Archive for January, 2012

What’s good for Israel is good for the USA (apologies to General Bullmoose)

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about whether certain bloggers associated with the Center for American Progress (CAP) — an organization ‘closely linked to the White House’ — have crossed the line by using the expression “Israel-Firsters” for American supporters of Israel. Peter Wallsten of the Washington Post provides a relatively neutral summary of the controversy here.

I am beginning to think that nothing is less productive than discussing whether a particular expression or person is antisemitic. Certainly saying that “American Jews are disloyal because they choose Israel over the USA” is antisemitic. But the CAP bloggers who used this expression insist that they are only talking about specific individuals, and their being Jewish is irrelevant.

I’ll be generous and give them this. It’s unimportant (although I’ll add that the expression is quite popular in explicitly antisemitic and neo-Nazi circles).

Today the impulse to hate — at least as it affects the more sophisticated Americans and Europeans — is directed at the concrete national expression of the Jewish people, the state of Israel, rather than at ‘the Jews’.

So what? Irrational, obsessive hate is irrational, obsessive hate. Only the object is different. And the bloody results can be the same.

What is a bit ironic today is that the interests of the US and Israel are more closely aligned than ever before. Speaking for myself, I believe that being pro-Israel is part of being pro-American (if this weren’t the case, I would go back to Israel tomorrow).

The Obama Administration doesn’t agree with me. The thrust of its policy, since the 2009 Cairo speech, has been to bring us closer to the Muslim world, which naturally implies drawing away from Israel, and in particular trying to force the creation of a Palestinian state, regardless — despite what Mr. Obama says in public — of the cost to Israel’s security.

An argument was made in the 1970’s that US interests, in the form of low oil prices, implied that the US should adopt a more ‘even-handed’ (read: pro-Arab) approach in the Middle East. I would dispute this, but at least the proposition makes sense.

Today the situation is entirely different. The tide of radical Islamism that is sweeping over the region is ideologically hostile to the West and particularly to the US. Appeasement of these forces — which is the appropriate way to describe a great deal of Administration policy — weakens our strategic position towards them.

The present goals of the regime in Iran include the elimination of US influence in the region, the control of its oil resources, the establishment of a regional Shiite hegemony under Iranian control, and oh yes, the elimination of the “Little Satan,” Israel. Ultimately the regime’s admittedly grandiose aim is to replace the “Great Satan” (that’s us) as the world’s superpower and spread Islam throughout the world.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has similar goals. The Turkish AKP envisages a new Ottoman Empire. Whether any of these regimes or groups stand a chance of realizing them is another question, but their ideological enmity to the US is unquestionable. Appeasement of any of these will not bring lower oil prices.

In every case, the Jewish state is the active front in their diplomatic, informational and sometimes military war to achieve their goals.  Israel has the ability and desire to defend itself, and therefore to help protect US interests as well.

Despite the recent campaign to portray Israel as undemocratic, it is the state that most closely embodies our values of freedom, justice, democracy, free enterprise, etc. in the Middle East. We should do our best to support it, and not work against its self defense as the Obama Administration has done.

Are those the only reasons that I support Israel? Of course not. But they are good reasons for all Americans to do so.

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Israel’s information enemies

Thursday, January 19th, 2012
Hard-Left Ha'aretz publisher Amos Schoken. A "main enemy" of Israel

Hard-Left Ha'aretz publisher Amos Schoken: a "main enemy" of Israel

A report from Steve Linde, editor of the Jerusalem Post, about a conversation with PM Netanyahu:

“He said, ‘You know, Steve, we have two main enemies,’ ” Linde had said on Wednesday of Netanyahu, according to a recording of the WIZO speech provided to JTA. “And I thought he was going to talk about, you know, Iran, maybe Hamas. He said, ‘It’s The New York Times and Haaretz.’ He said, ‘They set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories … on what they read in The New York Times and Haaretz.’ ”

Of course, PM Netanyahu denied saying it, and Linde indicated that he had actually been paraphrasing the PM’s statement, not quoting it exactly. And I’m sure that nobody expects Israel to bomb Ha’aretz or invade Times Square. Everyone knows who Israel’s main enemies are.

But in a sense, we also know what he was getting at. While — at least so far — Israel has been capable of defeating its Arab enemies on the battlefield, it is particularly inept at countering the information war being waged against it, in part by the anti-Zionist Left.

Netanyahu knows that unless something unlikely and unforeseen happens, the moment will come when he will have to order the IDF to attack the Iranian nuclear complex. This is the last thing he wants to do — or rather, it is the second last, the last being to become aware that Iran has deliverable atomic weapons.

He knows that such an attack will be followed by retaliation which will undoubtedly kill many Israelis, despite the plans of the IDF to take out Hizballah’s rockets, neuter Hamas and deter Syria, and despite Israel’s well-developed missile defense capabilities.

He knows that the only thing worse than making the decision too early will be making it too late. It is reminiscent of the decision faced by Eshkol, Dayan and Rabin on the eve of the Six Days War.

So it doesn’t help when the Times publishes op-eds suggesting that the best way to solve the problem of Iranian nukes is for Israel to give up its own nuclear deterrent.

He is pressured on other fronts, too, as by a European diplomatic assault to force Israel to evacuate the area east of the Green line, which would effectively allow it to become a terrorist base. And speaking of terrorist bases, there is the increasingly dangerous condition of the Sinai peninsula, which has become a no-man’s land for multiple radical groups.

He really doesn’t need — just one striking example — for US decision-makers to read top Times columnist Tom Friedman saying that the standing ovation he received in Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” or, for that matter, anything about Israel written by Friedman, Roger Cohen or Nicholas Kristoff.

NY Times editorials and the great preponderance of op-eds that relate to Israel blame it for the conflict or denigrate it as undemocratic or otherwise unsavory. Recently the Times published an outrageous attack on Israel for ‘pinkwashing’ — using its reputation for tolerance of gays to cover up oppression of Arabs — by a member of the extremist group “Jewish Voice for Peace.”

Ha’aretz is worse, if possible. Its staff includes Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and Akiva Eldar, who simply echo the Arab narrative in which Israel is a racist apartheid war-criminal state, which should never have been created. Because it is an Israeli newspaper — with an elaborate, up-to-date English website —  it is often quoted as representative of opinion in the country, whereas its positions are actually shared only by a small minority of Israelis on the far Left.

Both of these organs are considered the ‘newspaper of record’ in their respective countries, and as Netanyahu noted, their views are repeated by journalists around the world.

This is how the campaign to delegitimize Israel — to paint it as a criminal among nations, a rogue state, a state which is forbidden to defend itself — is fed every day. From the top.

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Anti-Israel propagandist to speak at Fresno State

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
Vida Samiian demonstrates against the presence of Israeli academic Ronen Cohen at a conference of the International Society for Iran Studies in Santa Monica last year.

Vida Samiian demonstrates against the presence of Israeli academic Ronen Cohen at a conference of the International Society for Iran Studies in Santa Monica in 2010.

Renegade Israeli ‘historian’ Ilan Pappé will be in California next month. In a whirlwind tour, he will visit UCLA and campuses in Northridge, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and California State University Fresno (CSUF) — where he has been invited by our own Dr. Vida Samiian, Dean of CSUF’s College of Arts and Humanities.

Pappé’s talk is titled “The False Paradigm of Parity and Partition: Revisiting 1967.” It is described as follows:

The talk will focus on Israeli policy before and after the June 1967 war. Two theses will be argued by revisiting the 1967 events: first, Israeli policies of 1967 can only be understood within the context of the overall Israeli strategy in 1948 and after.  This means that the war of 1967 was a direct continuation of the 1948 Nakbah and not a separate event. The second argument will be that Israeli strategy, including the device of what was later named as the “peace process,” was already formulated in 1967 and has not changed since that year and even until today. This strategy, it will be argued in the talk, is the main obstacle to peace in Israel and Palestine.

Pappé’s view is that the nakba, the exodus of Arabs from Israel in 1948, was the result of an intentional Israeli policy of ethnic cleansing. In attempting to prove this false thesis in several books and articles, he has presented quotations from Israeli officials of the time out of context, changing or even reversing their meanings (see Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History (Second, revised edition. London: Frank Cass, 2000)). He is currently under investigation at his present university, Exeter in the UK, for inventing a quotation from Ben Gurion out of whole cloth in one of his books.

Now apparently, he wants to place responsibility for the Six Days War on Israel — despite the massive documentation of Arab intentions to destroy Israel and even to commit genocide of its Jewish inhabitants — and present it as another attempt to dispossess the Palestinian Arabs and steal their land.

Pappé taught at Haifa University until 2007. He left after a controversy over a student’s Master’s thesis, which alleged that a massacre had been committed in the Arab town of Tantura in 1948. The student, Teddy Katz, ultimately lost a libel suit filed by veterans of the brigade that was accused of the massacre, and a university examination found distortions and fabricated quotes in the thesis and disqualified it. Pappé took up the student’s cause and called for a world-wide academic boycott against Haifa University, which developed into the academic boycott of several Israeli universities by the British Association of University Teachers. The detailed story is here.

Pappé doesn’t hide his disdain for facts when they interfere with his ideological preconceptions. Here are some quotations collected by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA):

There is no historian in the world who is objective. I am not as interested in what happened as in how people see what’s happened. (“An Interview of Ilan Pappé,” Baudouin Loos, Le Soir [Bruxelles], Nov. 29, 1999)

I admit that my ideology influences my historical writings…(Ibid)

Indeed the struggle is about ideology, not about facts. Who knows what facts are? We try to convince as many people as we can that our interpretation of the facts is the correct one, and we do it because of ideological reasons, not because we are truthseekers. (Ibid)

The debate between us is on one level between historians who believe they are purely objective reconstructers of the past, like [Benny] Morris, and those who claim that they are subjective human beings striving to tell their own version of the past, like myself. (“Benny Morris’s Lies About My Book,” Ilan Pappé, Response to Morris’ critique of Pappé’s book, “A History of Palestine” published in the New Republic, March 22, 2004, History News Network, April 5, 2004)

[Historical] Narratives… when written by historians involved deeply in the subject matter they write about, such as in the case of Israeli historians who write about the Palestine conflict, is motivated also… by a deep involvement and a wish to make a point. This point is called ideology or politics. (Ibid)

Yes, I use Palestinian sources for the Intifada: they seem to me to be more reliable, I admit. (Ibid)

Pappé continues to claim that there were massacres of Arabs in Tantura, and more recently, Jenin in 2003 — although even the UN now admits that only 50-odd Arabs were killed there, four-fifths of them combatants.

Pappé’s ‘solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to replace Israel and the territories with a single state containing all of the present inhabitants of the area, along with the several million Arabs claiming refugee status or otherwise to be descended from Arabs living in Palestine pre-1948:

This must be based on the twofold recognition that a solution has to include all the Palestinians (in the occupied territories, in exile and inside Israel) and has to be based on the construction of a new regime for the whole land of historical Palestine, offering equality and prosperity for all the people who live there now or were expelled from it by force in the last 63 years of Israel’s existence.

This of course would result in an Arab majority, the end of the Jewish state, and probably a bloody civil war.

In addition to his admitted bias and deliberate distortion of facts, Pappé is a sloppy scholar. In a review of a 2004 book, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Efraim Karsh writes,

Even by the skewed standards of this field of studies, Pappé’s latest book ranks in a class of its own. Not only does it add no new facts or ideas to the anti-Israel literature, but the sloppiness of its research astounds. It contains countless factual errors and inaccuracies. Yasir Arafat’s birthplace is Cairo and not Jerusalem. The U.N. Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) presented its report on August 31, 1947, not on November 29. Deir Yasin is a village near Jerusalem, and not in Haifa. Lawrence of Arabia had nothing to do with the Anglo-Hashemite correspondence that led to the “Great Arab Revolt” of World War I. Further, this correspondence was initiated by the Hashemites not by the British. Pappé even misspells the official English transliteration of President Weizmann’s first name (Chaim, not Haim).

More serious is the book’s consistent resort to factual misrepresentation, distortion, and outright falsehood. Readers are told of events that never happened, such as the nonexistent May 1948 Tantura “massacre” or the expulsion of Arabs within twelve days of the partition resolution. They learn of political decisions that were never made, such as the Anglo-French 1912 plan for the occupation of Palestine or the contriving of “a master plan to rid the future Jewish state of as many Palestinians as possible.” And they are misinformed about military and political developments, such as the rationale for the Balfour declaration…

His position is fundamentally dishonest: while he calls himself a ‘historian’, which most of us understand as someone who studies actual past events, he invents events to suit his program. He is not a serious scholar; rather he is a propagandist and ideologue.

While such a person may speak at our university, it’s not clear that University funds should pay for it. His talk at California State University Northridge (CSUN) is sponsored by the CSUN Students for Justice in Palestine, CSUN Greens, Muslim Student Association, South Asia Club, and the CSUN Communications Association. Where is the money coming from for his Fresno talk?

There is also the question of balance. I understand that he will be speaking alone rather than as a member of a panel. Obviously he prefers this, since any decent historian of the Mideast would make Swiss cheese out of his arguments. But given the political nature of his talk, should not some balance be provided?

Finally, is it appropriate for an administrator, like Vida Samiian, to be involved in political activity at the university where she works? After all, Dr. Samiian has the ability to affect the livelihoods of faculty members who might challenge her.

I plan to put these questions to the University authorities.

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Slanderous essay wins Carnegie-Mellon award

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person…
Who is brave?
The one who subdues his negative inclination…
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has…
Who is honored?
The one who gives honor to others…
(Talmud – Avot 4:1)

I lived for some years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is not a bad place at all, although the winters are very cold and once the sun didn’t come out for 43 days (I counted). It has several top -notch universities, including the University of Pittsburgh where I was a graduate student, and Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU).

Every year CMU runs a contest for student writing about racial issues, on the occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This year’s high school  winners were a African-American girl, Erika Drain, and a Jewish boy, Jesse Lieberfeld. They are both juniors at the Winchester Thurston School, a private school whose main campus is located in the city’s Shadyside neighborhood. Tuition for the 11th grade is $23,600 at Winchester Thurston, so one assumes that they have only the best teachers and facilities available to them.

Their essays were published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, here. Erika Drain’s, about being called “not black enough” because of her academic achievement, was perceptive and nuanced. Jesse Lieberfeld’s was notable for several reasons:

  • His clearly expressed disdain for Jews and Judaism
  • His completely one-sided understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • The fact that his parents, teachers, rabbi, etc. didn’t succeed (or try) to introduce at least a bit of reality into his thinking
  • The fact that CMU chose this offensive piece as one of the top two high school essays

He begins with an arguably antisemitic statement:

I once belonged to a wonderful religion. I belonged to a religion that allows those of us who believe in it to feel that we are the greatest people in the world — and feel sorry for ourselves at the same time. Once, I thought that I truly belonged in this world of security, self-pity, self-proclaimed intelligence and perfect moral aesthetic. I thought myself to be somewhat privileged early on. It was soon revealed to me, however, that my fellow believers and I were not part of anything so flattering.

One would think that someone along the way would have explained to him that normative Judaism — liberal or Orthodox — does not teach that Jews are superior to others, only that they bear a greater moral burden, that of following the commandments. It’s unfortunate if he or his family are intellectual snobs or enjoy self-pity, but the Jewish people are not responsible for his psychological issues.

…as I came to learn more about our so-called “conflict” with the Palestinians, I grew more concerned. I routinely heard about unexplained mass killings, attacks on medical bases and other alarmingly violent actions for which I could see no possible reason. “Genocide” almost seemed the more appropriate term, yet no one I knew would have ever dreamed of portraying the war in that manner; they always described the situation in shockingly neutral terms. Whenever I brought up the subject, I was always given the answer that there were faults on both sides, that no one was really to blame, or simply that it was a “difficult situation.”

Nobody told him, apparently, that Operation Cast Lead came after some 8,000 rockets were fired at random by Hamas into Israeli towns. Nobody explained to him about the Second Intifada, the suicide bombings and drive-by shootings. Nobody told him about the surprise attack in 1973, the plans to wipe out the Jewish residents of Israel in 1967, the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem in 1948. Nobody mentioned the 800,000 Jews kicked out of Arab countries after the War of Independence. Nobody explained how the Arab world had been trying to extirpate the Jewish presence from the Middle East for at least the last 100 years.

No, they just told him that “there were faults on both sides.”

And the connection to Dr. King?

In that moment, I realized how similar the two struggles were — like the white radicals [sic] of that era, we controlled the lives of another people whom we abused daily, and no one could speak out against us. It was too politically incorrect to do so. We had suffered too much, endured too many hardships, and overcome too many losses to be criticized. I realized then that I was in no way part of a “conflict” — the term “Israeli/Palestinian Conflict” was no more accurate than calling the Civil Rights Movement the “Caucasian/African-American Conflict.”

In both cases, the expression was a blatant euphemism: it gave the impression that this was a dispute among equals and that both held an equal share of the blame. However, in both, there was clearly an oppressor and an oppressed, and I felt horrified at the realization that I was by nature on the side of the oppressors. I was grouped with the racial supremacists. I was part of a group that killed while praising its own intelligence and reason. I was part of a delusion.

No one could speak out? Apparently Mr. Lieberfeld was not only allowed to speak out, but was given an award for it.

Concerning his absurd analogy, I would ask him if black people fired missiles into American cities? If they made a habit of blowing up buses on our streets? If African-Americans regularly proclaimed their desire to rid the country of whites and were supported in this by 23 neighboring nations, one of which was developing nuclear weapons? If black heroes, instead of Dr. King, were people like Palestinian hero Dalal Mughrabi, who led a bloody terrorist attack that killed 35 Israelis, including 13 children? Talk about delusions!

Was his expensive education so poor that he is unaware of the differences between the struggle of African-Americans to overcome official and unofficial racism in their country, and the viciously racist 100-year effort to kick the Jewish people out of their ancestral homeland?

Did it occur to him that his sources of ‘information’ might possibly be biased? Apparently not.

Finally, Mr. Lieberfeld gives Judaism one last chance — and it fails the test:

I decided to make one last appeal to my religion. If it could not answer my misgivings, no one could.

The next time I attended a service, there was an open question-and-answer session about any point of our religion. I wanted to place my dilemma in as clear and simple terms as I knew how. I thought out my exact question over the course of the 17-minute cello solo that was routinely played during service. Previously, I had always accepted this solo as just another part of the program, yet now it seemed to capture the whole essence of our religion: intelligent and well-crafted on paper, yet completely oblivious to the outside world (the soloist did not have the faintest idea of how masterfully he was putting us all to sleep).

When I was finally given the chance to ask a question, I asked: “I want to support Israel. But how can I when it lets its army commit so many killings?” I was met with a few angry glares from some of the older men, but the rabbi answered me.

“It is a terrible thing, isn’t it?” he said. “But there’s nothing we can do. It’s just a fact of life.”

I’d like to believe the rabbi did better than that, and that Lieberfeld was just not paying attention. But today, who knows?

I blame the family, the teachers, the rabbi, and CMU’s selection committee who validated this exercise in ignorant slander. But the responsibility for what he said lies with only one person, Mr. Lieberfeld himself. He’s old enough to accept it.

I suggest that he reread the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Zoma at the beginning of this piece, and then learn the truth about Israel — and some humility, while he’s at it. Dr. King certainly would have approved.


Update [2008 PDT]: Elder of Ziyon also discussed this essay in “An open letter to 17-year old Jesse Lieberfeld.”

Update [2011 PDT]: Jesse Lieberfeld is the son of Daniel Lieberfeld, an associate professor at Duquesne University, another well-known Pittsburgh institution. Daniel Lieberfeld has written extensively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (see a list of his publications here), and teaches an undergraduate course on it. From what I’ve been able to find so far, he seems to take a center-left perspective.

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Why Israel fails in public diplomacy (and strategic action)

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Martin Sherman writes (“Comprehending the incomprehensible — Part I“),

For anyone seeking the principal reason why Israel is losing the public diplomacy war, the answer is difficult to accept, yet very easy to prove.

Israel is losing the battle because it doesn’t want to win.

Sherman’s thesis is tightly argued. I’ll summarize:

If an organization wants to achieve an objective, it will allocate resources to it. Israel’s budget for what Sherman calls ‘public diplomacy’ and I call the ‘information war’ is minuscule. The state is able to come up with large sums of money for such things as the withdrawal from Gaza or building the security barrier, but the Osem company spends two to three times as much promoting its ‘Bamba’ snack than Israel does telling its story to the world.

Since everyone admits that this is enormously important, why isn’t more funding provided?

Sherman suggests that the explanation for this criminal negligence is the same as the solution to these additional paradoxes:

• Why a country that displays such technotactical brilliance is afflicted by such strategic imbecility;
• Why hawkish candidates consistently win elections, but then immediately adopt the failed policy of their defeated dovish rivals;
• Why the doctrine of political appeasement and territorial concessions is repeatedly and consistently disproven, but somehow never discredited – and certainly never discarded;
• Why the Israeli political establishment has not embraced more appreciatively and mobilized more effectively the huge potential in the support of communities such as the Evangelical Christians across the world, and particularly in the US, as a strategic asset.

Sherman blames “the decisive role that civil society elites have in setting the direction of the country’s strategic agenda – no matter who gets elected.” And he adds that “this is a role that is not only decisive, but also in many ways detrimental, dysfunctional and at times disloyal.”

He’s talking about the academic/media/legal establishment, which includes some of the most viciously anti-Israel personalities you will find outside of Hamas. He gives some egregious examples, like BDS supporter Professor Neve Gordon and Ha’aretz journalists Akiva Eldar and Gideon Levy, and explains how the anti-state worldview that suffuses this stratum of Israel’s society, is strictly enforced by sanctioning ‘dissidents’ livelihood, promotions, etc.

This unelected establishment, says Sherman, has “both the ability and the motivation to determine the direction of the strategic agenda of the nation,” neutralizing the will of the voting public. And that direction is pathologically self-destructive.

With regard to public diplomacy or information warfare, the battle is lost before it even begins, because “the senior professionals charged with conducting the county’s public diplomacy are drawn from – and interface with – the elites discussed previously.”

This is an extremely important article, and is worth reading in full. In part II, Sherman will expand on the precise way in which the world-view of the intellectual elite acts on the decision-making processes of state institutions.

I’ve written in the past about Dr. Kenneth Levin’s thesis that many Jews suffer from what he calls “The Oslo Syndrome.” I described it thus:

Levin’s thesis, somewhat oversimplified, is that anti-Jewish attitudes in oppressed Jews result from a) internalizing  and coming to believe the antisemitic canards of their oppressors, and b) an unrealistic delusion that they have the power to change the behavior of the antisemites by self-reform — by ‘improving’ themselves so as to no longer deserve antisemitic hatred.

What we apparently have here is an entire social stratum of Israeli society — arguably made up of  the most influential Israelis — that is afflicted by this disorder. Worse, these individuals provide positive feedback for each other’s derangement to the point that some — see the examples in Sherman’s article — become nothing less than traitors, agents of those that want to commit another genocide against the Jewish people.

Recently there have been several pieces of legislation considered in Israel’s Knesset that have been criticized in the media as “anti-democratic.” Their intent has been, for example, to limit foreign funding of Israeli organizations, to change the method of selecting Supreme Court Justices, and to increase the limit on libel damages that public figures can claim from media.

Without discussing the details, it seems that these are all attempts of Israel’s elected legislature to limit the power of the unelected elites, in other words, to defend democracy, not to attack it.

How ironic!

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