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Uzi Landau’s Hard Day In Denver

October 28, 2009

It was striking at the very least – two high level Israelis coming to Denver in one week.

It was hard to avoid concluding that Israel’s public relations machine was shifting into high gear throughout the United States. As Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former prime minister was having a hard time explaining Israel’s position to audiences in Chicago and San Francisco, two others, the current Israeli Minister of Infrastructure, Uzi Landau and Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat would be visiting our fine city over the course of a week. It was difficult not to wonder…what’s the deal?

It re-inforced my speculation that, while trying to play it `cool’, Israel is in fact in a panic over the Goldstone Report, the UN report that charges Israel with war crimes in its military offensive in Gaza. This is probably not far off the mark by the way, reflected in the reports that Congresswoman Ileana Rose Lehtinen, one of AIPAC’s favorites, is spearheading a congressional effort to get a resolution passed that would condemn and `reject’ the Goldstone Report.

But other things are going on here too, probably a little intra-community (Denver’s Jewish Community, that is) jockeying.

Little Interest In Landau’s Talk

Today Landau spoke on the Auraria Campus, sponsored by a student group at the University of Colorado/Denver called American-Israel Student Action Committee. Perhaps this group has been around for a while but this is the first time they have done a public event and it was quite curious. A lot of money was spent to fly Landau direct from Israel for this talk. Likewise a fair amount was spent on the multi-colored posters that were plastered all over the Auraria campus these last days. By any objective standard, the event was a flop. Concerning Landau himself, a friend described him in the following manner:

“simply put, the man is a thug. the turnout was poor, most of which are security personnel and his staff. The rest, less than 20 people came to challenge Landau, asking sharp questions that he had difficulty answering.”

As mentioned below (October 25 entry), Landau does seem to have impeccable thug credentials. validating my friend’s assessment. A former Israeli paratrooper, he was the Minister of Interior in the Ariel Sharon administration of 2001. He was in office when Rachel Corrie was killed and when Jenin was attacked. He is so far to the right that he quit the Sharon cabinet in a huff when Sharon announced the Gaza Disengagement Plan, thinking it too much of a give away. Then, as Sharon and Likud were not hard-line enough for Landau, he joined Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman’s xenophobic right wing party. The subject of his talk was `The Iranian Nuclear Threat and Regional Developments’..

But the contrast between the build up for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat could not be greater.

1. Barkat’s talk next week(Tues, November 3) at the University of Denver is being sponsored by none other than the governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter and the chancellor of the University of Denver, Robert Coombe. Such things do not happen without some pretty high powered lobbying from key Jewish Community power brokers. In contrast, the Landau visit seems more of a fly-by-night operation of some people who had a bit of money to throw around, wanting to upstage Barkat and attack him from the right.

2. Barkat’s visit has been much better publicized and supported within the Jewish Community and among circles sympathetic with Israel. There was virtually NO support in Denver’s Jewish Community for Landau, which in some ways gives a bit of hope from my modest perspective. This is a community that usually comes out in rather large numbers for Israeli speakers and although it is true there is currently a snow storm in Denver, snow storms to not generally stop Denver’ Jewish Community where Israel is concerned – we’re used to them. The near-empty room suggests Landau’s support base in Denver is quite narrow.

It is likely that Landau’s visit was financed by extreme right wing elements who paid the expenses, funneled through the resurrected or newly-created American-Israel Student Action Committee. Landau’s event has all the markings of a rush job, poorly organized, done at the last minute, with money thrown around for sure – I would imagine in the $3000-$5000 range at least just for travel expense, not counting the honorarium which one would expect, for a sitting minister in the Israel government to be quite pricey. It is doubtful the turnout would have been much better even if the sun was shining and it was 70 degrees out.

Then why throw a lot of money for such a sad, poorly organized spectacle? That’s simple – to upstage the Barkat event, which is not far enough to the right for Landau’s (and Lieberman’s) faithful few Denver supporters. And after all, what moves people more emotionally than to be pickled in their own factionalism? As to who – (or is it?) `whom’ – would be behind all this, the bottom line is I don’t know, but… Denver being a small city despite its aspirations to greatness, with the political class on this, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, being even smaller, one can narrow the range of likely suspects to a precious few.

Barkat Will Be Different

That said, the Barkat event next Tuesday will be a rather different affair, the room will be full, but I would expect that outside the hall there will as many protestors as there are supporters inside. After all, there were many Palestinian evicted from their homes in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem this past summer, man of their Palestinian homes bulldozed. actions criticized even by the US State Department and highlighted in Amnesty International publications.

It’s not just Landau who has a lot to answer for.

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