Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Treacherous crossings

There's a tradition of switching sides in politics.
The trick is not to switch to the wrong side

Toward the end of what is probably John LeCarre's finest espionage novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), Jim Haydon, a Soviet mole at the pinnacle of British counter-intelligence, justifies his betrayal of Queen and Country to George Smiley ­ the spymaster who exposed Haydon ­ by blaming London's relationship with Washington.

Writes LeCarre: "He hated America, very deeply, he said, and Smiley supposed he did."

"'It's an aesthetic judgment as much as anything,' he explained, looking up. 'Partly a moral one, of course.'

'Of course,' said Smiley politely."

THIS SCENE came to mind after Moscow announced that George Koval, who died last year at 92, was on November 2 posthumously awarded the title of Hero ofthe Russian Federation by President Vladimir Putin ­ -- himself a former spy -- having infiltrated America's Manhattan Project, the secret plan to develop an atomic bomb during WWII and funneling its most precious secrets to Stalin.

Putin's announcement said Koval's work "helped speed up considerably the time it took for the Soviet Union to develop an atomic bomb of its own," which it exploded in August 1949.

Experts surmise Koval may well have been the most significant Soviet mole in the Manhattan Project.

George Koval's family was active in Jewish communist circles. He was born in Sioux City on Christmas Day, 1913. The family moved to the Soviet Union in 1932 during the Depression to help build a secular Jewish homeland -- Stalin's solution to the Jewish problem ­-- in Birobidjan, Siberia.

A bright boy, George ended up at Moscow's Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology and in 1934 was recruited ­-- not by the KGB, but apparently by the GRU (military intelligence) ­ -- as a deep-cover agent. He was sent back to the United States to conduct scientific espionage.

As Russia's luck would have it, Koval was drafted into America's top-secret nuclear program. He gained extraordinary access to the Manhattan Project largely because he was assigned to health and safety work ("making sure stray radiation did not harm workers").

As The New York Times put it last week, Koval had the perfect cover ­ "born in Iowa, college in Manhattan, army buddies with whom he played baseball."

Alas, there was no George Smiley to unmask this double agent. Instead, US counterintelligence agencies bickered among themselves (just as they did prior to 9/11) while Koval managed to escape back to the USSR.

Add Koval to the embarrassingly long list of Jewish-born spies and agents of influence who betrayed America for the Soviet Union. They did so not necessarily because they hated America, but because they were intoxicated by the messianic ideal of Marxism-Leninism.

WHETHER IN politics, sports, religion or in our private lives, it's hard to think of anything worse than duplicity.

In LeCarre's Tinker, Tailor, Haydon not only betrays Britain as a Soviet double agent, he also carries on an affair with Smiley's wife, Ann ­ -- a double betrayal.

Still, not every shift in loyalty is necessarily treasonous.

Giving aid and information to the enemy clearly is; so is violating oaths of allegiance or acting clandestinely on behalf an enemy power. Taking money from a foreign power to influence the policies of your own country is, arguably, a form of betrayal.

But abandoning one's political or religious orientation, going from Right toLeft (or vice versa), or from secular to ultra-Orthodox (or vice versa), maybe a "betrayal" of earlier values, it may hurt those close to you ­ but it'sno crime. It's not treason.

People change sides. Sometimes they cite ideology when the motivation may be purely personal (an affront of some sort, perhaps). Sometimes we never know the motivation.

Take Tom Dine, for instance, who once headed the America Israel PublicAffairs Committee (AIPAC), went on to run Radio Free Europe, later took charge of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation, and has now gone over to AIPAC's dovish counterpart, the Israel Policy Forum.

There he joins MJ Rosenberg ­ another former AIPAC staffer ­ and, for my money, the single most articulate advocate for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines now engaged in Israel-related polemics.

OF COURSE, AIPAC doesn't need a dovish counterpart because it never was the right-wing bastion its critics claim.

Indeed, AIPAC does not lobby forIsrael ­ it lobbies on behalf of the pro-Israel American community ­-- both liberal and conservative.

It has always sought to balance the desires of this heterogenous constituency while attempting to work in sync with whatever Israeli government happens to be in power ­-- Left, Right or center.

AIPAC never, to my knowledge, supported Jewish sovereignty in Judea, Samaria or Gaza, or the retention of the Territories in perpetuity. That makes AIPAC the quintessential centrist organization.

Nevertheless, the Israel Policy Forum was established in 1993 in the wake of the Oslo Accords and is today a sort of shadow opposition to AIPAC. Like Americans for Peace Now, the New Israel Fund and others, the Israel PolicyForum could be accused of being intoxicated by a messianic ideal of its own: Palestine and Israel living side by side in celestial harmony.

The group is led by the esteemed Park Avenue lawyer Seymour Reich, who is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American JewishOrganizations.

As I understand it, IPF lobbies US decision-makers to pressure Israel into making what IPF sees as concessions to foster peace. They tell House members, senators and White House policymakers that far from there being negative political repercussions to such coercion, American Jews want what amounts to an Israeli pullback to the 1949 Armistice Lines (with minor modifications).

Maybe there's truth to that argument.

Most US Jews have never been to Israel, and can't possibly comprehend the strategic implications of the 1949 boundaries. And public opinion is malleable: Ask questions the right way and you can get the desired answers.

There's little doubt that having the IPF's Jewish imprimatur helps Washington politicians and policymakers get tough with Israel.

But let's be fair, with Vice Premier Haim Ramon a featured speaker at the group's Annual Leadership event set for December 3 in New York, no one can legitimately complain that the Israel Policy Forum is working at cross-purposes with the Kadima-led government.

This allows IPF to robustly champion the creation of a Palestinian state today, right now, in the West Bank, as if the Palestinian Arabs were genuinely geared up to live alongside Israel in peace; as if Ben-Gurion Airport could safely operate with sovereign Palestine situated on the adjacent hills; as if even moderate Palestinians had already accepted the existence of a sovereign Jewish state within the 1949 Armistice Lines.

THE FOLKS formerly with AIPAC or the Presidents Conference who have gone over to the IPF have every right to change political course, and even to try and redefine what being pro-Israel is all about.

Let's face it, there would have been no neo-conservative movement had people such as Irving Kristol not abandoned the moral relativism of Leon Trotsky.

Winston Churchill changed parties from Conservative to Liberal, and back again; Ronald Reagan went from the Democratic Party to the GOP.

Yet switching sides ­-- especially in the Jewish context -- ­ is only defensible if your move enhances Jewish continuity and the Zionist enterprise.

In other words, whether it's done transparently out of well-intentioned conviction, or surreptitiously and deceitfully, a la Hayden and Koval, crossing political lines, like everything we do, has consequences.

The consequences of the line the Israel Policy Forum has taken just happensto place the organization largely in harmony with the Palestinian negotiating position going into Annapolis.

And the last time I checked, the Palestinian negotiators weren't looking out for Jewish continuity or the welfare of the Zionist enterprise.

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