Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Stories of Paul and Leah

Introduction: The author recently participated in the Adult International March of the Living, spending one week in Poland visiting the concentration camps and restored historic Jewish sites, followed by a week in Israel celebrating Yom HaShoah V’Hagvura (Holocaust and Martyrs Remembrance), Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance of Fallen Soldiers); and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).


I knew the program would be emotionally exhausting. But never could I anticipate Paul and Leah.

Paul Fryberg is an 86-year-old survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau who made the 20-hour trip from Australia with his daughter Yvonne. He’s a large man with rapid speech and a thick Aussie accent. He had survived hell and ended up an orphan on the other side of the world.

Yet now, on our way to his birthplace of Lodz, he said, “I’m scared.” Like most survivors, Paul said he never return to Poland, but the Lodz Ghetto Judenrat kept burial records and, after 67 years, he’d located his father’s grave in the medieval Lodz cemetery and returned to give him a funeral.

He was a teenager when the Nazis herded his family into the ghetto.  When his father's legs became too swollen to work, a German soldier shot him in the head; they showed Paul the picture they took for evidence.  His mother and sister were burned, he believes, at Chelmno. Paul was shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the main extermination camp.

Paul looked disoriented as we entered Birkenau, but quickly he remembered Dr. Mengele, silently waiting for the new arrivals off the trains, using just a one finger to indicate left or right:  immediate death or slave labor.

The next day, we walked among the astounding headstones of the Lodz cemetery that told a story of this once thriving community of some 223,000 Jews before WWII. But Paul never forgot the taunts of the local Polish kids who made throat-slicing gestures and called out “Zhid, Zhid.”

I was worried sick: how would Paul handle this? We found the grave. Paul was trembling, but in control. But when we began to recite kaddish, this gentle old man collapsed over the flat gravestone, calling for his father and sobbing like the lost child he was.

Later, Paul confided he was afraid he’d be alone with his daughter at the grave site. How happy he was when he wiped his tears and saw dozens of us, Jews from all over the world, now his congregation.

A week later, we gathered in Israel’s Safra Square for our march to the Kotel to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. Music and dancing, flags of Panama, France, Brazil, the UK, Australia, the United States, Argentina, and more-- all signaling we survived, we prospered. Everyone cried as Paul lead his contingent, carrying the Australian flag to the Western Wall.


Birkenau death camp is a huge, sprawling complex of primitive wood barracks with guard towers everywhere and feeder railroad tracks the Nazis added to expedite the transport of Jews for slaughter. It seems endless.  This day, it was raining and miserable. (We had been surprised at how less ominous Auschwitz I* appeared, with its neat brick buildings, trees in bloom and small grassy yards.)

We walked into a women's barracks, not far from Mengele's house of horrors.   There were windows here and there, but unless you were right in front of one, you couldn’t see much.  The group stopped and I couldn’t move forward or see. We were all wet and cold. Then I heard one of our South African leaders, Tali, translating in English for Leah Herman, a tiny elderly woman from Israel who had returned to the very barracks she had survived. She, too, came to hold a funeral service for her lost family.

Leah, a Hungarian Jew, was grabbed by the Nazis when she was only 12. She was small for her age. They stripped and shaved her, part of the dehumanization process.  They handed her a huge cotton dress, way too large for her tiny body, and wooden shoes.  Nothing else.  

She remembered how they were forced to stand in their thin cotton rags in the freezing snow for hours during "roll call."  If anyone was missing, they’d all have to stand until the escapee was caught, even if it took all night. In the meantime, the Nazis would randomly shoot prisoners. Others just froze to death or dropped from disease or hunger.

When the siren blared, you had to run into your barracks immediately or you would be shot.

One day, the siren went off, but Leah wasn’t close to her barracks; terrified, she ran into the nearest one.  She was amazed to find her aunt there,  the only family member left.
The aunt had learned the Nazis would be collecting women for a work force: it was a chance. Auntie stood Leah on some bricks in a back row and pinched her cheeks to make her appear healthier.

Leah was selected. They walked two miles to work and two miles back, everyday, even in freezing winds.  They were given two slices of moldy bread each day.  Nothing else. They were dying of starvation, disease, and cold.

The sleeping bunks were merely rough wooden slats in layers of three, with room for two or three people in each. The Nazis forced in six to eight. (More could fit as their bodies wasted away.) Leah remembered how everyone wanted a top bunk because, as people died above, their body fluids would spill onto you.  

When the Nazis learned that the Allies were approaching, they took Leah’s group on a 4-day death march to Bergen-Belsen which Leah said was even worse than Birkenau. At Birkenau at least she saw workers. Bergen-Belsen had only corpses.

They marched with no food, no water, no toilets. They ate dirt along the road. Later, the lice covered her body so thickly that when she flicked them with a finger, they’d fall off in clumps.  She contracted typhus and tuberculosis. The child was a living skeleton when the Russians came.

After two years in a Swiss hospital, she ended up in Israel. One granddaughter, Kim, accompanied Leah on the March; this was the first time she’d heard her grandmother’s story. The two women clung to one another and wept.

As Leah softly told her story, I kept my hand on one slat of a middle bunk. I was reaching out to ghosts, but it was all I had.

The rain came hard so we held the ceremony inside the miserable dark barracks. Leah wiped her tears, and, like Paul, turned to see dozens of us reciting kaddish with her.
The warm yellow of the collective candle flames shined brighter than chemistry should allow.


Even in Poland, splattered with so much evidence of human venality, you can understand the Holocaust only a piece at a time. This was one piece: As we were leaving, someone commented that Auschwitz didn’t look as ominous as it does in the Liberation photos; here were lots of blooming trees and grass. Someone else answered, “That’s because it’s April now. When they were liberated, it was winter; the snow probably covered the grass back then.”

“No,” Paul said, “There was no grass. We ate it.”


* This is the Roman numeral one “I”

June S. Neal
Delray Beach FL Florida and West Hartford, CT

June Neal is a free lance writer, editor and former feature writer for Northeast Magazine and has contributed to the Jewish Ledger and other publications.  She is an activist for Israel and a member of Connecticut's PRIMER (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting).

Israel Celebrates Its 62nd Anniversary

This is a letter submitted to The Hartford Courant by Professor Joe Behar. It was not published by The Courant, but is posted here with the permission of the writer.

In a few days the modern state of Israel will celebrate its 62nd anniversary.

Established in 1948, any objective evaluation with numerous criteria will show Israel to be a success story. This is especially so when compared to some of its adversaries established in a similar time frame, Jordan (1946), Lebanon (1943), Syria (1946), Saudi Arabia (1932).

This beleaguered nation of eight million citizens has survived numerous attacks by neighboring nations, with their intention of destroying it.

Yet Israel has more Nobel Prize winners than the sum of their attackers. Israel's students consistently score very high in the international exams in science and mathematics.

Israel's GNP per capita is more than the combined total of their neighbors. So is their total economic production.

Their scientific advances have significantly aided us to live more comfortable and healthy lives. The cell phone, voice mail technology, most of the Windows NT and XP operating systems, synthetic vaccines and the first ingestible video camera inside a pill were all the product of Israeli scientists.

These accomplishments are in spite of having to spend more money per capita on defense, than any country in the world!

Religious pluralism, women's rights, a Western legal system and a dedication to democracy and liberty, are some of the reasons over 80% of Americans support and admire the State of Israel.

"Third world" nations attempting to advance their citizens lives should take Israel as an example to emulate.

It is no wonder that successive American administrations continue to declare " Israel is Americas strongest ally in the Middle East."

Congratulations Israel on your 62nd Anniversary.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment

This is a minimally edited version of an article I wrote for the Beth El Synagogue Bulletin. J Street, that fringe, deceptive group many consider anti-Israel, was part of an early version but removed because of space limitations. I plan to modify this in the future to deal with their negative role.

In an article, "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," published last year in The New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart took up the question of "why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel."

Beinart argued that Jewish students were turned off because they wanted "an 'open and frank' discussion of Israel and its flaws."

I believe Beinart is dangerously wrong.

There's no shortage of discussion and debate about Israeli policy within the Jewish community, whether in America, in Israel or anywhere else around the world. The real problem is that there is no real discussion or debate on the other side. This presents a confusing and distorted picture to our youths.

Within the Jewish community, there is a relatively open and balanced debate, with even the strongest advocates of Israel recognizing Israel has made mistakes and the Palestinian Arabs have serious problems, albeit primarily of their own making, and recognizing Israel needs to make painful concessions in any peace agreement.

From the anti-Israel forces, there is a litany of distortions, half-truths and outright lies demonizing Israel.

Not having lived through the re-establishment of Israel, the Suez Campaign, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and the intifada, too young to remember the beginning of the Oslo process, the bus bombings in the mid-1990s or even the way the Palestinian Arabs rejected the establishment of a state in 2000 and launched the Al Aksa intifada instead, today's youth aren't really equipped to separate fact from fiction.

We have failed, as Peter Beinart points out, but not in the way he argues.

It is not that we have lacked discussion or debate or criticism; it is that we have not sufficiently educated our community and we have not imbued in our youth the feeling for Israel that previous generations had in their kishkes.

The reality is that the Jewish homeland is in a fight for survival, against an enemy that has the automatic support of most of the world. We need to make sure our youth understand that and are knowledgeable enough to carry on with a sometimes neglected part of Hillel's admonition: "If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us."

As far as how we do this, I have no answers, but Beinart's prescription would only exacerbate the problem.

I do believe synagogue needs to play an important role, starting with educating our members and supplying parents with needed tools.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ripley's Believe It or Not: UN Chief Praises Tehran's Anti-Terror Initiative

From the FARS News Agency, "Iran's leading independent news agency."

TEHRAN (FNA)- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Tehran's initiative and efforts in holding the First International Conference on the Global Fight against Terrorism, and described it as a major move and gathering in the war on terrorism.

In a written massage to the conference read by UN Envoy to Tehran Mohammad Rafi al Din Shah, Ki-moon appreciated the Islamic Republic of Iran for holding the very important conference.

Also in his message, the UN chief said the world body has approved a large number of resolutions against terrorism in recent years, "and holding conferences like the Tehran conference can be considerably helpful in implementing these resolutions".

"The UN has an important role in fighting terrorism and I hope that the Tehran conference can attain great goals," he added.

Ban Ki-moon further underlined in his message that terrorism is not a political but a universal phenomenon "that we should fight firmly".

"Moving towards negotiation and recognition among nations according to the UN charter, having friendly relations with nations and improving relations among them and performing humanistic activities are some of the important strategies against terrorism," the UN Chief reiterated.

The International Conference on Global Fight against Terrorism officially started work here in Tehran on Saturday with several high-ranking officials and international figures in attendance.

The event has brought together senior officials from at least 60 countries, and representatives from several international organizations including the UN.

Presidents of Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Iraq as well as senior dignitaries and officials from different world states and world bodies have attended the conference.

The chief executives of a number of states, including the Armenian president, are also due to join the conference today.

The event, arranged under the slogan of "A World Without Terrorism", is aimed at increasing international convergence and coordination in fighting terrorism.

The topics to be discussed in the two-day summit include various aspects of fighting terrorism, reasons behind the increasing trend of terrorist activities in the world, challenges and obstacles in the way of fighting terrorism, and enhancing appropriate counter-terrorism means and strategies on bilateral, regional and international levels.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Interpreting the Easing of Palestinian Arab Demands

On June 24, the Connecticut Post, Danbury News-Times, Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate published the following short article, dubbed "Palestinians easing demands for freeze:"
The Palestinians are ready to drop their demand for a complete Israeli settlement construction freeze and resume peace talks if Israel accepts a U.S. proposal calling for a broad Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in 1967, according to senior Palestinian official in Ramallah in the West Bank Thursday. The official said the Palestinians have presented their ideas to American mediators visiting the region in recent days in an effort to get long-stalled negotiations moving again.
The following letter was submitted to each of those papers to interpret the article:

To the editor:

Let me see if I correctly understand the article "Palestinians easing demands for freeze."

It appears that, provided Israel agrees to join with the Palestinian Arabs in violating the 1949 armistice agreements, which specify that the armistice lines are to have no political significance, and United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for secure borders, the Palestinian Authority may consider ending its two and a half year long boycott of negotiations. On the other hand, the PA still won't abandon its plan, in flagrant violation of its commitment under the Oslo Accords to negotiate any changes in the status of the disputed territories, to get United Nations approval of its unilateral declaration of independence.

How nice of them.


Alan Stein

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Hamas - Oops, Gaza - Flotilla

This was written by David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee and sent by email with the following explanation.

Nearly two years ago, I was invited by The Huffington Post (HuffPo) to become a blogger on their site. I was honored. It is one of the most heavily trafficked news sites anywhere, and it reaches an influential audience. Since September 2009, I have published nearly 50 articles there, and look forward to publishing many more. This week, for the first time, I was told by HuffPo that an article submitted was "not for us." It's below. I ask you to read it and decide for yourself. Apropos, the same article was published on my Jerusalem Post blog earlier this week.

Best wishes,

The Hamas - Oops, Gaza - Flotilla

June 21, 2011

We're on the verge of another "flotilla" to Gaza. Estimates of the number of ships and participants vary from day to day, tending downward, but the erstwhile organizers insist that the maritime operation will take place.

Their spokesmen have been hyperactive in drawing attention to the event. After all, without coverage, they'd be denied their oxygen. And the kind of coverage they seek - idealistic humanists and peace activists determined to aid the poor, beleaguered residents of Gaza versus stone-hearted oppressors in military uniforms determined to block them at all costs - would, needless to say, portray Israel in the worst possible light.

The International Solidarity Movement, Free Gaza Movement, U.S. Boat to Gaza, and kindred spirits want the world to believe there is a strip of land called Gaza that, left to its own devices, would create the Shangri-La of the Middle East.

All its residents want are peace, harmony, coexistence, and tranquility. Some spokesmen acknowledge that Gaza has a governing authority. A very few even mention its name, Hamas, but hasten to add that it was elected democratically, so end of story. The rest don't give it a name, as it might muddy the waters.

According to this narrative - a word particularly popular in Middle East discussions- the residents of Gaza face a neighboring oppressor, Israel, which, for diabolical reasons of its own, wants to inflict maximum harm on people whose only dream in life is to live and let live. For these spokesmen, the wealth of vocabulary in the Oxford English Dictionary fails to capture the true nature of Israel's venality.

Enter, then, the self-described, modern-day Freedom Riders. They're boarding flotilla ships, they suggest, to bring aid, relief, and attention to those trapped in Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1963.

George Orwell, where are you? You could have a field day with this story.

Actually, you anticipated it when you wrote about the Ministry of Truth in your classic book, 1984. What were the ruling party's slogans on the outside of the 1,000-foot-tall building housing the ministry? Weren't they "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength"? And didn't the ministry rewrite history at will to ensure it always served the party's interests?

The Gaza flotilla spokesmen are inverting the truth and rewriting history at will to serve their interests. And what are those interests? To prop up the Hamas regime in Gaza and delegitimize Israel.

While they are entitled to their own opinions, however misguided, they are not entitled to their own facts.

They cannot separate Hamas from the equation. Much as they might try, the central fact is that Hamas is key to understanding Gaza today.

Hamas is a terrorist organization. Don't take my word for it. Check with the United States and European Union, both of which have designated Hamas as a terrorist entity.

Hamas preaches the elimination of Israel and a toxic brew of classical anti-Semitism. Again, don't believe me. Read the Hamas Charter.

While Hamas may have been elected to govern with the PA in 2006, the first and only national Palestinian elections, one election does not a democracy make. Hamas used the ballot box to gain a foothold, then employed anti-democratic means to impose its own suffocating vision on the land. Hamas violently ousted the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007 and has ruled ever since. Because Hamas cannot reform, the much heralded "unity" agreement it signed with Fatah six weeks ago is headed for an uncertain future.

Hamas celebrates violence. It joyously speaks of jihad, martyrdom, conflict, and the ultimate destruction of Israel. It has matched its fiery rhetoric with a sustained effort to import weapons, courtesy of Iran, smugglers in the Sinai, and tunnels from the Egyptian side of the border. In recent years, literally thousands of rockets and missiles have been fired from Gaza at Israel. Why?

Israel has no claim on Gaza. To the contrary, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Soldiers and settlers alike were pulled out by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, giving local residents the first chance ever in their history to govern themselves.

Indeed, with Israel's encouragement, a number of Jewish donors purchased Israeli greenhouses in Gaza and left them behind to help jump-start the local economy. The first reaction was to ransack them, when they could have been sources of flowers and vegetables for the local economy.

Israel has an interest in a stable, peaceful, and prospering Gaza, not a gun-toting, missile-firing, jihad-preaching entity. After all, you can change a lot of things in life, but not neighbors. Israel and Gaza are destined to be neighbors for a long time to come.

The Quartet - the U.S., EU, Russia, and UN - set three conditions for engagement with Hamas. The group must forswear violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. To date, none of those conditions have been met. Apologists for Gaza would have you believe otherwise, but Hamas's spokesmen always undercut them. When it serves their purposes, they might briefly curtail violence to regroup and rearm, but Hamas is adamant that it will never abandon its struggle against Israel.

So, let's be clear. The flotilla participants, whether they acknowledge it or not, are handmaidens of a terrorist regime. That regime, not Israel, is responsible for the conditions in Gaza, which may not be enviable, but are a far cry from the dire picture of starvation and stunted growth painted by the hyperbolic spokesmen.

Israel has only one concern, which is to ensure that Hamas, a declared enemy of Israel, does not get additional means to threaten its neighbor. That's it, pure and simple.

As has been said, if Hamas laid down its weapons, there would be peace. If Israel laid down its weapons, there would be no Israel.

The flotilla participants claim their mission is nothing more than humanitarian, but, in reality, it serves the interests of a regime that espouses terrorism, peddles anti-Semitism, and praises the memory of Osama Bin Laden.

To portray themselves as the new wave of Freedom Riders is to trample grotesquely on the legacy of America's civil rights struggle and rewrite history. Orwell's Ministry of Truth is back.

For more information, visit

Editor's Note: David's blogs are having worldwide impact. If you enjoy reading them, please share this one with your friends and make a donation to AJC.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


By Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Board of Directors

June 20, 2011

In response to Yale University's abrupt and thus far poorly explained termination of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA), Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), representing a worldwide grassroots community of academics from across many disciplines, notes Yale University's announcement that it is establishing the Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism (YPSA) and wishes it success. Nevertheless, SPME remains gravely concerned about the handling of the YIISA and registers significant concerns about the new organization.

During its brief five-year existence, YIISA had gotten off to a spectacular start with much promise ahead. SPME hopes that YPSA can achieve similar success but remains concerned that the manner in which Yale handled YIISA may create obstacles for YPSA. SPME attributes YIISA’s success to four critical factors upon which YPSA’s success or failure will depend: contemporary focus, global reach, substantial resources, and intensive activity.

First, YIISA wisely and courageously focused on the contemporary resurgence of global anti-Semitism. Many anti-Semitism scholars admired YIISA’s effectiveness in tackling the difficult and politically charged issue of 21st century anti-Semitism. These achievements not only enhanced Yale’s prestige but also strengthened our understanding of this pressing contemporary problem. If YPSA greatly illuminates the long history of anti-Semitism but fails to address its current manifestations, it will be judged a failure.

Second, YIISA set high ambitions for itself. It was not merely a study group for faculty at one university, but a global center which brought together scholars from many nations and disciplines. Contrary to what Yale spokespersons have suggested, YIISA’s scholarship was internationally influential, and its fellows madeintellectual contributions to the countries and communities to which they returned. If YPSA provides a productive hub for Yale faculty but fails to engage the international community of anti-Semitism scholars, it will be judged a failure.

Third, YIISA attracted sufficient outside funding to operate at a large scale, conducting major international conferences, attracting numerous visiting scholars, and preparing to launch an international journal. Yale’s handling of YIISA has reportedly alienated many of its outside funders, so Yale must now invest its own significant resources in order for YPSA to achieve its important mission. If YPSA provides a provincial home for anti-Semitism research but fails to gain sufficient funding to operate at YIISA’s level of engagement, it will be judged a failure.

Fourth, YIISA was intensely active in generating, promoting and supporting anti-Semitism scholarship around the world. This intensive activity was due to the energy and creativity of its founding director, Charles A. Small. Dr. Small led YIISA to immense productivity while simultaneously serving as a lecturer in political science, a thesis advisor to undergraduate students, a busy academic author and an internationally recognized speaker. In light of the manner in which Small has been treated, questions remain as to whether YPSA’s leadership will be empowered to achieve similar success. If YPSA generates respectable scholarship at Yale but fails to take active international leadership in the study of anti-Semitism, it will be judged a failure.

YPSA will be judged a success if it can address all forms of anti-Semitism, including contemporary anti-Semitism in its many manifestations; if it can set and satisfy ambitious goals for global engagement; if it can obtain an adequate funding base from Yale; and if it can assume a position of global leadership similar to YIISA’s achievements.

In order to provide YPSA with a fair chance for success, Yale must provide a full accounting of its treatment of YIISA. Great disappointment has been expressed that Yale gave YIISA not only very short notice of termination, but also very little explanation for the decision or chance for appeal. We, therefore, call on Yale President Richard C. Levin to allow a full, independent and transparent accounting of this action with opportunity for a full review and public response to this decision by YIISA’s management.

The Yale community and the international scholarly community should be told why Yale chose to terminate rather than to strengthen YIISA’svaluable academic inquiry in such a deplorably underserved but essential area of study. Substantial evidence available to the public has led some observers to speculate on a non-scholarly, indeed politically driven motivation for Yale’s decision. To facilitate a transparent discussion, and to lay these rumors to rest, we call on Yale to disclose the Institute review report to YIISA’s Director, Advisory Board, and faculty. And we ask that independent inquiry be launched to review Yale’s handling of YIISA.

Anti-Semitism may be the oldest of enduring human hatreds. Examination of the roots and unanticipated contemporary resurgence of anti-Semitism is a critical academic endeavor not just for Jews, but for anyone grappling with the volatile phenomena of modernity. Jews traditionally are an early target of people who use hatred to incite genocide, but they are never the last. The Nazis murdered 6 million Jews, but the total collateral damage caused by their technologically-endowed insanity included an additional 24 million dead. It therefore behooves the modern academy to pay close attention to paranoid Jew hatred.

We also call on other universities to house and build on YIISA’s achievements and to invest in contemporary anti-Semitism scholarship. Europe does better by anti-Semitism studies than the United States. Scholarly institutions should promptly step forward to develop interdisciplinary approaches to the study of this fascinating, repellent, and urgent current problem.

Statement on SPME Website

Monday, June 20, 2011

Statement on Yale Yanking YIISA

YIISA: The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism
Statement from Charles Asher Small
Executive Director and Founder of YIISA

Recently, Yale University officials informed us of their precipitous decision to close YIISA, The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism.

It became evident that YIISA and Yale University have different visions and approaches to the study of antisemitism. YIISA, like Yale, believes in the necessity to publish in top tier journals. YIISA scholars, its graduate and post-doctorate research fellows, esteemed senior visiting professors, and scholars associated with YIISA have done so at a high caliber and with success.

YIISA, however, is committed to critical engaged scholarship with a broader approach to the complex, and at times controversial context of contemporary global antisemitism.

It is this mission that my colleagues at YIISA so eloquently and with a sense of integrity engaged. This was reflected, for example, in the conference, Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity. Held in August 2010 it was the largest academic conference on the study of antisemitism ever. This illustrated not only the relevance of YIISA, but the concern, if not alarm, that scholars of antisemitism have for the contemporary global condition. It also marked the launching of the International Association for the Study of Antisemitism (IASA) a professional association, of which I was elected by peers to be its first President.

We believe that the role of a true scholar and intellectual is to shed light where there is darkness. It is a responsibility of scholars to understand the implications of antisemitism on society, nationally as well as internationally. YIISA has been successful in this regard since our formation in 2006. YIISA was the first research center based at a North American University dedicated to the study of antisemitism, and will continue to be a trailblazer in the field.

I wish to express appreciation for the role Yale students and professors played in the development of YIISA. I am especially grateful for the community of scholars from across the United States and from around the world that contributed to YIISA. I look forward to continuing to work with these scholars. I also look forward to work with academics that will be associated with the new Yale Program on Antisemitism, to be constituted, especially with my esteemed colleague Maurie Samuels. We are all colleagues on a subject matter with profound implications. I would also like to thank members of the YIISA Board of Trustees for their efforts and for their continued commitment to further our mandate. I am also grateful for the thousands of people that attend our events and support our work.

We are in conversation with several academic institutions that understand the importance of our mission. They have expressed interest in YIISA becoming part of their academic community. It is also my hope, given the importance and timeliness of the subject, that several research centers, dedicated to the study of antisemitism, especially the contemporary global context, will open at universities across the United States.

Charles Asher Small, D. Phil.
Executive Director and Founder
Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism

Three Palestinian Places

By Jay Bergman

Published in the Waterbury Sunday Republican on June 19, 2011.

Largely absent in the extensive analyses of President Obama's recent pronouncement that the Palestinians deserve a state of their own - without their having to agree Israel should remain a Jewish one - is acknowledgment there already is a Palestinian state. It is called Jordan.

Jordan has been ruled since its creation in 1946 by Hashemites, who, while Arab and Muslim, are not Palestinian. This enabled King Hussein, in ejecting the PLO from Jordan in September 1970, to kill more Palestinians in one month than Israel has killed, almost always in self-defense, in 63 years.

But the majority of Jordanians are Palestinian. For purely pragmatic reasons, it might be best for both Israel and America, not to mention the Hashemites themselves, that Hussein's successor, his son Abdullah, remain in power, but his overthrow remains a real possibility. In that event, Jordan would be a Palestinian state de jure as well as demographically. Should that occur, the Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza that President Obama desires would be the second one, not the first.

But this second Palestinian state could generate a third one. Because Gaza and the West Bank are separated by 25 miles of Israeli territory, it is easy to imagine them becoming separate, independent entities. In fact, Gaza under Hamas is already self-governing and can thus be included among the many other Muslim states in the Middle East that are more interested in killing Jews than in improving the lives of their own people.

In a passage in his recent speech at the State Department, Obama said the Palestinian state he envisaged would be "contiguous," which is to say there would be a band of territory linking Gaza and the West Bank. The mind boggles at what might exist on such a territory. An express lane for suicide bombers? Toll booths that enable the kleptocrats running the Palestinian Authority line their pockets?

The contiguity President Obama is calling for is of course wildly impractical, and it is hard to imagine Israel - or any other nation in similar circumstances - agreeing to what in practice would be an obvious infringement of its territorial integrity. For that reason, the Palestinian state he desires very likely would devolve into two states.

And should Abdullah be overthrown in Jordan, there would be three states, all Palestinian, and all with the same objective of destroying Israel.

This scenario may seem far-fetched, but the mere fact it is not impossible underscores how dishonest the Palestinian leadership - the Palestinian Authority as much as Hamas - is in pretending the Palestinians are state less, and that Israel is responsible for this. Jordan is indeed Palestinian, and it would be helpful to the cause of peace in the Middle East if President Obama gave some indication he knows this.

Jay Bergman is professor of history at Central Connecticut State University and the author, most recently, of "Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Russian Jews left in cold

We, the undersigned, members and activists of the Russian Jewish community of Boston, would like the leaders of the Boston Jewish community to know we are appalled that J Street has been accepted as a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council. JCRC is supposed to represent the Jewish community and support Israel. Unfortunately, it does neither.

How open and democratic is JCRC when it does not pay any attention to the views of 70,000 Russian Jews in Massachusetts? Jews from the former Soviet Union count for one third of the total Jewish community in our state. But, as we were in the Soviet Union, here, too, in the Jewish leadership structure of Greater Boston, we find ourselves to be the Jews of Silence. Sadly, meanwhile, leaders of the Boston Jewish establishment find room in their “big tent” for the radical anti-Israel J Street.

The list of reasons why J Street cannot be part of any pro-Israel organization seems endless. J Street is funded by anti-Israel billionaire activist George Soros, who famously blamed Israel for European anti-Semitism. J Street lied about its connection with Soros, then proudly acknowledged it. J Street refused to condemn the slanderous Goldstone Gaza report. J Street initially fought economic actions against Iran.

Massachusetts is home to one of the most anti-Israel congressional delegations in America. What is JCRC doing about this? And now, in a blatant violation of its own bylaws, well documented by CAMERA’s Andrea Levin in the Advocate, JCRC sneaks in the radical anti-Israel J Street. When confronted with this revelation, the leadership of the Boston Jewish establishment brings out the usual supply of pious platitudes about unity. But if anything, J Street is not uniting our community; it is dividing us.

We invite the community at large to start a broad discussion about the formation of a new representative organization. And we hope that any new Jewish relations council will include fair representation of the 70,000 Russian Jews in this area, who passionately care about Israel and our adopted country, the United States.

ALEX KOIFMAN, president, Boston For Israel
GREG (ZVI) MARGOLIN,editor and publisher, Jewish Russian Telegraph
ARY ROTMAN, president of Russian Jewish Community Foundation
MICHAEL SHERMAN, professor, Boston University School of Medicine
INESSA RIFKIN, founder and principal, Russian School of Mathematics
SAM GEISBERG, founder, Parametric Technology Corporation
VLADIMIR TORCHILIN, professor and director, Center for Pharmaceutical, Northeastern University
RABBI DAN RODKIN, Jewish Russian Center and Synagogue

The letter was also signed by 129 others from the Russian Jewish community of Greater Boston.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Responding to The Hour

The following letter was submitted to The Hour when it responded to PRIMER's request for a correction to just one blatant error, among several other factual errors, in a letter by Scott Kimmich by saying a letter was more appropriate. There are two parts, an introductory explanation to the editors, not for publication, followed by the letter submitted for publication. As this is being posted, the editors of The Hour have not yet indicated whether they will publish the letter.

The introduction, not for publication:

I requested The Hour publish a correction to one of the several factual errors in a letter from Scott Kimmich published on June 11, but was told "Please feel free to send a letter to the editor. Would be better handled as such."

A correction issued by the newspaper could be very brief, such as: "In a letter from Scott Kimmich published on June 11, the writer wrote 'with the exception of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, all seven wars that Israel has fought, including the 'war for independence,' were initiated by Israel.' This is false. It is indisputable that Israel's Arab enemies initiated the 1948 war and the actual start of other wars is open to interpretation."

On the other hand, a correction via a letter to the editor must be far more thorough, lest it create the false impression there is simply a difference of opinion. The consequence is the following letter which I am submitting for publication.

I still believe The Hour should adhere to the Code of Ethics for the American Society of Newspaper Editors and publish its own, official correction such as that suggested above. Failing that, I believe it would be unfair to not publish the letter below.

Thank you.

The following was submitted as a letter and was published by The Hour on June 14 as an op-ed with the title "Claims Israel started wars are false and should be corrected." I commend The Hour for publishing it. Other newspapers, with less integrity than The Hour, have not just refused to issue corrections but then refused to publish letters pointing out the errors.

One of the provisions of the Code of Ethics for the American Society of Newspaper Editors is the stipulation "Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently."

I'm disappointed that The Hour apparently follows a code of ethics which doesn't include this provision, since when, as president of PRIMER-Connecticut, I requested The Hour issue a correction of just one of several factual errors in Scott Kimmich's latest anti-Israel screed, I was told "Please feel free to send a letter to the editor. Would be better handled as such."

The Hour is to be commended, however, for offering that opportunity. There are other newspapers in Connecticut that have refused to correct factual errors and also refused to publish letters pointing out those factual errors.

In a letter published June 11, Scott Kimmich falsely asserted "with the exception of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, all seven wars that Israel has fought, including the 'war for independence,' were initiated by Israel."

This statement is so obviously false as to border on the absurd which, in my opinion, the editors should have either refused to publish or accompanied by a note pointing out its falsity.

There is absolutely no question that Israel's Arab enemies initiated the 1948 war, Israel's "war for independence." Israel's Declaration of Independence, proclaiming its desire to live in peace with its neighbors, was issued on May 14, 1948, only to have the armies of Transjordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invade the next day. Not even Israel's enemies deny they initiated that war.

My studies indicate all the wars were actually initiated by Israel's enemies. For example, even the 1967 war was really started by several acts of war by Israel's enemies, such as cross-border raids and the illegal closing of the Straits of Tiran, prior to Israel's pre-emptive attack. However, there is some element of ambiguity and legitimate differences of opinion, so I only requested The Hour point out the indisputable factual error regarding the start of the 1948 war.

Kimmich's letter contained several other factual errors, of which I'll mention just two, neither of which I asked The Hour to correct.

Kimmich referred to Israel's "1967 borders."

There were no borders in 1967, only temporary armistice lines. Indeed, each of the armistice agreements specify the armistice lines are to have no political significance. For example, Article VI, Paragraph 9 of the armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan reads: "The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto."

It's unfortunate that most people, including President Obama, seem to be unaware of this fact, but that's a separate issue.

In the very same sentence, Kimmich writes about "the return of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians." This short phrase contains at least two factual errors.

The first is the reference to "East Jerusalem." While the use of that term is quite common, it is in error since there is no such entity.

The second is the reference to returning territory to the Palestinian Arabs. It would be possible for Israel to return territory to Jordan or Egypt, the powers which occupied the disputed territories prior to the 1967 war. But the Palestinian Arabs never had possession of any of that territory so, while Israel can turn territory over to them, Israel cannot possibly "return" territory to them.

Besides being filled with factual errors, Kimmich also resorts to what I consider the promotion of hatred and, at best, the pandering to prejudice, as in the next to last paragraph of his June 11 letter: "In contrast, a tiny claque wildly applauds the head of a foreign government dictating policy to the White House and the Capitol." (This, too, contains an assertion many would consider a false statement, since obviously no foreign government dictates policy to the United States, but some might argue Kimmich is merely giving an opinion.)

In my opinion, many of Kimmich's letters and op-eds have crossed the line between legitimate opinion and criticism and venomous, bigoted, illegitimate attacks and should not have been published. That, of course, is itself a subjective opinion and it is up to The Hour to determine its standards.

I do hope the editors will in the future bear in mind an unfortunate truth pointed out by David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, when he recently wrote an article referring to the veracity of Israel's enemies and aptly entitled it "Guess what: Our enemies lie."


Alan Stein, Ph.D.
President, PRIMER-Connecticut
Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Distortions in The Hour of Norwalk, Connecticut

The following letter was sent on June 11 to Jerrod Ferrari and Chris Bosak, Interim Co-Managing Editors for The Hour in Norwalk, Connecticut. It is followed by a response from Mr. Ferrari, the letter to which this refers and an analysis of that letter.

Dear Editors:

In his hateful letter published June 11, "Leave apartheid behind, Israel," in addition to numerous absurd assertions, including many some would consider clearly false statements but others might argue represented opinion, there is at least one blatant lie that definitely should not have been published: "With the exception of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, all seven wars that Israel has fought, including the 'war for independence,' were initiated by Israel."

I have noted the Code of Ethics for the American Society of Newspaper Editors includes the obligation "Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently."

While I recognize it may be impractical to carefully scrutinize the facts stated in every letter, this particular statement is so blatantly false I believe it should not escape an official correction by your newspaper. (I would also write a letter of my own, but since I just submitted one to your newspaper less than a week ago, it seems too soon to write again.)

There is absolutely no question that the Arabs started the 1948 war, Israel's "war of independence," with five Arab armies, from Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq, invading immediately when Israel declared its independence. One could argue about who started some of the other wars, even though each - even the 1967 war - really began with acts of war by Israel's enemies, but there's not even a hint of ambiguity about start of the 1948 war.

This error should be corrected.

In general, I would advise greater scrutiny of anti-Israel letters, which very often contain false information.

This is not unique to those writing to The Hour. I find, minimally, highly questionable assertions in many letters, commentaries and even news articles relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict, of which we sometimes forget the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is really a consequence and just one part.

David Horovitz wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post, published June 10, with the title "Guess what: Our enemies lie." It's available at . I recommend it.

Mr. Kimmich, in particular, has a track record of writing letters with what might euphemistically be called baseless assertions, references to non-existent entities - such as in this particular letter referring to "1967 borders" (there were not borders at that time, only temporary armistice lines) and "East Jerusalem" (there is and never has been any such locality).

He also resorts to what I consider the promotion of hatred and, at best, the pandering to prejudice, as in the next to last paragraph of this letter: "In contrast, a tiny claque wildly applauds the head of a foreign government dictating policy to the White House and the Capitol." (Note this, too, contains an assertion many would consider a false statement, since obviously no foreign government dictates policy to the United States, but some might argue Kimmich is merely giving an opinion.)

In my opinion, many of Kimmich's letters and op-eds have crossed the line between legitimate opinion and criticism and venomous, bigoted, illegitimate attacks and should not have been published. That, of course, is itself a subjective opinion and it is up to you to determine the standards for your newspaper.

I do request that you seriously take responsibility for determining appropriate standards for The Hour, take extra care in areas where truth is often ignored and red lines crossed and issue corrections in cases such as this when factual errors get by.


Alan Stein, Ph.D.
President, PRIMER-Connecticut
Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting

The following is the response from Mr. Ferrari, sent June 12, 2011.

Please feel free to send a letter to the editor. Would be better handled as

The following is the letter to which the above correspondence refers. It was published in The Hour on June 11, 2011.

Leave apartheid behind, Israel

To the Editor:

Mr. Laitman ( The Hour 5/28) should read Israeli history. With the exception of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, all seven wars that Israel has fought, including the "war for independence," were initiated by Israel.

Mr. Laitman also compared the aftermaths of the U.S.-Mexican war and Israel's 1967 blitzkrieg against its neighbors. Although both wars were aggressive, i.e. conquering territory and subjugating other people, in the 1840s such wars were not called criminal. By 1967, however, the Nuremburg tribunal had ruled that aggressive war by any nation is a supreme crime and that the leaders of such a country should be held accountable.

After 45 years of occupation, blockade and subjugation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has ipso facto committed a supreme crime for which its leaders are responsible. The fact that the U.S. has blocked prosecution of Israeli leaders does not lessen their guilt and indeed makes the U.S. an accessory to the crime. By caving to the Israel lobby, successive American administrations and legislators have undercut the sovereignty of the United States of America.

As for Iran being a nuclear threat, U.S. intelligence reveals that Iran abandoned its nuclear bomb program in 2003, and Israeli intelligence says that Iran is years away from such a capability. Meir Dagan, who just stepped down as chief of Israeli intelligence, contends that an Israeli attack on Iran would not only be "stupid" but self-defeating. He adds that Israel's leaders should have accepted the 2002 Saudi peace initiative stipulating withdrawal to its 1967 borders and the return of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, an opinion with which other recently retired top Israeli officials concur.

Despite this bitter opposition in Israel, Netanyahu strutted before a joint session of the U.S. Congress and repeated the same tired lies, and our legislators did everything but kiss his feet! Apparently, allegiance to the Israel lobby and re-election outweighs our own country's national interests.

Jewish Americans overwhelmingly and repeatedly vote Democratic and over the years have opposed the occupation, the building of settlements and the rise of Netanyahu to power.

In contrast, a tiny claque wildly applauds the head of a foreign government dictating policy to the White House and the Capitol.

The entire Middle East is aflame seeking freedom from despotism, of which racist colonialism is the most despicable form. It is high time for Israel, like South Africa before it, to do the right thing and leave apartheid behind.

Scott Kimmich

The following is an analysis of some of the false statements and distortions in the Kimmich letter.

Kimmich begins: "Mr. Laitman ( The Hour 5/28) should read Israeli history. With the exception of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, all seven wars that Israel has fought, including the 'war for independence,' were initiated by Israel."

While one might argue about some of the wars - even though all were precipitated by hostile action, amounting to acts of war by Israel's enemies - there is absolutely no question but that the Arabs started the "war for independence" with an invasion of no fewer than five armies as soon as Israel declared its reestablishment in 1948.

Kimmich writes: "After 45 years of occupation, blockade and subjugation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has ipso facto committed a supreme crime for which its leaders are responsible."

It is highly questionable about whether the disputed territories were ever "occupied" by Israel in the legal sense under international law, since they were acquired during a defensive war from entities which did not have sovereignty over them.

As pointed out in the Jewish Virtual Library , "Politically, the West Bank and Gaza Strip is best regarded as territory over which there are competing claims which should be resolved in peace process negotiations. Israel has valid claims to title in this territory based not only on its historic and religious connection to the land, and its recognized security needs, but also on the fact that the territory was not under the sovereignty of any state and came under Israeli control in a war of self-defense, imposed upon Israel. At the same time, Israel recognizes that the Palestinians also entertain legitimate claims to the area. Indeed, the very fact that the parties have agreed to conduct negotiations on settlements indicated that they envisage a compromise on this issue."

Also, in any practical sense, any so-called occupation effectively ended near the dawn of the Oslo era, when approximately 95 percent of the Arabs living in the disputed territories came under the control of their own government, the Palestinian Authority.

Kimmich writes: "As for Iran being a nuclear threat, U.S. intelligence reveals that Iran abandoned its nuclear bomb program in 2003, and Israeli intelligence says that Iran is years away from such a capability."

The intelligence report to which Kimmich alludes was widely criticized and the U.S. intelligence community has since acknowledged that even if Iran did halt some parts of its nuclear weapon program in 2003, it has since resumed them.

There are legitimate questions about how far Iran is from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, but there is no credible question but that it is working hard at it. Today's Christian Science Monitor reports on Iran's "announcement this week that it plans to speed up its enrichment of uranium – and to move part of its enrichment process from the desert to a more defensible mountain site."

Kimmich refers to Meir Dagan, former Israeli intelligence chief, saying "Israel's leaders should have accepted the 2002 Saudi peace initiative stipulating withdrawal to its 1967 borders and the return of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians." (Kimmich's letter, not a quote from Dagan.)

One may debate how Israel should have reacted to the so-called "peace initiative," but there were not "1967 borders" to withdraw to, only temporary armistice lines which under terms of the armistice agreements were not to have any political significance, and not only is there no such entity as "East Jerusalem," but even the portions of Jerusalem that had been captured from Jordan could not be "returned" to the Palestinian Arabs, since the Palestinian Arabs never had them. It would be possible, albeit probably not very wise or likely, to return them to Jordan, but obviously not to the Palestinian Arabs.

Kimmich absurdly writes: "a tiny claque wildly applauds the head of a foreign government dictating policy to the White House and the Capitol."

Obviously, no head of any foreign government dictates policy to the White House or the Capitol. This is essentially a ploy by Kimmich to appeal to the worst prejudices of those trying to convince bigoted minds of a global Jewish conspiracy.

Kimmich concludes: "It is high time for Israel, like South Africa before it, to do the right thing and leave apartheid behind."

It's obviously impossible for Israel to leave behind a system that doesn't exist.

Put in context, along with the rest of Kimmich's letter, this is an appeal to bigotry. It is also another example of a general truism that when someone accuses Israel of doing something despicable, not only are the charges almost always false, but Israel's enemies are probably guilty of that of which Israel is being falsely accused.

Israel, by far, is the furthest from an apartheid state of any state in the Middle East. For all its faults, it is a liberal, multicultural democracy with equal legal rights for all.

In contrast, one of the basic demands of the Palestinian Arabs, repeated ad nauseum even by the supposedly "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas, is for the ethnic cleansing of all Jews from the disputed territories. It is already a capital crime for someone in the Palestinian Authority to sell land to a Jew; this was one of the first laws passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council after is came into existence.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Unilateral Declaration of Statehood

This post is a slightly revised version of an Israeli Citizens Action Network (ICAN) newsletter, written by Stuart Palmer. To subscribe to the newsletter, send a request to

Palmer's "Haifa Diary" blog may be found at Palmer is also associated with CoHaV, the Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, an international umbrella for Israel volunteer advocacy groups.

With the advent of a possible vote at the UN on Palestinian "Independence," it is important to be aware of the facts surrounding this push by the Palestinians to bypass the normal negotiating procedures. These are key talking points.

The PA does not meet the established legal tests for statehood

The Palestinian Authority currently fails the clearly established legal tests for statehood, particularly the test of effective government. The PA exercises varying degrees of control only over Areas A and B of the West Bank. Area C, which under the Interim Agreement constitutes 60% of the West Bank, remains primarily under Israeli control. Moreover, the PA does not have effective control over the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, even though Israel withdrew completely from this area six years ago. Recognition at this time of a unilateral declaration would be premature and could serve as a dangerous precedent in other regions regarding the recognition of new states.

Premature recognition rejects the basic principle of a negotiated peace.

Israel remains keen to engage in bilateral negotiations to resolve the conflict. The Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, has made a decision that it is no longer interested in direct negotiations with Israel, preferring to attempt to force their solution on Israel through international pressure.

A unilateral declaration undermines basic principles of Mideast peacemaking

A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood undermines all internationally accepted frameworks for Mideast peace (UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, 1850; the Roadmap; Quartet statements, etc.), which call for a mutually-negotiated and agreed resolution of the conflict and have consistently rejected unilateral actions.

A unilateral declaration violates existing agreements

A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would violate existing Palestinian-Israeli bilateral peace agreements, most notably the Interim Agreement from 1995, which expressly prohibits unilateral action by either side to change the status of the West Bank and Gaza prior to reaching a negotiated permanent status agreement.

Recognizing a Palestinian state now harms true peace

A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would intensify rather than end the conflict. It would not settle any of the key permanent status issues, including borders, Jerusalem and refugees. As has been agreed between the sides and supported by the international community, these complicated issues can only be resolved in direct negotiations between the parties, not by unilateral actions.

Premature recognition would ignore Israel's legitimate concerns, especially regarding security issues. It would also allow the Palestinians to continue to avoid the important step of mutual recognition, which includes Israel's right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Premature recognition means recognition of terrorists

In preparation for the unilateral declaration of a state, the Palestinian Authority has signed a reconciliation agreement with the Hamas. Hamas continues to call for the destruction of Israel and rejects the most basic conditions of the international community for recognition as a legitimate actor in the region. Supporting this agreement without any change in position by Hamas would serve as de facto international recognition of Hamas' legitimacy.

Hamas continues to be a recognized terrorist organization, outlawed in numerous states throughout the world, including the UK and the US. It seeks Israel destruction and rejects the three Quartet Principles (recognition of Israel's right to exist, acceptance of existing agreements and an end to violence).

A unilateral declaration of statehood will be exploited for 'lawfare' against Israel

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to use recognition of a Palestinian state as a springboard to launch a legal war against Israel (as directly stated in his May 2011 New York Times op-ed). Such statements demonstrate the danger of supporting Palestinian efforts to declare statehood unilaterally, as legal maneuvering only stokes the fires of the conflict.

Premature recognition threatens existing Israeli-Palestinian cooperation

The productive and successful legal and administrative frameworks that promote practical Israeli-Palestinian cooperation could unravel with the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. Currently, bilateral arrangements exist in over 40 spheres of civilian activity and serve as the basis for real economic, legal and security cooperation, as well as the tax transfers from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. Undermining such vital arrangements, which serve as a platform for the impressive economic growth and stability in the West Bank, could risk tangible economic difficulties and limit the potential for practical cooperation in spheres including in security matters. The tension inevitably following such a contentious unilateral declaration could render such cooperation impossible.

Israel remains committed to the quest for peace

Israel has a long proven track record of making strategic concessions for peace. It has proved its willing to negotiate land transfers, leaving Sinai for peace with Egypt and leaving Gaza and South Lebanon. The fact that Israeli peace steps in Gaza and South Lebanon were answered with rockets and violent attack should be a sobering warning about the risks Israel takes and the importance of reaching a solution that serves the interest of all sides to the conflict.

Israel has done much to improve conditions for Palestinians over the past two years, removing roadblocks and facilitating the improvement of the economy in the West Bank. It also removed restrictions on goods entering Gaza, banning only weapons and potentially dangerous items and taken measures to promote infrastructure improvements for Palestinians.

Premature recognition would render the negotiating process and the ideals of compromise and dialogue meaningless and would undermine Israeli efforts for peace.

Stuart Palmer
Director, ICAN

Friday, June 10, 2011

Stop Rewarding Palestininian Arabs for Bad Behavior

This was submitted as a letter to the Hartford Courant but was not published.

It is unfortunate that the article, "Pressure rises for Israel to offer peace plan," published April 21, is mostly accurate; that reality bodes ill for the chances of an Arab-Israeli peace.

The article does contain at least one blatant factual error, incorrectly referring to "1967 borders" despite the fact that no borders, only temporary armistice lines, existed at that time, but that error doesn't negate the general accuracy of the article.

The core of the Arab-Israeli conflict has always been the refusal of the Arabs in the Middle East to accept and live in peace with that modern, liberal, Western-oriented and democratic Jewish state of Israel. In order to promote peace, that rejectionism has to be undermined.

The current so-called impasse has been orchestrated by the supposedly "moderate" leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who refuses to even pretend to negotiate and has repeatedly insisted he will never make any meaningful concessions.

Pressuring Israel merely rewards Abbas for his bad behavior. It is bad for Israel, bad for America, bad for the West and it is even bad for the Palestinian Arabs, since it helps perpetuate their self-induced misery.

It's time to stop appeasing Arab rejectionism and start applying pressure where it will be helpful rather than harmful.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Are Young Rabbis Turning on Israel?

Daniel Gordis — June 2011

Daniel Gordis is one of the most sober and insightful columnists I've read. He's also an excellent speaker. At the recent AIPAC Policy Conference, which featured numerous informative speeches, his was one of the highlights.

Many of his commentaries may be found on his website, from which one may also subscribe to his dispatches.

This commentary was published in Commentary Magazine and may also be viewed at It is posted here with the permission of the author.

No day of the year in Israel is more agonizing than Yom Ha-Zikaron—the Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israelʼs Wars. For 24 hours, the countryʼs unceasing sniping gives way to a pervasive sense of national unity not apparent at any other moment; honor and sanctity can be felt everywhere.

Israelʼs many military cemeteries are filled to capacity with anguished families visiting the graves of loved ones. Restaurants are shuttered. One of the countryʼs television stations does nothing but list the names of the 23,000 men and women who gave their lives to defend the Jewish state, some of them killed even before independence was declared and the last of whom typically died only days or weeks prior to the commemoration.

Twice on Yom Ha-Zikaron, once in the evening and once again in the morning, the countryʼs air raid sirens sound. On sidewalks, pedestrians come to a halt and stand at attention, and even on highways, cars slow and stop; drivers and passengers alike step out of their vehicles and stand in silence until the wail of the siren abates. For two minutes each time, the state of Israel surrenders itself to the grip of utter silence and immobility. During that quiet, one feels a sense of belonging, a palpable sense of gratitude and unstated loyalty that simply defies description.
I mused on this fact as I read a recent message sent to students at the interdenominational rabbinical school at Bostonʼs Hebrew College, asking them to prepare themselves for Yom Ha-Zikaron by musing on the following paragraph: “For Yom Ha-Zikaron, our kavanah [intention] is to open up our communal remembrance to include losses on all sides of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. In this spirit, our framing question for Yom Ha-Zikaron is this: On this day, what do you remember and for whom do you grieve?

It is the rare e-mail that leaves me speechless. Here, at a reputable institution training future rabbis who will shape a generation of American Jews and their attitudes to Israel, the parties were treated with equal weight and honor in the run-up to Yom Ha-Zikaron. What the students were essentially being asked was whether the losses on Israelʼs side touched them any more deeply than the losses on the side of Israelʼs enemies.

That is a stunning question. Obviously, there are innocent victims on the other side of any conflict. Such is the horrific nature of war. American troops killed many thousands of innocent Germans, Japanese, and others during World War II. But could one even begin to imagine President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saying to Americans, while the Second World War was raging and young American men were clawing and dying their way across Europe and the Far East, that Memorial Day ought to be devoted in part to remembering those among enemy populations who died at our hands? There is, perhaps, a place for such memories. That time is when the conflict has abated, when weapons are set aside, when healing has begun. That time did not arrive during FDRʼs lifetime, and it has not yet come to Israel.

I wrote to the dean who had written this paragraph, a friend from whom Iʼve learned a great deal over the years and whose commitment to Israel and Zionism is sincere. The response was immediate: “It could be that we got this one wrong, Iʼm not sure yet. The only thing Iʼm sure of is that we are trying to engage with these issues and with each other with greater openness, courage, and respect than I think has been possible in most other corners of the Jewish community here.”

The heartbreaking point was this: in the case of these rabbinical students, there is not an instinct that should be innate—the instinct to protect their own people first, or to mourn our losses first. Their instinct, instead, is to “engage.” But “engagement” is a value-free endeavor. It means setting instinctive dispositions utterly aside. And that is precisely what this emerging generation of American Jewish leaders believes it ought to do.

Why, after all, would a genuine supporter of Israel ask students to think about Yom Ha-Zikaron in such a fashion? Probably because without such an accommodation, the dean might have had to deal with a small but vocal minority of students who would be incensed at the overly particularist, Zionist, nationalist nature of Yom Ha-Zikaron, at the narrowness of a day devoted to mourning our own dead and not the dead of our enemies.

This kavanah to rabbinical students was not my first brush with this worrisome phenomenon among those training to be the religious leadership of American Jews. In April, before I learned about this Yom Ha-Zikaron incident, I wrote a column in the Jerusalem Post pointing to the problem of rabbinical students who are increasingly distanced from Israel. I noted an example of an American rabbinical student who had elected to celebrate his birthday in Ramallah, and another who was looking to buy a new prayer shawl and sent out an e-mail asking for advice about where to buy one—with the proviso that the tallith could not have been made in Israel. I said nothing about how widespread the phenomenon is, because we do not know. But it was time to acknowledge the situation, I argued, so that we might begin to address it.

Reaction was swift, and most of it consisted of variations on the theme that such troubling ideas “didnʼt come from my part” of the Jewish world. Many people quickly wrote to say that the phenomenon I was describing must be limited to the Reform movement. But the truth was that not one of those particular examples had come from Hebrew Union College, the institution that ordains most Reform rabbis. Deans of various rabbinical schools from all walks of non-Orthodox Jewish life quickly circled their wagons in response to my column. Two sent an emissary to meet with me in Jerusalem, suggesting that I had exaggerated the problem and accusing me of making their fundraising challenges all the more difficult.

Another dean, who disagreed with my suggestion that the Jewish community provide financial and other support to rabbinical students who are publicly supportive of Israel, wrote, “I want to acknowledge that I am intimately acquainted with—and concerned by—the trend you are describing. But I have to take issue with some of the ways in which youʼve characterized the problem (and therefore the solution).” Still another wrote to students saying: “I am indignant about Gordisʼs article, because I know you. I believe, with every fiber of my being, that each of you is capable of expressing your relationship to the state of Israel, however complicated and challenging it may be, in a thoughtful, nuanced and professional way”—as if the problem lay with a lack of articulate expression among the students and not with their positions. This last note essentially reassured students that as long as they expressed themselves articulately, what they actually said made no difference whatsoever.

But there was another reaction, too, and it came not from the deans, but from students at these schools, as well as from communal professionals and even rabbis out in the field. “I deeply appreciate this article,” one student wrote to me. “I know that in various e-mails and conversations [my school] is trying to deny the validity of your words as representative of them, but I wanted to express how wonderful it felt after...years of pain and struggle over this to read someone else capture the Israel environment on [my] campus.” A communal Jewish professional in the South wrote, “Just yesterday I had a conversation with a synagogue that is interviewing recent graduates of [two rabbinical schools from different movements]. Students from both these schools have expressed opinions that are nothing short of hostile to Israel.”

Then, a rabbi in the field wrote me:

Interesting column. Unfortunately, not an entirely new phenomenon. [Some years] ago, one of the rabbis of [a major New York synagogue] refused to shake my hand when I was introduced as a major in the IDF. And a few years back, [an] avowed Zionist [dean of one of the schools in question] told a group of rabbinical students that if he were around at the time, and had a say, he would have voted against the establishment of the State of Israel.

Students in Jerusalem and in the States asked to meet with me, and on almost every occasion, they spoke about how lonely it can be for an unapologetically pro-Israel student at some of todayʼs rabbinical schools. (This phenomenon is, not surprisingly, almost entirely absent on Orthodox campuses, although, alarmingly, it is becoming an issue on the left end of Orthodoxy, too.)

The number of vocally anti-Israel students is probably small, but their collective impact is far from marginal. These students are shaping the discourse about Israel in Americaʼs rabbinical schools. And worse, because Israel-related conversations are becoming highly charged and many campuses seek to avoid friction at virtually all costs, these vocal students are effectively shutting down serious discourse about Israel. (One campus dean actually instructed students to cease all e-mail discussion of Israel, while every other political topic remained fair game.)

Many readers at this point would want me to “out” the schools, or deans, or students in question. But that, it seems to me, avoids the important work. The players involved will change over time. What needs to be done is not to embarrass individuals, but rather, to do our best to understand what is unfolding on the campuses that are producing Americaʼs future Jewish leaders, why is it happening, and then, perhaps, what might be done to combat it.

What has happened to this generation of young rabbinical students? Why are their instincts so different from those of my generation? Four factors seem to me central.

Memory is the first factor. As I have chatted with these students over the past months, it has become clear that the profound differences in our instincts and loyalties can be traced, in part, to the differences in our formative experiences. I shared with some of them my earliest memory of Israel. It was June 1967, and I was almost eight years old. As on almost every night at dinner, our little black-and-white television was tuned to Walter Cronkite. But on this night, my parents didnʼt eat. They didnʼt even sit at the table. All they did was feed us, watch TV, and pace across the kitchen as the news of the Six Day War unfolded.

“Weʼre not hungry,” my parents said the next evening when they did not eat once again, and I asked them why. But how could they not be hungry at dinner time? And two days in a row? My Zionist commitments have some innate root in the simple fact that with Israel seemingly on the very precipice of destruction, my parents couldnʼt eat.

But when the students with whom I was speaking shared their formative memories of the Jewish state, the differences were profound. One said that his earliest memory was of the day that all the students in his Orthodox day school were summoned together for an assembly, and they watched as Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty. For another, it was the intifada of the mid-1980s, and the images (again, on television) of helmeted IDF soldiers with rifles chasing young boys whoʼd thrown rocks.

My formative memories were of Israel on the verge of extinction, while theirs were of Israel being recognized by its neighbor or of the seeming imbalance of Israeli-Palestinian power. That alone explains a great deal.

Those differences in memory lead to the second major divide: students today cannot imagine a world without a Jewish state. Despite the ongoing conflict, the fundamental goal of political Zionism—the dream of creating a sovereign, secure Jewish state—has been so utterly successful that these students cannot imagine that Israel is actually at risk. After a meeting with a group of rabbinical students in Jerusalem, one of the participants wrote to me: “my classmates shared with me that they had never imagined that Israel could be so fragile as to be fighting for her very existence. Your angle really seemed to hit them hard.” It had never occurred to me, when I reminded these graduate students of Israelʼs ongoing vulnerability, that I was saying anything that wasn't utterly obvious.

Beyond what I believe to be their naïveté about Israelʼs security, however, these rabbinical students also have no sense of how utterly different American Jewish life is from what it would have been without a Jewish state. Whether or not they are supporters of AIPAC, they take it as part of the natural state of things that thousands of American citizens feel comfortable ascending the steps of Capitol Hill on the day its annual policy conference devotes to lobbying. Never do they ask themselves why virtually no one ascended those very same steps between 1938 and 1945 to demand that the United States do at least something to save the Jewish people from extinction. There were millions of Jews in America then. They knew what was happening. Yet American Jews of that era lacked the confidence and the sense of belonging that this generation of students takes for granted. And these students have little sense of how the very existence of a Jewish state contributed to this utter transformation of American Jewish life. Ironically, the very sense of comfort that enables some of these students to work to marginalize Israel is a direct result of the Jewish state itself.

In conversation with these students, thereʼs one word in particular that makes them squirm with discomfort, and it represents the third way in which their generation differs. That word is “enemy.” There is something hard and non-malleable about the term “enemy,” and todayʼs students are loath to use it. They are disturbed by the intractability of the conflict in Israel, but they refuse to draw any conclusions from Palestinian recalcitrance. Dan Kaiman, the student who celebrated his birthday in Ramallah, wrote a piece in the Jerusalem Post in response to my column, explaining that

I chose to have one of my birthday celebrations in Ramallah to honor, respect, and value the relationships I have built with a people and place I care deeply about. I also celebrated my birthday here in Jerusalem for the same reasons. I believe in a Zionism that desires peace, safety, and cooperation among Jews and Arabs. This Zionism is rooted in the ideals and vision of great Zionist leaders such as Chaim Weizmann and Judah Magnes. Their vision was one of cooperation; a vision of Jews and Arabs able to live side by side.

It is a staggering misreading of Zionist history to mention Chaim Weizmann—Israelʼs first president and a lifelong activist for a Jewish national homeland—and Judah Magnes in the same breath. Magnes was a believer in a binational state. He and Weizmann were ideological antagonists, not allies. But when the subject is “peace,” the details of history are subordinated to the furtherance of that all-encompassing agenda.

As Rabbi Scott Perlo, another respondent to my Jerusalem Post column, wrote: “I readily concede that there is a decided slant to the left of center in most of our seminaries....But people misunderstand the nature of this slant. We are not the generation of rabbis hoping to abandon Israel. We are the generation of rabbis who hope that God will give us the merit to be peacemakers.” How a rabbi holding a pulpit in West Los Angeles is going to become a peacemaker in the Middle East is never explained. But one thing is clear from Perloʼs article: peacemaking, this generation believes, requires imagining that we do not have enemies. Neville Chamberlain would have appreciated the company.

And while one can surely forge meaningful relations with people in Ramallah, it requires a stunning suspension of the particular for Kaiman to call Ramallah a “place I care deeply about” and to say that one cares about Jerusalem “for the same reasons.” Does the fact that Ramallah recently dedicated a public square to Dalal Mughrabi—the terrorist who participated in one of the worst attacks on Israeli civilians that killed 37 people—in the presence of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and thousands of other celebrants make no difference? Does the fact that there were PLO posters in the bar where the birthday party was held not make it difficult for a future rabbi to have a beer there? For this, too, Kaiman had an explanation:

I am aware of the [posters] on the walls and the incredible complexity of this conflict....There are also many places in Israel where I feel uncomfortable as a liberal Jew, a Zionist, and an American. Feeling uncomfortable is not an invitation to disengage, close myself off, or stop listening (or, in my specific case, celebrating). I find that by engaging those with whom I may not agree, I am provided with opportunities to learn about myself and others, and begin to transform discomfort into opportunity.

“Engagement” is a gloriously vague notion, so evanescent in its purposes and intentions that it casts a fog over the clarity provided by genuine commitment: to loyalty, or heritage, or love, or sanctity, or duty. It is the sort of benign interaction that one can have even with enemies. Engagement is particularly easy if you refuse to acknowledge that the people who continue to celebrate those who have killed you are your enemies.

If you asked a Jew at any other time in the history of our people whether or not he had enemies, the notion that he should consider the possibility he did not have enemies would have occasioned a blast of the mordant humor that has helped keep our tribe alive through the millennia. Today, however, the discomfort with the idea of “the enemy” and the intolerability of being in a drawn-out conflict has led these students to the conviction that Israel must solve the conflict. The Palestinian position is not going to shift; that much they intuit. But having enemies, and being in interminable conflict, is unbearably painful for them. So Israel must change. And if it will not, or cannot, then it is Israel that is at fault. In which case, it makes perfectly good sense for these future Jewish leaders to refuse to purchase prayer shawls manufactured in Israel and to insist on demonstratively remaining seated as the prayer for Israeli soldiers is recited in their rabbinical-school communities. They will do virtually anything in order to avoid confronting the fact that the Jewish people has intractable enemies. Their universalist worldview does not have a place for enemies.

The final difference between these young Jewish leaders and those who preceded them is perhaps the most disturbing. This new tone in discussions about Israel is so “fair,” so “balanced,” so “even-handed” that what is entirely gone is an instinct of belonging—the visceral sense on the part of these students that they are part of a people, that the blood and the losses that were required to create the state of Israel is their blood and their loss.

Judaismʼs commitment to particularism may be based in instinct rather than ratiocination, but it need not be mindless. No thinking Zionist ought to deny that Israel is deeply flawed or that its leadership makes grievous mistakes. Israel, like all free societies, needs internal criticism in order to improve. The right of these rabbinical students to criticize Israel is not in question. What is lacking in their view and their approach is the sense that no matter how devoted Jews may be to humanity at large, we owe our devotion first and foremost to one particular people—our own people.

All this is simply a reflection of the decreased role of “peoplehood” in Judaism. What we are witnessing is a Protestantization of American Jewish life. By and large, todayʼs rabbinical students did not grow up in homes that were richly Jewish. More often than not, these students came to their Jewish commitments as a result of individual journeys on which they embarked. They sought meaning, and found it. They sought prayer, and learned it. Their Jewish experience is roughly analogous to a Protestant religious awakening. The Protestant religious experience is a deeply personal one, not a communal one. Worship in the Protestant tradition is about reaching for the divine, while in the Jewish tradition, it is no less about creating a bond with other Jews. In Protestant liturgy, history is almost absent, while in the Jewish prayer book, it is omnipresent. The replacement of communal faith by personal journey among todayʼs young Jews is a profound reflection of the degree to which Christianity has colored their sense of what Judaism at its very core is all about.

What American Protestant feels any instinctive loyalty to a Protestant in Taiwan? Can one speak of “the Protestant people?” One canʼt, really. Judaism is different—or, at least, it was different. What these students did not learn on their Jewish journeys, because they were not raised that way, was the instinctive Jewish sense that Judaism is, at its core, still a matter of “us” and “them.” To this generationʼs students, that claim strikes a horribly discordant tone. To be sure, Jewish tradition is extraordinarily nuanced and generous when it comes to the question of how Jews are to treat non-Jews. But it is a simple matter of fact that Jews have always been taught to care, first and foremost, for other Jews.

“Why was Abram called a ʻHebrewʼ?” the Midrash asks, and replies: the word “ivri” (Hebrew) refers to the bank of a river. The Jews were from one bank of the Euphrates; the rest of the world was from the other. There is an “us” and a “them” in Judaismʼs worldview. It doesnʼt make “us” always correct, or “them” automatically wrong. But it actually does mean that Jewish authenticity requires caring about ourselves before we care about others, just as we are to care for our own parents and our own children first. As the Talmud notes in the tractate of Bava Metziah:

If you lend money to any of My people that is poor: [if the choice lies between] my people and a heathen, ʻMy peopleʼ has preference; the poor or the rich—the ʻpoorʼ takes precedence; your poor [relatives] and the [general] poor of your town—your poor come first; the poor of your city and the poor of another town—the poor of your own town have prior rights.

Todayʼs universalism leaves no room for the particularism that has long been at the core of Jewish life. And the evaporating devotion of some portion of todayʼs rabbinical students to Israel is a direct result.

What too many of these students do not understand is that the Jewish tradition makes a bold claim—the claim that we learn caring, and we learn love, from that which is closest to us. To love all of humanity equally is ultimately to love no one. To care about oneʼs enemies as much as one cares about oneself is to be no one. There needs to be priority and specificity in devotion and loyalty. Without them, we can stand for nothing. And without instinctive loyalty to the Jewish people, Jewry itself cannot survive.

What appears to be, at first blush, an issue of weakening Zionist loyalties is thus actually something far more worrisome. The real issue is a traditional Jewish lexicon, which includes notions such as “us” and “them,” which bespeaks concentric circles of loyalty and devotion, which does not deny the indisputable fact that the Jews and their state have real enemies, which understands that not everyone can be loved into submission or peace.

What to do with that lexicon is a matter on which reasonable minds can differ. Israelis differ on those questions, and American Jews (and others) can, and should, as well. But when we have reached the point at which future rabbis can insist on boycotting prayer shawls made by Jews in Israel and yet are permitted to remain rabbis-in-training, something has gone horribly awry. When rabbinical students love Israel and care about Ramallah in the same way, the particularism that has been the hallmark of every functioning Jewish community in history has begun to erode. When PLO posters advocating the death of Jews are no reason not to drink a beer and sing “Happy Birthday” in that bar, we have produced a generation of future leaders whose instincts are simply not the instincts that have any chance of preserving Jewish life.

Responding to this challenge in rabbinical-school settings will be no easy task. It is a matter of admissions and student selection, of curriculum and assigned reading, of how to use the experience of a year of study in Israel—still required by most of them—and more than all, of raising the flag of particularity and distinctive loyalties high and unabashedly, because some portion of todayʼs students need to learn love of peoplehood no less than they need to learn Talmud. Addressing that need is going to require that rabbinical schools cease circling the wagons, and instead acknowledge the depth of the challenge they now face.

I stood silently this year as the siren sounded on Yom Ha-Zikaron. I remembered the too many military funerals that Iʼve attended at Mount Herzl. I thought of my debt to those thousands whose deaths have made our lives here possible. I thought about my son and my son-in-law, both in the army, as well as our next son about to go in, and offered a silent prayer for their safety. But, I will confess, I also thought of those across the ocean who saw fit to mark the day by mourning the losses of our enemies and who did so with the sense that that was the noblest sentiment possible. Intellectually, I can understand them, just as I appreciate the universalist context in which they were raised and in which they were taught to think. But I have come to fear the influence they may have over Jews yet unborn—and over the future of the Jewish people as a whole.

About the Author

Daniel Gordis is the National Jewish Book Award-winning author of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End (Wiley). His next book, coauthored with David Ellenson, is Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in the 19th- and 20th-Century Orthodox Resposa (Stanford University Press). Before moving to Israel, he was the founding dean of the rabbinical school at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.