The Genesis Prize, according to its website, “honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.” The prize, first given in 2014 and often called the “Jewish Nobel,” is awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation and comes with a $1 million check. Winners have included New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and sculptor Anish Kapoor. This year’s laureate is – or was – actress Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for Black Swan and more recently played Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the movie Jackie. On its website, the Foundation also noted her humanitarian work with FINCA, a microfinancing program, and WE, a charity that “empowers youth.”
The award was to be presented to Portman in June. But on April 19 came news that the prize ceremony was off. Portman had announced that she would not attend the event – because she refuses to set foot in Israel. This is particularly interesting news, given that Portman was born in Jerusalem and is a joint American and Israeli citizen. Her explanation: “Recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.” Therefore “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.” According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Portman did not specify which events caused her distress, although the United Nations and the European Union recently called for investigations into the use of live ammunition by Israel’s military following clashes along the border with Gaza that have left dozens of Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded.”
Portman’s action seemed unusual, given her record. In 2009, she stood up agains anti-Israeli calls for a boycott of the Toronto Film Festival. She wrote, directed, and starred in a 2015 Hebrew-language film adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness, which deals in large part with the founding of Israel. After it was announced that she would be receiving the Genesis Prize, she expressed gratitude and pride in her “Israeli roots and Jewish heritage.” She has nothing but contempt, however, for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has called a “racist.”
After Portman’s turndown, Israel’s cultural minister, Miri Regev, stated what seemed to be obvious: Portman, she said, has “fallen like a ripe fruit into the hands of the BDS movement supporters.” In a reference to the title of Portman’s film version of Oz’s memoir, Regev lamented that Portman was “joining those who treat the story of the success and the miracle of Israel’s revival as a tale of darkness and darkness.” In response, Portman claimed that her refusal to go to Israel had nothing to do with the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement; she maintained, rather, that she didn’t want to share a platform with Netanyahu, who was scheduled to speak at the award ceremony. And then what happened? Tune in on Thursday.
The Barents Observer is an online newspaper that’s published in English and Russian by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat (NBS), which is funded by Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is under the authority of Norway’s three northernmost counties, Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark. The NBS’s official objective is to promote “good relations with Russia in a region where the two nations cooperate and compete over fishing, oil and military strategy.” The Observer, based in the town of Kirkenes, near Norway’s northern tip, is that country’s most important source of information on the Russian oil and gas industries and the major local news operation in its far north.
Until recently, the editor of the Barents Observer was a man named Thomas Nilsen, who has worked for NBS for thirteen years and served as editor of the Observer for six of those years. According to NRK, the Norwegian national broadcasting corporation, he’s “one of Norway’s leading experts on Russian nuclear security and nuclear submarines.” During these years, Nilsen has written “many critical articles and commentaries about conditions in Russia.”
Inevitably, his work has come under fire from Russian officials. Last year, accordingto the Guardian, Mikhail Noskov, Russia’s consul-general in the far north of Norway, “made a speech in which he strongly criticised Nilsen’s writing and warned it may damage bilateral relations.” Noskov singled out Nilsen’s reporting about Putin, which he considered disrespectful.
This May, when the newspaper’s staff asked that it be allowed to formally adopt a set of official Norwegian journalistic guidelines known as the Rights and Duties of the Editor, the NBS rejected the request. Nilsen and his colleagues publicly criticized the NBS for this action, which, they said, restricted their ability to engage in the “free exchange of information and opinions.” Their statement continued: “In a time with a repressive press freedom environment in Russia, we find it deeply worrying that the political leaders of northern Norway want to limit Barents Observer’s role as a provider of news and opinions that can be considered critical to crackdowns on democratic voices.”
The ax finally fell on September 28. Charging Nilsen with disloyalty, the NBS’s Stig Olsen fired him, effective immediately. In a press release, Nilsen’s colleagues said they were “shocked and outraged” and charged the Observer‘s owners with “doing what they can to destroy us and the news product which we have developed over the last 13 years.” Olsen refused comment.
Knut Olav Åmås, head of Fritt Ord, a Norwegian foundation that supports freedom of expression, described Nilsen’s firing as “a sad ending to an affair that we can only hope will not further cool down the climate of free speech in the northern regions….It is the opposite that is needed – more free media in an area where parts of the most important development in Norway will take place in the years to come.”
But Nilsen’s firing wasn’t the end of the story. On October 3, NRK came out with a report that was nothing short of sensational: Nilsen, maintained journalist Tormod Strand, had been fired because the FSB, Russia’s security agency, had “asked Norway’s government to silence the Observer.”
A Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesmen could neither confirm nor deny NRK’s report. Russia’s embassy in Oslo denied the charge. The head of the NSB refused an interview request by the Guardian. So did Noskov. As for Nilsen himself, he told NRK that the very idea was hard to wrap his mind around, but “if there is a connection here, that somebody on the Norwegian side has yielded to pressure, then the whole case is much more serious” than he’d thought.
Surprised though he was, Nilsen didn’t consider it unlikely that Norwegian officials might have kowtowed to Putin. Because of Norway’s reliance on North Sea oil, he told the Guardian, the Oslo government is obsessed with maintaining good relations with the Kremlin, despite the European Union’s Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia. The Norwegian government’s mantra when it comes to the Arctic, he said, is “high north, low tension.”
Meanwhile Geir Ramnefjell, culture editor of the newspaper Dagbladet, pointed out that this scandal came along at a time when the Kremlin had been complaining about a Norwegian miniseries, Occupied, which was about to begin airing on Norway’s TV2. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow claimed that the show’s premise – Russia, in the near future, invades Norway and seizes its oil fields – is ridiculous and offensive, bringing to mind the hatreds and suspicions of the Cold War and having no basis whatsoever in the reality of today’s Russia.
He’s been called “a ‘superstar’ of the Left” who “defaults to leftist ideologies at every turn,” who “offers an old-Keynesian approach to new problems,” who “has assumed the role of social-democratic public-intellectual-in-chief,” who “increasingly labels anyone disagreeing with him as a ‘market fundamentalist’ or a ‘conservative journalist,’” and who’s “essentially an economic crank.”
We’re talking about Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz, who, as we’ve seen in the last few days, is a fierce critic of the free market, of “American-style capitalism,” and of “economic inequality,” and a zealous enthusiast for welfare states, for an international currency and international tax system, and for the financially irresponsible governments of Greece and Argentina (for both of which, it turns out, he’s been a paid “advisor”).
The absurdity of Stiglitz’s economic views is crystallized in his relatively recent comments on France. As financial analyst Pater Tenebrarum noted a year ago, Stiglitz has been an outspoken fan of France’s profligate government spending – because, in Stiglitz’s view, lowering state spending is the path to economic disaster. Yet as Tenebrarum pointed out, France’s neighbor to the south, Spain, had “been outperforming France for the past several quarters.”
Why? Because, unlike France, Spain cut government spending, reformed its labor laws, and “ma[de] life easier for businesses” in a number of other respects. In short, as Tenebrarum put it, “Spain has done precisely what Mr. Stiglitz believes is leading to failure, while France has done precisely what he believes to guarantee success.” Commenting on Stiglitz’s statements about the French economy – including the claim that France is business-friendly – Tenebrarum could not disguise his incredulity:
He believes that a government that is spending a record 58% of GDP every year – more than any other government in the allegedly capitalist countries – and that is well-known for having instituted the highest tax rates in Europe and having put in place the most onerous business regulations imaginable, is a paragon of “pro business austerity”!
To say that this is utterly ridiculous is the understatement of the century. How can one make such an assertion and keep a straight face? Hundreds of thousands of young entrepreneurs have fled France for more business-friendly places such as the UK, because they simply felt they could not operate in France’s extremely hostile business climate….
Is Mr. Stiglitz unaware of the fact that France has introduced a 75% marginal tax rate for high income earners, which is in fact the highest in the world? Stiglitz should in fact explain to us why the sure-fire “success” of this policy in France is so conspicuous by its absence (since he asserts above that raising taxes on the rich will “boost the economy”!).
While acknowledging that one can have an opinion on business matters without ever having run a business, Tenebrarum added that “anyone who has struggled with establishing a small business in hostile bastions of socialism in the EU such as France” would be stunned by Stiglitz’s statement that “the level of corporate taxation has little effect on investment.” Tenebrarum’s own take on this claim:
This is spoken like a life-long leftist academic and bureaucrat who has never created one iota of real wealth in his life, who has never taken any personal risk or ever had to worry about paying someone else’s wages. Anyone who has ever taken the risks about which Mr. Stiglitz evidently knows nothing will confirm how utterly misinformed this comment is. In Europe, the entrepreneurial spirit has been completely crushed in many places due to extremely high taxation and massive over-regulation. And yet, how does Stiglitz believe new wealth is going to be produced? It’s not going to drop from the sky, that much is certain.
And that, in the end, is perhaps the most important thing that needs to be said about the economic preferences, proposals, pretenses, and prognostications of Columbia University’s own Professor Stiglitz.
On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’ve spent the last few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a former Israeli official.
His name is Yossi Beilin. He held four ministerial positions in the Israeli government, was the guy who kicked off the process that culminated in the Oslo Accords, and is considered a major figure in the Israeli peace movement. Now, as James Kirchick reported on September 11, Beilin has a new job: he’s involved with something called the Ukrainian Institute of Strategies of Global Development and Adaptation, which was founded last December and is run by Viktor Levytskyy (sic), a former official in the pro-Kremlin government of Viktor Yanukovych. The institute’s goal, Kirchick explains, is to “promote…Ukraine’s neutrality as well as the idea that Russia’s assault on the country is a ‘civil war.’” In other words, it’s a propaganda outfit, designed to whitewash Putin.
And whatever they’re paying him, Beilin has apparently been earning his keep. In op-eds, he’s criticized arms shipments to the pro-Western Ukrainian government, demanded a promise that Ukraine won’t join NATO, opposed the idea of NATO arming the Baltics, condemned sanctions on Russia as “unproductive,” and even proposed that Ukraine be divided into two nations.
In other words, he’s been serving up arguments that are entirely predicated on a Big Lie – the lie that a brutal invasion of a sovereign country by a totalitarian power is, in fact, a domestic crisis, an internal struggle. Like many of Putin’s other international supporters, he acts as if Putin has some kind of natural right to annex Ukrainian territory and to veto decisions by Ukraine (or, for that matter, the Baltic states) to join NATO. This, by the way, from a man who – as Kirchick points out – had “shown absolutely no public interest” in Ukraine until he hooked up with Levytskyy a few months ago.
And why did Levytskyy hire Beilin? Kirchick has the answer: “the institute clearly hopes to trade on his name as an internationally recognized peace-seeker, providing a gloss of legitimization to its agenda of discrediting Ukraine’ post-Yanukovych government.” Kirchick also raises the question: who exactly is behind this “institute”? The reigning theory appears to be that Levytskyy is a front for Oleksandr Klymenko, his thuggish ex-boss, who ran the government tax agency under Yanukovych and who in April, owing to charges of “massive tax fraud” (we’re talking billions), was sanctioned by the European Union, which froze his assets and denied him the right to enter the EU.
These, then, are the kinds of creeps with whom Yossi Beilin has now aligned himself. Back home in Israel, his name was once synonymous with efforts for peace; now, he’s signed on to defend a remorseless warmonger. Every prostitute has a price.
On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrates his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending today and the next few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a couple of Hungary’s top dogs.
It’s not every day that a prime minister publicly declares his determination to turn his country into an “illiberal” state. Granted, more than a few heads of government, as we’ve seen on this site, are working hard toward that very goal, but they usually don’t go out of their way to advertise it. Yet that’s precisely what Hungarian PM Viktor Orban did last year. And the reason he gave for wanting to make Hungary “illiberal” was that, in his view, Vladimir Putin has done such a terrific job of making Russia an “illiberal” success story.
Orban, you see, is a big fan of Putin. In fact, to quote the Telegraph, he’s done such an effective job of “harassing civil liberty groups, clamping down on the press and entrenching his grip on power” that critics have called him a “little Putin.” In February, the Russian president visited Orban in – as the Telegraph put it – “an attempt to show the world he still has a friend in the EU despite East-West tension over Ukraine.” The visit was marked by a sizable protest one of whose organizers warned that Hungary, which in the years after the fall of the Iron Curtain seemed like a solid democracy and U.S. ally in the making, is “getting ever closer to the Russian model and farther from the European one.” In short, Orban’s plans are working.
Orban announced his country’s new direction in a speech given on July 26 of last year. “The new state that we are building in Hungary today,” he declared, “is not a liberal state. It doesn’t deny liberalism’s basic values such as freedom but doesn’t make it a core element. It uses a particular, nationalist approach.” As Tim McNamara explained in Policy Review not long after the speech, Orban’s “populist nationalism” peddles the concept of Hungarian exceptionalism, depicts the EU and US as enemies, demonizes opponents of his ruling Fidesz Party, works to close down foreign-funded civil-society groups, and uses a combination of methods (described by McNamara as “remarkably similar…to what has happened in Russia”) to intimidate, bankrupt, buy off, seduce, or just plain crush opposition media. Yet leaders of the European Union (which Hungary joined in 2004) have been pretty much silent about this systematic violation of purported EU values.
And what about NATO, of which Hungary has been a member since 1999? In a time when other countries in Russia’s neighborhood are uneasy about Putin’s saber-rattling and are begging for a stronger NATO presence within their borders, how can Orban’s government possibly be seen as a reliable partner in the defense pact and not as the likely ally of a potential aggressor? As Keith Johnson wrote about Hungary in Foreign Policy last November, “While Europe and the United States are trying to build a common front to push back against Russian aggression…one member of the team seems to be switching jerseys.”
This April, the Economist brought what might have seemed like hopeful tidings: “a row with America over corruption, Mr Orban’s cosying up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the flashy lifestyles of some Fidesz leaders” were eroding the ruling party’s support among the Hungarian electorate. But in fact it looks more as if Hungary is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire: for as Fidesz falters, more and more Hungarian voters are turning to another party, Jobbik, which has its own “paramilitary wing” and a platform that makes Fidesz look like Amnesty International. Jobbik doesn’t try to hide its savage contempt for (among much else) gays, Jews, and Israel. And let’s not forget the U.S., which, according to party leader Gábor Vona, is engaged in the vile business of “spread[ing] a subhuman culture” around the world.
Meanwhile, guess whom Vona is cozying up to? In the last couple of years, he’s lectured in Moscow on invitation from Putin intimate Aleksandr Dugin – who calls for “the restoration of the Russian Empire through the unification of Russian-speaking territories” and seeks to “hasten the ‘end of times’ with all out war” – and praised Putin’s Russia as a “Eurasian power that could spearhead a real political, economic and cultural resistance against the Euro-Atlantic block.” (It’s no coincidence that Vona was head of the Hungarian-Russian friendship group in the Hungarian Parliament.) Writing last year in Foreign Affairs, Mitchell A. Orenstein stated flatly that “Putin has taken the Jobbik party under his wing.”
What more do we need to know? The facts are clear: barring some thoroughly unforeseen development, Hungary will in all likelihood either continue to be governed by Fidesz during the next few years or pass into the hands of Jobbik. Which means that this strategically located member of the EU and NATO seems destined to become more and more of a satellite (and Xerox copy) of Putin’s Russia.
It’s a sad prospect for the Hungarian people – and a dangerous one for Europe and the West. In other words, just what Putin wants.
We’ve recently discussed James Carden, the Nation contributor and Putin apologist (excuse the redundancy) who in an epically long May article smeared a thoroughgoing report on pro-Putin propaganda in the West. What has Carden been up to since? Well, in early July, a videowas posted online in which Carden and three other admirers of the Kremlin honcho had, or pretended to have, a conversation in which they addressed the question: “Is the invitation for Ukraine to join Europe’s economic association a means to expand NATO’s jurisdiction?” The conversation could not be called a debate, because all four were in total agreement on every major point, and in fact the word conversation is probably not the best choice, either, given that the video, a rather slick production, was obviously edited and also bore traces of being at least partly scripted, coached, or planned. In other words, it had the feel not of a free-wheeling, spontaneous discussion but of a well-packaged piece of propaganda.
About the videotape. It was recorded at the offices of Verso Books, the self-described “radical” publishing house that was founded in 1970 by the staff of the New Left Review. It was posted at therealnews.com, a radical “news” website that callsitself “the missing link in the global media landscape” (one of its directors is Danny Glover, whose useful stoogery we’ll get around to in the next few days). The Nation itself appears to have had something to do with putting it together. And the person identified as the moderator of the discussion, Alexander Reed Kelly, is an editor at truthdig.com, another radical “news” site that describes itself as “drilling beneath the headlines.” In short, a far-left perfect storm.
Along with Carden and Kelly, the participants in this discussion were Michael Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Jeffrey Sommers, a professor of political economy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Hudson and Sommers are something of a pro-Putin, anti-capitalist tag team who have collaborated on articles in which they’ve (for example) compared the Koch brothers to “Russia’s oligarchs.”
The description of the chat furnished at the Real News website added helpfully that the four men “explain why Russia may not be able to tolerate a foreign military alliance along its western border.” Make of that wording what you will; we found it interesting, especially given that at no point did any of these men betray the remotest interest in the question of why the free nations along that border – among them not only the Baltic republics, Poland, and Ukraine, but also, let’s not forget, Norway and Finland – should be expected to tolerate an increasingly aggressive and increasingly dictatorial power along their borders without choosing to enter voluntarily into a defensive alliance with one another as well as with other free nations willing to help protect them from invasion.
But then again, Carden and his three colleagues claim not to consider NATO a defensive alliance. Not anymore, anyway. The crisis between Russia and the West, Carden insisted, “is being driven by the desire to put Ukraine into NATO,” which, he said, no longer has anything to do with mutual defense. “We’re a long way from that now,” he maintained, and then served up this interesting assertion: “There’s something very wrong with the idea that NATO and the European Union have to expand to include nearly the entirety of the former Soviet space.” Pause, if you will, over those last four words: “the former Soviet space.” This seems a curious way to refer to those countries that were freed from the Kremlin yoke. Carden can fairly be read here, it seems to us, as implying some kind of lingering right, on the part of the Kremlin, to have a say in what goes on in that “space.”
When Kelly suggested that there was an “understanding” after the fall of Soviet Union that NATO wouldn’t ever expand eastward, Sommers agreed, and opined that it’s “foolish” for NATO to be “taking former Soviet territory” – a formulation that leaves little doubt that Sommers, at least, believes that Moscow should indeed have something resembling a veto right over what happens in “former Soviet territory.” This eastward expansion by NATO, Sommers added, has given “the Russian leadership…tremendous pause regarding the United States’ intentions,” as if it were at all reasonable to think that Putin & co. really believe NATO has any designs on their turf. Sommers then expressed a tender regard for Russian concern about “the military advance of an alliance up to its borders,” citing past invasions of Russia from the west (by Napoleon, in 1812, and Hitler, in 1941) as reasons for that concern; needless to say, Sommers showed no similar regard for the concerns of the Baltic republics and other Eastern European countries, which have been brutally violated by Russia on multiple occasions over the centuries, and all of which have been under the Russian boot within living memory, with Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 experiencing Soviet incursions that cruelly crushed efforts at democratic reform within their borders.
Hudson chimed in by saying that “today the aim of NATO is to make Europe insecure against the Soviet [sic!] threat” and that “it is as if the Americans were trying to prod Putin into doing something intemperate.” In short, NATO is “restarting the Cold War.” Sommers concurred: “NATO is a force for instability and its increasing the possibility for military conflict.” He rejected the idea that Putin’s an aggressor, claiming that good ol’ Vlad is actually “somewhat of a moderate” when it comes to having imperial designs on former Soviet states, and that, indeed, he’s “a restraining force” against other top Kremlin figures who, given their druthers, wouch take over the whole Ukraine tomorrow. Carden echoed this assessment: Putin’s a “moderate” who’s “surrounded by hawks.” All of which is kind of like saying to an Italian in the 1930s: “Be grateful you’re living under Mussolini; you could be living under Hitler.”