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Missed a turn in the latest Kafka controversy? Here’s a primer

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Kathi Diamant

Kathi Diamant

SAN DIEGO — Franz Kafka has gotten quite a bit of play lately. His photo has accompanied headlines in any number of newspapers, magazines, and network news websites in the past couple of months, most of which include one or more of the following words: treasure, trial, nightmare, snarled, tangled, vaults, masterpieces, secret, lost—and, lest we forget—Kafkaesque.  

In the past few weeks, CBS News, Time Magazine, Salon, The New York Times,  Washington Post, the Guardian, and Haaretz as well as dozens of other news outlets weighed in on the acrimonious fight over Franz Kafka’s papers in the Brod Collection. One of the most thoughtful was by Rodger Kamenetz in the Huffington Post. Coverage on the trial over the Brod Collection in Tel Aviv extends to The National, published daily in Abu Dhabi.  Franz Kafka is the Arab world’s favorite Jewish writer. Who knew?

Most of the news reports have been correct, more or less. The AP story by Aaron Heller stated, “Aside from previously unknown versions of Kafka’s work, the trove could give more insight on Kafka’s personal life, including his relationship with his lover, Dora Diamant. It may include papers that Kafka gave to Diamant but were stolen by the German Gestapo from her Berlin apartment in 1933, later obtained by Brod after World War II.”  

I am sad to report that the papers stolen by the Gestapo were not recovered by Max Brod after World War II.  Since 1996, the Kafka Project at SDSU has led the international search for these papers, 20 notebooks and 35 letters written by Kafka in the last year of his life, which most Kafka experts agree, represent the real missing treasure, not whatever remains in the Brod Collection.  

As the Director of the Kafka Project and someone who has followed the story of the Brod Collection closely since 2001, I am happy to share the straight scoop, with links to the best sources, as well as a quick cast list to the Kafkaesque drama unfolding in Tel Aviv:  

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka (whose literary leavings in the Brod collection are trapped in litigation) was a Jewish-Czech writer who died at the age of 40 in 1924, largely unpublished and unknown. After his death in 1924, with the posthumous publication of his novels, letters and diaries, Kafka rose to international fame as a literary genius, one of the founding fathers of magical realism and the modern novel. He is considered the most influential, profoundly misunderstood writers of our time. His most famous works are two unfinished novels, The Trial and The Castle and the short story, The Metamorphosis

Kafka’s strange stories have earned their own adjective, Kafkaesque, to describe a world where mindless bureaucracy destroys the mind and body and numbs the soul. 

Max Brod

Max Brod, Franz Kafka’s boyhood friend who became his literary executor, was also, like Kafka, a Jewish Czech lawyer and writer. Brod famously defied Kafka’s requests to burn his unpublished work, and instead gathered as much of it as he could and arranged for its publication. “As far as my memory and my strength permit, nothing of all this shall be lost,” he vowed shortly after Kafka’s death.

Brod fled Prague in 1939 for Tel Aviv, where he died in 1968. He escaped on the last train as the German army rolled into Czechoslovakia, taking with him two suitcases, one  filled with Kafka’s manuscripts, letters and diaries. During the Six Day War, Brod, concerned for the safety of Kafka’s manuscripts, transferred the most valuable to Switzerland for safekeeping in bank vaults. The Brod Collection is believed to be mostly in ten different safety deposits in Geneva and Tel Aviv, as well as in Ester Hoffe’s humid, cat infested apartment on Spinoza Street.

Without Max Brod, we would know nothing of Franz Kafka.  Brod saved Kafka’s writings for humanity, only to leave what he had so carefully collected and saved not to the centers of Kafka scholarship in England and Germany, where his other manuscripts are scrupulously kept, but to his longtime secretary and (most certain) lover, Ester Hoffe, who hoarded them for forty years after Brod’s death, selling off single pages of letters, diaries and whole manuscripts, at random, to the highest bidder. At one point she accepted a very large sum from a German publisher, and then never sent the manuscripts she contractually promised. She never returned the money.

Ester Hoffe, a Holocaust refugee who died two years ago in Tel Aviv at the age of 101, was generally reviled by Kafka scholars and researchers, her name an anathema. Given Brod’s lifelong dedication to establishing and maintaining Kafka’s legacy, his gift of the Kafka papers to his secretary was an unfortunate choice. When she died in 2008, her two daughters, Eva and Ruth, now in their 70s, inherited the collection and decided to sell it to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Germany, sight unseen, for one million Euros. Headlines rang out around the world: Secret Kafka Treasure to be Revealed!

Kafka aficionados, academics and researchers were thrilled. Priceless, possibly unpublished writings by Kafka would finally be available to shed new light to understanding this most misinterpreted and beloved writer. But then, in classic Kafka fashion, the plot twisted, with no path made easy. The National Library of Israel stepped in, claiming the Brod Collection as state cultural assets, a national treasure, which should not leave the country. The legal wrangling and academic outcry has been ably covered in dozens of articles by Ofer Aderat for Haaretz, which has a financial interest in the case. (Haaretz and many Kafka copyrights are owned by Schocken Books.)

So, for more than two years, the Brod Collection trial has dragged on in a Tel Aviv family courtroom, with drama aplenty, court-ordered openings of secret bank vaults, tales of theft and deception, a nightmare for Hoffe’s daughters, as if straight from Kafka’s own imagination.

When the Brod Collection first made international headlines in the summer of 2008, I was in Poland, on a six-week Kafka Project research project for the 20 notebooks and 35 love letters confiscated from Kafka’s last love, Dora Diamant, by the Gestapo in 1933. Before I embarked on the 2008 Eastern European Research Project, I wrote an article for San Diego Jewish World, “My Quest to Find a Literary Treasure,” explaining what we are searching for, and why it’s so important.

For almost a decade, I have been waiting to see the contents of the Brod Collection. In 2001, in Germany researching the biography of Dora Diamant, I first learned about the Brod Collection, and within it, the existence of 70 letters Dora Diamant wrote to Max Brod between 1924-1952. This was information vital not only for the book I was writing, but also for the Kafka Project. In one letter, written in Berlin in April 1933, Dora described to Brod the theft of Kafka’s writings by the Gestapo. Among the list of 70 letters, a stunning, four-page letter is catalogued, with the date, the return address, and a few lines describing what was taken. But, besides the Swiss lawyer who catalogued the Brod Collection in the early 1980s, no one else has seen that letter or any of Dora Diamant’s letters, telegrams and postcards written over a twenty-five year period.

I am only one of many who are holding a collective breath. The next headline you see on Kafka’s papers in the Brod Collection might announce a happy resolution. But knowing Kafka’s dark sense of humor, I doubt it.

In the meanwhile, Kafka Project isn’t waiting. Plans are afoot to follow up the 2008 Eastern European research, collaborating with the University of Silesia, Jagiellonian University, the National Library of Silesia, and the Polish National Archives in 2012. The Kafka Project is working not only to recover a lost treasure and open a new chapter in literary history, but to repair at least one of the crimes of the Third Reich. If you want to learn more about Kafka, I am presenting a six-week survey, Kafka in Context, for the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning at SDSU, starting Monday, September 13. To register, contact osher@mail.sdsu.edu. Here’s a link for more information on the SDSU Kafka Project.

Stay tuned for the next headline!  

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Diamant is director of SDSU’s Kafka Project,  a journalist, and author.

Sidebar:

For further reading on this case, here are a few of the best articles covering the Brod Collection’s many twists and turns:

Huffington Post: “Kafka Manuscripts: The Fight Over Kafka”

Time Magazine: “Were Lost Kafka Masterpices Stuffed in a Swiss Bank Vault?

Washington Post: “In Israel, a tangled battle over the papers of Franz Kafka

CBS: “Lost Kafka Papers Resurface, Trapped in Trial” CBS News (AP)

Ha’aretz: story on safety boxes being opened, another on estate executor receiving boxes.

The Guardian: “Lawyers Open Cache of Unpublished Manuscripts”;   “The Kafka Legacy: Who owns Jewish Culture?”

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Commentary: Inappropriate for U.S. State Department to send Muslim cleric to Arab countries

August 11, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The State Department has confirmed that Feisal Abdul Rauf – who wants to be the imam of a mosque at Ground Zero – is taking a State Department funded trip to the Middle East to foster “greater understanding” about Islam and Muslim communities in the United States.

“He is a distinguished Muslim cleric,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program, and it is to foster a greater understanding about the region around the world among Muslim-majority communities.” Rauf is reportedly going to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.
 
What a load of hooey.
 
We know a lot of rabbis, some ministers and a few priests. We would be appalled to have the government of the United States, which by law favors no religion, sending a rabbi to Israel – or the former Soviet Union or France or Argentina, where there are communities of Jews – to talk about how Jews live in the United States. Having a priest travel to the Vatican, Honduras, Ireland or the Philippines to describe the lives of American Catholics would be outrageous. Likewise, ministers to Sweden.
 
What business is it of the American government to send a Muslim to Muslim-majority countries to talk about Islam? How offensive is it to think that the American government is using American tax dollars to fly a non-government person around the world to promote the activities and lifestyle of a particular religion? Better to send a non-Muslim American government official to talk about American religious freedom, cultural diversity and the virtues of the secular, democratic state. 
 
To the speculation that Rauf will engage in fund raising for the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, Mr. Crowley said, “That would not be something he could do as part of our program,” he said. 
 
We’re so relieved. And we’re so sure he will do only as the American government desires.
 
But Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 family member told The New York Post, “‘We know he has a fund-raising association with Saudi Arabia,’ … noting that the Saudis have contributed money to underwrite programs by the American Society for Muslim Advancement, a not-for-profit that Abdul Rauf runs with his wife and that is one of the sponsors of the Ground Zero mosque. ‘He’s going to the well, and how can they say they do or don’t know what he’s doing?'”
 
To be entirely clear, JINSA believes Ground Zero is a battlefield cemetery – the site of a battle for the liberal democratic state. We oppose the building of a Muslim sectarian monument there because regardless of what its supporters say, it will be widely understood in the Muslim world as a battlefield monument in the name of Islam. 
 
Does the State Department really think Rauf (who said in English that the United States bears responsibility for 9-11) will tell the Saudis, Bahrainis and Qataris that he is building a monument to cultural understanding, interfaith relations and peace in New York because America is a good, safe and decent place for Muslims as long as they understand the secular, democratic nature of the United States? And that he doesn’t want their money because Americans will fund the mosque?
 
And how will the State Department know?

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

Napolitano meets with Arab ministers on aviation security

June 1, 2010 Leave a comment

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (Press Release)—Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday visited Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the invitation of UAE Minister of the Economy Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansouri, to meet with her counterparts from the Middle East region and officials from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to discuss ways to bolster global aviation security.

“The attempted terrorist attack on Dec. 25 demonstrated that international terrorist threats must be countered with a coordinated, global response,” said Secretary Napolitano. “My meetings today with partners from nations throughout the Middle East underscore our shared commitment to strengthening global aviation security to better protect the traveling public.”

In Abu Dhabi, Secretary Napolitano addressed UAE ministers and representatives from numerous Middle Eastern countries who attended the conference, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, and met with officials from ICAO—stressing the need for collaborative international action to prevent terrorists from boarding commercial aircraft.

Secretary Napolitano underscored the Obama administration’s commitment to strengthening information sharing with international partners about terrorists and other dangerous individuals and emphasized the need for enhanced cooperation on technological development and deployment; stronger aviation security measures and standards; and coordinated international technical assistance.

This meeting marked the fifth in a series of major international summits—coordinated with ICAO—intended to build consensus around the world to strengthen global aviation security.  These meetings have resulted in joint declarations on aviation security with partners in Africa, the Asia/Pacific region, the Western Hemisphere, and Europe. 

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Preceding provided by U.S. Department of Homeland Security

While the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not conduct screening at foreign airports, Secretary Napolitano is committed to strengthening coordination with international partners to implement stronger and more effective measures to protect the integrity of the global aviation network. Since April, TSA has utilized new enhanced threat and risk-based security protocols—tailored to reflect the most current information available to the U.S. government—for all air carriers with international flights to the United States to strengthen the safety and security of all passengers.

U.S, U.A.E. sign nuclear detection agreement

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release) – The United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week signed an agreement in Abu Dhabi to begin a cooperative effort to detect, deter, and interdict illicit smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive material.

The agreement, signed by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and UAE Deputy Minister of Interior Saif Abdullah Al Shafar, paves the way for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to work with the UAE Ministry of Interior and other government agencies in UAE to install radiation detection equipment and associated infrastructure at the ports of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. This cooperative framework also will train UAE officials on the use of the equipment and provide for maintenance of the equipment for a specified period.

“This agreement represents a major step forward in the Department of Energy’s efforts to fulfill President Obama’s unwavering commitment to securing vulnerable nuclear material and keeping it out of the hands of terrorists and smugglers,” said Deputy Secretary Poneman.  “The UAE plays a critical role in the region’s maritime shipping and the United States appreciates its partnership in this important mission.”

NNSA has ongoing efforts in various countries in the Middle East, where it is working to expand and strengthen the Second Line of Defense cooperation throughout the region.  This agreement builds on cooperation established in 2005 under a Megaports agreement with Dubai.

This effort is part of the NNSA’s Second Line of Defense (SLD) Program, which works collaboratively with foreign governments at border crossings, airports, seaports and other points of entry to install specialized radiation detection equipment and associated communications equipment.  The SLD Program also provides training to host government border guard officials and other personnel to detect smuggled nuclear and other radioactive materials.  NNSA has installed similar equipment at over 230 sites at 28 Megaports around the world.

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Preceding provided by National Nuclear Security Administration