Chapter 6 - Davos, January 26-February 1, 2000 - Episode 7Listen to podcast
No formal sessions are scheduled for Sunday. The delegates are encouraged to take advantage of the excellent downhill and cross-country skiing. Larry and Louise wake late and hung-over. One look at the still blowing snow outside the window convinces them to pull down the shades and go back to sleep, despite being in one of the world’s premier ski resorts.
Sunday evening Larry has his meeting with the Palestinian, Mahmud Assan. They meet in the small bar in the lobby of the Sunset Reising. Mahmud is in Western clothes — a well-tailored brown jacket and an open shirt. His slacks are pressed and his black shoes shined to a high gloss.
“I’m pleased — very pleased — to meet you, Mr. Lazard,” he says.
“Please, call me Larry.”
“You should likewise call me Mahmud.”
They discuss the sessions they’ve been to. Larry describes the pleasure of hearing from the world’s foremost expert in mushrooms — a man who discovered and cataloged over 100 species himself — about a strange phenomenon. Species seem to have evolved in pairs, one of each pair is poisonous and the other isn’t. It is not clear whether the poison varieties mimic the harmless ones as they evolve or vice versa or whether there is yet another explanation for this pairing.
Mahmud was interested especially in efforts which are being made to eliminate patent barriers to the manufacture of needed drugs in the third world. Brazil has been especially successful in this regard, particularly with the antiviral drugs necessary to fight AIDS. The problem is that these drugs do have a way of finding their way back to first world markets much to the discomfort of the major drug manufacturers.
“I understand you are prepared to invest in Palestine,” says Mahmud.
“I understand that there is an opportunity for my friend Chaim and I to invest in Jenin and help create jobs there,” says Larry.
“There is no opportunity for Israeli investment in Jenin,” says Mahmud flatly.
“But I thought…”
“Mr. Larry Lazard — Larry — you must understand that my people want no investment from the Israelis who have stolen their homes and treated them without respect or mercy. This cannot be. The Zionists and the Palestinians are enemies and that will not change, not so long as Israel occupies our land.”
“My meeting with you was set up by Israelis. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I never heard of the initiative to create jobs in the Palestinian territories until I went to a meeting with Israelis. They are the ones who want to help. They recruited me.”
“We do not want the help of the Jews. We…”
“I’m a Jew,” says Larry. He has rarely said that.
“That is why you must deal through me if you want to help,” says Mahmud.
“That’s outrageous,” says Larry. “I’m here to help and you’re insulting me and my friends.”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, Larry Lazard, you are naïve in these matters. I know you have been a great success in your own country and I know that you have the highest of motives. The Palestinian Authority cannot accept help from Jews. I want you to be able to help my people and I can make that possible despite the centuries of hatred and injustice which stand in our way.”
“Meaning what?” asks Larry.
“You can help but you must help through me.”
“Very kind of you.” Larry is visibly angry. “You mean the Palestinian people can have jobs but they can’t know who hired them. They can have jobs that my Israeli friends and I create but they have to be able to go on hating us; they can’t ever find out that we’ve helped them? Even if I wanted to — and I don’t — how could I outsource programming to people that we can’t talk to and who don’t know we exist?”
“That’s my role,” says Mahmud. “I will represent you to them and I will represent them to you. They will know, of course, that the programming will be used in the United States of America but they will not know the association with Zionists. They will not know of you and certainly not know of your friend Chaim. If they knew, they would not accept the work.”
“That’s outrageous,” Larry repeats. “I’m not going to hide so I can help.”
“I think,” says Mahmud calmly, “that your friends who put you in touch with me will be disappointed to hear that you only want to help in order to get credit for helping, and will not help if you cannot have the credit. That…”
“That is not the point,” says Larry. “The point is not that I get credit. The point is that the people know that they got help from people they’ve spent their whole life hating. This is the way to break the cycle of hatred and violence.”
“I’m afraid you do not understand how deeply this hatred runs. The people will not believe that those who have treated them so badly are now treating them well. They cannot accept gifts from their oppressors. They will not accept gifts from their oppressors.”
“Then what is the point?” asks Larry.
“The point is,” Mahmud explains, “that these people have no hope because they have no jobs. If your help — your anonymous help, help given through me and the Palestinian Authority — if this help gives them jobs, then they will have a reason to hope. Then they will have a reason to avoid the violence which is born of despair. Then, if the Israelis stop their violence, then maybe there can be peace, God willing. I don’t know what your friends told you, but I know they know these truths. That is why your friend Chaim has not come with you to see me. I do not believe they want ‘credit’; they know this is impossible. I believe they want to create jobs so that young unemployed men do not continue to become martyrs against those who have stolen our land.”
“Suppose I were willing to do this. Suppose I am willing to create these jobs without ever having the people who benefit know who helped them, how would that work?”
“Well, Larry Lazard, that is my role. I will put you in touch with a company in the United States for which my brother works. You will deal mainly with him and, through me and the Palestinian Authority, the jobs will be created and the work will be done. Your mission will be, as you Americans say, ‘accomplished’.”
“I don’t like this but I will think about it,” says Larry. “On practical terms, I’m not at all sure the programming can be done correctly if there is not direct communication between the development people at hackoff and the programmers. Moreover, I don’t like leaving the programmers taking Jewish money and hating Jews.”
“Is it not better than to have them killing Jews?”
“They kill themselves, too.”
“They are happy to die. They know that Allah will reward them in the afterlife. But the question is do you want to help? Do you want to create these jobs? Do you want to help end the killing? And, of course, you will get this work done more cheaply than you would anywhere else. More cheaply than in India, certainly more cheaply than in the United States.”
“I’ll think about it,” says Larry already thinking. “Perhaps we will find a way to do it.”
“There will be certain expenses in advance,” says Mahmud.
“The jobs cannot be established until certain people have been satisfied that this is a good idea. There will be expenses associated with that.”
“What do you mean?” asks Larry naively. “Are you talking about lobbying? Public relations? What is this?”
“You might call it lobbying,” says Mahmud. “In the United States I believe you give ‘campaign contributions’. Here there are also people who must be satisfied before things are able to happen. I will have to distribute ‘campaign contributions’ in order to have the support we need for this very risky business. I must have the money for these ‘campaign contributions’ in advance.”
“You’re asking me for a fucking bribe,” says Larry, his eyes first wide in disbelief than narrowing in anger. “You’re telling me I have to pay bribes to you and your fucking friends so I can have the privilege of creating jobs that you take credit for so that they can go on hating me and all other Jews. Fuck you. Get out of here.” Larry is on his feet.
“It is how things are done,” says Mahmud. “And you are being insulting. That will not get things done. That is not good.”
“Which part of ‘get out of here’ didn’t you understand? Is there a way to say ‘fuck you’ in Arabic? Do you understand that?”
The manager of the Sunset Reising hears the rising volume and anger and moves slowly from behind the desk in the back room to where Larry and Mahmud are. However, he first pushes the security button under the desk; he has been told that it connects directly to the army security forces and that they will arrive within minutes.
“Mein Herren…” says the manager. “Gentlemen, is there a problem?”
“No problem,” says Mahmud.
“No problem,” says Larry.
“There is keine problem,” explains the manager to the troops with Uzis who suddenly fill the lobby. “I made a mistake. Danken Sie; danken Sie, bitte. No problem.”
“You have made a mistake,” says Mahmud to Larry as he leaves.