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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Villains and Heroes, and the French

Robert Satloff has an important article in the July issue of Commentary that is at once heartening, disheartening, and sobering.

He writes in "In Search of ‘Righteous Arabs’" about his investigation of the "hidden history" of the Arab encounter with the Holocaust:

[F]or the past two years, while living in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, I have tracked down stories of Arabs who played a role in the Holocaust, be they villains or heroes. With the help of researchers and investigators in ten different countries, I have been able to unearth the stories of dozens of such individuals.

The stories of the heroes are heartening; why they are not likely to be told is disheartening; and Satloff’s encounter with Ahmed Kamal Abulmagd, a prominent moderate Egyptian theologian, is very sobering. Essential reading.

One of the things Satloff uncovered during his search is the role of the French in exporting the Holocaust to North Africa:

For three years -- from the fall of France in June 1940 to the expulsion of German troops from Tunisia in May 1943 -- the Nazis, their Vichy French collaborators, and their Italian Fascist allies applied in these areas many of the same tools that would be used to devastating effect against the much larger Jewish populations of Europe. . . Virtually no Jew in North Africa was left untouched. . . .

[O]f the three European countries that brought the Holocaust to Arab lands, the most malevolent by far was France. In Morocco and, especially, Algeria, France implemented strict laws against local Jews, expelling them from schools, universities, and government employment, confiscating their property, and sending a number of local Jewish political activists to harsh labor camps.

In some respects, Vichy was more vigorous about applying anti-Jewish statutes in Arab lands than in metropolitan France. . . . . The collaborationist government established in 1940 under Marshal Pétain turned the Jews, both foreign and native-born, into ready scapegoats for France’s shameful collapse at Nazi hands.

Monday, June 28, 2004

A Kerry Miscellany

John Kerry, speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on Saturday, presented the latest idea in his Don’t-Call-It-War on Terror:

I will also create a "North American Security Perimeter" to better facilitate the legitimate travel of law-abiding citizens and crack down on bad actors trying to enter the United States.

The crackdown is overdue, there being way too many such actors in Hollywood already.

Teresa Heinz Kerry on her husband, as reported by Russ Smith, writing in the New York Press:

"He actually does feel at ease in the world," she said. "He likes people, in spite of whatever people [perhaps voters?] might think. He'd make the best nursery school teacher in the world, bar none." . . .

Teresa also said that Kerry would get the U.S. back in good with the United Nations [swell] and "will never, ever, ever send any children, or men -- as he was with young men in Vietnam -- into harm's way without being the first one to go out on the boat." . . .

His wife added . . . "We're not going to fight terrorism with missiles, we're going to fight terrorism with ideas. And I think that John knows that, deep down."

It would be nice if he not only knew it deep down, but could tell us the ideas up here.

Kerry campaign spokesperson Phil Singer on Friday issued the following statement in response to a web video on President Bush's website featuring images of Adolph Hitler:

"The Bush Campaign should immediately remove these hateful images from its website and apologize for using them. The use of Adolf Hitler by any campaign, politician or party is simply wrong.”

The video (“This is not a time for pessimism and rage”) featured Democrats making wild statements about Bush, and included segments of ads from a website sponsored by that showed pictures of Hitler and compared “war crimes in 1945” to “foreign policy in 2004.”

It would be nice if -- instead of asking the Bush campaign to apologize for demonstrating the deepening descent of the Democratic Party -- Kerry could find a Sister Souljah moment to criticize:

Al Gore for his reference to “Bush’s gulag” and his use of Nazi references ("The Administration works closely with a network of 'rapid response' digital Brown Shirts who work to pressure reporters and their editors for undermining support for our troops."), or

George Soros for his Nazi allegations ("When I hear Bush say, 'You're either with us or against us,' it reminds me of the Germans."), or

Michael Moore for his comparison of the Patriot Act to Mein Kampf ("The Patriot Act is the first step. 'Mein Kampf' - 'Mein Kampf' was written long before Hitler came to power.").

These statements rob words of their moral meaning. Kerry should condemn them: it would show us there is a there deep down there.

UPDATE: John Leo, writing in U.S. News and World Report, notes that "Comparing Bush to Hitler [is] No Longer Confined to Loonies." (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds).

Friday, June 25, 2004

What Might Have Been

Ron Rosenbaum, editor of "Those Who Forget the Past," writes about staying up all night reading the 390-page pre-publication galleys of Philip Roth’s new novel -- "The Plot Against America" -- to be published in October.

The book is another of Roth’s "alternative-future novels," in which Charles Lindbergh runs for President in 1940, beats FDR and makes a pact with Hitler shortly thereafter. The result is that America becomes "a silent partner in the Axis takeover of the rest of the world."

Earlier this year, the New York Times published a report on the novel, noting that "[Roth’s] Lindbergh blames Jews in a radio address for selfishly pushing America toward a pointless war with Nazi Germany." In response, Roth wrote a letter to the Times:

No, Roth wrote to The Times, it isn’t just "my" (fictional) Lindbergh who attacked an alleged Jewish cabal, it’s the Lindbergh of history.

Mr. Roth quoted from the actual ["Who Are the War Agitators?"] speech attacking Jews . . . a speech Lindbergh made at an America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sept. 11, 1941 . . . [in which] Lindbergh warned against American Jews, whom he depicted -- along with F.D.R. and British agents -- as a sinister cabal trying to manipulate America into opposing Hitler:"

"No person of honesty and vision can look on [the Jews’] pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them . . . . We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction. . . .

"[The Jews’] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government . . . ."

Rosenbaum notes that Lindbergh’s speech was delivered at a pivotal moment in history:

Sept. 11, 1941, when the U.K. alone was still holding off Hitler, in what increasingly looked like Churchill’s futile fantasy of resistance now that Nazi armies were sweeping towards Moscow.

If Lindbergh had succeeded in his aim, Hitler may have had a solid foundation for his Thousand Year Reich, rather than the 12 years he got.

Rosenbaum thinks Roth’s novel "has the makings of a thrilling, suspenseful and profound movie." He wants Steven Spielberg to make it.

(Hat tip: Nextbook).

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Only in America

Norman Podhoretz will be at the White House today, to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation's highest civilian honor.

The White House description of him is as follows:

Norman Podhoretz has been at the forefront of American intellectual thought for the last half-century, as the longtime editor-in-chief of Commentary magazine, and as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Paul Johnson, the eminent British historian, describes him as:

[A] thinker and writer and polemicist, a geopolitician and student of religious ideas, an autobiographer of genius, a man who reacts sharply to the news as it pours from the press and the airwaves, who thinks deeply, angrily, and sincerely about it, and commits his thoughts into vivid and penetrative argument.

His skill at combining autobiography, political argument, and vivid writing are reflected in this anecdote about his childhood from "My Love Affair with America:"

I was born in this country, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, but as a very small child I spoke -- or so family tradition has it -- more Yiddish than English.

[M]y English was so marked by a Yiddish accent that I was often mistaken for a recently arrived immigrant. . . . This accent created a problem when at the age of five I was sent to the local public school, P.S. 28 . . . .

My recollection of the incident is naturally dim. But it is clear enough to confirm the general accuracy of another favorite family tale, this one about a teacher who came upon me climbing alone up a staircase, apparently lost and in search of my class which had peeled off in some other direction while I was distractedly looking elsewhere.

"Where are you going, little boy?" this teacher asked. "I goink op de stez," I am reputed to have replied. At this the teacher instantly marched me off to the principal’s office and had me placed in a remedial-speech class. . . .

[T]his teacher, like most of her colleagues, was a middle-age Catholic woman, of Irish ethnicity, and (in the lingo of the day) an "old maid." . . . . [These teachers] were something like (and may even have seen themselves as) secular nuns. . . This was the very height of the age of the "melting pot," and one of the main jobs of our teachers was to throw us into it and heat it up to as high a temperature as it might take to burn out our foreign impurities and turn us into real Americans. . . .

In the age of multiculturalism that dawned on America a half century later, any teacher doing to a black or Latino or Asian kid what that teacher did to me would (I exaggerate only slightly) have been surrounded in a trice by federal marshals materializing out of the very walls of the school, arrested for attempted cultural genocide, read her Miranda rights, and carted off in handcuffs to the applause of the child’s parents . . . .

Son of an immigrant milkman, in a family that was dirt poor, Podhoretz famously wrote that "One of the longest journeys in the world is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan."

His journey from left to right was longer still. He became the editor of Commentary at age 30 -- and immediately took the magazine straight to the left. In the early 60s, he became one of the patrons of the New Left.

By the beginning of the next decade, he became one of the founders of Neoconservatism -- and sustained and expanded that movement through the sheer intellectual force of his writing.

The force continues. He charted the significance of George W. Bush’s presidency with startling clarity in his September 2002 article in Commentary -- "In Praise of the Bush Doctrine" -- an essay that, two years later, is worth re-reading as a guide to the historical significance of current events.

He arrives at the White House today to receive from President Bush a formal acknowledgment of how far he has traveled in his life, bringing a generation with him.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Wieseltier is No W.

Leon Wieseltier, in this week’s New Republic, recalls the thinking that led to his support of the Iraq War last year:

I assumed Saddam Hussein possessed the sort of arsenal that made him a clear and present danger: The alarming intelligence estimates were shared by many Western governments, so that the debate in the months preceding the war concerned the methods for disarming Iraq, not the reasons for disarming it.

And to my certainty of Saddam's capability I added my certainty of his depravity. I required no intelligence estimates to demonstrate that Saddam stood out darkly in the discussion of weapons of mass destruction, because he had employed them, against soldiers and against civilians, and thereby demonstrated his immunity to the cold and saving rationality on which the art of deterrence has always been based.

A man who could use these obscene materials was also a man who could proliferate them. . . .

In the case of Saddam Hussein, then, the benefit of the doubt did not seem like an exercise in critical thinking.

Wieseltier’s words are a summary, in literary language, of the explanation that George W. Bush gave on Friday in his speech to soldiers at Ft. Lewis:

We will remove threats before they arrive, instead of waiting for the next attack, the next catastrophe. That is one of the lessons of September the 11th we must never forget.

Iraq was a country in which millions of people lived in fear, and many thousands disappeared into mass graves. This was a regime that tortured children in front of their parents. This was a regime that invaded its neighbors. This is a regime that had used chemical weapons before. It had used weapons not only against countries in its neighborhood, but against its own citizens. This is a regime which gave cash rewards to families of suicide bombers. This is a regime that sheltered terrorist groups. This is a regime that hated America.

And so we saw a threat, and it was a real threat. And that's why I went to the United Nations. The administration looked at the intelligence, saw a threat, and remembered the facts and saw a threat. The Congress, members of both political parties, looked at the intelligence. They saw a threat. The members of the United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence and saw a threat, and voted unanimously to send the message to Mr. Saddam Hussein, disarm or face serious consequences.

The UN’s unanimous message was not that inspectors should be required to traipse around the country trying to find WMD, or to search sanitized files to find documents disclosing where they had gone. The obligation of Saddam in the final resolution was to come forward with the information immediately, or face "serious consequences" (which no one reasonably thought meant another resolution).

And so, after umpteen UN resolutions, the umpteenth one was enforced (although not by the UN).

It is still not clear whether Saddam hid or disposed of his WMD during the long run-up to the war (which consumed nearly a year as Congress debated and voted, and then as the UN heard from President Bush, and then as the UN debated and voted on resolutions and heard reports) -- or whether Saddam moved the WMD to Syria or Lebanon, or whether he simply converted them to just-in-time inventory or to an R&D program to be resumed once the inspectors were gone -- or what.

But even if there were no WMD in Iraq, the war was, as Jonathan Rauch has written ("The War in Iraq Was the Right Mistake to Make"), a "justified mistake:"

A policeman shoots a robber who has killed in the past and who brandishes what seems to be a gun. The gun turns out to be a cellphone. . . .

In the end, if [the policeman] is exonerated, it is not because he made no mistake but because his mistake was justified. Reasonable people, facing uncertainty, would have thought they saw a gun.

George W. Bush and the CIA thought they saw a gun. So did French President Jacques Chirac, who last February warned of Iraq's "probable possession of weapons of mass destruction." So did Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor, who last February said, "My personal belief is that Saddam may well possess anthrax and chemical weapons. That being the case, he must be disarmed." . . . .

So [Saddam] waved what looked like a gun and got shot.

Last year, just before the war began, Wieseltier wrote that the war was "A Liberal’s War, Too."

The only genuine solution to the problem of proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological arms is political development. It comes in many kinds, and often with assistance from the outside. . . . And the theory of deterrence cannot be responsibly applied to a dictator who has already used weapons whose use is famously not rational. . . .

How can any liberal, any individual who associates himself with the party of humanity, not count himself in this coalition of the willing? . . . . Dominique de Villepin, in a breathtakingly obtuse phrase that brought down the house at the Security Council last week, called for "disarmament through peace." There speaks the collapse of modern memory. . . .

[T]he doctrine of preemption . . . in the case of certain threats really is nothing more than prudence ("Be early to kill a man who is coming to kill you," runs an ancient Jewish adage.).

In his current essay, Wieseltier summarizes his thinking from a year ago, but only for the purpose of announcing how much he thinks has changed (since only a cell phone has been found in Iraq):

If I had known there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I would not have supported this war. . . . But I was deceived. . . . I have come to despise some of the people who are directing it.

If he had known. But he knows now (or thinks he does), only because George W. Bush had the courage to act when he thought he saw a gun. Without the war, he would not know.

He was deceived (he means by Bush, not Saddam). He despises the people directing the war (he uses no such emotion-laded words about Saddam).

Deceived. Despises. These are the words of the Angry, Bush-Hating Left. One expects more from the literary editor of The New Republic, and much more from Leon Wieseltier.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Hamas and Our Friends the Europeans.

Earlier this week, the Council on Foreign Relations released the "Second Report of an Independent Task Force on Terrorist Financing."

The Task Force is composed of a bipartisan group of experts from the foreign policy, business, law enforcement, and intelligence communities -- including Richard A. Clarke (the former White House National Coordinator for Counterterrorism), Stuart E. Eizenstat (former Under Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U.), Geoffrey Kemp (former member of the National Security Council), Matthew Levitt (former counterterrorism analyst for the FBI), William F. Wechsler (former chair of the interagency group charged with disrupting al-Qaeda’s financial network), and 12 others.

It is an eye-opening report, worth reading in its entirety. Saudi Arabia is a focus, and is definitely a problem.

Here are some significant excerpts relating to Hamas:

On June 26, 2003 . . . at the annual U.S.-EU Summit, President Bush took the important step of publicly urging European leaders to criminalize all fundraising by Hamas . . . . Extensive work by the State and Treasury Departments preceded and followed up the president’s strong remarks. . .

Targeting the financial support network of Hamas is an important part of the overall war on terrorist financing, affecting both the Middle East peace process and the larger U.S.-led war on terrorism.

However, in Saudi Arabia, whose people and organizations may contribute as much as 60 percent of Hamas’s annual budget, the government still does not recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization . . .

The EU has now officially added Hamas to its list of terrorist groups. But to date, the EU has designated only a small number of Hamas-affiliated entities.

Britain and only a handful of other European states have joined U.S.-led enforcement actions against Hamas leaders and fronts, although Britain has not yet taken effective action to close the Palestinian Relief and Development Front (Interpal), perhaps the largest Hamas front organization in Europe.

No such action has been taken by other European countries that are home to other Hamas front organizations, such as Austria, France, and Italy.

The EU’s decision to ban Hamas will remain meaningless until such time as the EU and its constituent member states act aggressively to restrict Hamas financial activities to the maximum extent possible.

Last Friday, the EU issued a press release trumpeting its actions "to help prevent the financing of terrorism." Hamas is not mentioned.

Suggestions can be sent to:

European Commission Delegation
2300 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037
Phone (202) 862-9553
FAX (202) 429-1766

Attn: Anthony Gooch (202-862-9523)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

What Could Explain It?

David Wolpe has a compelling essay ("Because They Are Jews") on European hatred of Israel combined with the strange absence of any objections to (much less hatred of) other countries in the region:

Where were the vituperative voices when the Jordanians controlled Jerusalem and turned the Western Wall into a garbage dump? There was no UN resolution about that sacrilege.

Where were they when the Arab countries prevented Jews from entering the old city of Jerusalem?

For that matter, where were those voices when Assad killed thousands of his own people, or when the late King Hussein of Jordan slaughtered thousands of Palestinians? . . .

I have heard calls for the end of this or that government but never for the end of the state. No one said Germany after two world wars should cease being a state. The world did not agitate for the end of Uganda under Amin. Only Israel. Only the state populated by and run by Jews. Remarkable coincidence, is it not?

. . . . It may be happenstance that people who live in countries where Jews were hated for millennia are saying that only Jews should not have a country, or criticize that country exclusively, or ignore atrocities perpetrated by other countries, or have deep understanding of those who are moved to murder Jews.

Rabbi Wolpe includes a quotation from an essay by the Polish critic Konstantyn Jelenski, published in Kultura in Paris in 1968 (and quoted later by Abraham Brumberg in the New York Review of Books):

Poles have never come out against Jews "because they are Jews" -- but because Jews are dirty, greedy, mendacious, because they wear ear-locks, speak jargon, do not want to assimilate; and also because they do assimilate, cease using their jargon, are nattily dressed, and want to be regarded as Poles.

Because they lack culture and because they are overly cultured.

Because they are superstitious, backward and ignorant, and because they are damnably capable, progressive, and ambitious.

Because they have long, hooked noses, and because it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from "pure Poles."

Because they crucified Christ and practice ritual murder and pore over the Talmud, and because they disdain their own religion and are atheists.

Because they look wretched and sickly, and because they are tough and have their own fighting units and are full of chutzpah.

Because they are bankers and capitalists and because they are Communists and agitators.

But in no case because they are Jews.

The incomparable Yael posts part of her email correspondence with a reader who made the mistake of starting with "Israel isn't perfect, by any means" -- which set her off:

Israel not perfect? No, but it's a helluva lot better than most countries on this earth.

Considering that it was largely founded by refugees from Russian pogroms, the Holocaust and persecution in Arab countries, that most everyone arrived speaking a foreign language and with only the clothes on their backs, that it's been under constant attack from Arab terrorists since even before it became a country, and hasn't had a moment's peace, I'd say they're doing extremely well.

They've accommodated immigrants from 100 countries on five continents, over a million just since 1990, and 23,000 last year. And for crying out loud, in terms of democracy, they just appointed a Christian Arab woman to their supreme court! They house a mosque in the Knesset building for the Arab Muslims who are elected representatives.

Israel has more political parties, museums and newspapers per capita than any other country in the world, produces more scientific papers and files more patents (both per capita) than any country in the world, has The Highest Average Living Standard in the Middle East, and a per capita income which exceeds that of the UK.

Their economy is larger than all of its immediate neighbors combined (perhaps because over 95% of the population is literate, 24% of the workforce has university degrees and 12% hold advanced degrees). . . . And they're the only country to have come out of the 20th century with more trees than it began with. . . .

Maybe it's not perfect, but you have to admit, it's miraculous. If it survives, it's only going to get better.

Because they are Jews.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Peace Plans.

Bret Stephens, editor of The Jerusalem Post, responds to Richard Ben Cramer’s assertion that "any Jew who's not an Israeli, and not on psychotropic drugs, could solve this Peace-for-Israel thing in about ten minutes of focused thought."

This is a common theme among the dull-minded: that the solution to all our strife is so blazingly evident that only knaves or fools could fail to grasp it. . . .

But Israel's conflict with the Palestinians is not so simple, and one needs to be a simpleton to believe that it is, or that malice or stupidity or greed prevent Israelis from grasping what they so obviously yearn for, or that a conflict that did not begin with the occupation can be ended by ending the occupation.

Hillel Halkin has an important article in Commentary on Sharon's disengagement plan: "Does Sharon Have a Plan?"

Halkin concludes that a unilateral partitioning of Palestine along the lines of the security fence (which he says is Sharon’s ultimate plan) is the best option:

Israel cannot swallow the Palestinians. It cannot drive them out. It cannot arrive at a peaceful settlement with them. All it can do is disengage itself from them.

It is not an ideal solution. A better one would have been a negotiated partition in which Israelis and Palestinians would live in two separate but friendly states within the geographical framework of one, mutually accessible country.

But such an arrangement, if it was ever feasible, is so no longer. Four years of Palestinian terrorism, and the lawlessness of a Palestinian society that has come to be dominated by fanatically Israel-hating gunmen and religious groups, make it evident that a Palestinian state friendly to Israel is an impossibility in our time.

And since Israelis have no particular interest in an unfriendly Palestinian state, it is enough for them to concentrate on being a Jewish state with militarily and demographically defensible borders while letting the Palestinians fend for themselves.

Isabel Kershner has an long article in The Jerusalem Report on "Palestinian Affairs: Death of an Intifada."

She concentrates on Tul Karm, where numerous mass murderers emanated during 2002 (including the one who carried out the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya in March 2002, and the one who in November 2002 killed five Israelis at Kibbutz Metzer, including a mother and her two boys, aged four and five):

Not long ago Aweideh and his comrades from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- the armed cells, affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, that sprung up with the intifada -- would have been swaggering through the streets of this West Bank market town, inspiring admiration in some residents, terrorizing others and plotting what they call "military operations" against nearby Jewish settlements or Israeli cities that lie over the Green Line, the pre-1967 border that skirts Tul Karm to the west.

But the armed men are not walking around here anymore, certainly not in broad daylight. The few of them left after the army’s frequent raids, targeted killings and arrests are said to be feeling hunted and alone. And while predictions of calm times ahead may be premature, many here are already declaring Tul Karm’s intifada over. . . .

Residents of Tul Karm are no longer willing to provide refuge for the armed men in their houses, local sources say, for fear of ending up on the army’s demolition list. . . .

Aweideh attributes the difficulty in launching attacks to the recently constructed security barrier that now seals Tul Karm off from Israel, as well as the strict checkpoint regime that controls movement between the city and the rest of the West Bank and "the pressure put on us by the PA." He says that the people he deals with in Ramallah "are scared for Arafat" following Prime Minister Sharon’s veiled threats on the Palestinian leader’s life.

The Halkin and Kershner articles are worth reading in their entirety.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ronald W. Reagan.

Dick Cheney gave a moving and eloquent eulogy last night at the State Funeral for Ronald Reagan.

For decades, America had waged a Cold War, and few believed it could possibly end in our own lifetimes. The President was one of those few.

And it was the vision and will of Ronald Reagan that gave hope to the oppressed, shamed the oppressors, and ended an evil empire. More than any other influence, the Cold War was ended by the perseverance and courage of one man who answered falsehood with truth, and overcame evil with good.

Ronald Reagan was more than an historic figure. He was a providential man, who came along just when our nation and the world most needed him. And believing as he did that there is a plan at work in each life, he accepted not only the great duties that came to him, but also the great trials that came near the end.

When he learned of his illness, his first thoughts were of Nancy. And who else but Ronald Reagan could face his own decline and death with a final message of hope to his country, telling us that for America there is always a bright dawn ahead.

Fellow Americans, here lies a graceful and a gallant man.

Jason Maoz, senior editor of The Jewish Press, has a fascinating article entitled "Ronald Reagan and the Jews."

If Reagan’s landslide victory over Carter was greeted by a less than enthusiastic response from American Jewry -- then even more than now one of the Democratic party’s most loyal constituencies -- the reaction was entirely different in Israel, where there were real fears of what another four years of a Carter administration would bring.

Maoz covers Reagan’s role in scrapping Jimmy Carter’s defeatist foreign policy, his appointment of persons such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick and George Shultz in his administration, his strategic cooperation with Israel, and his fixation on the release of Soviet Jewry.

He also has some perceptive remarks about the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents. Worth reading in its entirety.

Natan Sharansky, convicted in the Soviet Union in 1978 and sentenced to 13 years in the Siberian gulag, now a minister in the government of Israel, interviewed about Ronald Reagan:

It is hard to imagine two people more different in life experiences than Natan Sharansky and Ronald Reagan. Did you feel those differences on a human level?
We both saw the world similarly. That is what matters. Not the experiences themselves but what is learned from them.

People used to say that Reagan's jokes exposed him as a simpleton. To me they revealed his strengths and convictions. He took great joy in telling me the old joke about the time Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev and his deputy Alexei Kosygin discussed what would happen to the USSR if it really did conform to the Helsinki Accords and adopted a truly open emigration policy.

"You and I would be the only two citizens left in the USSR," Brezhnev said. "Speak for yourself," answered Kosygin.

Ronald Reagan understood the power of this joke. He stood up to evil. He had the courage to fight evil and the wisdom to defeat it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Great American Yiddish Novelist.

Jonathan Rosen, formerly the culture editor of the Forward and author of "The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds," has an extraordinary essay in The New Yorker on Isaac Bashevis Singer ("American Master: How I.B. Singer Translated Himself into American Literature").

Rosen writes of biographer Janet Hadda's suggestion that, in "The Family Moskat," Singer portrayed his Polish Jews, whether assimilated or pious, as spiritually exhausted, and he illustrates the point with an excerpt from the book -- set amidst the virulent anti-Semitism unleashed after the devastations of World War I, when "neither assimilation nor a return to former piety was possible."

Singer captures this sense of futility perfectly in "The Family Moskat." When, during the First World War, an order of expulsion comes to the shtetl where the hero grew up, the pious rabbi finds himself fleeing next to the town atheist:

Reb Dan’s wagon drew up alongside the cart on which Jekuthiel the watchmaker sat, the tools of his trade piled around him. He looked at the rabbi and smiled sadly. "Nu, rabbi?" he said.

It was clear that what he meant was: Where is your Lord of the Universe now? Where are His miracles? Where is your faith in Torah and prayer?

"Nu, Jekuthiel," the rabbi answered. What he was saying was: Where are your worldly remedies? Where is your trust in the gentiles? What have you accomplished by aping Esau?

Rosen describes the heroes of Singer’s novels as "unbound Jews" whose freedom comes with remorse for what they have achieved in liberation:

Most of his characters, despite Orthodox childhoods, began their rebellion against God and Judaism before the Second World War, in the nineteen-teens and twenties, when many Polish Jews were stepping out of traditional Jewish culture for the first time, as Singer himself had. The Holocaust brought the curtain down on their unresolved rebellion, and left them quarrelling with murdered parents and a culture that had been annihilated, punishing themselves for having wished to be rid of what was now gone.

Rosen takes Singer and his characters through contemporary America, and places Singer in the mainstream of American literary tradition, from Hawthorne on:

The greatest American novel of the nineteenth century, after all, tells the story of a whaling ship -- a whole civilization, really -- that sinks; everyone dies except one solitary survivor with a Biblical name, who narrates the story.

Or consider the novels of Hemingway, steeped in a postwar bleakness so deep that distraction alone holds despair at bay -- a condition with which Singer’s survivors, a truly lost generation, are intimately acquainted.

These lost souls would not be out of place in the novels of Faulkner, where the past is so tormenting that, as one character says, it’s not even past.

Rosen ends his essay with a moving reference to Singer’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which itself is worth reading again with the introduction Rosen’s essay provides.

The Library of America is currently in a year-long celebration of Singer and his work.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Well, No One is Right 100% of the Time.

Abner D. Goldstine, good friend, strong supporter of Israel, all-around mensch -- and generally right about 99% of the time -- has a letter in the The Jewish Journal. He asserts a recent article in the Journal -- which Jewish Current Issues frankly found compelling -- "reflected some skewed reasoning:"

The May 21 issue of The Jewish Journal carried an opinion piece by Rick Richman titled "Kerry’s Flip-Flops on Israel Stir Concern." . . . .

Here are the facts. Throughout his 19 years in the Senate, John Kerry’s pro-Israel voting record has been second to none. Kerry has consistently supported the foreign aid critical to Israel and fought the attempt by Bush the elder in the early 1990s to slash the loan guarantees program that would have restricted aid to Israel.

Kerry endorses Israel’s need to maintain military superiority and supports Israel’s action to defend the safety and security of its citizens, including its recent actions taken against leaders of Hamas and other terrorist groups. Kerry has expressed unequivocal support for Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from Gaza. Beyond defense and security, Kerry has expressed his intent to work to bolster the economy of Israel, so key to Israel’s future strength. . . .

We were intrigued by Abner’s suggestion that Kerry’s pro-Israel record is "second to none," so we looked it up.

The Jewish Virtual Library lists Kerry’s vote on 60 Senate bills, resolutions and other matters: "Legislative Record of Senator John Kerry on Issues of Concern to the Pro-Israel Community."

We disregarded the 17 measures that passed with 90 or more votes (out of a possible 100), on grounds that these were not exactly profile-in-courage moments.

(That includes Kerry’s "fight" for loan guarantees to Israel, which consisted of his joining 98 other senators in 1992 in voting for Sen. Lautenberg's resolution of support).

Then we discounted the 18 measures that garnered between 82 and 89 votes. You don’t get a "second to none" rating by simply hanging around the 80+% crowd.

We decided the best indicator of Kerry’s support would be the instances where the pro-Israel position got 60 votes or less -- by definition the most controversial situations, the ones where Kerry’s vote mattered most.

There were 10 of those votes, and Kerry’s record there was . . . envelope please . . . six votes in favor of the pro-Israel position, and four votes against. So in the chips-are-down category, Kerry is a 60-40 guy.

With respect to Hamas, Kerry failed to join the 55 senators who signed the 1993 Grassley/Lautenberg letter demanding that the State Department include Hamas in the annual report on terrorism.

And on the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin, Kerry exasperated even the Forward -- the paper that in February, two weeks before the New York primary, had reported to the Jewish community Kerry’s assertion that a "staff mistake" was the reason he had named Jimmy Carter as his prospective Middle East envoy. The Forward reported on March 30, 2004 that:

John Kerry’s campaign last week used the excuse that the senator was on vacation in Idaho to dodge repeated requests from the Forward for a statement from him on Israel’s assassination of Hamas head Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. It is still dodging the matter.

Perhaps Abner relied on an unreliable source, such as the horse’s mouth. In mid-April, campaigning in Florida, Kerry assured his audience, according to the Washington Post, that his record on Israel was second to none:

"For 20 years, Joe [Lieberman] will tell you, I have a 100 percent record -- not a 99, a 100 percent record -- of sustaining the special relationship, the friendship that we have with Israel."

His actual record is more nuanced.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Holocaust 2004.

Leon Wieseltier, writing in this week’s New Republic, argues we should connect the Holocaust to current events, rather than argue for its uniqueness:

If no adversity can be likened to the Jewish adversity of the 1930s and 1940s, then all the instruction about the moral centrality of the Holocaust will have the perverse effect of stripping the Holocaust of its moral centrality, since it will no longer serve as a reference point in the analysis of contemporary evil.

He says the view that "Omarska was not Auschwitz was partly responsible for the idleness of the Clinton administration during most of the Bosnian genocide."

So when we see this headline -- "Stories of Refugees From Sudan's Darfur Echo Horrors of Holocaust" -- we should not calculate differences but respond accordingly, especially after reading this:

[M]ore than 2 million people have been affected by the conflict; more than one million people have been internally displaced; more than 100,000 people are now living on the Sudanese-Chad border; and more than 100,000 people will die of disease and starvation this year, excluding deaths from the conflict.

And this:

[Darfur involves] a deliberate effort [by the Government of Sudan] to eliminate three African tribes in Darfur so Arabs can take their land. The Genocide Convention defines such behavior as genocide, and it obliges nations to act to stop it.

That is why nobody in the West wants to talk about Darfur -- because of a fear that focusing on the horror will lead to a deployment in Sudan. . . .

[George W. Bush] sent aides to speak forcefully at the U.N. and raised the matter with Sudan's leaders. That's more than the Europeans or the U.N. has done. Where are Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac? Where are African leaders, like Nelson Mandela? Why isn't John Kerry speaking out forcefully? And why are ordinary Americans silent?

[W]e have repeatedly failed to stand up to genocide, whether of Armenians, Jews, Cambodians or Rwandans. Now we're letting it happen again.

Here are two examples from the UN Fact-Finding Commission’s April 25, 2004 Report:

The original population of Kailek was some 5,000 persons. As the campaign to cleanse the entire Kass-Shattaya-Kailek triangle of its mainly Fur population progressed, villagers sought towards Kailek after other locations were destroyed by [Government of Sudan] and Jenjaweed [Arab militia] forces, at times backed by [Government of Sudan] aerial bombardment . . .

The 23 Fur villages in the Shattaya Administrative Unit have been completely depopulated, looted and burnt to the ground . . . Meanwhile, dotted alongside these charred locations are unharmed, populated and functioning ‘Arab’ settlements.

. . . Today, Kailek is completely destroyed with virtually no complete buildings left in the entire town area. . . . The last village before Shattaya is Abruminoa which . . . housed some 6,000 people . . . The village is now completely obliterated . . .

The examples in the report go on.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof gives George W. Bush credit for diplomacy that has just ended a 20-year civil war between Sudan's north and south -- "hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved, millions of refugees will return home" -- although he seems to think it springs from special interests:

The Sudan has been a very important issue for evangelical voters, because most of the repression historically involved northern Muslims repressing southern Christians, even enslaving them.

So the Christian right became very active in helping Sudanese Christians, and in pressing for justice in the north/south Sudan civil war. That’s why President Bush got involved, but there’s no question that he did.

Shouldn’t that "but" be "and"?

The Jewish right and left should become very active in helping the people of Darfar in Western Sudan. The Holocaust makes us sensitive to genocide, but -- or should that be "and"? -- there’s no question we should get involved. It is happening again and we should stand with them.

The way to help is to call or email Kofi Annan, the EU, and George Bush. Emma Talal El Makdessi and William Shawcross argue in "Darfur`s Agony is the World`s Shame" that the EU and the UN are critical to stopping Sudan:

Europe needs to . . . acknowledge the severity of the situation in Darfur and use its weight in the UN Security Council. That weight is considerable: In addition to the permanent members -- France and the UK -- EU member states Germany and Spain are also currently on the Security Council, as is Romania, an EU applicant.

They need to push for an emergency session of the Security Council to take up the Darfur issue . . . . The Security Council should . . . warn Khartoum of international military intervention if it does not alter its course. Only such an ultimatum will demonstrate that the international community means it when it says "never again" -- that we are not going to stand by as another mass slaughter of innocents unfolds before our eyes.