Jeffrey Goldberg got invited recently to meet Fidel Castro. Some fascinatign insights from his Part I and Part II articles.
Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.
My goodness. Hopefully the Iranian President is listening.
He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. “I remember when I was a boy – a long time ago – when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside,” he said, “and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.’ God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.’ They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?” …
He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.
I never thought I would be singing the praises of Fidel Castro, but he has it dead right.
I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.
“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said.
This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?
I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn’t rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”
As China has learnt also. A lesson some MPs on the left could do with learning also.
He asked us, “Would you like to go the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”
I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. (This happened a number of times during my visit). “The dolphin show?”
“The dolphins are very intelligent animals,” Castro said. …
Someone at the table mentioned that the aquarium was closed on Mondays. Fidel said, “It will be open tomorrow.”
And so it was.
Has, being dictator has some advantages!
“Goldberg,” Fidel said, “ask him questions about dolphins.”
“What kind of questions?” I asked.
“You’re a journalist, ask good questions,” he said, and then interrupted himself. “He doesn’t know much about dolphins anyway,” he said, pointing to Garcia. He’s actually a nuclear physicist.”
“You are?” I asked.
“Yes,” Garcia said, somewhat apologetically.
“Why are you running the aquarium?” I asked.
“We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!” Fidel said, and then cracked-up laughing.
My God, a Fidel with a sense of humour, who decries anti-Semitism and admits the Cuban model no longer works. Almost likeable. But then I remember all the political prisoners.