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2010 Archive

Delegitimizing the Delegitimizers: Part I

November 22, 2010 at 9:47 AM

Which is the only country in the Middle East that:

1. Has free elections;
2. Has a free press;
3. Has separation of powers between legislative branch and judiciary;
4. Has full equality for all religions;
5. Has equal rights for women;
6. Is the object of delegitimatization by the United Nations and dozens of its members?

The answer, unfortunately, is Israel.

Some of the evidence from recent events:

1.       Flotilla of known terrorists and provocateurs incite a deadly encounter that damages Israel’s image worldwide and seeks to break a blockade enforced on terrorist organizations on Israel’s borders committed to her destruction;

2.       Goldstone Report, which unfairly condemns Israel for defending herself from terrorist rocket attacks against an enemy that uses civilians as shields;

3.       Attempt by anti-Israel students to shout down Ambassador Michael Oren from the stage at the University of California at Irvine;

4.       Effort by a half-dozen students representing “Jewish Voice of Peace” to disrupt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address at the recent General Assembly in New Orleans;

5.       Boycott at Toronto Film Festival aimed at  “black-listing” an Israeli film commemorating the centennial of Tel Aviv’s founding;  

6.       Opposition leader of Israel’s Knesset threatened with war crimes prosecution if she visits the United Kingdom;

7.       One of the largest trade unions in Great Britain ends its affiliation with Israel’s National Labor Movement;

8.       South African trade union calls for an international resolution labeling Israel as an apartheid state;

9.       Some Arab leaders deny linkage of the Jewish people to Israel over the millennia.

Earlier this week at the Rutgers University Student Center, BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice, sponsored a program with Norman Finkelstein, the notorious Israel hater and Holocaust minimizer, who spoke to a crowd of some 250 individuals. Finkelstein, a discredited, former academic, is an apologist for David Irving, who lost the infamous libel trial against Professor Deborah Lipstadt. Unfortunately, he attracts many who believe him.

Liran Kapoano, a Rutgers student who is active at Hillel, responded on the op-ed pages of the Daily Targum, Rutgers daily newspaper. The following are excerpts of her remarks:

Holocaust denial industry affects wide range of people

I am not here to debate his stance on Israel and Zionism. There is really only one thing I want to address in this letter. My issue with Norman Finkelstein and his supporters is nothing more than a simple number.

No, it is not six million, as in six million murdered Jews, killed during the Holocaust — a fact that Finkelstein casts doubt upon by referring to "six million" in quotation marks. Finkelstein has also gone on record that Holocaust denier David Irving — who believes there were no gas chambers and Auschwitz was a "tourist attraction" — is an "indispensable" historian. No, this is not some unbelievable fiction from George Orwell's "1984"; this is actually what this man thinks.

Nor is the number 2,000, as in the nearly 2,000 years since Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were forced to flee their homeland. The desire to return home has been expressed during Jewish festivals, in Jewish prayers three times daily and in countless other customs, many centuries prior to the rise of modern Zionism.

Finkelstein would have everyone who listens to him believe the state of Israel is a modern colonial invention fueled by Holocaust guilt, rather than the truth, which is the exact reverse — that the Holocaust was a disaster fueled by a lack of an independent Jewish homeland.

But no, that is not it either. The number I want to discuss is "43334."

"43334" is the tattoo on my grandmother, courtesy of the real "Holocaust Industry" — that of the Nazi's Final Solution for her.

Was she lying about how she got that number? Did she fake the anxiety she felt every time a dog barked because it reminded her of German Shepherds the Nazis used? Was she in on some global conspiracy when she was emotionally unavailable for her children?

What about my grandfather? Did he invent stories about his first wife, infant daughter, mother, father, three of his four brothers and countless others he knew, who disappeared into the flames of Birkenau?

Why should survivors have to tolerate efforts to de-legitimize their memories by Finkelstein, Irving and the rest of the Holocaust denial/minimization industry?

This is what he is doing when he refers to Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as a "clown" in the "Holocaust circus." There is a reason why white supremacist sites like "Stormfront" and neo-Nazi darling David Duke cite Finkelstein regularly.

This is not an issue of questioning his right to criticize Israel.

Or maybe it is not so irrational. Orwell wrote, "He who controls the past, controls the future." By "vaporizing" memories, by converting the victims of the Holocaust into "unpersons," Finkelstein makes it easier for his fans to not deal with reality. This frees them to practice the kind of cognitive dissonance necessary for an American university student to support the actions of totalitarian movements like Hamas, Hezbollah and others who have sworn to erase a population of six million Jews.

The fact that students gleefully welcome this distortion of history as "scholarly" is a disgrace not only to the memories of Holocaust victims, but also to legitimate historians everywhere. This is not about Zionism. It is about preserving the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust and respecting those who survived.

It is also about the stark realization that had the Nazis succeeded, I would not be here to write this letter. And in this very real way, Finkelstein attacks us all.


My next blog will begin addressing why this phenomenon is happening now and what we can do about it.

The Domino Effect

November 15, 2010 at 4:33 PM

As I was checking out of my hotel at the recently concluded General Assembly and International Lion of Judah conventions, I was greeted by a receptionist who came from Moscow. She told me that she was here for a training program and would be returning to Russia. I asked what her impressions were of our conventions. She replied that she had never seen so many Jews, especially Russian-speaking Jews.

 

This reminded me of when someone mentioned that Senator Lautenberg had received complaints about the “Russian Mafia.” The Senator, of course, is the author of the Lautenberg Amendment, which allowed hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews and other persecuted minorities to enter the United States as refugees.

 

How anyone could complain about the Senator’s landmark amendment is beyond me. But I would use only one word to silence the critics: “Google.” The co-founder of Google, with annual revenues of $23 billion, is Sergey Brin, one of those refugees from the Former Soviet Union (FSU).

 

Then, several weeks ago, we heard Dan Senor speak at our Major Gifts dinner about “Start-up Nation.” He discussed the genius of Israeli society in promoting entrepreneurship as manifested by its number three ranking on NASDAQ for start-up companies, despite a population of only seven million. Much of this can be explained by Israel’s immigrant status and influx of over one million Jews from the FSU over the past two decades.

 

An April 1987 photograph of an underground Jewish seminar in Leningrad
An April 1987 photograph of an underground Jewish seminar in Leningrad.
Source: New Jersey Jewish News, February 21, 2008
How was this exodus made possible? After all, the Soviet Union was the second most powerful country in the world. There are many answers. Over the course of several decades there was the activism of the Soviet Jewry movement during which thousands of Americans visited “refuseniks.” Our State Department and political leaders exerted considerable pressure. The long imprisonment followed by the triumphant release of Natan Sharansky and other “Prisoners of Zion” made headlines around the world.

 

Then came the penultimate event: the massive rally in Washington, D.C., in 1987, when Gorbachev was meeting with President Reagan. More than 250,000 Jews and friends protested against Russia’s anti-Semitic and restrictive immigration policies, chanting “Let Our People Go” and “Open Up the Gates.”

 

And thus began a domino effect that saw the gates open. Over a million Jews made aliyah to Israel and about 400,000 others relocated to other countries, primarily the United States. These Jews were joined by thousands of other persecuted Russians. Then, of course, the Soviet Union collapsed.

 

Who was the chair of that mobilization for Soviet Jewry? It was our own Jackie Levine. Jackie  received the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award as part of the International Lion of Judah convention, co-chaired by Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, as a program of National Women’s Philanthropy, whose president is Lori Klinghoffer.

 

The cliché that one person can make a difference rings true in the case of Jackie Levine.

 

As I was leaving one of the hotels in New Orleans last week, there was Jackie speaking to Russian-speaking Jewish teenagers about Jewish community. Explaining to them why building Jewish community and communities is so important. Why by working collectively, we can change history and better the lives of millions.

 

That was the domino effect of the Soviet Jewry movement reaching its climax at the Washington mobilization.

Growing Trees and Jewish Families

November 09, 2010 at 8:42 AM

If there were to be a Westchester County extension of the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens, I would nominate Michael and Judy Steinhardt’s estate in Mt. Kisco, New York. The variety of exotic animals maintained on this estate, which include camels, zebras, llamas, exotic birds, monkeys, and others is astounding. The diversity of trees, brooks, bridges and other horticultural wonders would make Frederick Law Olmsted envious. The fall foliage in upper Westchester County in late October is magnificent.

 

But the purpose of our get together at the Steinhardt estate was to celebrate the achievements of PJ Library which “Grows Jewish Families.” It was the genius of Harold Grinspoon behind this remarkable initiative by which 65,000 families with children ages six months to six years receive a Jewish book with a parents’ guide on a monthly basis. It is the largest national Jewish educational outreach for young children in our history. And, it is having a great impact.

 

Recently, the efforts of PJ Library were evaluated by JESNA’s Berman Center for Research and Evaluation. Among the findings were the following: 97 percent of survey respondents expressed overwhelming satisfaction with PJ Library; 95 percent reported that the Jewish content is meaningful and provides a positive Jewish experience for their family; 78 percent reported that PJ Library helps them connect their families to their Jewish heritage; and close to 70 percent felt that their families were better connected to the Jewish community. In the words of one of the recipients, “I like the emails that have given me connections to Jewish events. I have contacted a Jewish playgroup and plan on attending one in the future. This will connect us to other Jewish parents of the same age children.”

 

We in MetroWest have been blessed by the philanthropy of the Gottesman and Klatt families whose support enables over 2,000 MetroWest children to receive a PJ Library book each month. The Roschell, MD Family Foundation provides additional funding for PJ Plus, which allows The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, our Jewish identity building agency, to provide a newsletter; PJ parties and MetroWest has been selected as a pilot community for PJ Goes to School, creating home school and home connections.

 

PJ Library helps Jewish families connect to their Judaism and Jewish heritage by providing a pathway for young Jewish families to become engaged in Jewish life. It also serves as a springboard for these families into organized Jewish early childhood programs, followed, we hope, by continuous Jewish education throughout the children’s childhoods.

 

Bravo to the Steinhardts for hosting this important PJ Library event and for their own philanthropic support of PJ Library in New York. Bravo also to Harold Grinspoon for having the vision to have such an impact on Jewish family life.

Yes to a Palestinian State, but No to a Jewish State Redux

November 01, 2010 at 3:42 PM

The press reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu had offered to extend the prior construction moratorium on settlements if the Palestinian Authority accepted Israel as a Jewish state. The offer was summarily rejected by President Abbas, even as the latter pondered using the United Nation’s Security Council to endorse a resolution unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state. This “state,” no doubt, would be Arab in character with Islam as the official state religion, as with 20 other Arab countries in the Middle East.

 

This is not a new issue. What follows are excerpts from a prior blog I wrote on this subject last year and a more recent commentary by Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe.

 

*********************

Yes to a Palestinian State, but No to a Jewish State?

June 16, 2009

As a result of Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit with President Obama, the State Department has a new mantra: a freeze on settlement growth, even if it is natural, and a Two-State Solution. Sunday, the Prime Minister announced his acceptance of a Palestinian State, living peacefully along the Jewish State, but one that is demilitarized and no security threat to Israel.

 

The Prime Minister also stated that no successful final agreement will be accepted by Israel unless the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish State. This requirement has created much agitation among the Palestinian leadership, rejecting it out of hand. It will send out the wrong message for the Arab-Israeli minority, they say, which constitutes one-fifth of Israeli's population, and complicate the repatriation of Arab refugees, who for two generations have been exiled in refugee camps (amidst the trillions of petro-dollars earned by their Arab brethren).

 

This argument is farcical. There are over 20 Arab states, each of which has Islam as its official religion, where, at best, they tolerate religious minorities or at worst discriminate against them. In many Arab countries, the proselytizing of other religions is a capital offense. The number of minorities in Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, and even Iraq has significantly been reduced due to their intolerance. Israel, the Jewish State, on the other hand, recognizes, by law, the rights of all minorities and has Israeli-Arabs in The Knesset and other important governmental positions.

 

But now we read on www.ynetnews.com, the on-line version of the leading Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, that a Hebron resident is being brought before a special Palestinian tribunal because he committed the "sin" of trying to sell land to an Israeli. Hatem Abdel Kader, who serves as Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad's advisor on Jerusalem Affairs, clarified that if he was found guilty of selling land to Jews, he should be executed.

 

Now we know that Palestinian leaders want to have a State for themselves which would exclude any Jews, but don't want a Jewish State because it might offend the sensibilities of its Arab minority.

 

So no to a Jewish State, but yes to a Judenrein Palestinian State.

 

Fasten your seatbelts, we are in for a turbulent ride.

 

****************

 

The undeniable Jewish state

IS ISRAEL a Jewish state?

Is the pope Catholic?

Nothing about Israel could be more self-evident than its Jewishness. As Poland is the national state of the Polish people and Japan is the national state of the Japanese people, so Israel is the national state of the Jewish people. The UN’s 1947 resolution on partitioning Palestine contains no fewer than 30 references to the “Jewish state’’ whose creation it was authorizing; 25 years earlier, the League of Nations had been similarly straightforward in mandating “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’’ When Israel came into existence on May 15, 1948, its Jewish identity was the first detail reported. The New York Times’s front-page story began: “The Jewish state, the world’s newest sovereignty, to be known as the State of Israel, came into being in Palestine at midnight upon termination of the British mandate.’’

Today, half the planet’s Jews live in that state, many of them refugees from anti-Semitic repression and violence elsewhere. In a world with more than 20 Arab states and 55 Muslim countries, the existence of a single small Jewish state should be unobjectionable. “Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people,’’ President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly last month. By now that should be a truism, no more controversial than calling Italy the sovereign homeland of the Italian people.

And yet to Israel’s enemies, Jewish sovereignty is as intolerable today as it was in 1948, when five Arab armies invaded the newborn Jewish state, vowing “a war of extermination and a momentous massacre.’’ Endless rounds of talks and countless invocations of the “peace process’’ have not changed the underlying reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is not about settlements or borders or Jerusalem or the rights of Palestinians.

The root of the hostility is the refusal to recognize the immutable right of the Jewish people to a sovereign state in its historic homeland. Until that changes, no lasting peace is possible.

That is why the Israeli government is correct to insist that the Palestinian Authority publicly recognize Israel as the Jewish state. It is the critical litmus test. “Palestinian nationalism was based on driving all Israelis out,’’ Edward Said told an interviewer in 1999, and the best evidence that most Palestinians are still intent on eliminating Israel is the vehemence with which even supposed “moderates’’ like Mahmoud Abbas will not — or dare not — acknowledge Israel’s Jewishness as a legitimate fact of life. “What is a ‘Jewish state?’ ’’ Abbas ranted on Palestinian TV. “You can call yourselves whatever you want, but I will not accept it . . . You can call yourselves the Zionist Republic, the Hebrew, the National, the Socialist [Republic]. Call it whatever you like. I don’t care.’’

There are those who argue that Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy. When Israel’s parliament decided last week to require new non-Jewish citizens to take an oath of allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic’’ state, some people bristled. “The phrase itself is an oxymoron,’’ one reader wrote to the Boston Globe. “How can a state openly favor one ethnic group over all others and declare itself to be democratic?’’

But there is no conflict at all between Israel’s Jewish identity and its democratic values. Indeed, the UN’s 1947 partition resolution not only called for subdividing Palestine into “independent Arab and Jewish states,’’ it explicitly required each of them to “draft a democratic constitution’’ and to elect a government “by universal suffrage and by secret ballot.’’ The Jews complied. The Arabs launched a war.

Many of the world’s democracies have official state religions. Think of Britain, whose monarch is the supreme governor of the Church of England; or of Greece, whose constitution singles out the Eastern Orthodox Church as the country’s “prevailing religion.’’ The linking of national character with religion is a commonplace. Israel stands out only because its religion is Judaism, not Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism.

Nor is democracy incompatible with ethnic distinctiveness. Ireland waives its usual citizenship requirements for applicants of Irish descent. Bulgaria’s constitution grants the right to “acquire Bulgarian citizenship through a facilitated procedure’’ to any “person of Bulgarian origin.’’ It is not oxymoronic to describe Ireland as “Irish and democratic’’ or Bulgaria as “Bulgarian and democratic.’’ Israel’s flourishing little Jewish democracy is no oxymoron either.

It is something different: a beacon of decency in a dangerous, hate-filled neighborhood. If only its enemies could shed their malice, what an Eden that neighborhood could become.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com.  

Where Were You When?

October 25, 2010 at 10:34 AM

I was at a friend’s 50th birthday party at the Columbia Tennis Club in Florham Park when I received a message from Amir Shacham, then our shaliach, informing me of the terrible news of Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination. After recovering from the shock, I remembered that the previous Wednesday evening a UJA Presidents Mission, led by Ruby and Stanley Strauss and Adele and Herman Lebersfeld, had met with the Prime Minister, who addressed us before we headed to Ben Gurion Airport for our return flight to the United States. Alas, we were the last American group to whom he spoke.

 

My thoughts then went to our plans for the following day, Sunday. We had our Major Gifts event scheduled in Morristown, at the then Headquarters Hotel. We previously decided to change the format to feature a comedic touch and had engaged David Brenner to regale us with his comedy. Needless to say to have continued to use him would have been highly inappropriate.

 

We contacted him indicating our change of plans. He waived the cancellation fee, which was a very substantial amount, because he “as a Jew, also was grieving for the loss of Prime Minister Rabin.”

 

So at the Major Gifts event, our participants from the Presidents Mission emoted about what the loss of the Prime Minister meant to Israel and to us as American Jews.

 

Prime Minister Rabin was a hero of the Jewish people, having fought and led the IDF through numerous wars and was the architect of the “textbook” victory of the Six-Day War.

 

Shortly thereafter, he was appointed Israeli Ambassador to the United States and one of the first college campuses he spoke at was the City College of New York, where I had the pleasure of being in the audience. Although the Oslo Peace Accord later failed, largely because of Arafat’s intransigence, I always wondered about whether there could have been a different ending if Prime Minister Rabin still held the helm.

 

As we commemorate the 15th anniversary of his death, I feel as emotional as when I heard of John F. Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King’s assassinations and the catastrophe of 9/11.

 

May we remember the greatness of Yitzhak Rabin’s deeds and leadership even as we mourn his murder, made even more ugly because it was committed by a fellow Jew.

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