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Twilight of an Israeli Icon; War on Poverty; Imagine a World

Aired January 9, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has just left the Middle East after his 10th visit in five months, following a week of intense shuttle diplomacy. Despite the much vaunted U.S. pivot to Asia, the State Department says, in fact, Kerry spends more than half his time on Middle Eastern issues, trying to deal with fires in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, and also trying to finally reach that elusive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, which this week, even won faint praise from Israel's hardline foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman (ph), who said Kerry's written framework is the best Israel can expect.

The Israeli government's position gets strong support from the diaspora. And one of the leading voices belongs to Lord Jonathan Sacks, who until recently was Britain's chief rabbi for 22 years, cementing his position as a respected public intellectual with a wide audience and influence.

One of the most divisive figures in the history of Israel, meanwhile, is Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister who has been in a coma for the last eight years. I spoke to Rabbi Sacks as Sharon's condition continues to worsen. I asked him about the peace process and Israel's isolation, about a troubling rise in anti-Semitism here in Europe, as well as a rapprochement between Judaism and the Vatican under Pope Francis.


AMANPOUR: Rabbi Sacks, welcome.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining me here.

Ariel Sharon has been on his deathbed for a long time since suffering a stroke many, many years ago. His condition appears to be deteriorating. Your thoughts if he looks to be coming to the end of his life?

SACKS: I knew Ariel Sharon towards the end. And he was one of those figures that Israeli politics have delivered quite often, people who are military heroes, who became, in later life, people of peace, people willing to take very considerable risks for peace: Menachem Begin was one, Yitzhak Rabin was another, lost his life in the cause of peace.

Ariel Sharon, pulling back from Gaza, a very controversial thing to do, was actually somebody who had gone through this profound realization that we need to find a new way in the Middle East. We need to make peace with the Palestinians.

And he showed immense courage in doing so.

And I think people from his kind of background, who make that kind of change, are, to me, real moral heroes, fighters for peace, who were willing to take risks for peace.

AMANPOUR: There are a lot of people who will take a different view of you calling him a moral hero because of what happened in Lebanon, because of what happened at Sabra and Shatila.

SACKS: I'm talking about the man I knew in the last years of his conscious and active life. That man was a very different man. And when people are able to make an enormous change, moving from being people who believe in military solutions to people who believe that military solutions may win the battle, but they don't win the peace, for somebody to make that kind of move, hence my kind of admiration.

AMANPOUR: And we talk, you know, amidst a backdrop of yet another attempt to restart the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, about 10 years or more ago you gave an interview in which you said, you know, a lot of what goes on makes you feel uncomfortable as a Jew that some of the -- some of the realities around occupation may not be compatible with your faith.

What do you say now about that? And where do you see this process going or not?

SACKS: Look, I think what I feel about is -- and what most Jews feel about Israel is here is a country that in 65 years, has not known a single day when it has not faced the risk of war or terror. It's surrounded by enemies that are quite hostile to its very existence.

And here it is, managing after 65 years to have created really a rebirth of Jewish national existence, created a democratic society with a free press, an independent judiciary, I think Israel, overall, makes me and certainly almost everyone I know feel very proud.

And therefore the fact that within Israel -- and Jewishly, internationally, there is an active debate as to what is the best way forward. I think that's the strength of the Israeli democracy, that we can be self-critical but at the same time love the country, love the people and love what it's achieved.

AMANPOUR: Do you worry the very nature of democracy may be at risk? People are saying, well, you know, if there isn't a peace process, it'll be a one-state solution or it'll be a very segregated solution?

SACKS: No, I really don't believe that. I think, you know, we've got just too many tears (ph) in our history to make us indifferent to the suffering of all this (ph). And we know perfectly well that this is a chance -- you know, it's a Millennial opportunity for Jews to create a good, fair and just society and, at the same time, protect itself against a constant risk of terror.

And I think Israel does a magnificent job of doing this. And I am very pained when it is criticized around the world because no country in the world faces those risks that severely.

AMANPOUR: Let's move on a little bit to, I guess, anti-Semitism here and around the world. You've talked about, you know, there's more joy now than there used to be, the height of anti-Semitism has sort of ebbed. And yet, in Paris, we see the government sort of cracking down against what it's calling hate speech; a comedian has used a sort of a Nazi-like salute. There are anti-Semitic words being said.

And this continues.

What do you fear about that? Do you think that there's a resurgent, worrying anti-Semitism? Or do you think that this is something inevitable that's going to continue but is not threatening the Jewish people?

SACKS: Christiane, I am very worried about the return of anti- Semitism to Europe. There are serious levels of anti-Semitism in a number of European countries. And for that to happen within living memory of the Holocaust is simply the unthinkable. And I don't believe anyone should take that literally.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, we discovered today by going online that in a certain sphere of Amazon (ph) the way it measures books and so-called best sellers, "Mein Kampf" is one of the top-selling online books here in England amongst young people.



SACKS: If you're asking what is leading to this, I think we always know that anti-Semitism historically occurs in eras of great change, where people are feeling very anxious and very threatened by technological, economic and industrial change. And people turn to somebody to blame. Now historically Jews have always been blamed, even if there were no Jews in the countries, still Jews were blamed. It's a demonic phenomenon, which has been around in Europe for 1,000 years.

AMANPOUR: A few years ago, Prince Harry was seen wearing a Nazi outfit and, you know, it was obviously widely criticized at a fancy dress party, I think, and he was sent to see you.

What did you say to him?

SACKS: Prince Harry was absolutely beside himself with remorse and regret because he just didn't know. Now obviously that says something about his education and I did go to his school to give the kids a lesson in what actually happened.

But the young princes are very special people. The royal family have been magnificent in their relations, not only with the Jewish community, but with all the faith communities in a very multifaith nation. And I don't think anyone does interfaith relations better than the royals.

AMANPOUR: The pope, Pope Francis, has made it very clear that he is a friend of the Jewish people. What do you make of the new pope?

SACKS: I think he is, in many respects, somebody who's broken new ground in his openness to Jews. He has often said in his reply to the editor of "La Republica," for instance, things that no previous pope has said. He is not merely reaffirmed as every pope has done since Vatican II, but God's covenant with the Jews is still in force, which was itself a really epoch-making change within the Catholic Church. But he's spoken about the admiration and the debt of gratitude Christians must have the way Jews kept faith with their covenant throughout the -- throughout the centuries.

Now this is a very fine man. And I think -- I think he is the most important new development in Jewish-Catholic relations we've had.

AMANPOUR: Let me move to Iran; obviously a big bane of criticism and anxiety in Israel and in other parts of the world, under President Ahmadinejad there was a distinctly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel tone coming out of Iran.

President Rouhani has made a big effort to be very different. I don't know whether you took notice of what he said, but at the Jewish New Year he wrote a tweet and so did his foreign minister.

Rouhani says, "As the sun is about to set here in Tehran, I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah," and there was a picture of Iranian Jews praying.

I guess my question is, are you aware of a different tone coming out of Iran? And what's your reaction to that?

SACKS: I wish I was, but the Iranian policy preceded President Ahmadinejad and it's not clear who is in the end the key factor in deciding Iranian policy. And I think to make a distinction between Jews on the one hand and the state of Israel on the other is not the kind of thing that fills me full of relaxation. I think Iran remains a threat. It remains a threat, not just to Israel, but to the West. And I really don't think this should be seen solely as an Israeli problem.

It is a matter of grave concern to all of us.

AMANPOUR: Rabbi Sacks, thank you very much indeed. Lord Sacks, thank you for being with us.

SACKS: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And just another note on "Mein Kampf," which is Adolf Hitler's manifesto, of course, and which was first published in the 1930s, now one of the top sellers on a variety of Amazon eBook charts, as we said, it is, of course, banned in Germany and it's rarely purchased in print editions anywhere anymore. But digital sales are soaring.

Perhaps if the book cover were visible and there could be an open discussion of its content, its hateful message could be confronted and countered today. And while hate speech remains a threat to civilized society, so do, so too does chronic poverty, especially among children.

And we'll meet the flamboyant and courageous champion of London's lost boys and girls when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Suddenly it seems that politicians in some countries are finding traction and at least paying lip service to fighting poverty. In the week that marks the 50th anniversary of U.S. President Johnson's war on poverty, President Obama says more work now must be done to counter the growing income inequality gap.

The Republican Party, too, is trying to forge a new image that helps the poor. And here in the United Kingdom, ministers are pushing for a rise in the minimum wage. More than 3 billion people around the world live on less than $2.50 a day. That is nearly half the world. And many of them are children.

And that is the good news because those figures represent a steep drop in those living on the brink in the last 20 years. But poverty still stalks millions, destroying lives and robbing childhoods. Here in the U.K., one of the world's richest and most developed countries, an incredible one in six children are living in poverty. And this year the crisis is expected to get even worse.

The massive gap in income here in Britain shows that the top 0.1 percent earns over 1 million pounds, while the bottom 90 percent earn just 13,000 pounds.

Camila Batmanghelidjh has developed and devoted her life to helping the most vulnerable children in the U.K. She's the founder and director of the renowned charity called Kids Company. And she's seen the effects of this crisis first-hand. And alarmingly, as the government cuts further into the social safety net, she says that new science is showing the effects on children's brains, and thus on society at large.


AMANPOUR: Camila Batmanghelidjh, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: It's been a bad year for children and poverty.

How bad is it going to be next year?

Is it going to be better or worse?

BATMANGHELIDJH: There's a big problem in Britain with poverty and children, 1.6 million children are living below poverty and 3.5 million children in poverty.

The reason it's very difficult in a rich country like this is because children feel very ashamed because they can compare it to another child immediately next to them, who might have the resources. It's that much more painful in this country for children.

AMANPOUR: And just anecdotally, I heard that so many poor people, those who are defined as poor, have gone into incredible debt over the holidays to try to provide their children with the kind of presents that they can then talk to their friends at school about.


And you know, for example, if you look at the children of Kids Company aged under 14 that we do home visits with, one in three of those children are sleeping on the floor. They don't actually have a bed. But they may have a mobile phone because if they don't have the mobile phone, they're likely to get teased and attacked on the streets.

So parents' prioritize gadgets to give children a sense of self- esteem. But the real basics like towels, bed and food is missing in these houses.


AMANPOUR: That is just an incredible statement.

BATMANGHELIDJH: Well, it is and it isn't because we have commoditized the world and commoditized human beings. So therefore our status as human beings is often defined by the property that we have.

And rich people do it with handbags, cars and houses and poor people are stuck in the same trap. And they tend to have to do it with gadgets and labeled clothing, like trainers. And a lot of businesses take advantage of this situation.

More trainer companies are making a vast amount of money from shoes from kids. But they're not really investing in these communities enough.

AMANPOUR: Your company, Kids Company, is involved in a lot of brain research and other scientific investigation into the effects of poverty on children and the child mind.

Tell me what you're discovering.

BATMANGHELIDJH: Well, what we're looking at is the toxic load attacking children. So poverty is one element of it. But another element is violence. One in five of the children who were assessed by UCL at Kids Company have been shot at.


AMANPOUR: University College London.

BATMANGHELIDJH: -- University College London -- have been shot at and they were stabbed, with 50 percent of the children witnessing shootings and stabbings in the last year. This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It's not a war zone.

So what we're finding is, as children are continuously frightened, they release vast amounts of fright hormones and that is changing actually the structure and functioning of their brain to make the children develop very narrowed, aggressive behaviors in order to survive in very challenging neighborhoods.

And consequently, these kids are ending up underachieving in school, not being able to calm down because actually the biology of their brain has changed as a result of how badly they've been continuously treated.

AMANPOUR: This is a huge problem, also we hear of massive spikes in cyber bullying, online cyber bullying in underage kids.

And, again, we've shown these graphs and these statistics of Britain and its massive income inequality gap with the -- you know, 1 million earning amongst like 0.1 percent and then the rest of the 90 percent earn about 12-13 thousand pounds a year.

What is the solution to these children's fate, that you've just been talking about?

BATMANGHELIDJH: Well, first of all, I think internationally we've got to recognize that violence towards children that is relentless and where the child is not being protected emerges as a public health issue, because epigeneticists believe that the amount of violence that a child experiences and the results of changes that takes place in their brain actually has an impact on how their gene gets expressed.

So i.e., intergenerationally, there is the possibility that we're passing violence on.

So I would argue that actually violence towards children is such a public health issue on par in importance as climate change.

Bottom line, politicians say children don't vote; therefore, we don't really have to address their issues.

AMANPOUR: And indeed, it looks like, according to all the figures, that the current government here in Britain is focusing its distribution of state benefits on forcing parents to take jobs if the parent fails to gain employment, there could be, you know, benefits withdrawn.

What is that going to do to the children in these families?

BATMANGHELIDJH: This is a very good point you bring up, because they're also doing this with young people. So a young person's very distressed and isn't managing. If they don't turn up at the job center, they can get sanctioned, very punished, which will mean they don't get benefits; but also they don't get housing benefit.

So what's happening is large numbers of young people are being left without money to eat, without money to keep themselves warm. And then eventually end up losing their housing because of the way they're being treated.

AMANPOUR: And the statistics show that potentially 600,000 more British children will be in poverty over the next couple of years; and as many as 4.7 million children expected to be living in poverty in 2020.

BATMANGHELIDJH: Those statistics, I think, are just the tip of the iceberg. Add to them one in 10 children in this country have mental health difficulties. Almost one in 10 children are thought by the NSBCC to be sexually and physically abused. I think Britain is sitting on top of a very problematic relationship with its vulnerable communities. And it hasn't faced it yet.

AMANPOUR: There does seem to be a much bigger focus, certainly in America right now, at least rhetorically, on this sort of war on poverty, continuing this sort of war on poverty.

You've had very progressive people voted, for instance, the mayor of New York; you've got President Obama potentially going to say something big about poverty and income inequality in his State of the Union speech.

Do you see, in your daily work, any of that kind of impact here in Britain? Do you feel that the politicians are sensitized to what really is now a massive and growing income inequality?

BATMANGHELIDJH: There is a massive income inequality. But in Britain, politicians are getting away with not facing it because they are morally judging it.

AMANPOUR: So what would you say if you were in front of the prime minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

BATMANGHELIDJH: Well, what I would say is the success of any country is dependent on the strength of its poor. You don't look after poor people, their disturbance and their distrust of government will bring it down. And I believe that unless this government develops a more compassionate attitude towards the poor in this country, it will pay a price for it.

AMANPOUR: Camila Batmanghelidjh, thank you very much.



AMANPOUR: And after a break, the Bible tells us humanity does not live on bread alone. Easy to say when you do have bread on the table. Shakespeare tells us music is food for the soul. If that's true, the people of Iran have been starving.

But courtesy of their new president, the national appetite for music may soon be fed. Striking up the band, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, how to make the world a better place, helping the poorest of the poor, as Camila Batmanghelidjh has done, is surely one way; teaching tolerance and understanding, like Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, is another.

Now imagine a world where music has the power to enlighten an entire nation. Iran is not a nation where musicians can perform freely. Rock, rap, all modern music flourishes only underground. But after five months in office, new President Hassan Rouhani seems to be setting his new agenda to music by reviving one of the regime's few publicly acceptable performances.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Classical music, of course, Iran's Symphony, one of the oldest in the Middle East, was founded in the 1930s and has performed with some of the world's most illustrious musicians, including two renowned Jewish violinists, Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin.

But the orchestra went silent last year because it couldn't pay its musicians, another consequence, they say, of international sanctions. Some hardline clerics would like the instruments to stay in their cases, contending that any kind of Western music contaminates Islamic culture. As this recent tweet indicates, though, President Rouhani begs to differ and vows to bring back the music.



Whether playing Beethoven's 5th or an ancient Persian melody, Iran's national orchestra and a vital part of its national heritage may live again.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.