London terror: No. 30,499 in a series


Commenting on the recent London attack that killed four and injured at least 50, the acting Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mark Rowley, told the BBC that it was “Islamist-related terrorism.”

A day earlier, on March 21, an Islamist suicide car bomber killed 10 people in Mogadishu, Somalia.

A day before that, two dozen people were blown up by an Islamist car bomber in a Baghdad neighborhood. 

Two days before that, a mother and her two children were among four people wiped out by three Islamist suicide bombers in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

A day before that, Islamist Shiite rebels fired two rockets into a Sunni mosque in Yemen, killing 34 people during Friday prayers.

On the same day in Paris, the throats of a father and son were slit by a family member yelling “Allah Akbar (God is great).”

A day earlier, a young child was blown to bits by an Islamist suicide bomber in Bangladesh.

On that same day, March 16, in South Ukkadam, India, an atheist was hacked to death by an angry Muslim over Facebook posts attacking his religion.

I know it’s painful to consider that 30,499 deadly attacks could be committed in the name of one religion.

That is just a little glimpse of weekly terror from the Third World and elsewhere. Worldwide, since 9/11, Islamist terrorists have carried out 30,499 deadly terror attacks, according to the independent watchdog site TheReligionOfPeace.com.

Most of these attacks never make it to CNN or The New York Times, because the victims don’t live in places like London, Brussels or San Bernardino. In the West, we see a fraction of the carnage done in the name of Islam. No matter how much media attention we give to the attacks on our soil, it doesn’t come close to capturing the scope of the global problem.

I know it’s painful to consider that 30,499 deadly attacks could be committed in the name of one religion. It challenges our narrative that all religions are pretty much the same, that there’s good and bad in all religions, and there’s no special reason to focus on one in particular. This is a comforting narrative that can lull us into complacency.

Still, there is an aspirational value to that narrative. It gives us something to look forward to. For humanity to succeed, we need it to become true. We need a reformation of Islam so that, one day, the number 30,499 will be reduced to a very low number and we can truly say that the religion is just like any other.

Because right now, it’s not. Too much killing, too much horror is done in its name.

It’s no longer enough to say, “This is not Islam.” For the killers doing the killing, it is Islam. It may be a radicalized, supremacist version of Islam, but there’s enough supporting text in the Quran to make the killers believe they’re doing God’s work.

Despite our efforts to counter this radical Islam, reform only gets more distant and the violence only gets worse. Defending the faith, accusing extremists of perverting it and engaging in interfaith projects is fine, but it’s not enough. True reform must come from the inside, not from interfaith but from innerfaith, from Muslims taking responsibility for the violence done in their name. 

It will come from Muslims who have the courage to acknowledge and confront the extremist parts of their texts and reinterpret them in a holy way that will honor their faith.

One such group is the little-known Muslim Reform Movement, a group of Muslim scholars and spiritual activists whose leaders call for “a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam” and reject interpretations that call for “any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam.”

For some reason, this movement has gained little traction among progressive circles, even though its founding declaration sounds like a love letter to progressive values. Going forward, we must ensure that such moderate groups are no longer marginalized by the mainstream, and are empowered to make progress in their supremely difficult mission.

We must pray that their nonviolent and tolerant interpretation of Islam will one day take hold throughout the jihadist world and win over the hearts of the killers, even if it takes a century. We must pray that the number 30,499 will eventually be reduced to zero.

Yes, that would be a miracle for humanity and for Islam, but God is great.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

‘The Story of the Jews’ chronicles Jewish history


“The Story of the Jews,” a panoramic overview of 3,000 years of a people’s history, is “a story of suffering, resilience, endurance and survival,” says author Simon Schama, a British historian and professor at Columbia University.

To absorb such a history, not to mention writing and filming it, may seem a lifetime task, but Schama has made the assignment relatively easy and highly stimulating.

Originally produced for the BBC with Schama as narrator and guide, “The Story,” will begin airing on local and national PBS stations on March 25.

As a foretaste, Schama will speak at the Skirball Cultural Center on March 20.

Witty and erudite at 69, Schama is one of those overwhelmingly productive people who makes others realize how little they have accomplished in their lives.

His listed specialties are art history and French history, but his interests range far afield. He is the author of 16 books, including the original “The Story of the Jews,” and is the writer-producer of more than 40 documentaries on art, history and literature, including a 15-part series on British history.

His current production follows a roughly chronological path but frequently jumps centuries to introduce an illustrative anecdote or personality.

For instance, part one, appropriately titled “In the Beginning,” starts with a 1938 interview with Sigmund Freud on the roots of Jewish life, followed by a seder at Schama’s home.

From there, the film returns to the Jews’ true beginning in the ancestral land — home to Judean hill people and coastal Philistines.

Further on, the Exodus from Egypt is compared to an eyewitness account of the journey of today’s Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and then moves on to the Greek era in Palestine in fourth-century BCE, followed by the Roman conquest.

Not one to skip an illustrative tidbit, Schama notes that in an early attempt at assimilation during the Hellenistic period, a number of Jews underwent the probably painful rite of reverse circumcision.

 “Among Believers,” the second segment, raises for the first time the question of how to stay Jewish in a non-Jewish world, following the Roman conquest and dispersion of the Jews.

The narrator then explores the expansion of the oral tradition into the Talmud, the rise of Christianity and St. Paul as originator of the “Christ killers” accusation against Jews.

In Europe, all Jews were expelled from England in 1066, with Spain and Portugal following in the late 15th century. However, Jews fared better in the Muslim world, which was home to 90 percent of all Jews in the Middle Ages.

In “A Leap of Faith,” the third installment, the “certainty of Jewish tradition” meets gentile culture in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The French Revolution assumed that Jews would shed their Judaism, thus solving the “Jewish problem.” In parallel, German Jews threw themselves wholeheartedly into the culture of their host country in what Schama describes as the “greatest human leap in the shortest time.”

The overt anti-Semitism of the turn-of-the-20th-century Alfred Dreyfus trial in France, and the rise of fascism and Nazism, put an end to the hopes and illusions of Europe’s Jews.

“Over the Rainbow,” the fourth part, surveys life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe and the mass migration of some 2.5 million Jews to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, of whom some 65 percent crammed into New York’s Lower East Side.

Rising through and above the hardships, Jews became the country’s bankers, merchant princes, moviemakers and songwriters. Among the latter, Yip Harburg wrote the theme song of the Great Depression, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

 The final segment, “Return,” brings the story up to date with the rise of Zionism and the creation of Israel. Schama points to one aspect through parallel interviews, exploring the displacement of 700,000 Palestinian Arabs in the 1948 war, and the expulsion of the same number of Jews from Arab countries.

The Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars reinforce the old antagonisms, while, on a more hopeful note, Arab and Jewish youngsters are shown studying peacefully together in the same school.

The idea for the massive project, Schama said in a phone interview, came from the BBC, which has come under frequent criticism from pro-Israel advocates.

It took him nearly four years to create the series, in the process shooting two to three times the footage used in the final product.

The end result is notable for its visual impact and variety. “We knew we had to tell the history in images,” Schama said, adding, “It’s a misreading to believe that Judaism is hostile to images.”

Particularly effective is the use of Hebrew calligraphy, with letters morphing into stick figures of walking humans. Schama said he used the device to illustrate that “God created the universe out of letters … and a culture survives through its words.”

A major goal of the project was to make Jewish history accessible to non-Jewish audiences, he said, adding, “If you were to remove from [mankind’s] collective history the contribution Jews have made to human culture, our world would be almost unrecognizable.

“There would be no monotheism, no written Bible, and our sense of modernity would be completely different. So the history of the Jews is everyone’s history, too.”

Asked to predict the next installment in Jewish history, Schama struck a somewhat pessimistic note, pointing, for instance, to the time and difficulties in reaching a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I’m less gloomy about the future of the Charedim and I consider Limmud [devoted to non-denominational Jewish learning] one of the brighter spots,” he said.

But whatever the future holds for the history of the Jewish people, he noted, “We have written some of the chapters, but the book is not finished.”

“The Story of the Jews” will air on PBS SoCal (KOCE) on March 25 from 8 to 10 p.m. and April 1 from 8 to 11 p.m.

Schama’s talk at the Skirball begins at 8 p.m. on March 20. Admission is free but reservations are recommended. Sign up online at skirball.org/programs/simon-schama or call (877) 722-4849.

NBC to adapt Andy Samberg’s BBC comedy ‘Cuckoo’


Imagine this: A show about a young woman from an average, middle class family who returns home from a year abroad married to a nutty hippie named Cuckoo, played by Andy Samberg. Hilarious, right?

The good news is the show, called “Cuckoo,” already exists on the U.K.’s BBC Three. The great news is NBC has plans to remake it stateside, Deadline reports.

No word on whether the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star will reprise his role in the American version, but you can get a sense of how awesome he is as a drug-loving bohemian right here:

Women of the Wall’s collateral damage


Until recently, Women of the Wall (WoW) was but a distant blip on my radar. All that was changed as I came across a BBC interview, in which a prominent WoW member painted Israel as a misogynist country oppressing women. I felt I could not remain silent.

Religious freedom and women’s rights are cherished values for us all. It is immoral to manipulate these feelings on an issue that has nothing to do with either. After almost a decade of quiet, Women of the Wall went on an offensive with a well-oiled campaign aimed at furthering the political agenda of its chairperson, Anat Hoffman. In doing so, the organization has stooped to blackening Israel before the international media and driving a wedge between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

In the Israeli liberal democracy, Women of the Wall are free to pray as they want. Yet they are asked to respect an existing tradition of prayer at the Kotel. For 1,700 years, Jews have chosen to pray at various spots along the Western Wall staying as close as possible to the remains of the Holy Temple. The tradition of prayer here has always been what would be called Orthodox, since none other existed in Israel until recent decades. The contention that the Kotel had never been an Orthodox synagogue, because it never had a mechitza (divider) fails to note the Ottoman and later British ban on constructing a mechitza or bringing Jewish symbols to the Kotel. In fact, when the otherwise secular pre-state army, the Hagana, wanted to affirm Jewish sovereignty at the Kotel, it did so by putting up a mechitza.

Although WoW claims that its goal is just to pray, the organization’s true aim is to transform the Kotel. Hoffman shared her vision of the site as a secular “national monument,” devoid of religious attributes. Nobody could imagine something of the sort done at any place of worship in the world, be it the Vatican or the Westminster Abbey, yet somehow it seems normal at the site closest to the heart of millions of Jews.

Through its actions, WoW negates the feelings of hundreds of thousands of women, who come to pray there regularly. They revere the traditions of the Kotel and call it their spiritual home. It would behoove a women’s rights group with under 200 worshippers to give at least some consideration to the regular denizens of the Wall.  Yet instead of engaging in a respectful discussion with these women, Women of the Wall presume to educate them, “model[ing] to all Jewish women … that women can take control over their own religious lives]” or downright villainizing them as a “ psychological lynch-mob” acting at the hands of “their rabbi-handlers.“      

Still, it is the collateral damage created by WoW to the identity of Diaspora Jewry, to the cohesiveness of the Israeli society, and to Israel’s image that is most troubling. During a recent meeting with a group of American college students on a Birthright Israel trip “the Western Wall” was the first image that came to their mind when asked about symbols of Judaism. More often than not, Israelis, both secular and religiously observant, paint the same picture.

The power of the Kotel’s symbolism to unite us is so strong that it trumps even the splintering of the Israeli society and the interdenominational disputes in the Diaspora. For Israelis, the Kotel is one of the last sources of consensus. It adds a measure of identity to swaths of Diaspora Jews with little or no Jewish knowledge and affiliation. Turning the site into a battle field, undoes all that. It transforms the Kotel from a powerful magnet into a place of ill repute, where Jews fight each other out.

Women of the Wall have allowed themselves to turn the Kotel into a battleground simply because their leadership does not subscribe to the universal Jewish feelings of sanctity for the site. The (Reform) Council of Progressive Rabbis in Israel, a branch of the same organization employing Anat Hoffman, ruled in 1999 that the Kotel has no intrinsic sanctity. Hoffman herself, when asked by an Israeli reporter about her feelings for the Kotel, failed to share any passion, bluntly called the holy site an “opportunity.” Even Josh Margo, Missions and Events Director at the World Council of Conservative Synagogues, who came out to support Women of the Wall during a recent Rosh Chodesh event, was caught on tape  saying that the Kotel is “just a wall.”

In her speeches in US temples, Hoffman proclaims that Israel is no heaven for the Jewish soul. She tells American Jews that they would be treated as second-class citizens in the Jewish state. Yet she fails to mention that Israelis (even secular) have a very different perception of religion than do American Jews. For Israelis, Judaism equals what Americans call Orthodoxy.

Israel’s most cosmopolitan city, Tel Aviv, has only one reform temple and over 500 Orthodox synagogues. In recent years, Rabbi David Stav of the largely secular city of Shoham invited any 40 families interested in establishing a liberal congregation to benefit from municipal funding, yet nobody took him up on the offer. The liberal movements are free to construct synagogues and worship as they please in Israel, but since most Israelis, secular and observant, define Judaism as Orthodox, the laws reflect this perception.

By misrepresenting the Israeli reality, Hoffman attempts to undermine the support of American Jewry for Israel. The brunt of damage will affect not Israel, but US Jews. Statistics have shown the emotional identification created by a trip to Israel as the single most potent antidote to assimilation. For many unaffiliated Jews, distant from any religion, the State of Israel is the last anchor of Jewish pride and identity. How many of these Jews do we stand to lose thanks to WoW’s irresponsible politicking?

The Israeli High Court suggested a compromise allowing WoW to pray just a few feet down the same exact wall at what is called Robinson’s Arch, and the Israeli government invested $2.5 million in repairing the site, a generous move considering the group’s miniscule size. WoW has rejected the solution. We fear that despite the lip service currently paid to the Sharansky Plan, the final outcome will be the same, since the alternative plaza suggested by Sharansky it will not allow WoW’s the ability to “see and be seen,” as Hoffman had put it, in fighting for her agenda.

Women of the Wall are free to pursue their goals through the many channels available to them in a democracy, including the courts and the Knesset. Yet we ask them to act responsibly and to take into account the damage they are creating through their current actions.

They may be passionate about their cause, but the end never justifies the means.


Leah Aharoni is a cofounder of the grassroots movement WomenForTheWall.org, dedicated to preserving the sanctity and tradition at the Western Wall in the spirit of Jewish unity. A business coach, she helps female entrepreneurs build profitable and emotionally rewarding businesses. Aharoni lives with her husband and six children in a suburb of Jerusalem.

BBC slammed for pulling documentary on Jewish exodus from Jerusalem


 An Israeli-born filmmaker is slamming the British Broadcasting Corp. for pulling his documentary on the Jewish exodus from Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Ilan Ziv said in a blog post on April 27 that the BBC exhibited “a mixture of incompetence, political naivete, conscious or subconscious political pressure and ultimately, I believe, a lack of courage of broadcasters when they are faced with the complexity of the Middle East issue and the intense emotions, fears and aggression it generates.”

At issue is the documentary “Exile: A Myth Unearthed,” which theorizes that many Jews did not leave Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, and that many modern-day Palestinians may be in part descended from those Jews. The BBC had been scheduled to show the documentary, cut and renamed “Jerusalem: an Archaeological Mystery Story,” late last week before it was taken off the schedule at the last minute.

The film was screened for a week at the Jewish Film Festival in Toronto. It was shown on Canadian TV and is scheduled to be shown in France and Switzerland.

The BBC told The Guardian that it dropped the film because it did “not fit editorially” with the tone of the season, which has a theme exploring the history of archaeology.

According to the watchdog group HonestReporting, critics of the decision to drop the film have accused the BBC of succumbing to “unnamed pressure groups,” which HonestReporting says is a reference to “Jews” or “Zionists.”

Simon Plosker of HonestReporting wrote in his blog on the group's website that the BBC may have been “more concerned at upsetting anti-Israel elements by showing a film with such a heavy concentration on Jewish history in the Land of Israel.”

Meanwhile, the BBC named Danny Cohen, who attended a Jewish day school in London, as its director of television. Cohen, 39, previously served as controller of the BBC 1 channel, where he oversaw its London Olympics coverage last year.

In his new position, the Oxford graduate will oversee the four main BBC channels, along with BBC Films and the BBC archive. He reportedly is a front-runner for the job of director-general of the broadcaster when the position becomes available.

Supporters of Israel and the Palestinians have roundly criticized BBC coverage of the Middle East.

Palestinian rocket, not Israel, killed infant in Gaza, U.N. says


A Palestinian rocket killed the 11-month-old son of a BBC employee during Israel's November operation in Gaza, the United Nations determined.

Israel had been blamed for the death of Omar Jihad al-Mishrawi, the son of BBC Arabic journalist Jihad al-Mishrawi, as well as Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Mishrawi, 19. But a report released last week by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the two were killed by a Palestinian rocket fired at Israel that missed its target.

The report criticized Israel and the Palestinians for violating international law during the Israeli military's eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense.

The Palestinians fired nearly 1,500 rockets into Israel during the operation; Israel struck more than 1,500 sites during the operation.

Winehouse died from too much alcohol, second inquest confirms


Grammy Award-winning singer Amy Winehouse died of consuming too much alcohol, a second inquest into her death confirmed.

Results of the second inquest provided Tuesday by the coroner, Dr. Shirley Radcliffe, matched those of the original in October 2011.

The second inquest was required because the deputy coroner in the first investigation lacked the required experience. The evidence presented in the second hearing was the same as in the first, according to the BBC.

Winehouse, who was Jewish, died in July 2011 in her London home.

The coroner's report said that Winehouse, 27, died with five times the legal British drunk driving limit in her bloodstream. The official cause of death was from “alcohol toxicity,” according to Radcliffe.

Winehouse reportedly had struggled with alcohol addiction, which persisted even after she stopped using illicit drugs in 2008.

The singer's physician, Dr. Christina Romete, said Winehouse also suffered from an eating disorder.

BBC apologizes to British chief rabbi over on-air gaffe


The BBC issued an apology to British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks after a presenter asked him about the Gaza operation while he thought he was off the air.

Sacks presented the “Thought for the Day” on BBC Radio 4 Today on Friday. After the segment, presenter Evan Davies asked the rabbi's opinion on the conflict between Gaza and Israel.

Sacks responded, “I think it's got to do with Iran, actually,” and then issued a call for “a continued prayer for peace, not only in Gaza but for the whole region. No one gains from violence.” He then was told he was still on the air.

Sacks was said to be angry about the incident, the Guardian reported, citing BBC sources.

“The Chief Rabbi hadn't realized he was still on-air and as soon as this became apparent, we interjected,” the BBC said via a spokesman. “Evan likes to be spontaneous with guests, but he accepts that in this case it was inappropriate and he has apologized to Lord Sacks. The BBC would reiterate that apology.”

Pakistani girl shot by Taliban defied threats for years


A 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl campaigner shot by the Taliban had defied threats for years, believing the good work she was doing for her community was her best protection, her father said on Wednesday.

Malala Yousufzai was shot and seriously wounded on Tuesday as she was leaving her school in her hometown in the Swat valley, northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying her promotion of education for girls was pro-Western and she had opposed them.

The shooting has outraged people in a country seemingly inured to extreme violence since a surge in Islamist militancy began after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

[Commentary from Pakistan: Pakistan’s Anne Frank?]

“She is candle of peace that they have tried to blow out,” said one Pakistani man, Abdul Majid Mehsud, 45, from the violence plagued South Waziristan region.

In the Swat valley, a one-time tourist spot infiltrated by militants from Afghan border bases more than five years ago, her family and community are praying for her survival.

Her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, who ran a girls' school, said his daughter had wanted to go into politics.

He said that of all the things he loved about her, it was her fairness – her democratic ideals – that he loved the most.

Malala, then a dimpled 11-year-old with dark eyes, shot to fame when she wrote a blog under a pen name for the BBC about living under the rule of the Pakistani Taliban.

The militants, led by a firebrand young preacher, took over her valley through a mixture of violence, intimidation and the failure of the authorities to stand up to them.

Even after the military finally went into action with an offensive in 2009 that swept most of the militants from the valley, it remained a dangerous place.

Malala didn't keep quiet. She campaigned for education for girls and later received Pakistan's highest civilian prize.

Her prominence came at a cost.

“We were being threatened. A couple of times, letters were thrown in our house, that Malala should stop doing what she is doing or the outcome will be very bad,” her father, sounding drained and despondent, said by telephone.

But despite the threats, he said he had turned down offers of protection from the security forces.

“We stayed away from that because she is a young female. The tradition here does not allow a female to have men close by,” he said.

“NEVER FEARFUL”

Malala had spent many sleepless nights kept awake by gunfire, had been forced to flee her home with her two younger brothers and walked past the headless bodies of those who defied the Taliban.

Her parents also wanted her to have some chance of a normal childhood, her father said.

“We did not want her to be carrying her school books surrounded by bodyguards. She would not have been able to receive education freely,” he said.

Her parents thought she would be safe among their neighbors in the town of Mingora, nestled among the snow-capped mountains that earned Swat the nickname of the Switzerland of Pakistan.

“I never imagined that this could happen because Malala is a young innocent girl,” her father said. “Whenever there were threats, relatives and friends would tell Malala to take care but Malala was never fearful.”

“She would frequently say 'I am satisfied. I am doing good work for my people so nobody can do anything to me'.”

Recently, Malala had started to organize a fund to make sure poor girls could go to school, said Ahmed Shah, a family friend and chairman of the Swat Private Schools Association.

“She had planned on making the Malala Education Foundation in Swat,” Shah said, adding that the Taliban used to print threats against her in the newspaper.

Classmate Brekhna Rahim said Malala “wished to have enough money and build schools in every village for girls in Swat”.

The entire Swat Valley was in shock over the shooting, she said, glued to their televisions and crying as they watched the endlessly repeated scenes of her being stretchered to hospital.

“Women and girls are sad as if they had lost a very close member of the family,” Rahim said.

“She was the life of the class,” said fellow student, Dure Nayab.

GUNMEN

On Tuesday, a gunman arrived at her school, asking for her by name. He opened fire on her and two classmates on a bus.

Now her father is waiting for her to regain consciousness as she lies swathed in white bandages in a military hospital.

“Doctors are hopeful,” he said. “I appeal to the country to pray for her survival.”

Ziauddin Yousufzai said the shooting would stop neither him nor his daughter from their work.

He echoed the view of many people who said that the shooting was against Islamic law and against the culture of the ethnic Pashtun region, which forbids the targeting of women.

“We will focus even more on our work with more strength,” he said. “If all of us die fighting, we will still not leave this work.”

Her classmate Rahim put it another way.

“If the Taliban kill one Malala, they are thousands and thousands more brave girls like Malala in Swat.”

Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Katharine Houreld in Islamabad; Editing by Robert Birsel and Louise Ireland

BBC official admits the network ‘got it wrong’ on Fogel murders


The British Broadcasting Corporation “got it wrong” in its reporting of the massacre of the Fogel family by Palestinians in the West Bank village of Itamar, the broadcaster’s outgoing director-general said at a parliamentary committee hearing.

In March 2011, Palestinians entered the Fogels’ home and murdered Udi, 36, Ruth, 35, and their children, Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, who was 3 months old. Another daughter, who was outside of the house at the time of the killings, came home and discovered the bodies.

Two Palestinian men were each sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for the Fogels’ murders.

Mark Thompson of the BBC made the admission June 19 while being quizzed by Conservative member of parliament Louise Mensch, according to the London Jewish Chronicle.

In complaining about the light coverage of the event on BBC radio and television programs, the newspaper reported that Mensch said, “I only found out, after the event, from an American blog, called ‘Dead Jews is no news,’ and the more I went into it, the more shocked I was. There was a feeling that the BBC just didn’t care and that if a settler had opened the home of a Palestinian family, slit the throat of their children, that the BBC would have covered that.”

Thompson, according to the Jewish Chronicle, responded that the story occurred during a “very busy news period,” including the fighting in Libya and the tsunami in Japan and that “news editors were under a lot of pressure.” 

He reportedly added, “Having said that, it was certainly an atrocity which should have been covered across our news bulletins that day… But I do want to say, to all our audience, including our Jewish and Israeli audiences here and around the world, we do want to make sure we are fair and impartial. We made a mistake in this instance.”

Krakow JCC head says BBC misrepresented him in anti-Semitism report


The “furious” director of the JCC in Krakow says the BBC manipulated his comments in order to bolster a “sensationalist” report on anti-Semitism and racism in Poland and Ukraine.

The report, a half-hour documentary called “Euro2012: Stadiums of Hate,” was aired last week ahead of the European Soccer championships, which are taking place in Poland and Ukraine this month. It showed graphic footage of Polish soccer fans insulting a black player and chanting anti-Semitic slogans, and Ukrainian soccer hooligans beating up Asian fans.

In an angry statement sent to The Economist magazine Wednesday, American-born Jonathan Ornstein called the program “tendentious.” He said he was “furious at the way the BBC has exploited me as a source.” The BBC, he said, had used him and others “to manipulate the serious subject of anti-Semitism for its own sensationalist agenda; in doing so, the BBC has insulted all Polish people and done a disservice to the growing, thriving Jewish community of Poland.”

He added that the BBC had “knowingly cheated” its audience by “concocting a false horror story about Poland. In doing so, the BBC has spread fear, ignorance, prejudice and hatred.”

Ornstein said that he was interviewed for about an hour by a BBC correspondent and had emphasized that the “small number of football fans in Poland engaging in anti-Semitic and racist behavior do not represent Polish society as a whole.” The BBC, he said, had “completely disregarded anything positive I said and aired only comments critical of Poland.”

He said he had suggested that the BBC reporters interview two Israeli members of a Krakow soccer team, but “the reporters responded that this line of inquiry ‘didn’t fit their story,’ a response which perplexed me at the time.”

The BBC rejected Ornstein’s allegations.

A BBC spokesman said: ‘It was made clear to Mr. Ornstein that the interview was being carried out in the context of football-related racism and anti-Semitism in Poland and his contribution was clearly placed in this context in the film. The program stated in commentary that he believes that most Poles happily accept other faiths but that football hooligans are yet to catch up with wider Polish society.”

The spokesman said the programs producer and reporter denied “refusing the offer to interview two Israeli footballers playing in Poland because it did not fit the story, in fact they would have jumped at the chance of interviewing them.”

Auschwitz sign repaired


The “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign stolen from Auschwitz and cut into three pieces has been repaired.

The iron sign was unveiled Wednesday in the laboratory of the camp museum. Repairs to the sign, which measures 16 feet across and means “Work makes you free,” took several months.

It was stolen from the former Nazi concentration camp on Dec. 18, 2009 and recovered elsewhere in the country 72 hours later. It was found cut into three pieces.

A copy of the sign has been placed above the entrance gate. The repaired sign will likely become part of a new exhibition, the BBC reported.

Five Polish men were convicted of carrying out the theft on behalf of a Swedish citizen, Anders Hogstrom, who acted as a middleman for a neo-Nazi buyer. Hogstrom founded the far-right National Socialist Front party in Sweden in 1994.

Debbie Friedman: She will be missed


Composer, Jewish liturgist, singer-songwriter, prayer leader extraordinaire, member of the lgbt community—Debbie touched our lives in ways too many to count.

It was Debbie Friedman who taught the liberal Jewish world to pray for healing and just as there were special prayers offered worldwide (including at BCC) over the last few days for her healing, so now will there be prayers offered with the intent to comfort the many who mourn her loss, and to bring her soul to rest under the wings of Shekhinah.

She started out as a camp counselor and song leader who brought modern melodies of Jewish prayers to Jewish camps. Soon she began composing, singing, and sharing music that changed the landscape of not just Jewish song but Jewish thought as well. Thousands of people sang the word – “emotainu” even before they knew what the word meant! The power of her music raised a whole new generation of Jews who sang prayers and songs that included women and women of the Torah.

While many congregations regularly include Debbie Friedman songs and liturgy in their prayers and prayerbooks, BCC’s prayerbook includes this special note under her song, Lechi-lach: “This song, based on Genesis 12:1-2, was written by Debbie Friedman and BCC member Savina Teubal, z’l, for the Simchat Chochma (“joy of wisdom”) ceremony that Savina created on the occasion of her 60th birthday. This ceremony, at which this song premiered, took place at Beth Chayim Chadashim, Los Angeles in November 1986 on Shabbat Lech Lecha.”

Numerous BCC members count Debbie Friedman among their friends, still more count her songs as significant influences on our lives, and all of BCC’s clergy count her among our important teachers and role models. She taught us so much, brought us so much. She will be missed, even as we know that the many gifts she gave us—not only her songs, but a different way to pray—will live on, continuing to bless us in moments of sorrow and joy.

Written by BCC clergy Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Cantor Juval Porat, Cantorial Soloist Emerita Fran Chalin, and BCC Executive Director Felicia Park-Rogers.

PBS presents ‘God on Trial’ in Auschwitz


The prosecutor reads the charges against God: murder, collaboration with the enemy, breach of contract with His chosen people.

Setting: A barrack in Auschwitz, with some 20 Jewish prisoners, half of whom will be gassed in the morning.

Time: evening, sometime during the Holocaust.

So opens “God on Trial,” an intellectual and emotional masterpiece, airing on PBS stations on Sunday evening, Nov. 9, the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

A half-Jew, once a respected judge in Germany, presides over the trial. A young prisoner is the prosecutor, while his father speaks for the defense. A rabbi, who has committed the entire Torah to memory, cites chapter and verse. Other inmates break in occasionally, drawing on their own experiences to accuse or defend the Almighty.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor recites the history of Jewish persecution, from Babylon to the Romans to Czarist Russia, to show that God has habitually broken his covenant with the children of Israel.

No, counters the defense, it is the Jews who are the contract breakers, because they forgot the Torah.

Prosecutor: Why did God disperse the Jews?

Defense: To spread knowledge of His word throughout the world.

The defense argues that God, like a surgeon, must occasionally remove the gangrene to purify the body and usher in the golden age.

Are you saying that Mengele and Hitler are doing God’s work? the prosecution asks. Do you say that only the righteous will survive? Not true. Only the cunning and shameless will survive — and will these build the nation of Israel?

A former physicist from France asks for rational reasoning. It’s not about faith, it’s about who has the power, he argues.

A cynical inmate notes that the buckles on the belts of German soldiers carry the motto “Gott Mit Uns” — God Is With Us — and suggests that the Almighty has decided to transfer his covenant to someone else.

The nonreligious judge tells the “jury” that the Nazis want to strip them not just of their lives, but also their dignity, and warns that “Now they also want to take away your God, even a foolish god.”

These few examples only hint as the depth and conviction of the give-and-take, which make our customary debates about the existence and belief in God sound like high-school exercises.

It would be wrong to give away the final verdict, or the heart-stopping closing scene, but suffice that both atheists and believers will find some satisfaction and solace.

“God on Trial” was first aired by the BBC and features a superb cast of mostly British actors, including Antony Sher, Rupert Graves, Dominic Cooper, Stellan Skarsgard and Jack Shepherd.

Persistent reports over 60 years have it that something resembling such a trial actually took place in Auschwitz, with Elie Wiesel frequently cited as the authority for the report.

Wiesel himself, speaking from New York, set the record straight.

“When I was in Auschwitz, the former head of a yeshiva and I worked together for about two weeks, carrying bricks,” Wiesel recounted.

When they had a chance to talk together, the rabbi would speculate on the idea of bringing God before a rabbinical court on charges of abandoning his people.

The verdict might be guilty or, at least, that God owed the Jews an explanation for the Holocaust, said Wiesel, who lost track of the rabbi, but presumes he was killed by the Germans. Wiesel doesn’t know whether the rabbi was ever able to realize his idea.

Executive producer Mark Redhead (“Bloody Sunday”) and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (“Welcome to Sarajevo”) are Christians and, speaking from London, admitted to some trepidation in tackling so sensitive and Jewish a subject.

Cottrell Boyce, a devout Catholic, said, “I first talked to a number of rabbis and was assured that Jews had a long tradition of arguing with God. That impressed me, because Christians would never put God on trial.

“One point I wanted to make is that the spirit of the Jews was not completely crushed by the Holocaust, that they were more than walking skeletons.”

But, essentially, the teleplay is not about the Holocaust, but about God, he said. “Since 9/11 and the tsunami, God seems to be back on the scene again.”

Asked whether the arguments about God’s guilt had shaken his own Catholic faith, he responded, “Sure, it’s shaken all the time, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Redhead went one step further, proposing that the drama is not about the existence of God, “but more about the nature of faith, how we conduct ourselves in the face of savagery, how we try to find solid ground in a bottomless swamp.”

He added, “We are asking about the meaning of life, because if the Holocaust had no meaning, then nothing has any meaning.”

KCET will air “God on Trial” on Masterpiece Contemporary at 9 p.m. on Nov. 9.

Al Qaeda urges Israel attacks; Israeli Arab lawmakers represent Hamas in court


Al Qaeda Urges Israel Attacks
 

Torture, Genocide and Jewish Silence


 

Jews around the world have worked hard to give life to the slogan “never again,” but there are painfully abundant signs the world isn’t listening. And, worse, a number of our own organizations have been reluctant to speak out on some of the moral rationalizations that contribute to the genocidal mindset.

An example: America’s bland refusal to bar torture in our treatment of foreign prisoners, while hardly a call for genocide, is a troubling endorsement of an “anything is justified at a time of war” perspective that is the excuse used by every perpetrator of genocide. But few Jewish groups have spoken out as the torture controversy continues.

The message of the Holocaust — indeed, the barest facts about it — have gotten lost in the clamor of world events.

A recent BBC survey in Great Britain revealed that 45 percent of adults in that country had never heard of Auschwitz. The number went up to 60 percent among those younger than 35.

In a study by the International Society for Sephardic Progress, 63 percent of Americans questioned hadn’t a clue about that ultimate death factory; again, ignorance was higher among younger respondents.

So should we be surprised that each new instance of genocide, from Cambodia to Rwanda to Darfur, is met with indifference — especially if the victims are non-Europeans?

In this country, some religious groups have demanded stronger action to end the current genocide in Darfur, but there’s been no hue and cry from the public for their government to do more, despite extensive newspaper coverage of the killings. An outstanding new film, “Hotel Rwanda,” was produced with the hope of generating that kind of mass response, but it will be seen by a miniscule proportion of the population.

The idea that genocide is going on today is a matter of indifference to most Americans, or just one more in a long series of lamentable disasters around the world.

This nation’s political leaders have failed to make preventing or stopping genocide a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

The United Nations, so quick to condemn even the inadvertent shooting of a Gaza child by an Israeli soldier, couldn’t care less about the many thousands of Sudanese massacred under their noses. The recent report of its special commission on Darfur, which under Arab pressure concluded there was no genocide, should be regarded as a war crime in itself.

The Jewish community has been more vocal about Darfur than most; the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience has used its enormous credibility to try to generate concern about Darfur and some Jewish groups have spoken out forcefully.

The communal response has been much more tepid in response to Washington’s decision to carve out big exceptions in our national morality for reasons of “security” when it comes to the treatment of foreign prisoners.

During recent hearings on the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, the issue of torture in U.S. prisons in places like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Abu Grahb prison was front and center because of the nominee’s memo suggesting that the Geneva conventions are “quaint” and our own laws against torture do not apply offshore.

The torture-genocide connection should be obvious: countries that justify torture are, at least indirectly and maybe directly, endorsing a world view suggesting that threats to their nations, real or imagined, justify any act, as long as it can be classified a matter of national security.

In the case of America, the threat of terrorism is real — unlike the threat that Adolf Hitler claimed was posed by the Jews he tortured and murdered.

But tolerating torture undermines civilization and weakens the restraints that prevent genocide; it helps legitimize the ideas that genocidal leaders and tyrants always use to justify their actions.

“The torture of prisoners, or issues of what is the appropriate conduct of soldiers, are issues that should have special resonance for Jews, given our experience in the 20th Century,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ). “We have a special obligation to speak out on these issues; if we don’t, shame on us.”

But few, aside from URJ, have.

Perhaps some Jewish leaders were concerned that any criticism might reflect badly on Israel, which has had its own controversies on torture. Ironically, that country — under a much more immediate terror threat — has acted responsibly, thanks to a ruling by its Supreme Court.

Again, make no mistake; America is threatened and the need for a strong and effective response to the terrorists is undeniable.

But few experts believe torture is a useful interrogation technique, or effective enough to justify the heavy moral costs or the boost our actions will give to those who use the mantra of “security” as justification for murder on a mass scale.

Jewish leaders should look at the worldwide indifference to Darfur, at the appalling lack of Holocaust knowledge in the Western nations and at America’s own casual endorsement of torture when it suits our interest — and see a real connection. Maybe then their silence might be replaced by outrage and genuine leadership.

 

Open to Interpretation


Three years ago, the BBC decided to make a television documentary to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1956 Sinai campaign, which pitted Israeli, British and French troops against the forces of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The filmmakers were soon stymied in their search for one top-secret document: the Protocol of Sevres, in which leaders of the three temporary allies coordinated their plans to seize the Suez Canal, five days before the actual attack on Oct. 29, 1956.

One copy of the protocol went to each of the three participating countries. The BBC first tried to get the British copy, but was told that the document had been burned almost as soon as it was signed. Next, the French said their copy had been “misplaced” and could not be found. Finally, the BBC researchers turned to the Ben-Gurion Archives, and, within hours, the staff produced a photocopy of the original protocol.

It was all in a day’s work for Tuvia Friling, director of the Ben-Gurion Research Center and Archives, located on the Sde Boker campus of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

At the archives’ core are David Ben-Gurion’s diaries, meticulously kept throughout the 60 years of his public career.

“Ben-Gurion was a historian’s dream,” Friling says of Israel’s first prime minister. He made notes on every meeting he ever held, however insignificant, chronicled his decisions and reactions, and even kept carbon copies of the huge number of letters he wrote.

At the time of his death, in 1973, Ben-Gurion left behind 750,000 papers. The center now houses 5 million documents, including holdings from foreign archives that bear on the history of the nascent Jewish state from 1917 to 1967, as well as on Israel’s relations with other countries and Diaspora communities.

The mass of material, largely computerized and partially accessible on the Internet in Hebrew and English, yields a fascinating picture of the man at the center of Israel’s creation.

For instance, on May 14, 1948, when Ben-Gurion declared Israel a sovereign nation, Jews cheered and danced in the streets of Tel Aviv. But the architect of independence recorded in his diary a profound sense of sadness. Ben-Gurion knew full well that the Arab states would invade Israel. Until the last minute, Washington was exerting pressure to postpone statehood. And his army chief of staff, Yigal Yadin, reported that Israel had only a 50-50 chance of survival.

“Ben-Gurion, better than anyone else, knew what a heavy price Israel would have to pay in the coming battles,” says Friling, 45, a historian and authority on Ben-Gurion’s still-controversial role in rescue efforts of European Jewry during the Holocaust.

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