The Sum of All Fears shows how a movie with a ton of dumb stuff happening in it can also have profound moments

Tonight, for the first time, I watched the 2002 Morgan Freeman / Ben Affleck spy thriller movie, The Sum of All Fears, based on Tom Clancy’s 1991 novel of the same name. Not knowing anything about the plot, I was hoping to be swept up into a smart, twisty espionage movie with plausible crises, fast-paced action, suspense, and some strong characters with good chemistry between them.

But the movie blew up my suspension of disbelief in its opening scene, because the series of events it presented were, just frankly, impossible. It opens on an Israeli military air base on October 9, 1973, during the Yom Kippur War (or October War or Ramadan War depending on which side you supported). The Egyptian and Syrian forces have made strong gains after their surprise coordinated attack, and Israel decides to launch a fighter jet with a single tactical nuke on board. The pilot’s mission is to stay airborne and wait for orders. If the Israeli ground troops were to start to be completely overrun, the order will be given to him to nuke some enemy target.

As these kinds of movies go, so far so good. I’m pretty sure that in real life no Israeli plane actually took off with a nuke on board. It’s possible Clancy was using artistic license to expand on news reports that then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir did elevate the nuclear alert level, but I’ve yet to read any news stories of an Israeli fighter jet zipping around in Syrian or Egyptian airspace with a nuke in its belly. But for a fictional story, I can work with an alternative possible history imagining what might have happened if something important had gone differently than it did in reality.

Story premise: Israel misplaces a nuke in its own backyard but decides to do nothing to find it for 30 years. Whoops.

But the opening scene went off the rails in the first few minutes. You see, the brave Israeli fighter jet pilot – presumably the best pilot in one of the world’s most highly regarded air forces – is flying low over desert terrain that looks a lot like the Sinai, and he does something no pilot would never do. He has a photo of his wife and child perched on the instrument panel. He hits a bit of turbulence, and the photo falls from where he can see it into a hard to reach space near the floor of the cockpit. So what does this world class fighter pilot, who is flying low to the ground to avoid radar and is carrying a live nuke, decide to do? He starts reaching down with one hand and stretching uncomfortably to try to grab the fallen photo, and when he frustratingly can’t get a grip on it, he stops looking out the front windshield, and leans down awkwardly to try to find the photo. When he sits back up straight again, he screams because – forehead slap – he’s about to crash into a hill. Which he does. The plane, the bomb, and the pilot all get hurled into the sand. The pilot is dead and the plane smashed to bits. The nuke is dented here and there but remains intact, unexploded, and half-buried in the desert sand.

Next the screen tells us it’s 29 years later., and we see two Arab men who apparently make some money by looking for discarded military equipment and ordinance from previous wars, collecting a bunch of it, and then selling it to different black market buyers who find some of it useful. They stumble upon the buried Israeli nuke. They don’t know it’s a nuke – but it’s clearly a bomb of some sort. They dig it up, get it on their truck, and end up selling it to some European creep who turns out to be part of a neo-Nazi plot that seeks to acquire a nuke and other WMDs.

So that’s the opening premise. The Israelis secretly put a pilot in the air with a tactical nuke as a last ditch deterrent in case the war on the ground looked like it was about to turn into a total collapse for Israel. Is that much a plausible premise? I mean, okay, why not, you gotta be willing to suspend some disbelief and not get hung up on questions like whether sending up a plane that could crash, be shot down, or even be captured with a single nuke in its hold would be the way that an Israeli head of state would go about making the threat of a nuclear strike known to their enemies.

But we’re supposed to believe the plane crashes because the pilot pulled an Albert Brooks move from Defending Your Life? No way.

And then what happens? The Israeli army has now lost a nuke, somewhere in the desert, possibly still in Israeli controlled territory, or possibly Egyptian or Syrian territory. So what do the Israelis do? They leave it, lost somewhere in the sand. They don’t go get it. They just shrug and go, “welp, heh heh, sorry to all of our allies – especially you, America – but we kind of lost one of our nukes in the desert and we can’t think of any way to organize a mission to retrieve it. Oh, and just to clarify, we aren’t saying we have nuclear weapons. But if we do have them, well, we have them minus one that we are supposed to have. Which we’re not going to bother to try to find and get back. Shalom.”

This is the Israelis, mind you. Not exactly the Keystone Cops of military action. The army that busted into Entebbe airport in Uganda in order to rescue Israeli hostages. They are supposed to be, like, “Yeah, we can’t go looking in a stretch of barely populated desert nearby for a missing nuke.”

Next comes some Hollywood laziness. Because we are told that the two Arab scavengers who found the nuke live in the Golan. Take a look at the landscape of where the Israeli fighter pilot crashes his jet, and where the wreckage of the plane has come to rest:

This is the Golan Heights? It looks like the Sinai desert. Seriously, I’m waiting for some modern day cinematic Moses to walk into the scene of the wreckage and take a close up look at the burning mush that is this shark-jumping movie premise. I’m half-expecting Mark Watney to amble along in his EVA suit. Just in case you’re not familiar with what the Golan looks like, here’s a pic from the Lonely Planet guide to visiting the Golan:

Also, and pay close attention here, if the Israelis lost one of their nukes in 1973 in the Golan, then that means they lost it in territory they controlled and then annexed a few years later. They wouldn’t even need to do a Mission Impossible style nuke retrieval in hostile enemy territory commando op. They would just need to look around for it while they were actively building new Israeli neighborhoods and communities in the Golan.

Continue reading “The Sum of All Fears shows how a movie with a ton of dumb stuff happening in it can also have profound moments”

Ben & Jerry’s attacks West Bank settlements: new front breaks out in Starbucks’ War on Christmas

In a stunning development that has world leaders scrambling, Ben & Jerry’s Corporation and the Government of Israel are now officially in a state of war. The outbreak of hostilities is the latest strange expansion of the ever-growing War on Christmas begun by Starbucks back in 2011, and which has come to involve dozens of popular snack and beverage vendors in an epic struggle to destroy once and for all the holiday of Christmas and other central icons of Western Civilization such as Columbus Day, the Confederate battle flag, and – apparently – the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Until last week, it seemed July 2021 would end much as July 2020 had – with stalemates in the War on Christmas remaining entrenched, literally and figuratively, across multiple fronts in North America and Europe. But then at dawn on Monday, July 19, thousands of teenage ice-cream store workers converged upon several West Bank settlements and outposts wielding metal scoopers and taste spoons, and demanding that the residents of the settlements surrender unconditionally. Within hours, the settlements of Beitar Illit and Ariel had fallen to Ben & Jerry’s unstoppable phalanxes of cheerful dessert-dishers.

Elite units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initially responded by surrounding the conquered settlements with tanks and infantry, but each of these situations turned into a stand-off after Israeli troops discovered that the ice cream workers had surrounded the captured settlements with moats of hot fudge and caramel sauce and used a drone force to dump tons of Sprinkles on the approaching rescue teams.

According to several sources, the Ben & Jerry’s commandos were able to get past Israel’s vaunted security measures by offering free ice cream and presenting themselves as innocuous and harmless teenagers working their summer jobs.

As thousands of Israelis vowed to throw away any pints of Ben & Jerry’s they had in their freezers (after eating most of the remains because it would not be right to waste food), newly sworn in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened his cabinet to address the first major military crisis of his administration. By midweek, Israeli war planes had laid waste to much of northern Vermont.

Continue reading “Ben & Jerry’s attacks West Bank settlements: new front breaks out in Starbucks’ War on Christmas”

Discovering Fred Halliday

Blogger’s note: I’m using this space to place a number of quotes from the late international relations professor, Fred Halliday, on a bulletin board of sorts. My plan is to add my own thoughts and comments, as well as other quotes from him and those in dialogue with his ideas, as I continue to process these ideas. By placing this content here I am not implying agreement or endorsement of these views – only a strong interest in learning more.

Selected Quotes I am studying:

One should not accept at face value what people who are struggling say: they may well be committing atrocities of their own. At the extreme end you have the PKK, the Shining Path, the Khmer Rouge and so forth. They may often be involved in inter-ethnic conflicts where they use a progressivist language to conceal what is in fact chauvinism towards another community. It goes for both Israelis and Palestinians. It goes for the IRA in Northern Ireland. It goes for the Armenians and the Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh, and other cases. So solidarity should not be taken at face value. Solidarity should be critical of what people say and do, while also being guided by the longer-term evaluation of people’s interests and rights and material social progress.

One should not accept at face value what people who are struggling say: they may well be committing atrocities of their own.

Prof. Fred Halliday

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

You got away from the stuff about which one was there first, or who was massacred most, or what their holy books say, or who were collaborators with imperialism—all such questions were secondary. The key question is, you have two communities which meet minimal criteria of self-determining peoples. And on that basis, you accord them equal rights. And secondly, you critique the chauvinism and the fake justifications and the violations of the rules of war of both sides.

The level and tone of polemic in the U.S. and in Europe on the Palestine question has degenerated enormously since the collapse of Camp David and the rise of the second Intifada. I find that much of the stuff put out in the name of Palestine is so irresponsible and sometimes racist. I also find the degree of anger and the one-sidedness of Israelis, and from pro-Israel people in the West, very disturbing.

Source: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/who-is-responsible-interview-with-fred-halliday/

What the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968 were to the cause of international communism, the US enterprise in Iraq in 2003 was to the ideals and legality of humanitarian intervention.

The war over Lebanon of July-August 2006 offers an example. The crimes of the Israelis (in wantonly attacking the infrastructure of Lebanon, and denying Palestinians their national rights) and those of Hizbollah and Hamas (in killing civilians, placing the lives and security of their peoples recklessly at risk, hurling thousands of missiles at civilian targets in Israel and fomenting religious and ethnic hatred) do not require particularist denunciation: that the one killed Arabs or Muslims, and that the other spilt Jewish blood. They are crimes on the basis of universal principles – of law, decency, and humanity; and should be identified as such. Particularism undermines the very basis of the denunciation, which presupposes universal principles.

Continue reading “Discovering Fred Halliday”

B’Tselem, Apartheid, and questions on my mind

Note: I wrote almost all of this piece before the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the accompanying violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians that erupted in mid-May 2021. This post does not address those events.

Recently the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, released a new report making the argument that the State of Israel is guilty of apartheid. B’Tselem’s claim is different than one made some months ago by a different Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din. Last September, Yesh Din released a report making the argument that apartheid as a legal term should be applied to Israeli rule in the West Bank, but they declined to address the question of whether apartheid should be used to describe “Israel proper,” ie. Israel within the Green Line, where Arabs and Jews both have citizenship and voting rights.

B’Tselem’s report says that Israel is guilty of apartheid throughout all the lands over which it is the ultimate ruling power. Here’s how they explain their view:

Continue reading “B’Tselem, Apartheid, and questions on my mind”

Letter from Jerusalem

My friend Rabbi Amita Jarmon posted this message to some of her colleagues a few days ago, and she gave me permission to re-post it here…

It’s 2 AM here.  Lots of sirens and booms in Jerusalem until about 1 AM.  It’s quieter now but still an occasional siren. I was at an Omdim B’Yachad demonstration tonight.  There were similar demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa.  The J’lem one was small — I estimate about 250 of us.  We chant, accompanied and punctuated by a circle of drummers — the same as at the Sheikh Jarrah demos:  

“Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”  

“In Gaza and Sderot, boys and girls want to live.”  

“The rule of the right doesn’t want security.”  

“Stop the Escalation, we don’t want war.”

We marched from the Old Mashbir down King George and Yafo to Kikar Tzion (Zion Square). There, a large number of right wing youth gathered around and started shouting with bull horns and ripping our posters out of our hands and shredding them. The police intervened. They brought dogs and horses and we were forced to disperse.  One friend told me that the police have a legal obligation to protect peaceful demonstrators, and should have made the youth who were disturbing us back off.  

Continue reading “Letter from Jerusalem”

Israel’s do over of its national election is in about 5 weeks

We know now who the parties will be that will contest the do-over election that’s set for mid-September. In April, Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party won 35 of the 120 Knesset seats, and tied the newly formed centrist party, Blue and White, co-led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. But because the right wing parties tallied 65 seats total in the last election, Likud was given the opportunity to try to form a government. To do that, you need a coalition of parties with a minimum of 61 seats, and you have 42 days to get it done, or else the (largely ceremonial) President of Israel can choose another party to try to form a government.

If you remember, Bibi was able to get a coalition of 60 seats, but one of the right-wing parties, Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, refused to join the Netanyahu led government. They won 5 seats. The stated reason Lieberman gave for holding out was his ideological determination to insist on several laws that would discontinue military service exemptions for ultra-orthodox yeshiva students. Lieberman’s party is an avowedly secular, xenophobic, Jewish nationalist, pro-settler party. Few people thought he would actually hold out for the full 42 day coalition-building period – everyone thought he was taking a severe bargaining position. But he did.

Before the Israeli President could pivot and offer Blue and White a chance to have 42 days to form a government, Likud called the Knesset into session and called for a vote to form and then immediately dissolve the legislature. This was unprecedented, and it was weird. The reason Likud did this was that they preferred a second election in a few months’ time to giving Gantz and Lapid a chance to form a coalition.

So here we are.

One of the things that has happened since then is that there’s been a lot of small parties combining into blocs. So only 9 parties will be on the ballot in the upcoming election, the smallest number in Israel’s history. The Arab parties, which ran three different slates in the last election, have formed a Joint List (when they’ve done this in years past, they’ve tended to get more seats). Blue and White, which came closer than most expected to toppling Likud in April, has been laying low, and now, as they launch their new heavy PR push, they’re having in-fighting problems that are generating bad press for them. Lovely.

Meretz, traditionally the party of the peace camp, has merged with a newly formed party announced by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, calling itself the Democratic Union. On the right, some of the smaller parties have formed Hayamin Hachadash – “The New Right.” There’s some super creepy folks in that cohort, let me tell you.

Below is a graphic I pulled off of a webinar that shows, in the center column, the names of the 9 parties (or slates) that will be on the ballot. The column on the right shows how many seats each of these slates won in April – only because some of these slates were divided into smaller, separate slates last time, what the makers of this chart have done is combined the totals that smaller parties got last time when appropriate.

vote tallies 2019

So what do we make of this chart?

Continue reading “Israel’s do over of its national election is in about 5 weeks”

Bibi vs. Ben Gurion – Israeli commentator Yossi Alpher’s take

From Americans for Peace Now’s regular feature, “Hard Questions, Tough Answers,” a Q and A column featuring Yossi Alpher, a former senior Mossad and IDF intelligence official.

I think this says it all.

(The rest of this post is a direct quote from the interview – a link to the full interview follows.)

Q. This coming Saturday, July 20, Binyamin Netanyahu will have served as prime minister of Israel longer than David Ben Gurion: 13 years and 128 days, to be exact. Can you compare the two?

A. Frankly, no comparison really works here. Ben Gurion renewed Jewish sovereignty for the first time in nearly 2000 years. He made incredibly daring and difficult decisions in order to bring this about: the very declaration of Israeli independence against all the odds; Altalena and the determined creation of a single sovereign armed force; prioritizing mass Aliyah over the military’s budget; accepting German reparations; creating a nuclear project. Nothing that came after can compare.

Netanyahu’s longevity in office contrasts particularly with Ben Gurion precisely because Netanyahu has consciously avoided making hard decisions while seemingly letting time and circumstances take care of the challenges involved. Ben Gurion would have acted–confronted the settlers, for example, whatever the cost–to prevent Israel from becoming a binational entity. By the same token, Ben Gurion might have adopted a far more aggressive military pose vis-à-vis Iran in Syria–not necessarily the wisest move.

At the socio-economic level Ben Gurion, who successfully imposed upon beleaguered and bankrupt Israel the absorption of hundreds of thousands of Eastern Jews and Holocaust survivors by a state-run, centralized economy, would never have acquiesced in the huge income gaps and social fragmentation that have emerged in Israel’s otherwise successful market economy under Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is as distant from Ben Gurion as any Israeli prime minister. Only his impressive political skills place him in the Ben Gurion class. Yet Netanyahu uses those skills basically to stay in office–

Netanyahu is essentially a status quo politician, more like Yitzhak Shamir than any other predecessor. Menachem Begin pro-actively sought peace with Egypt, Yitzhak Rabin with the Palestinians and Jordan. Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Gaza Strip. In all cases, these leaders consciously challenged a skeptical public and a hostile political reality. They behaved in the Ben Gurion mode. Bibi meets secretly with Arab leaders and openly with Putin and Xi, but only with the goal of maintaining Israel’s physical security while doing nothing about the existential Palestinian demographic threat closer to home. Bibi also has Trump–a problematic asset but nonetheless a luxury Ben Gurion never dreamed of enjoying as he navigated the fortunes of a truly isolated country.

Ben-GurionIncidentally, Ben Gurion also confronted corruption allegations–spending government and Histadrut money for his book collection and even his Tel Aviv home. He ignored or rebuffed the charges easily. One thing that has changed for the better since then is the rule of law, though that too is now being challenged by Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is as distant from Ben Gurion as any Israeli prime minister. Only his impressive political skills place him in the Ben Gurion class. Yet Netanyahu uses those skills basically to stay in office–currently, as a means of avoiding prosecution on corruption charges. Ben Gurion applied his political skills toward realizing his daring vision for Israel. When necessary, he left office precisely to advance his goals. Can anyone imagine Netanyahu doing this?

To see the whole interview, visit: https://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=31680#.XS4qA-hKjIU.

A Better Deal

Since it seems the current US Administration and the now-forming right-wing government in Israel have both agreed that the “two-state solution has failed,” to quote Jared Kushner, I’ve taken it upon myself to come up with my own “deal of the century.”

Screenshot 2019-04-27 at 10.42.03I propose the establishment of a new federated single state that hearkens back to the original territory that comprised the British Mandate following World War I. The Federation of the Levant will consist of 3 states, which will be independent and interdependent.

The 3 federated states will be:

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

The State of Palestine

The State of Israel

A special status will apply to the Municipality of Jerusalem / Al Quds.

This proposal will address the following issues:

  1. Federal and State Governments and their Powers
  2. State Borders
  3. Citizenship
  4. Rights of Residency
  5. Freedom of Movement
  6. Freedom of Religion and Conscience
  7. Military Defense

Continue reading “A Better Deal”

A D’var for Shavuot (2009 / 5769)

D’var Torah – Shavuot 5769

Rabbi Maurice Harris

Shabbat shalom and gut yontiff.  As we celebrate our 2nd Shavuot in our new home, I want to ask us all to take a moment to look around.  We are so blessed.  We have now completed one full cycle of Jewish holy days and sacred seasons, one full year of the cycle of the Five Books of Moses, one full year of ups and downs, controversies and moments of serenity, one full year of mitzvot and of mistakes.  One full year of life.  There are so many people who worked so hard to make this new home possible, and we have only just begun to discover the ways we can continue to grow as a community in this amazing space.  Shavuot is a festival of offering our first fruits, the first fruits of our labor, to God.  We, as a community, now can offer one year’s worth of Jewish living to the Eternal One as an expression of our thanks and our desire to bring greater meaning and unity into our lives and into the world.

Over the last 24 hours we have engaged three different texts in our observance of Shavuot.  Last night we studied the Book of Ruth, which is traditionally chanted at Shavuot, and this morning we read the story of the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai in the Book of Exodus.  Then, Rabbi Yitzhak chanted the assigned reading from the books of the prophets, which happened to be from the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel.

Ruth, the 10 Commandments, and Ezekiel.  Something I noticed about these three readings is where they take place.  The Torah reading featuring the dramatic revelation at Mt. Sinai takes place not in the land of Israel, but in the Sinai desert, in the wilderness, in an in-between place that was neither Egypt nor the Promised Land.  Ezekiel takes place in ancient Babylon, and tells the story of the visions and activities of a prophet who was sent into exile in Babylon along with the entire leadership of the ancient Israelite community some 2, 600 years ago.  That leaves the Book of Ruth.  Ruth takes place partly in the land of Moab, just to the east of the Land of Israel, and partly in the territory of Judah, which was part of ancient Israel.  It is the Book of Ruth that brings us geographically closest to Jerusalem, as Ruth ends up making her new life as a Jew by choice in Bethlehem, which is only a few kilometers away from Jerusalem.  Although the Book of Ruth never specifically mentions Jerusalem, because the city had not yet become the Israelites’ capital, the last words of the book point to Jerusalem.  As many of you may know, the Book of Ruth ends with a genealogy that shows Ruth to be the ancestor of King David, and David’s name is the final word of the book.  The Book literally points towards a Jerusalem that has not yet been realized, a Jerusalem of the future.

It is that idea – a Jerusalem that has not yet been realized, a Jerusalem of the future – that caught my attention these last days.

The city’s name, Yeru-shalayim, roughly means “they will see peace” or “the inheritance – yerushah – will be peace.”  Yet for the last 2500 years, Jerusalem has known so much war and far too little peace.  As we all know, Jews, Christians and Muslims all consider Jerusalem to be sacred, and the mythic encounters with the Divine that are so central to all three of the Abrahamic religions intimately involve Jerusalem and the Temple mount itself.  Just to illustrate this with one small example:  in Arabic Jerusalem is called al-Quds, meaning “the holy.”  This is from the same Semitic language root that forms the word kadosh in Hebrew.  It’s as if our people had named the city ha-kadosh.  And in fact, we have, as one of the city’s Jewish nicknames is Ir ha-kodesh, “the holy city.”

Nuremberg_chronicles_-_f_15r

Continue reading “A D’var for Shavuot (2009 / 5769)”