Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin & the Path to Peace for Israelis & Palestinians.

(Shimon Peres and me, Jerusalem, Israel, 1991.)

I have been haunted by two memories this week. 

Memories which have come back to me as nightmares, blaring to me like air-raid sirens in the night, because they tried to warn us—some 30 years ago—of the mass murders which just occurred in Israel, the killing of civilians in Gaza, and the haunting spectre of a dark endless pit, carved out by hate and violence, into which thousands of innocent human beings would disappear.  

If only we had listened and acted upon those warnings.

In one memory, the face and voice of Shimon Peres, former Israeli Prime Minister, President, Foreign Minister, and Nobel Peace Prize winner is right in front of mine.  In the other, Yitzak Rabin, Israeli war hero, Prime Minister, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, shakes my hand, and repeats the word “Shalom” over and over and over again.

I first met Shimon Peres 32 years ago this summer, as part of a small group of public officials on a fact-finding mission to Israel, sponsored by New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council. Peres, then Chairman of the out-of-power Israeli Labour Party and a member of the Israeli Knesset, talked passionately with us about peace and democracy for nearly an hour. 

He had devoted his life to the pursuit of both, first as a fighter in Israel’sHaganah—under the direction of his mentor David Ben-Gurion—when the nation was formed in 1948; then, two-years after our meeting, Peres was a signatory to the Oslo Accords for peace with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, along with Yasir Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, and U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Speaking freely on the day before Mikhail Gorbachev returned to power during a tumultuous time in the Soviet Union, Peres talked of history happening as we spoke, not far from the classroom where me met, in Jerusalem.

I asked Peres about the prospects for peace in the Middle East, since he was so closely identified with the effort to achieve it.  He quickly outlined his plan for peace, and for Israel’s future:

“ The three basic problems in Israel’s future are: 1) We must achieve peace before the Middle East goes nuclear; 2) We must keep Israel from becoming a bi-national state. We may end up keeping the territories as Likud wants, but losing our country.  What makes a country is not land, but peopleWe don’t want to dominate others. Who is a hero? The one who dominates himself.”

Shimon Perez, paused and stayed silent for a moment, to allow the vision he had for the Israel’s future, to sink it.  He had been grappling with these matters for most of his lifetime, appointed by Ben-Gurion to be Israel’s first Navy Secretary at the age of twenty-four, in 1948, the year before I was born. 

I stared at his face, following each deeply creased line, to see how far back in time I could trace his thoughts, and the beliefs that drove him.

“The third problem,” Perez said, “is economic.  We cannot live forever on aid of the U.S.  Right now, world markets are more important; dangers and opportunities are regional; we cannot solve our problems without reorganizing our water sources.”

Peres was preaching now, his soul on fire:

We should combine the oil of the Saudis, with the water of Turkey and the know-how of Israel to build a common market. For us, the way the peace will wind up is more important than how it will be obtained. For us, it is a matter of life and death; the only option we have is to become a medical center for the region, a technological center for the region, what with the number of Soviet doctors and engineers coming to Israel. We shall have to give back the territories — they should be demilitarizedThey would run their lives without our intervention, such as Gaza. Jerusalem would have to remain united. We have to work toward a regional economy with regional solutions…The motivation for the Palestinian conflict may disappear if it’s solved along the lines I have suggested.”

Peres’ bright eyes sparkled as he detailed his plan for peace throughout the region. He noted that Israel did not have territorial issues with Eqypt or Jordan, but only with Syria, over the Golan Heights, which, he noted, “was not a holy place.”

I asked Peres to suggest some alternatives for dealing with the Golan and Gaza.

“I’m not in the mood to enter into negotiations, “ Peres said. “When we start negotiations, then we’ll see. One day, Saddam Hussein will disappear. Our enemies are not the people, nor a religionWe must judge the land by its’ people. What is Gaza?  For me, Gaza doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to the people who live there. I’d give back Gaza; I’d admit it is a fact of life — it is theirs. The same goes for the West Bank. We have to cut the geography in accordance with the demography. Both areas would have to be demilitarized.”

He finished answering our questions and Shimon Peres, dressed in an open-necked, short-sleeved sport shirt that matched mine, shook my hand and posed for photos. I told him I worked with New York Governor Mario Cuomo and his heavy, tired eyes, lifted at each corner.

“ Please give the Governor my warmest regards,” Peres told me.

The following year, 1992, I accompanied Cuomo on his first trip to Israel, watching as the Governor and Peres embraced like long lost brothers; marveling at how each resembled the other in voice, manner, gravitas and appearance. The deep lines in their faces seemed to be mirror images.

Peres had just lost a bruising leadership battle to lead Israel’s Labour Party, to Yitzhak Rabin, who went on to be elected Prime Minister in June of that year.

Rabin, who was the Israeli Army’s Chief of Staff during the 6-Day War of 1967, and a war hero, was the first native-born Israeli to be elected Prime Minister.  As Prime Minister, Rabin immediately put a freeze on new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, infuriating the opposition Likud Party, and the nation’s growing number of fundamentalist religious extremists on the Far Right.

At the suggestion of Peres, who was Rabin’s Foreign Minister, the newly elected leader of Israel met in his Jerusalem office with Cuomo, in September 1992.

Prime Minister Rabin, joined by his wife Leah, welcomed us into his office—a simple, straightforward office without ostentation, much like the man himself.

I sat next to the Prime Minister, by his left side. Governor Cuomo sat across from him and Matilda Cuomo and Leah Rabin sat next to one another, to the right of the Prime Minister. The conversation was warm and cordial. Cuomo, a leading American progressive, was well-liked and highly respected by Israeli Labour Party leaders.

In office just a few months, Rabin talked of his plans for pursuing peace in Israel and throughout the Middle East. He looked at each of us squarely, as he spoke in his deep, monotone, mournful voice. My eyes explored Rabin’s expressive face.  It was a face chiseled with sadness, with eyes that had seen too much death and suffering. Later, I would learn that this man, haunted by the thought that he was leading young Israeli soldiers to their slaughter, suffered a nervous breakdown during the 1967 War—the war which secured the Golan Heights and the West Bank for Israel, and represented Rabin’s greatest military victory.

I can still hear Rabin’s voice,  that somber voice, warning us of the grave threats to peace posed by political extremists among both his own people and the Palestinians. Just the day before in a public park in Jerusalem, I witnessed some of the Jewish extremists Rabin referenced. They tried to shout down Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek—an effervescent, ebullient five-term Mayor—who was speaking at a public event.  The Right Wing zealots—followers of ultra-nationalist and convicted terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane– despised Kollek, because he believed that all faiths should be able to worship freely at their holy sites in Jerusalem. As a convert to Judaism, I admired Teddy Kollek’s respect for all religions.

I can still feel Yitzak Rabin’s penetrating gaze into my eyes, the firm yet gentle look of a man who had known love and loss, weakness and strength, sorrow and joy, victory and defeat.  I can still see the sadness slip from his eyes, each time he spoke of his hopes for bringing peace to the land of his birth;

I can still feel the sweet contradiction in the strength of his handshake and the softness of his voice when he wished each of us “Shalom.”

 It was the last word Yitzhak Rabin spoke to us.

Three years later, in November, 1995, Rabin attended at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, to support the Oslo Accords with the PLO which he & Peres had negotiated with Yasir Arafat, and for which he, Peres & Arafat would all be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

At the peace demonstration, Rabin sang the words to the “Song of Peace.” He folded the paper on which the words to the song were written, and gently placed it in his jacket pocket. Minutes after that, an assassin’s bullet ended Rabin’s life. The folded paper containing the following lyrics to the “Song of Peace “ (Shir L’Shalom) was found covered with blood:

“ Let the sun rise, the morning shine,

The most righteous prayer will not bring us back.

Who is the one whose light has been extinguished,

And buried in the earth;

Bitter tears will not wake him; will not bring him back.

No song of praise or victory will avail us.

Therefore, sing only a prayer of peace.

Don’t whisper a prayer—

Sing aloud a Song of Peace.”

I Stand With Humanity.

( The haunting sculpture, “Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian,” communicates two powerful messages against hate and discrimination. The story of St. Sebastian is that he was shot with arrows after refusing to deny his faith. The “Tar Baby” sculpture, done in 1999, by Black artist Michael Richards, was a tribute to the all Black US Air Force unit of the Tuskegee Airmen, who endured decades of intolerance and unfairness because of the color of their skin, despite risking their lives to protect democracy. To add even more poignancy to this extraordinary work, Michael Richards, whose studio was in World Trade Center Tower #1, was killed there on 9/11, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in NYC. Richards was 38 years old.)

I Stand With Humanity.

Not jingoistic vanity.

I stand with self-determination,

Not a flag, nor song, nor any nation.

I stand with dignity, life and love,

Not some messianic fiction of superiority,

Obtained from above.

I stand with equality,

Either real or aspirational;

With the value of each life,

Being, by existence, inspirational.

I stand with Rabbi Hillel,

Who knew well, that, to be human,

When others were not,

Would point the way through hell.

I stand with the souls of Babi Yar,

Bucha, Hiroshima & Dachau;

And all the hostages of terror —

Jews, Ukrainians, and One Million

Children of Gaza, pleading,

“Where is humanity, if not now?”

I stand with lovers and mothers

Crushed by the death of babies, and others,

Who could not escape the wickedness of hate,

Nor be rescued by the safe room of their love.

I ask to be heard in the Shema,

Thinking always of Babi Yar, Babi Yar,

Never, never, very far;

Buried by the same earth

Which gives each of us birth.

I stand against terror and slaughter

Of your son, my daughter;

And of intentional starvation

Or any crime against the innocents of any nation

Born to a land they cannot leave,

In a world unable to grieve

The sheer magnitude of such a loss of life,

Or, of our own consciences.

I stand with the belief

That I am no different than you,

Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew,

And that shrapnel screaming down

From any sky, scalding flesh, gouging eyes,

Turns any prayers for one side, into lies.

I stand with those who are different,

And those who are despised;

I stand with the outcast,

And others vilified, as somehow, less than human —

As if animals would ever slaughter their own,

As maniacally, methodically as we do.

I stand with other humans,

Regardless of their faith,

Or color, or gender,

Or country of their birth.

I Stand For Humanity,

And a return to sanity,

Before a mass grave for

The one million children of Palestine,

Matches the memorial of yours, and mine,

With one million twinkling lights at Yad Vashem,

Reminding us of the ghastly eternal price of,

Us vs. them.

Is Another Midwestern Wrestling Coach–Like Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert–Hiding Facts About the Molestation of Wrestlers He Coached?

(What did Coach Jim Jordan know about the sexual molestation of wrestlers at Ohio State University, and when did he know it?)

There’s already been too much teeth-gnashing among many progressives over the news that Gym Jordan is throwing his jock strap into the ring for the fight over who will now be Donald Trump’s new spokesperson in the Speaker’s Chair.

In response to many of my liberal colleagues bursting into flames over the mention of Jordan’s name, I offer two words:  Dennis Hastert.

You might remember good ole’ Denny, the last wrestling coach to rise (no double-entendre intended yet) to be Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The coach of the Yorkville, Illinois Boys High School Wrestling Team, Hastert was the longest serving GOP House Speaker in American history, serving from 1999 through 2007.  The problem, however, wasn’t Hastert’s endurance; it was his obdurate obedience to his lust for young boys, being unable to keep his hands out of the tight wrestling jerseys of the muscular teen-aged boys he coached.  He later admitted to molesting four of them as young as 14-years old.   

Years after his long affair with the Speakership ended, Hastert was indicted in 2015, and served 13 months in prison for being a “serial child molester,” and having sex with some of the underage boys on the Illinois high school wrestling team he coached to a State Championship. Yes, the longest tenured Republican Speaker of the House of Representative actually was a pedophile, and did precisely that.

 One particular team member molested by Hastert, the equipment manager Steve Reinboldt—whom Denny Hastert called his “right hand man”—died of AIDS in 1995.

Hastert, an Evangelical Christian from the Midwest who resembled a genteel, portly  minister, was not only convicted of being a pedophile, but also of paying hush money to some of the boys he molested .  For years since his conviction as a Pedophilethe GOP Speaker who advanced “family values” during the Reagan Administrations, was the poster-boy for utter and complete hypocrisy, as well as predatory criminality against children, and bribing them to buy their silence.  The longest tenured GOP Speaker of the House in US history who is now, 81 years old, celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary this year, and is living in quiet comfort in Illinois.

So, when I hear a quake in the voices of otherwise smart people when they utter the words of the jacketless jackass, Gym Jordan, I quietly respond:  Dennis Hastert.

Jordan, who represents Ohio’s 4th Congressional District, only a few hours drive from Denny Hastert’s Illinois home, did not coach high school wrestlers in Illinois, but college wrestlers at Ohio State.  Jordan, the Assistant Wrestling Coach for the Ohio State Men’s Wrestling Team for eight years, worked closely with Team Physician Dr. Richard Strauss, held liable by Ohio State University for sexually abusing wrestlers, in the Ohio State Wrestling Team’s massive abuse scandal.

Dr. Strauss killed himself in 2005 at the age of 67—while Jim Jordan was serving in the Ohio State Senate—and, Ohio State University formally apologized to his victims,  reaching a $60 million settlement with at least 296 people.  In June, 2023, the US Supreme Court left in place a crucial US Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing more than 230 men to sue Ohio State over the decades old sexual abuse scandal.

The student-athletes who sued were among hundreds of Ohio State alumni who claim they were sexually abused by Dr. Strauss, from 1978-1998.   Strauss and Jordan both worked for Ohio State University from 1987-1995.

In March, 2020, CNN reported that “Six Former Wrestlers Say Rep. Jim Jordan Knew About Abusive OSU Doctor.”  The story details how “six former OSU wrestlers told CNN in recent interviews that they were present when Jordan heard or responded to sexual misconduct complaints about team doctor, Richard Strauss.”   Despite statements from former Ohio State wrestlers that Coach Jordan knew about the sex abuse being committed by Strauss, Jordan has consistently denied any knowledge of Stauss’ sexual molestation of athletes, often done in the showers of the OSU locker room, which Jordan, as Assistant Wrestling Coach, shared.  

When we heard Jim (Jordan) say he wasn’t aware, everyone just thought “Are You Kidding?,” former OSU Wrestler Dan Ritchie told CNN.  “I like Jimmy, but he took the wrong stance from the get-go and now he can’t back-track.”

Another former Ohio State wrestler, Mike Flushe, said to CNN that he remembers Jordan responding to a complaint about Strauss by saying “If he ever tried that with me I’d snap his neck like a stick of dry balsa wood.”

third OSU wrestler, Dunyasha Yetts, told CNN he first raised concerns about Dr. Strauss groping him to Assistant Coach Jordan in 1992.  One year later, after Yetts was again molested by Strauss in the doctor’s office, he specifically told Jim Jordan about it, and Jordan’s response was “If he tried that on me, I would kill him.”

Two additional former wrestlers, Shawn Dailey and Mike Glane, told CNN that they “remember witnessing Yetts complain about Strauss’ behavior immediately after the incident, in the presence of Jordan.”

During his 2018 re-election campaign to Congress, Jordan’s campaign committee paid some $95,000 to a PR firm, to whitewash the facts about the Ohio State Sex Abuse scandal, and personally pleaded with some of his former wrestler’s to alter their testimony, according to CNN.

So, it’s entirely appropriate, should Gym Jordan snap his lycra after becoming the second Wrestling Coach to be elected GOP House Speaker, for CNN, other media outlets, and Federal and State courts and prosecutors, to reopen the investigation into that massive sex abuse scandal, and find out what Jordan knew about the hundreds of sexual molestations which went on under his nose for years, when did he know it, and why, if he knew, he never came forward with the truth.

If Gym Jordan decides to treat inquiring reporters by threatening to  “snap their necks like sticks of dry balsa wood,” they just might be on to something.