|(Note: ETAN and others picketed outside this event.)
HOLD ON A MINUTE...: ST
RUPERT'S NEW HALO DOESN'T QUITE FIT
TOM LEHRER abandoned his piano and stifled the urge to write satirical songs in 1973 when Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize. Lehrer reasonably concluded that, if the man who had bombed neutral Cambodia 'back to the Stone Age' was to be blessed as a peacemaker, 'political satire had become obsolete'.
What then would be the reasonable response to the following full-page advertisement in this week's issue of Variety, 'The International Entertainment Weekly'?
Under the headline 'Leading the way to a Better World', the United Jewish Appeal Federation proudly informs readers that at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York City, on 29 May its Humanitarian of the Year Award will be bestowed by Dr Henry A. Kissinger. The winner is none other than Rupert Murdoch, 'on behalf of his global philanthropic efforts'.
A grotesque joke? A call to Norman Eisenberg, the federation's director of corporate affairs, reveals that Murdoch and Kissinger will be feted with saccharine sincerity. Murdoch was being honoured for supporting Israel and upholding human rights, particularly the human rights of persecuted Jews in the former Soviet Union. Kissinger had been 'a controversial figure' in the Seventies, Eisenberg conceded, but the controversy had died down after 'a couple of years'.
The federation is not a home for the brutal crazies of the Jewish religious Right. Much of the $ 700 million a year it raises goes to helping Jews settle in Israel. But no money is spent in the occupied territories. Palestinians may wonder on whose land the immigrants will find a home, but by American standards federation members are moderates. Tickets are $ 1,000-a-head and Eisenberg's colleagues are confident that 1,000 guests, mainly from the film industry, will pay to watch the spectacle in the hotel's grand ballroom.
These people are, in short, serious. And we must be, too. First, there is the parochial matter, which may interest the federation, of the support the born-again Christian Murdoch gave to TV evangelist Pat Robertson when he ran for the US presidency in 1988. As well as claiming to cure cancer victims and turn away hurricanes with the power of prayer, Robertson thinks he has found a 'conspiracy of European bankers' against America in which the Jewish Rothschild family provides the 'missing link between the occult and the world of high finance'. I don't know about you, but I'm sure I have heard about this conspiracy before.
In his biography, Full Disclosure, Andrew Neil, ex-editor of the Sunday Times, describes his former boss as 'much more right-wing than is generally thought'. He buys the Moral Majority's combination of free markets, tough laws and no abortions as a job lot and told Neil in 1988: 'You can say what you like, but he (Robertson) is right on all the issues.'
On the wider stage, both Kissinger and Murdoch have been busily displaying their humanitarianism in the Nineties. Kissinger, admittedly, has been handicapped by being out of office since 1976. His last acts of statesmanship were to cut off American aid to the revolting Kurds of Iraq, leaving them to the mercy of Saddam Hussein, and to sanction Indonesia's genocidal invasion of East Timor in which between 100,000 and 200,000 were killed.
Yet, despite his disabilities, he has still been able to bow the knee to brute force. He was hired by US companies to lobby the Chinese government, which remembers him as the architect of Richard Nixon's detente with China. After the Tiananmen Square massacre, he excused the killing and argued against sanctions. He is always ready to deliver sermons against the West 'imposing' its human rights standards on Beijing.
Last year the Richard Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom in Washington - I promise you, I'm not making this up - named Lee Kuan Yew, the authoritarian ruler of Singapore, 'an Architect of the New Century'.
Even some former Nixon officials found this grovelling before power too much to stomach. But Kissinger was happy. 'I enthusiastically endorse his coming here,' he said at the ceremony. 'He's a great man.'
Murdoch has been equally eager to serve the Chinese. He threw BBC World Service TV off his Star-TV Asian satellite broadcasting company because the BBC's straight reporting on China was annoying Beijing. Murdoch's HarperCollins has published Robert Maxwell-style hagiographies of the late Deng Xiaoping. And the political chief of the People's Daily, the regime's mouthpiece, was invited to London by Murdoch's Times.
Neil is certain he lost his job as Sunday Times editor after he threatened Murdoch's potential to expand in the Far East. The Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, did not like stories of kickbacks and the illegal use Britain made of its aid budget to build the Pergau dam in return for an arms deal. Neil quotes a British diplomat saying that Mahathir 'made it clear that Murdoch would never do business in his country again as long as Andrew Neil was editor'.
While dictators are cosseted, wet democrats are treated with contempt. Kissinger started the paranoid fear of leaks which led to the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation. For good measure, he helped to overthrow the democratic government of Chile. Murdoch and his newspapers loved Margaret Thatcher and her government, which all but gave Britain Lord Hailsham's 'elective dictatorship', but despises her weak successor. He has every right to be scornful. As last week's Observer revealed, Thatcher (the last Prime Minister), John Major (the current Prime Minister) and Tony Blair (the next Prime Minister) debased themselves - and us - by begging him for his empire's support.
What would Lehrer make of a world where Kissinger, a man stained with everyone's blood but his own, and Murdoch, the dictators' courtier, are the stars at a humanitarian dinner? I hadn't the faintest idea, so I phoned him.
Despite the provocation given by events since 1973, he has not fled to Paraguay and joined a monastic order or locked himself in his piano and refused to come out. He is teaching maths at the University of California in Santa Cruz and sounded very chirpy until I told him about Kissinger and Murdoch. 'Oh dear,' he said. 'I suppose it's like Mother Teresa winning Woman of the Year from the Planned Parenthood Federation. It's mind-boggling.'
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