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Did Golda Meir let the Yom Kippur War happen? ‘Golda’ biopic aims to rehabilitate her image.

(JTA) — Golda Meir, the first and so far only woman prime minister of Israel, is a figure as shrouded in mythology as she is veiled by plumes of cigarette smoke in “Golda,” a new political drama starring Helen Mirren.

Meir has been called Israel’s “Iron Lady,” alternately lionized as a founder of the state, scorned for her dismissive statements about Palestinians and, most notoriously, held responsible for Israel being caught by surprise at the outbreak of the bloody Yom Kippur War of 1973. The film recreates Meir’s experience during the 19 days of that war, which would indelibly mark both her legacy and the Israeli consciousness. Directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won an Oscar for his 2018 short film “Skin,” “Golda” opens in theaters across the United States on Friday.

Generations of Israelis, including many who fought in 1973, have blamed Meir for a traumatizing war. But Nattiv offers a different portrait, building on recently declassified wartime documents that reveal how she was disastrously misinformed by her complacent military commanders. He presents Meir as a steely, ruthless yet vulnerable woman, tortured by guilt and motivated by the belief that she was defending her country from extinction.

“She was the scapegoat of the war,” Nattiv told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The notion was that she was the only person responsible for this debacle, this failure, and it wasn’t true.”

Nattiv himself was 4 months old when war broke out on Oct. 6, 1973 — Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar — and his mother took him to a bomb shelter while his father headed to the front.

In a colossal intelligence failure, Israel was surprised by a two-front attack from Egypt and Syria, which sought to regain territories they lost in 1967. Many Israelis were overconfident after their young country’s swift victory over three Arab armies in the 1967 Six-Day​​ War. But in the first 24 hours of the Yom Kippur War, thinly manned Israeli positions were overwhelmed along the Suez Canal in the southwest and the Golan Heights in the northeast.

Eventually, Israel won a costly victory: 2,656 Israeli soldiers were killed and 12,000 injured, a heavy toll for a small state. The Arab forces saw 8,258 killed and nearly 20,000 wounded. The national trauma of 1973 turned the public against Meir, previously admired for her long political career that included being a founder of Israel’s Labor Party and raising $50 million from Jewish Americans for the establishment of an Israeli state.

“Golda” frames Meir’s experiences as flashbacks during her testimony to the Agranat Commission of Inquiry, which investigated Israel’s military failings leading up to the war. Although the commission cleared her of wrongdoing, she decided to resign. Four years later, after secretly battling lymphoma for 15 years, Meir died at 80 years old.

Nattiv sought to humanize her with a focus on the isolated, agonizing days of war taking place in the twilight of her life, spent in between war rooms and hospital beds.

“I wanted to show the most pivotal moment in her life and in this country’s life, this junction that shaped her whole image, while she was sick and had to make difficult decisions,” said Nattiv. “I wanted to tell her story through loneliness.”

Nattiv also shows Meir in the place where her political edge converged with a tender instinct: her intimate home kitchen. Like the real Meir, Mirren’s version cooks for the select group of advisors who enter her home. The prime minister was known for serving cheesecake and apple strudel to her powerful guests on Shabbat evenings, accompanied by consultations and debates around the table. The practice became known as “Golda’s Little Kitchen” or her “Kitchen Cabinet.”

Among Meir’s kitchen guests was then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, played in the film by Liev Schreiber. Nattiv recreates the tense conversations in which Meir pressured Kissinger to send aid for the Israeli army, whose reserve ammunition was rapidly exhausted in the early shock of the war. The United States, at first hesitant to lose its own access to oil from Arab countries, agreed to send weapons and aircraft to Israel when the Soviet Union began resupplying Egypt and Syria, drawing the Yom Kippur War into the Cold War.

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir and Liev Schreiber as Henry Kissinger in “Golda.” (Sean Gleason/Courtesy of Bleecker Street/Shiv Hans Pictures)

In the film, Kissinger tells Meir that he is an American first, secretary of state second, and only third a Jew. Meir replies, “You forget in Israel we read from right to left.”

This quote was taken directly from history: The 100-year-old former diplomat has long publicly recounted Meir delivering the line. (He has not publicly said whether the coercion came with a bowl of borscht and a dollop of Holocaust guilt, as shown in the film.)

While Meir was tough with her allies and brutal to her adversaries, “Golda” portrays the prime minister as a victim of her own advisors in the film. She is shown taking the fall for the egregious errors of her military leaders — in particular Chief of Military Intelligence Eli Zeira and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan — to protect the public’s faith in its army.

Documents declassified in 2020 showed that Zeira ignored intelligence warnings that Cairo and Damascus were poised to attack, withholding the communications from the government in his belief that the chance of imminent war was “lower than low.” Meanwhile, Dayan objected to fully mobilizing troops in the hours before the war, according to his testimony to the Agranat Commission, which was declassified in 2008.

“Golda” does not address the widely leveled criticism that Meir could have avoided war altogether. For months preceding the attacks, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made repeated overtures for a peace settlement if Israel agreed to return the Sinai Peninsula, which it seized during the Six-Day War. He was rebuffed.

Documents released in 2013 showed that Meir did offer to discuss ceding “most of the Sinai,” but since she was not willing to return completely to the pre-1967 borders, Egypt rejected the talks. In back-channel communications with Kissinger, Meir vowed to prevent any peace initiative that required recognizing Egyptian sovereignty over the Sinai, according to Israeli historian Yigal Kipnis, author of the 2012 book “1973: The Road to War.”

As a result of the bitter war, Israel and Egypt signed a disengagement agreement in January 1974. In 1979, following U.S.-brokered negotiations at Camp David, Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty. Egypt became the first Arab state to officially recognize Israel, and Israel withdrew fully from the Sinai Peninsula.

Nattiv credits the ensuing peace to Meir, with a title card at the end of the film reading, “Her legacy of saving her country from annihilation leading to peace serves as her memorial.”

But critics such as  Kipnis have argued that peace might have been achieved sooner with negotiations before the conflict that, he has suggested, could be called the “unnecessary war.”

Meir will always be a controversial figure in Israel, said Nattiv. Whatever judgment the audience makes of her, he believes it is important for Israeli audiences to absorb how leadership blinded by hubris and power can poison a society. He referenced the current political crisis in Israel, in which Prime Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to weaken the Israeli Supreme Court have triggered mass protests that have been ongoing since January.

“It’s kind of crazy that today we see the Yom Kippur of democracy in Israel,” said Nattiv. “The blindness again, the same debacle that happened in 1973 is returning now.”

The post Did Golda Meir let the Yom Kippur War happen? ‘Golda’ biopic aims to rehabilitate her image. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group

Israel is at a crucial juncture after Iran fired more than 350 ballistic and cruise missiles at the Jewish state overnight on April 13, according to Israel’s ambassador to Canada. “We are facing one of the most critical moments in the history of the State of Israel when a country like Iran starts an attack […]

The post Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgThe solemnly named International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has become an arena for the world’s despots and authoritarians to strut and grandstand, projecting their own abuses—torture, censorship, genocide—onto the world’s democracies.

The anti-democratic crusade waged in the name of human rights has impacted Israel more than any other state. The Jewish state is subjected to insulting and, frankly, frivolous lawsuits every time it tries to discharge its basic duty of protecting its citizens—whether that was the security fence constructed along the West Bank border more than a decade ago or the war against Hamas in Gaza right now.

Since the onset of the latest war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the monstrous Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Israel has been the focus of a baseless charge of genocide brought about by South Africa, which largely failed in its bid to make the accusation stick. Many observers pointed out that South Africa’s worsening domestic record—marked by corruption, horrific xenophobia towards migrants from other countries in southern Africa and an inability to deliver basic services like electricity and clean water to those who need them most—hardly qualifies its African National Congress (ANC)-led government to sit in judgment over Israel. Yet Pretoria has continued undeterred, at the same time that it welcomes Hamas leaders for state visits and treats its Jewish community—and anyone else who dares utter understanding for Israel—with unvarnished antisemitism.

Now the baton has passed to Nicaragua, which last week sent its lawyers to the ICJ to charge Germany with aiding and abetting Israel’s supposed “genocide.” The bitter irony is that it is Nicaragua’s far-left leadership, aligned with the dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, that should be in the dock.

Daniel Ortega has been in power in Nicaragua since 2007, and he’s not going anywhere—at least, not voluntarily. Some readers will remember Ortega’s name from the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the Iran-Contra scandal that followed during the subsequent decade. But you don’t have to dig deep into that history to get a sense of the kind of regime that he runs. As Freedom House—an NGO that monitors the state of liberty around the world—explains it, the latest period of Ortega’s rule has been “a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms and unchecked corruption in government.”

In the last year alone, the Nicaraguan regime has expelled more than 200 opposition leaders into exile in the United States. It has passed new legislation to strip those deemed “traitors to the homeland” of their citizenship. It has turned the police into an arm of the executive, trampling over the separation of powers that democracies hold so dear. In many ways, this new wave of repression is an outgrowth of the regime’s brutal clampdown on anti-government protests in 2018. Abroad, meanwhile, its authoritarian domestic policy is matched by unflinching support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and a close bond with the Iranian regime, North Korea and other rogue states.

This, in short, is the character of the regime that has brought charges of “genocide” against Israel by targeting Germany’s supply of arms to the Jewish state—as if a serial sex offender was to opportunistically cry out, “rape!”

Why is Nicaragua embarking on this path at the ICJ? Some insight was provided by a German journalist who specializes in Latin American affairs, Toni Keppeler, during an interview last week with Swiss radio. Noting that Nicaragua is quite isolated among the world’s states, Keppeler suggested that the ICJ lawsuit was seen by Ortega as a means of boosting his international image. And Germany, he added, was a much safer bet than the United States, which supplies far more weapons to Israel, because America can punish Nicaragua in ways that Germany couldn’t or wouldn’t. He also noted that Ortega wants to be embraced by left-wing groups around the world. And so the Nicaraguan caudillo figures, not unreasonably, that bandwagoning on the Palestinian cause they are obsessed with is the way he will achieve that.

But there is another, more sinister reason behind Nicaragua’s action. Ultimately, these cases against Israel at the ICJ are aimed at shifting public perceptions of Israel and its history, and in particular, the influence of the Holocaust upon support for Israel in the democratic world. One of the reasons why Germany supports Israel is simply because it was the country that initiated the mass slaughter of Jews during World War II. Since 1945, democratic Germany has been guided by entirely different principles, elevating its backing for Israel into a staatsrason—“reason of state.” Indeed, as I noted recently, one of the several questions about Jews and Israel on the newly reformulated naturalization test for prospective immigrants to Germany asks, “What is the basis of Germany’s special responsibility to Israel?” with the correct answer being “The crimes of national socialism.”

That is how it should be, but for the international left, such a stance is intolerable. In their jaundiced eyes, Germany has atoned for the Holocaust by backing the nakba—the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used by many Palestinians to describe the creation of modern-day Israel in 1948. Germany’s position irritatingly reminds the world that Jews were once victims of nightmarish genocide themselves—hardly the sort of fact you’d want to highlight if your purpose is to turn them into victims once again. And so, Nicaragua’s lawyers (including, disgracefully, a German citizen named Daniel Muller) have trooped into the ICJ to argue that supporting the Jewish state is the wrong way to express solidarity with Jews.

The goal here, make no mistake, is to separate the Holocaust from Israel and to argue that the one entity in the world capable of preventing another Holocaust is actually sowing its seeds! It’s topsy-turvy logic, but if it works effectively as propaganda, generating meme after meme on social media, why worry about that?

Hence we arrive at a situation where the 15 ICJ judges debate a phantom genocide while turning a blind eye to genuine examples of this phenomenon, along with other related crimes. “The government of Nicaragua is perpetrating widespread violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity,” the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect Project noted in a briefing back in February, but you won’t hear a peep about that in the ICJ’s corridors. Ditto for Turkey’s racist treatment of its Kurdish minority, and indeed, for the myriad other examples of government-sponsored cruelty on every continent.

This is yet another demonstration of antisemitism, insofar as antisemitism applies to standards for Jews that no other nation has to contend with. That is the ugly reality behind these fanciful appeals to “international law” that plague Israel. Germany is now receiving a glimpse of what that feels like but only because of its relationship with Israel—otherwise, this case would never have been brought to court.

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Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties

Former US President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.“Israel has taken more steps to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history. … Steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties [are] historic in comparison to all these other wars.” — John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies, West Point, Feb. 17, 2024

“[Immediately after taking office] Obama authorized two Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, which, combined, killed an estimated one militant and 10 civilians, including between four and five children.” — Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2016

In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes … in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured … with little accountability.” — Amnesty International at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Council hearing, Feb. 9, 2022

The recent accidental deaths of seven foreign aid workers with World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip have sparked an eruption of anti-Israel vitriol that highlights the vicious Judeophobic prejudice that is sweeping much of the globe today. This is something that defies all and any tenets of morality and reason. Indeed, by any conceivable criterion of human decency, there is no conflict in recent history in which the gulf between good and evil, wanton barbarism and humanitarian restraint, has been so clearly delineated as that between the protagonists in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Painstaking Israeli restraint

The tragedy of collateral damage has been a lamentable aspect of warfare ever since nation-states began to displace dynastic monarchies as the dominant structural element in the international system and perhaps even before that.

Rarely if ever has one of the belligerent parties—let alone the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack on its civilians—demonstrated such painstaking care to avoid harm befalling enemy civilians as Israel. This is reflected in the unequivocal declaration of the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations, the Israel Defense Forces … does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

In Gaza, the vulnerability of non-combatants is greatly exacerbated by the malicious actions of their leaders, who cynically exploit them by deliberately placing them in harm’s way and coercively preventing them from seeking safe havens. Thus, as a Wall Street Journal piece underscores, “Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.”

Israel setting ‘gold standard’ for avoiding civilian casualties

The chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer, described Israel’s achievements in avoiding collateral damage as “unprecedented,” particularly given the complex combat conditions in Gaza above and below ground. According to Spencer, Israel is setting the “gold standard” for avoiding civilian casualties.

Likewise, Kemp praised the IDF for its record of avoiding civilian casualties during its operations in Gaza and pointed out that the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in Gaza is about 1:1.5, while according to the United Nations, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in urban warfare in general is 1:9—six times higher.

The issue of civilian casualties in Gaza is hugely complicated by Hamas’s heinous practice of exploiting medical facilities as a cover for its terror activities. This includes the copiously documented abuse of ambulances for the transportation of terror-related personnel and materiel.

Israeli moderation is underscored by comparison to non-combatant fatalities in other military encounters involving democracies at war. In World War II, nearly 600,000 European civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombardment of German cities that were reduced to rubble and ashes. Moreover, cities in other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe were bombarded—including their non-combatant civilian residents. One of the most grisly and tragic of these events occurred in Copenhagen in March 1945, when the RAF was sent to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in the city. It inadvertently hit a nearby school, killing 123 Danish civilians, including 87 schoolchildren.

Then there were the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—neither of which was ever designated as a military target—of whom between 100,000 to 200,000 were incinerated and irradiated by the U.S. atomic bombings in early August 1945.

“There is always a cost to defeat an evil.”

Half a century later, after hundreds of thousands were killed by American bombing in the Vietnam War, NATO launched a war against Serbia. The NATO campaign consisted of high altitude—and hence far from accurate—bombing raids that regularly hit civilian targets. These targets included residential neighborhoods, old-age homes, hospitals, open-air markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses, trains on bridges and even a foreign embassy.

When then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was pressed on the issue of the significant numbers of civilian casualties, he responded, “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.” This is exactly how Israelis feel about the war against Hamas.

These were not the only post-World War II instances of pervasive human suffering caused by large-scale U.S.-led military operations.

More babies died in Iraq than in Hiroshima

After Saddam Hussein’s 1991 takeover of Kuwait, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Iraq and dispatched forces to repel the invasion. Even after Hussein was evicted from Kuwait, sanctions and military operations continued. These measures resulted in tremendous suffering for the civilian population. The scale of it can be gauged by a 1996 60 Minutes interview with the late Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and secretary of state under Bill Clinton. Albright was quizzed by the interviewer Leslie Stahl about the ravages the U.S.-led measures wrought on the Iraqi population.

Stahl asked,We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

Of course, it should be underscored that—unlike Israel’s post-Oct. 7 response to a massacre of its citizens on its sovereign territory—at this (pre-9/11) time, neither the U.S. homeland nor any U.S. resident had been harmed by the Iraqi regime.

‘A tremendous human toll … ’

In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks in which almost 3,000 people died, a U.S.-led military coalition (in which the U.K. played a prominent role) invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and uproot Al-Qaeda. The Oct. 7 massacre was—in proportion to Israel’s population—almost 35 times the toll of the 9/11 atrocity; the equivalent of almost 50,000 U.S. fatalities.

Although reliable figures regarding the toll the war inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan and neighboring countries are not easy to obtain, an estimate published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs states, “The U.S. post-9/11 wars … have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries.” It presents a 2021 assessment that almost 47,000 Afghani civilians were killed, but adds a proviso that “several times … more have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars,” including through “water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and war-related disease.”

Thousands of civilians hit ‘with little accountability’

U.S. strikes in which indisputably civilian targets were hit are a matter of record. During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, several weddings, parties and processions were struck by drones—inflicting hundreds of fatalities, including women and children. Such strikes took place not only in Afghanistan but in other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and more distant Iraq, Yemen, Libya and even Somalia.

Summing up the consequences of the U.S. strikes, Amnesty International USA stated: “In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes and U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. air strikes (both using drones and manned aircraft) with little accountability.”

Finally. the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition—launched on the dubious or at least unsubstantiated allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction—wrought untold misery on millions of Iraqi civilians and a death toll upwards of 300,000 non-combatants.

Closing caveat

The current vogue of berating Israel is both unfounded and unfair. Lending this abuse support or sympathy will only serve to fan the flames of today’s smoldering embers of hatred that will eventually engulf those who propagate it.

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