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Uncertain Times for Ukraine

The Jews have had a very difficult history in Ukraine. One of the worst disasters to befall a Jewish community was the pogroms led by Bohdan Chmielnicki and his followers in 1648. He believed that Jews were even more alien than the Roman Catholic Poles, who governed Ukraine at the time.

Jews should not be compounding Ukrainian “servitude” by collecting rents and taxes on behalf of the “Polish oppressors.” As a result, as many as 50,000 Jews were murdered. During my last visit to Kiev, I was greeted by a statue of the same Chmielnicki as he is revered as a Ukrainian nationalist.

Map of Ukraine with Odessa highlighted
Map of Ukraine with Odessa highlighted
Moving to Odessa on the Black Sea, conquered by the Russians in the Russo-Turkish War in 1792, the city was founded by Catherine the Great as a major warm water port for Mother Russia. She encouraged its settlement by all ethnic groups, making it into an international and open city. This included many Jews. Yet this open city had more pogroms than most other cities in Ukraine. And Ukraine was the “Pale of Settlement” for Jews, as they were not permitted to live in the large cities of the Russian empire. So Ukraine was the land of the “shtetlach.”

Moving to contemporary times, there is great hope for a new democratic government that was established several months ago, which leans toward Westerns ideals of liberty, democracy, and freedom. Of course, all this is quite uncertain considering Russia’s conquest of Crimea and her massing of troops on the Eastern Ukrainian border.

There is a pattern to Russia’s need to dominate Crimea and Ukraine. The Crimean War, fought between 1853-1855, began when Russia, under Czar Nicolas I, sought to protect Orthodox Christians from the Ottoman rulers who controlled the Crimean at the time. Sound familiar? The ensuing war involved the French, British, and Turks against the Russians, with the loss of many thousands of lives. The famous Charge of the Light Brigade was part of this war.

Attempting to secure the rights of minority nationalities in other countries was the pretext Hitler used to invade Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. And now Vladimir Putin is using the same approach in Crimea and possibly eastern Ukraine.

While the NCSJ, our national agency, has assured us that there is no significant rise in anti-Semitism during this Ukrainian crisis, we cannot be complacent during these unstable times. Accordingly, our partner agencies, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and World ORT are substantially increasing their budgets, with our system’s help, to enhance security for the dozens of Hesed centers, synagogues, other schools and facilities within the Ukraine.

The Ukrainian currency has also been devalued by close to one third because of the political and economic instability. Of course, there is always the fear of lingering anti-Semitism that may erupt at any time, as the Jews have been a useful scapegoat for racist and nationalistic elements throughout  Ukraine.

Greater MetroWest NJ transferred $20,000 in emergency cash to Tikva so it can adequately feed its 900 students
Greater MetroWest NJ transferred $20,000 in emergency cash to Tikva
Our two partnership communities, Cherkassy — about three hours away from Kiev — and the Tikva Children’s Home in Odessa, the largest such school in all of the former Soviet Union, have been very much on our mind. As there has been a run on food and prices have skyrocketed, Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ transferred $20,000 in emergency cash to Tikva so it can adequately feed its 900 students.

We also are providing support for additional outreach and delivery of food to the elderly in Cherkassy and the Cherkassy regions, which has about 6,000 Jews within its catchment area. In addition, we will be providing funding for national efforts identified by the JDC, JAFI and World ORT and coordinated by our umbrella agency, Jewish Federations of North America, to provide a million dollars’ worth of extraordinary assistance for security, food, and gasoline.

Map of Ukraine wtih Cherkassy highlighted
Map of Ukraine wtih Cherkassy highlighted
We’re able to provide this emergency assistance because our annual United Jewish Appeal Campaign allocates resources to address emergency needs such as what is facing Ukraine. We will need more for the future, which is why we need to have an increased UJA Campaign this year. Moreover, UJA also funds the staffing infrastructure for JAFI, JDC, and World ORT so that they are in position to assess the need and respond immediately. Significant emergency cash for food, security, and other items are beyond their financial resource, which is why they need our support through UJA.

As Putin masses his forces on the border astride the eastern border of Ukraine, we are obviously very concerned about the potential dislocations created by this action, as well as the overall stability of the Ukrainian government. 

I sincerely hope that the Western powers, led by the United States, will step up its economic and military assistance to Ukraine. Economic and military strength shown early on in a crisis averts warfare rather than promoting it. This certainly is the lesson learned at terrible cost during the 1930s and 1940s.

Posted by: admin (March 25, 2014 at 4:39 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

BDS Part III — When Ideology Calls for the Elimination of the Jewish State

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas
Now that the Arab League has given political cover to Mahmoud Abbas in his rejection of a Jewish state for Israel, we understand what the end game is for the BDS Movement. Don’t listen to BDS fellow travelers who naively follow New Left “truisms” of the 1960s of colonialism or “occupation of colored peoples” and other pablum. Instead, read what the BDS ideologues are writing and saying.

Omar Bargouti
Omar Bargouti
An ideologue of first rank, Omar Barghouti, wrote in the New York Times on January 31, 2014, that the “BDS Movement calls for ending Israel’s 1967 occupation, recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and lands from which they were forcibly displaced and dispossessed in 1948.”

In Monday’s Associated Press report on the upcoming meeting between Abbas and President Obama, Abbas stated that “you cannot recognize Israel as a Jewish State because this will prejudice negotiations on the fate of several millions of Palestinians refugees and their descendants including ‘their right of return to what is now Israel.’”   

How then can you recognize the Jewish State when your goal is to inundate the state with millions of refugees harbored in squalid conditions for two generations, funded primarily by the United States. Two generations of refugees with no homeland, surrounded by 21 Arab countries with trillions of petro-dollars at their disposal. 

Tiny Israel doubled its population in the 1950s by absorbing Jewish refugees fleeing persecution from North Africa, a movement funded by UJA and the Israeli taxpayer. This “Right of Return” is a non-starter for Israel. It should be a source of embarrassment for the Arab countries, however, in that over the past 66 years they never mainstreamed the refugees into their societies. On the contrary, they were used for political fodder to attempt to eliminate the Jewish State.

An Arab-recognized tiny Jewish state would be a “strain” within the hundreds of thousands of square miles of Muslim territory from Northern and Central Africa through the Middle East and Turkey. That is why Israel is not included in Palestinian text books, and their leadership deny Jewish roots to their homeland. The ideologues of BDS desire a one-state solution because the refugee influx would overwhelm the Jewish State.

Roger Cohen, a critic of Israel’s settlement movement, wrote “Mellifluous talk of democracy and rights and justice masks the B.D.S. objective that is nothing other than the end of the Jewish state for which the United Nations gave an unambiguous mandate in 1947 (recognizing a Jewish State and Arab State.) The movement’s anti-Zionism can easily be a cover for anti-Semitism…The so-called right of return of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians driven out in the 1948 war (whose descendants now number in the millions) cannot be exercised, any more than the Jews of Baghdad and Cairo have deeds to return home.” 

So when you are confronted by someone advocating BDS, ask them to ask their leaders whether they accept a Jewish state when their only concern is the so-called “occupation.” The more individuals learn about the true goals of the BDS Movement, the more reasonable ones who are not ideologically brainwashed, will recognize the danger that BDS poses for Israel as a Jewish state, which although imperfect as is our country, respects minority right and is a thriving democracy.

As Israel will not go away, BDS, in effect, calls for its elimination by any means necessary. Fellow travelers should hitch a ride to another cause less dangerous and abhorrent.

Posted by: admin (March 19, 2014 at 12:21 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

A Warm February

We just completed the coldest month in New Jersey in decades. But I was privileged to spend 10 of those days in Israel.

February was a busy month for our Jewish community because we sponsored half a dozen different trips to Israel. We had the Epstein Leadership Mission to train and encourage young leaders to become the foundation of our Jewish community, and we had participants on the national Heart to Heart Mission for women under the auspices of Women’s Philanthropy. The Peoplehood Project had its next cohort of 10 Americans and 10 Israelis spending time together and developing joint plans to strengthen Jewish Peoplehood.

When I arrived in Israel, I joined nine rabbis and one cantor representing different denominations and geography who met with major political leaders and opinion molders. We learned the latest facts on the ground and the best approaches to convey Israel’s message to different audiences in North America. 

Isha Center in Ofakim
Isha Center in Ofakim
We also had an opportunity to showcase the great work that Greater MetroWest is doing with the Ethiopian community in Rishon LeZion and in promoting respect for the different ways we observe Judaism and nurture Judaism among secular Israelis. We visited Kibbutz Erez, literally on the edge of Israel, marveling on how it thrives on Gaza’s border. 

Rishon LeZion
Rishon LeZion
When the clergy left to go back to North America, I met with the trustees of the Ness Foundation, who fund different projects to help strengthen the Negev. We visited Ofakim, Arad, and the Arava, which is in southeast Israel abutting Jordan. We encountered the future leaders of the Negev, including Bedouins. We then discussed recommendations for projects to fund by this unique foundation, a legacy of the former Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. The Negev has 60 percent of Israel’s landmass but only 10 percent of its population. It is the future of Israel.

As I write this blog, we are now hosting, together with the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, a delegation of 12 New Jersey legislators, led by State Senate President Stephen Sweeney. This group is in Israel to learn how Israel is a thriving outpost of democracy in a hostile region and to cultivate better trade opportunities between our two countries. We obviously also hope that they will become champions of the State of Israel on their return to the United States.

As I woke up this morning with the temperature hovering around 5 degrees, I still have those warm feelings for those 10 wonderful days spent in the Promised Land.

Posted by: admin (March 03, 2014 at 4:21 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

When Ideology Trumps Fairness and Decency – Part II

In my last blog, I discussed the negative consequences of boycotting Israeli businesses located in the West Bank as they are economic drivers that help employ Palestinians and sustain its economy.

 

There are two larger issues. First, why is the BDS movement directed against Israel and secondly, what is its core mission? Why is Israel being singled out when the world is full of dozens of examples of human rights abuses that make any misdeeds by the Israelis seem like child’s play?

 

Let’s look at the Palestinians themselves. Why are Jews prohibited from purchasing any land under Palestinian control? If the Nazi “Judenrein” policy was evil, why is the world silent on the Palestinian version? Why is it that Israel is blamed by BDS advocates and others for the lack of progress on the peace process? The Oslo Accords collapsed because of the launch of the intifada by Yasir Arafat, and two peace proposals offered by two Israeli prime ministers of different parties were rejected by the Palestinians.

 

Why are the Palestinians still teaching hatred against Jews and excluding Israel from their geography textbooks? In the two-state solution: one for the Palestinians and Israel, why do the Palestinians reject the Jewish one? Why do they deny any claims to Jerusalem by Jews? 

 

Why do they celebrate “suicide bombers” killing innocents, naming public squares after some of them? 

 

When we look at the horrendous atrocities taking place in the Arab world, including Syria, the scandalous abuse of human rights in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, why are there no calls for boycotting these countries? The list goes on and on.

 

Ironically, Israel has the most freedom in the Middle East with a free press, independent Judiciary, democratic Knesset, and open and contentious debate among all political quarters. There are10 Arab members in the Knesset and full equality for women and gays. Despite discrimination in the Arab sector, which must be corrected, the standard of living for Israeli Arabs is among the best in the Middle East. What is really disgusting is that the New York Times chose to run an op-ed by a “so-called” professor postulating that Israel has its policy of equality for gays and others as a smoke screen for its occupation. There is no proof of this, of course, and is just another example of the visceral hatred of Israel by much of the left in academia, those who also supported the American Studies Association resolution in favor of BDS.

 

In my last blog and in prior blogs, I addressed why Israel is being singled out by leftists in academia and their fellow travelers. This is reminiscent of the apologists for Communists during the height of the Cold War and many of their fellow travelers despite the atrocities of the Stalinist regime and its successors.

 

Now what is the real mission of the BDS movement? More on this in my next blog.

Posted by: rbogart1 (February 18, 2014 at 10:17 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

When Ideology Trumps Fairness and Decency — Part 1

Blind ideology is the refuge of unthinking individuals. This would be farcical as far it goes were not for its consequences. When Stalinists, following their ideology, opposed the fascism of Nazism and then like twisted pretzels, over the course of days, supported the Soviet Nazi Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, attacking the “bourgeois” democracies instead, this was mindless fidelity to ideology.

 

As a result of this pact, Poland was invaded by the Germans from the west and the Russians from the east, ending Poland’s short history as a republic between the wars. 

 

And then, of course, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Stalinists followed lock step with their leader, trumpeting victory for the “motherland,” which was supposed to have been evaporated under Communism. 

 

We now find an unyielding ideological current pervading the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. I have written previous blogs as to why Israel has been targeted by the BDS movement. Much of the ideology driving this movement views Israel as an outpost of western imperialism, an interloper amidst people of color, who were displaced by an imperialism backed by the Western powers.

 

This nonsense is propagated on many of the college campuses by New-leftists of the 1960s who now have many faculty positions in academia, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. That is why the American Studies Association backed resolutions supporting BDS. 

 

Then there is sympathy for the “underdog,” that is the Palestinians and other Arabs who were vanquished by the Israeli “Goliath” despite the aggressive wars directed against her. This myth provides additional mortar for the BDS edifice. When we add the skillful propaganda fomented by propagandists and gullible Hollywood stars, we have a toxic brew hurting Israel.

           

If the purpose of the BDS movement is to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli “occupation,” thereby bettering their lives, the actions of Oxfam did the exact opposite. In its ideological purity to boycott any Israeli businesses in the West Bank, it ignored the fact that Soda Stream employed 550 Palestinians in an area where unemployment hovers around 30 percent. Palestinians workers were paid the same salaries as their Israelis colleagues and enjoyed a far better standard of living than their neighbors.

 

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson

So in its ideological box, Oxfam would separate hundreds of Palestinians from their livelihood and discourage other Israeli businesses from venturing into the West Bank to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, which would also employ Palestinians.

 

So free the Palestinians so that they can have more free time to join the ranks of the unemployed. However, the BDS movement is even more obnoxious and dangerous than this isolated incident, which ended with Scarlett Johansson and Soda Stream trumping Oxfam’s ideological purity.

Posted by: admin (February 11, 2014 at 2:18 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink
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