Archive for April, 2009

Ahmadinejad Can’t Trust US?

Monday, April 27th, 2009

It seems that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is worried that the U.S. can’t be trusted.

“In the past 29 years, different U.S. administrations have opposed the people of Iran,” he said on Sunday. In fact succeeding American presidents have gone out of their way to say their beef is with the rulers of Iran, not the citizens.

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More telling, though, is the rest of his quote:

“Now they say that we have given up that enmity. That’s fine. We have welcomed such comments. But an administration which, up until yesterday was saying that I’m going to kill you, and today says that I’m not going to kill you, is that sufficient?”

Of course the U.S. has never made explicit threats against Iran. But how could the U.S. or Israel ever trust peaceful promises - not that they’ve been made, mind you - from an Iranian leader who repeatedly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and describes the U.S. as Satan and is working toward completing a nuclear bomb?

Not exactly prime conditions for heart-to-heart peace talks.

German People Knew Jews’ Fate

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

It is only fitting to note, in this week of Yom HaShoah and Holocaust remembrance, that the open secret about the German people’s knowledge of the fate of European Jewry during the war years has come to light.

Benjamin Schwartz, literary editor of The Atlantic, writes in the May issue of the magazine that, based on recent, major research into life in Nazi Germany, it is increasingly clear that “contrary to claims made after the war, the German people had wide-ranging and often detailed knowledge of the murder of the Jews.”

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His essay, based on four new serious books on the Nazi era in Germany, asserts that “from the very onset of the war, it was impossible not to know the Jews’ fate.” The historians describe how soldiers spoke to family and friends of the mass killings, railway staff knew of the special trains going to the concentration camps, and Nazi leaders spoke openly about their policy to exterminate Jews, though no details of implementation were ever mentioned.

“The Final Solution” was “too vast in scale and scope to be comprehended fully,” Schwartz writes, but it was also “too vast to be kept secret.” He quotes Ian Kershaw, who writes in his new study, “Hitler, The Germans and The Final Solution,” that: “Only those anxious to shut their ears…could have been utterly ignorant. And only the willfully ignorant could have imagined a drastically different fate for the Jews than was actually in store for them.”

Studies indicate that about five percent of the German population favored exterminating the Jews and an equal percentage completely opposed anti-Semitism. Twenty-one percent showed “a degree of moral sensibility (advocating, for example, a future Jewish state)” and 69 percent showed indifference to the fate of the Jews.

According to Schwartz, the realization that their army was murdering Jewish civilians in great numbers spurred citizens and Nazi leaders alike to push forward with the war effort, recognizing the terrible price they would pay should they be defeated and the facts of the genocide become known.

“We’ve burned our bridges behind us,” Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, told the German people in 1943. “We will either go down in history as the greatest statesmen of all time, or the greatest criminals.”

More than six decades later, that legacy is not in question.

How To Regain Control Of The UN: Durban Counter Conference Convenes in New York

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

The fact that so few people attended the opening session of what was billed as a local Durban II `Counter-Conference’ at Fordham Law School on Monday afternoon was actually a good thing, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

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Noting the audience of about 35 in the large auditorium, Hoenlein said the turnout was, in effect, a tribute to the hard work of his and other Jewish organizations, dating back a year and a half, in trying to convince the U.S. not to attend a re-run of the September 2001 Durban conference.

That event, you may recall, was supposed to address racism and discrimination around the world but became a rhetorical lynch mob against the U.S. and especially Israel. Shocking as it was, the full impact of its blatant and frightening display of anti-Semitism on an international scale was eclipsed and blunted by the events of 9-11, which took place two days after the conference ended.

Hoenlein said the attendance at Fordham Law was “a sign of our victory,” since the U.S. decision, announced the day before, to boycott Durban II took much of the drama out of the local conference. Had the U.S. participated in the Geneva meetings, Hoenlein said, the auditorium would be packed and there would be hundreds of demonstrators out on the streets protesting American’s involvement.

We’ll never know, but it was a masterful job of spin on Hoenlein’s part. (He did not mention the generational divide, but looking around, there could not have been more than six or seven people in the crowd under 60. Is that a good thing, too?)

Still, this week’s counter-conference, free and open to the public and sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, along with about two dozen Jewish organizations (and The Jewish Week), is a worthy effort to actually deal with the Durban II’s agenda of human rights and freedoms - minus the anti-Israel flavor underscored by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hateful rant at the opening session.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer spoke briefly, as did a representative of Gov. Patterson, a Canadian official (Canada boycotted Durban II) and an ADL expert on Europe. But the highlight of the two-hour session - one of five such sessions to be held this week, through Friday - was a dry but insightful presentation by Richard Schifter, a former U.S. representative to the UN Human Rights Commission, on how the UN agenda became anti-West (primarily anti-U.S.) around 1970, engineered by Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The only good news was that, according to Schifter, the U.S. could regain control of the UN if it took the time and effort to delve into the parliamentary machinations of the workings of the world body, as the Cubans and other anti-U.S. delegations have.

I’ll have a story on that in this week’s Jewish Week. In the meantime, you may want to attend one or more of the daily AAJLJ sessions at Fordham Law this week. For details, click here.

My Pet Peeve Of The Day

Monday, April 13th, 2009

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Invariably, when I come back to work after the two days of Seders, people will come over and ask, “so how was your Passover?”

This makes me a little crazy, even though it’s an innocuous question, even a caring one. What I want to say is, “Well, the first two days of the holiday were fine, but of course there are six more to go, so it’s way far from over, only one-quarter of the way complete, in fact, got that?”

For some, “Passover” means a seder, which mostly consists of a big meal, and no bread for a week. An added diet of macaroons and matzah, maybe, but little doing without.

For others, though, it is eight full days of a totally restricted diet and many hours in the synagogue, preceded by weeks of daily preparation, including cleaning the house, changing the year-round meat and dairy dishes and silverware for the Passover meat and dairy dishes and silverware, and endless shopping runs to the supermarket in search of specially marked Kosher for Passover products. Not to mention the cooking and creative recipes, which call for making dozens of delicacies that consist of eggs and matzah meal.

But hey, I’m not complaining. And by the way, “my Passover was great - so far. Thanks for asking.”

So Much For Jewish Unity…

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

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One had to smile about the complexities of Jewish life while reading the fascinating profile of Capers Funnye Jr., Michelle Obama’s cousin and rabbi of a Black Hebrew congregation in Chicago, in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (read it here).

Journalist Zev Chafets, an author and former editor of The Jerusalem Report, notes at the end of the long piece that Rabbi Funnye, who converted to Judaism as an adult, may finally find the New York Board of Rabbis willing to reconsider allowing Hebrew Israelite rabbis to join the group.

Race would not be an issue for Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Reform Movement. But “the fact that men and women sit separately in the Israelite congregations might be a problem for us on gender-equality grounds.”

And when, several years ago, Rabbi Funnye considered applying for membership to Rabbi Yoffie’s Union for Reform Jews, he met some resistance from his Israelite members who felt the URJ was not traditional enough for them.

“Some of their rabbis perform intermarriages,” Rabbi Funnye told Chafets, “so some of our people were uncomfortable.”

He may reconsider, though.

What a people we are.

Where’s The Outrage?

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

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What’s particularly sad about the latest tragic terror attack in Israel is that there doesn’t even seem to be much outrage among our own people when an innocent Jewish teenager is axed to death by a Palestinian 50 yards from the boy’s home.

The horrific killing in the West Bank community of Bat Ayin, in which a seven year old was also wounded, already seems like yesterday’s headline, soon to be forgotten. If the reaction has not been ho-hum, it certainly seems to accept that these brutal killings are par for the course, and “pity, but what do you expect?”

How sad that we’ve been dehumanized by our enemies.

Far more American media attention is focused on how right-wing and anti-peace the new Netanyahu government is. Never mind that the prime minister and even the alleged racist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, continue to confirm their commitment to make peace with their Palestinian neighbors.

And beyond that, Netanyahu has a track record of making peace agreements with the Palestinians, as prime minister a decade ago.

He may have held his nose when he ceded Biblical territory around Hebron, but he did it.

What sacrifice has any Palestinian leader made for peace?

Doesn’t anyone hold Palestinians accountable for continuing to praise killers of Jewish civilians as martyrs?

By the time you read this, no doubt attention will have returned to the alluring prospect of a peace deal between Israel and Syria. I’m all in favor of that, but when the President of Syria insists that Israel give up all of the Golan Heights before the talks can begin, I have to wonder what the negotiations would be about.

In the meantime, say a prayer this Shabbat for the family of Shlomo Nativ, the latest victim of the kind of hatred that, we need to remind ourselves, is inhuman.

Jeff Goldberg’s Exclusive With Bibi - And Over The Top Headline

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

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I am a big fan of Jeffrey Goldberg as a thoughtful, knowledgeable and often fearless journalist, who has interviewed Islamic militants in Gaza, among other hair-raising encounters in his reporting for The New Yorker, and more recently at The Atlantic.

He scored journalistic scoops during the Presidential election with exclusive interviews with both Barack Obama and John McCain, focusing on their views on Israel and other Jewish issues.

This week he landed another major interview, this time with Benjamin Netanyahu on the day he was sworn in as Israeli prime minister. The interview offers insights into Netanyahu’s priorities and strategies in dealing with foreign policy. But it does not make good on its headline: “Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran - Or I Will.”

Nowhere in the Goldberg piece does Netanyahu say that Israel plans to attack Iran, nor does it even hint that the new Israeli leader will offer an ultimatum to Obama.

What it does say, as Netanyahu has been saying now for several years, is that Israel must convince the U.S. and the rest of the world that a nuclear Iran is a threat not only to Israel but to the U.S. and everyone else.

To his credit, when I e-mailed Goldberg about the headline, he acknowledged that it was a stretch, though he added that it reflected the sense he got from Netanyahu’s advisors.

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