the tired litany of complaints. She is attacked for not condemning loudly or early enough Suha Arafat's accusations about Israelis firing poison gas at Palestinian children. In 1998 she called for the establishment of a Palestinian state. She is also attacked for waffling on Jerusalem, describing it on one occasion as "the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel," while at other times insisting that its final status must await a negotiated settlement.
The silliest piece, as usual, was Andrea Peyser's: "Jews don't need to believe she called anyone, Jewish or otherwise, a 'f---ing bastard' to realize that the woman has long displayed indifference, bordering on hostility, to Jews." Hostility to Jews! How? When? We are back to the old story of Hillary's time as chairwoman of the New York-based New World Foundation in the 1980s. According to Peyser, the foundation "awarded $15,000 to an organization that openly funneled cash to two groups controlled by the Palestinian Liberation Organization." So we have $15,000, hardly a king's ransom, going to one organization that sent the cash on to two other organizations that allegedly were "controlled" by the PLO?whatever "controlled" may mean?which is now Israel's chief negotiating partner in the Middle East. "She just doesn't get it," Peyser concludes.
Few of us do. Thank you, Rupert Murdoch. We'll now have the Clintons to kick around for another six years.