July 22, 2002

Amjad Radwan, Samuel Sheinbein, and limits of American power – why we can't remake the world, and shouldn't even try

"Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."

– John Quincy Adams, 1821


The Wall Street Journal has made a cause celebre out of the case of Amjad Radwan, a 19-year-old American citizen who cannot leave Saudi Arabia without the permission of her Saudi father. Her predicament is being held up as an example of Saudi perfidy, and of State Department "appeasement" of the House of Saud. Indeed, the story has the dramatic structure of a made-for-TV movie, a genre ideally suited to brainless propaganda.

The offspring of a Saudi-American marriage, Ms. Radwan was brought up to believe that her father's Saudi wife was her mother. Ah, but her brother, Rasheed, kept the memory of their real mother alive, and the two finally met. Now, Ms. Radwan wants out, the father forbids it, and what was a nasty custody battle is now – thanks to the War Street Journal and Rich "Nuke Mecca!" Lowry – an international brouhaha, the neocon version of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. A third-rate soap opera is dressed up by the Journal in the gaudy robes of a crude morality tale, with the moral being, as James Taranto brays:

"The Sauis [sic] oppress women and Shiite Muslims and throw Christians in prison for praying. Their media are filled with anti-Semitic invective, including … the writings of American white supremacists. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens. The list goes on."

If the oppression of women is now a casus belli, then we'd better send an invasion force to Cullane, Scotland, where they held the British Open golf tournament at a men-only club. As for countries that persecute Christians: the campaign to ban all expressions of Christian faith from the public square is nearly as advanced in the US as it was in the Soviet Union. Religious activities in public schools, mangers at Christmastime, and even the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance are all under attack. Never mind what happens in Saudi Arabia – in the US, militant atheists have done everything but throw Christians to the lions. And I seem to recall at least one prominent instance in which that is pretty much what happened.

Some dipsh*t web editor posts David Duke's rancid ravings on Arab News and Taranto is ready to smear whole populations as Nazis: not that he requires much in the way of evidence. Spewing his hatred for all things Saudi, Taranto plays what he clearly thinks of as his trump card: but is the "15 out of 19" argument supposed to make us forget al-Qaeda's desire to overthrow the Saudi monarchy? It is, after all, almost as implacable as Taranto's.

The utter irrationality of the "15 out of 19" argument – which is used all the time by the growing contingent of Saudi-bashers spoiling for a fight with Riyadh – is apparent if we apply it to the circumstances surrounding the 1977 terrorist attack on Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, launched by members of the Japanese Red Army. Although carried out in solidarity with the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, 3 out of 3 members of the JRA hit squad were Japanese citizens. They slaughtered 26 people and injured 78. Should Israel have declared the government of Japan responsible for the JRA's loathsome act? To do so would have been bizarre, to say the least, because the JRA was just as dedicated to overthrowing the government of Japan as al-Qaeda is pledged to destroying the Saudi regime.

Taranto touts a rally at the Saudi embassy next Thursday, organized by interns in the office of Rep. Frank Wolf, a (R-Virginia), Republican, in support of Ms. Radwan. This heretofore hidden streak of radical feminism in the GOP, which seeks to use US government power against the "patriarchal" Saudi state, is a foreign policy plank the Radical Left can get behind, and indeed the grand coalition that rallied around Ms. Radwan includes everyone from Trent Lott to Barney Frank.

But the real reason we're seeing Republicans take to the streets is not, I think, to smash Patriarchy as much as it is to seize the Iraqi oil fields – and those of the Saudis while they're at it. Larry Kudlow – you remember him, he's the one who thinks war is the health of the economy – said as much on The McLaughlin Group this past Friday. When asked about the state of the economy, he launched in a tirade about how we should "seize the oil fields" and that will be "good for the economy" and "good for freedom." His answer to the pall of economic uncertainty – nay, gloom – that has settled over the markets and darkened everyone's future prospects is that "we must help the Iranian freedom-fighters."

If we're going to be holding demonstrations in front of the embassies of nations whose cultural idiosyncracies offend American sensibilities – and to a much greater extent than the lack of a NOW chapter in Riyadh – then I can think of plenty of others that cry out for the principled protests of these hyperactive young policy wonks. Although it is hard to imagine them holding a rally in front of Israel's embassy, denouncing the extradition laws that make Israel a safe haven for scum like Samuel Sheinbein – who brutally murdered a 19-year-old acquaintance, Enrique Tello, sawed off his head, and then set it on fire. He escaped to Israel, which refused to extradite him: Up until recently, Israeli law generally prohibited the extradition of Israeli citizens for trial in other countries – and the issue is still problematic.

The first bilateral extradition treaty signed by Israel and the US, in 1962, declared that neither country could refuse extradition based on a claim to the exclusive right to judge their own citizens. However, as Abraham Abramovsky and Jonathan I. Edelstein point out in an interesting and informative essay [Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, January 2002], Israel's claim to this very right asserted itself in the same year the treaty was signed:

"This protest arose from the case of Robert Soblen, a U.S. Jew who fled to Israel after being convicted of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. After an extradition request was made by the United States pursuant to the newly ratified treaty, Soblen was arrested and placed on a flight for the United States. During the flight, Soblen slashed his wrists. Although this suicide attempt was unsuccessful, he subsequently succeeded in killing himself by ingesting poison while under guard at a London hospital.

"The death of Soblen struck a chord with many Israelis, including then-opposition leader Menachem Begin. In an impassioned article written in the newspaper of the Likud Party, Begin expressed the opinion that no Jew should ever be extradited from Israel. Begin quoted from Deuteronomy 23:15: 'You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you.' In contrast to Herzl's promise that a Zionist state would readily extradite Jewish criminals, Begin 'considered it the role of the Jewish state to give asylum to wanted Jews.'"

Another case, that of Reuben Pesachowitz, indicted for fraud in Switzerland, rallied support among Israelis for Begin's view that Jews held the status of slaves outside of Israel, as did the case of Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, a financial high-flyer wanted in France on suspicion of having fleeced approximately $60 million off some French sheep. Flatto-Sharon fled to Israel, where he declared his Israeli citizenship and decided to run for the Knesset on a platform advocating Israeli immunity from foreign prosecutors. He wrote a pamphlet touting his status as a Holocaust survivor, as well as a friend of the French Minister of Finance, and making much of his large investments in Israel. Flatto-Sharon called on the Jews of the Diaspora to fight for the interests of the Israeli state, especially emphasizing the principle that Israel must represent "every individual Jew in the world." All Jews, he averred, must be provided with Israeli passports in order to escape the ever-present prospect of "persecution."

Flatto-Sharon was elected to the Knesset in 1977, with 35,000 votes, and granted parliamentary immunity, all the while continuing his criminal career. At the same time, Begin's Likud party took power, and began to implement the new policy of Israeli immunity from foreign prosecution. A law forbidding the extradition of Israeli citizens was passed, and only grudgingly amended post-Sheinbein, a case that roiled US-Israeli relations so seriously that the law was written as follows:

"[A] person who committed an extraditable offense . . . and who is an Israeli citizen and an Israeli national at the time of the extradition request" shall not be extradited unless "[t]he country requesting his extradition commits itself in advance to transfer him back to Israel to serve his sentence there, if he is convicted and a prison sentence is imposed."

This has proved to be a boon for criminals of all sorts: take the case of Dov Engel, who defrauded a number of New York banks to the tune of $115 million. Engel fled to Israel, and, claiming his "right of return," became a citizen. While formally agreeing that, under the new amended law, Engel was extraditable, the Israeli authorities declared they were keeping him until the US agreed that he should serve his time in Israel – and cut his sentence to less than half. As Abramovaky and Edelstein put it,

"The advantage obtained by Engel from his flight to Israel was brought home dramatically at his sentencing on December 3, 2001. Under U.S. sentencing guidelines, he was eligible for a sentence of more than eleven years in prison. In Israel, however, the maximum sentence for bank fraud is five years, and Engel would serve no more than the amount of time under Israeli law. The sentencing judge expressed her exasperation, stating that Engel "knew that [the United States] couldn't touch him" in Israel and that she was "sentencing [him] as if he would serve his time in the U.S.," but these were futile gestures. The inescapable fact was that, by fleeing to Israel and taking advantage of the 1999 act, Engel unilaterally reduced his sentence by more than half."

Other similar instances of aborted justice followed. The cultural idiosyncracies of Israeli society – in this case, the belief that Jews cannot get a fair hearing anywhere but Israel due to all-pervasive global anti-Semitism – continue to make this issue a sensitive one as far as US-Israeli relations are concerned. Does that mean we should all march down to the Israeli embassy with placards demanding "No Special Treatment for Jews!" and "Rootless Cosmopolitans Evade Justice!"?

Of course not.

What it does mean is that anyone who deals with an Israeli – or someone who holds dual US-Israeli citizenship – on a business or personal level, must take this peculiar twist of Israeli law and cultural bias into consideration. Just as anyone who enters into a similar relationship with a Saudi citizen – say, a marriage -- must likewise consider the possible consequences of their actions. Be forewarned: they can always screw you and claim their "right of return," grabbing the kids, your money, or both, and getting off scot-free.

What can be done about this?

What should be done about this?

In a word: Nothing.

For America to enforce its doctrines of justice and the law over the whole earth would mire us in endless disputes: such a policy would be impossible to implement without declaring a state of permanent war with the rest of the world. For this reason, once you leave the jurisdiction of the United States, you're on your own. This principle applies not only to individual citizens, such as the estranged American wives of Saudi husbands, but also to American businessmen, who cannot expect the American military to serve as their private police force worldwide. Invest in an oil field, or a marriage abroad: the decision is yours. But be prepared to cover your own losses: don't come whining to Uncle Sam when your marriage goes sour or your oil wells are nationalized, expecting to be bailed out.

One can empathize with Ms. Radwan while recognizing that what boils down to a simple custody dispute is no reason to declare the Saudis an outlaw nation. On the other hand, providing sanctuary for murderers, pedophiles, and con men ought to grate far more on Americans' nerves, particularly in tandem with the implicit Israeli assumption that common criminals are somehow the victims of pandemic "anti-Semitism."

Yet any attempt by the US government to curtail normal relations with either the Saudis or the Israelis on account of their cultural peculiarities would be a monumental error. While the American response to the Sheinbein case was to threaten to withhold US aid, this should have been done in any event, and not linked to that particular incident. One could make the argument that the kind of outside pressure exerted on the Israelis to reverse their position only has the opposite effect of ultimately reinforcing the cultural-political tics we find objectionable. True, Israel's extradition law was amended, but then it was revised again, and, in the new version, the principle governing instances in which extradition is permissible is defined in much narrower terms.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are in the grip of fundamentalist fevers that make them unpleasant places, inhospitable climes for free men and women, and for that reason I would never consider living in either. But before we go off crusading in pursuit of "justice" overseas, demanding that all societies everywhere live up to some standard of political correctness to be determined by Taranto and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, let us pause and consider at least the economic if not the moral consequences of such a mad course....

As the stock market plunges, along with the dollar, there is a whiff of catastrophe in the air: could the markets stand another oil shock, and yet more uncertainty? Many think not, myself among them.

It could be that the much-touted war on Iraq will be defeated, not by a popular outcry, not by a sudden dawning of common sense or the triumphant return of the foreign policy principles of the Founders, but by an economic meltdown – or, at least, a deepening sense of crisis.

Nothing concentrates the American mind like an economic slump. Poverty is bound to have a clarifying effect on our priorities. The excesses of the "bubble" are disdained. Suddenly the stern republican virtues are back in style: parsimony, prudence, and, most of all, modesty – in short, the exact opposite of the overweening arrogance of our empire-builders, who, in their inflated sense of self-importance, are the children of the bubble. The tide will turn in the blink of an eye, and we'll be "saved" from the third world war by a global economic conflagration. Now that's what I call out of the frying pan, and into the fire….

 Please Support Antiwar.com

520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Your contributions are now tax-deductible

Text-only printable version of this article

Archived columns

In Search of Monsters

Our Phony Foreign Policy 'Debate'

One Million Busybodies

In Praise of Subversion

Ein Volk, Ein Fuehrer, Ein Israel...

A Matter of Fact

9/11 – Revised Edition

The VOA Follies

Pure Evil

Look on the Bright Side

Previous columns

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.