Everyone knows Israel’s true capital


In international relations there is sometimes a situation of political make-believe whereby states conduct themselves in a manner that actively and consciously ignores reality.

On some occasions this is warranted in order to avoid a crisis or mitigate conflict. And once-relevant self-deception can become ingrained after time, even though its usefulness is debatable at best. Such is the case (or perceived to be) with Israel’s capital city.

Israel’s capital is Jerusalem. The government is located there; so are the Supreme Court and the Bank of Israel. All are located in West Jerusalem, which is seen by the international community as part of Israel’s sovereign territory — and would almost certainly be so following a future peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

East Jerusalem is another matter. The international community objects to Israel’s official position whereby East Jerusalem is considered an integral part of a unified city under Israeli sovereignty. The status of East Jerusalem (and the West Bank), as far as the international community is concerned, ought to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the aim of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel.

However, the international community explicitly accepts that West Jerusalem is part of the sovereign territory of Israel and implicitly understands that the Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city would remain under Israeli rule after a peace agreement.

Given all this, why can’t the world accept West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? Why keep pretending that Israel either has no capital or has one in Tel Aviv?

There are some who refer to Jerusalem as “Israel’s self-declared capital.” But aren’t all capitals self-declared? Of course, the implied meaning is that Jerusalem is Israel’s self-declared and unrecognized capital.

After all, Jerusalem was not intended to be part of the Jewish state under the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947. So why even recognize parts of Jerusalem as part of Israel’s sovereign territory?

Well, there are other territories that were not supposed to be part of the Jewish state according to the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947. While the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership failed to endorse the plan, these too became part of the newly created Jewish state.

This was controversial, but nevertheless the international community sees these territories as sovereign Israeli territory. So why not West Jerusalem? If the Armistice Lines of 1949 (the so-called 1967 borders) are regarded as the basis for a future settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, why make a distinction between, say, Acre, Jaffa and West Jerusalem?

If logically no distinction ought to be drawn, what is the problem with recognizing, or at least accepting, that West Jerusalem is Israel’s capital?

Certainly, the present situation is comfortable to all concerned except Israel – and perhaps the ambassadors who travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem each time they have to meet with a government official.

Pretending that Jerusalem — or at least its western part — is not Israel’s capital may be avoiding a crisis with the Arab and Muslim world. This line of thought is understandable, though peculiar. After all, most Arab and Muslim states ostensibly call for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. West Jerusalem would remain within Israeli sovereignty. So what is the problem, then, of recognizing de jure, or at least accepting de facto, that West Jerusalem is Israel’s capital?


This article was originally published on Politics in Spires, a blog on the Politics and International Relations/Studies Departments of Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England Web site.

Yoav J. Tenembaum is a lecturer in the diplomacy program at Tel Aviv University. He received his Ph.D. from St. Antony’s College, Oxford.

Guardian correction withdraws claim that Tel Aviv is Israeli capital


The Guardian newspaper retracted its claim that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel after a watchdog group filed a lawsuit against Britain’s Press Complaints Commission.

In May, The Guardian posted a photo with a caption that referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The caption was later corrected, saying that it “wrongly referred to the city (Jerusalem) as the Israeli capital. The Guardian style guide states: ‘Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel; Tel Aviv is.”

The watchdog group HonestReporting filed a complaint with the UK Press Complaints Commission, which ruled that the newspaper could refer to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital and was not in breach of accuracy clauses.

HonestReporting then launched legal proceedings against the commission.

Under pressure from the commission, The Guardian issued a correction and changed its style guide. The correction does, however, assert that Israel’s designation of Jerusalem as its capital is not recognized by the international community.

The correction, issued Wednesday, read that “A correction to a picture caption said we should not have described Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. It went on to relay the advice in our style guide that the capital was Tel Aviv. In 1980 the Israeli Knesset enacted a law designating the city of Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, as the country’s capital. In response, the UN Security Council issued resolution 478, censuring the ‘change in character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem’ and calling on all member states with diplomatic missions in the city to withdraw. The UN has reaffirmed this position on several occasions, and almost every country now has its embassy in Tel Aviv. While it was therefore right to issue a correction to make clear Israel’s designation of Jerusalem as its capital is not recognized by the international community, we accept that it is wrong to state that Tel Aviv—the country’s financial and diplomatic centre—is the capital. The style guide has been amended accordingly.”

HonestReporting CEO Joe Hyams called on the commission “to issue a new ruling categorically stating that Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital so that it is clear to the British media that it will not be allowed to repeat this error.”

White House: Romney’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital contradicts U.S. policy


A White House spokesman noted that Mitt Romney’s calling Jerusalem the “capital of Israel” contradicts United States policy over several successive administrations.

The spokesman, Josh Earnest, said that the presumptive Republican presidential candidate’s declaration that Jerusalem is “the capital of Israel” contradicts the policy of previous Republican and Deomcratic administrations. He said Romney could further explain the comments, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“Well, our view is that that’s a different position than this administration holds,” Earnest said in a news briefing Tuesday, according to the Post. “It’s the view of this administration that the capital is something that should be determined in final status negotiations between the parties.”

Palestinian groups also harshly criticized Romney for the remark, which was made in a policy speech given in Jerusalem on Sunday night.

Guardian not wrong to say Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital, panel says


A complaint leveled against the Guardian over Israel’s capital city was decided in favor of the British newspaper.

In correcting a photo caption that had referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the newspaper wrote that “The caption on a photograph featuring passengers on a tram in Jerusalem observing a two-minute silence for Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance for the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, wrongly referred to the city as the Israeli capital. The Guardian style guide states: ‘Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel; Tel Aviv is.’ “

The watchdog group HonestReporting submitted an official complaint with the United Kingdom Press Complaints Commission saying that Israel has identified its capital as Jerusalem.

In its decision issued Sunday, the Press Complaints Commission said that “While it is correct to say that Israel classes Jerusalem as her capital city, this is not recognized by many countries and those nations enjoying diplomatic relations with Israel have their embassies in Tel Aviv. As such, the Commission was of the view that the newspaper was entitled to refer to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel. There was no breach of the Code in this instance.”

Clause 1 of the commission’s official code states that newspapers “must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information,” and the terms of Clause 1(ii) state that “a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognized must be corrected promptly and with due prominence.”

“We believe that this flawed ruling has the potential to further delegitimize Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, giving the British media a carte blanche to follow The Guardian’s lead,” HonestReporting said in a statement on its website.

The watchdog points out that the UK Foreign Office says that “Israel maintains that Jerusalem is its capital city, a claim not recognized by the UK and the international community. The UK locates its embassy in Tel Aviv.” It does not, however, identify Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.

Palestinians rally for Abbas’s U.N. statehood bid


Flag-waving Palestinians filled the squares of major West Bank cities on Wednesday to rally behind President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations despite U.S. and Israeli objections.

“We are asking for the most simple of rights, a state like other nations,” said Sabrina Hussein, 50, carrying the green, red, black and white Palestinian national flag at a demonstration in Ramallah.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under 1990s interim peace deals, gave school children and civil servants the day off to attend events in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron.

A large mockup of a blue chair, symbolizing a seat at the U.N., and giant Palestinian flags hanging from buildings provided a backdrop for the Ramallah rally, where attendance peaked at several thousand.

The main venues were far removed from Israeli military checkpoints on the perimeter of the cities and the rallies were peaceful.

But in incidents away from the gatherings, Palestinian youngsters threw rocks at Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint on the edge of Ramallah and in the divided West Bank city of Hebron. The soldiers responded with tear gas, and in Ramallah also used a so-called “screamer”—a device that emits an ear-splitting high-pitched sound—to disperse stone-throwers.

Palestinian leaders have pledged that demonstrations for statehood would be peaceful.

Later in the day in New York, U.S. President Barack Obama was due to meet Abbas to urge him to drop plans to ask the U.N. Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. Washington says statehood should be achieved through peace talks.

Abbas has said he will present U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a membership application on Friday. The move requires Security Council approval and the United States, one of five veto-wielding permanent members, says it will block it.

At the Ramallah rally, Amina Abdel Jabbar al-Kiswany, a head teacher, said the U.N. bid was a step on the road to statehood, not a solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which direct negotiations have failed to resolve.

“It’s a cry of desperation,” Kiswany said.

Reflecting anger with U.S. policy, a Palestinian, his face covered by a scarf, climbed the stage scaffolding and set ablaze an American flag. Earlier, some of the demonstrators had tried to stop the flag burning.

Washington’s pledge to veto the bid for U.N. membership has added to deep Palestinian disappointment in Obama. The Palestinians have long complained of what they see as Washington’s complete support for Israel at their expense.

“America talks about human rights. They support South Sudan. Why don’t they support us?” said Tamer Milham, a 26-year old computer engineer, referring to the new state of South Sudan which was admitted to the United Nations in July.

U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed a year ago after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in areas Palestinians want for a state.

Netanyahu has called the Palestinian demand of a halt to settlement building an unacceptable precondition and urged Abbas to return to negotiations.

The Israeli leader was due to meet Obama, with whom he has had a strained relationship, later in the day on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The Palestinian Authority has held sway only in the West Bank since Hamas Islamists opposed to his peace efforts with Israel seized Gaza in a brief civil war in 2007.

Hamas has dismissed the U.N. bid as a waste of time and there were no rallies in the Mediterranean enclave, where Palestinians argue that Abbas should be devoting his energies to bridging the internal political divide.

Israel cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank, which it calls Judea and Samaria, and to Jerusalem. It claims all of the city as its capital, a status that is not recognized internationally.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Gotcha? You betcha!


John McCain and Sara Palin have been complaining that there’s too much “gotcha journalism” going around.

If only.

When they say “gotcha journalism,” what they’re really trying to do, of course, is to demonize journalism itself — to de-legitimize asking tough questions, and following up with more tough questions when the answers are mealy-mouth evasions, and holding politicians accountable when they inadvertently emit a truth.

McCain says gotcha journalism is reporting that Palin, at a public event, told a voter her thoughts about attacking terrorist targets in Pakistan — which inconveniently is the same view that McCain is excoriating Obama for holding.

The McCain camp cried gotcha journalism when Charles Gibson asked Palin whether she agrees with the Bush Doctrine, and when Katie Couric asked her what Supreme Court cases she disagrees with, and when Gwen Ifill asked her about the powers of the vice president. But I didn’t hear Republicans complain about gotcha journalism when debate moderator George Stephanopoulos twice asked Obama, “Does Reverend Wright love America as much as you do?”

If gotcha journalism means asking presidential candidates which of their dreams will have to be deferred because of the $700 billion bailout, as a frustrated Jim Lehrer did again and again, then maybe we need more of that kind of questioning, not less.

We certainly could have used more gotcha journalism during the decade leading up to the worst economic debacle since the Great Depression.

In 1999, when the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, letting commercial banks go into the investment banking and insurance businesses, the country would have been a lot better off if the mainstream media had paid gotcha attention to the downside of deregulation, instead of being obsessed by the mythical Y2K bug.

In 2000, when Senator Phil Gramm slipped a measure forbidding the SEC and the CFTC from regulating credit default swaps into the omnibus spending bill, imagine if the press had blown the whistle on that lobbyist-owned legislator taking advantage of the final moments of a lame-duck session of Congress instead of focusing single-mindedly on the hanging chads story.

In 2003, when Alan Greenspan told global investors that he was going to keep the Fed Funds rate at an unappetizing one percent, thus opening the global floodgates to the mortgage backed securities industry, just think what might have happened if the surge in no-income-no-asset mortgages had been covered as intensely as the goings-on at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

In 2006, when the size of the global collateralized debt obligation market approached $2 trillion, with Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and Wachovia becoming the top CDO underwriters, consider how investigative journalism might have revealed the fatal vulnerability of those houses to toxic assets when the housing bubble would inevitably burst, rather than spending its energies falsely convicting the Duke lacrosse team of rape.

In 2007, when the subprime mortgage fiasco hit, think how things might have played out differently at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if cable news had spent as much time covering the liquidity crisis as it did the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

In 2008, when SEC chairman Chris Cox told the Senate Banking Committee that he wanted no increased authority and no increased budget to oversee conflict-of-interest riddled credit rating agencies like Moody’s, what if the consequences of Cox’s emergency ban on naked short-selling – bizarrely lasting only one month and affecting only 19 companies — had been pursued as aggressively as the first photos of the Brangelina twins?

We could have used a whole lot more gotcha journalism about Wall Street and banking deregulation than most people regularly encountered over the past decade. And we would have been better served as citizens if terms like “naked short selling” and “mark-to-market” and the rest of the gobbledygook now haunting us had long ago become part of the minimum daily dose of financial literacy delivered to us by the news media.

The exceptions to this journalistic inability to know what’s important, and to explain what’s difficult, are worth celebrating. Chief among them are public radio programs like “>Planet Money, and public radio reporters like “>Adam Davidson.

There’s no better way for a lay person to understand the current crisis than by listening to two episodes of This American Life – ““>Another Frightening Show About the Economy,” which aired last weekend. And while you’re at it, check out the ““>two

VIDEO: Arabic-speaking Israeli prof tells Al-Jazeera: ‘Jerusalem is ours for 3000 years!’


On Al-Jazeera TV, Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University asserts—in Arabic—that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for over 3000 years. 

Available here for the first time with English subtitles.

Cherry Blossoms Inspire Capital Walk


As the Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off on March 26, the spring weather descending on Washington, D.C., makes it great for walking among the cherry-inspired events throughout the nation’s capital. And one neighborhood ripe for a stroll during a D.C. weekend getaway is prestigious Georgetown.

Shady tree-lined streets showcase a treasure trove of historic homes that look much the same as they did when George Washington and Thomas Jefferson walked them. Georgetown is a charming, hip mix of Old South and New North. It’s the getaway of choice for savvy tourists and D.C. locals who want to do more than a visit to the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, or a walk along the National Mall to see the Washington Monument or the Capitol Building.

Established in 1751 in honor of King George II, Georgetown was once part of Maryland until it was annexed to Washington, D.C., in 1871. Dotted with Queen Anne “curb-up” row houses, elegant mansions and Federal townhouses, the neighborhood is a quiet residential community that is home to those making history today. Notables include New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (Whitehaven Street), Henry Kissinger (3026 P St.), Watergate reporter Bob Woodward (3027 Q St.) and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (3322 O St.).

Georgetown is bordered by Rock Creek Park on the east to Georgetown University on the west, and from R Street in the north to the Potomac River Edge in the south, Georgetown is a short walk from D.C.’s “other” trendy neighborhood, Dupont Circle.

Start your stroll by the waterway that defined its prosperity in the early 1800s. Barges pulled by mules floated tons of cargo through the calm and shallow Chesapeake and Ohio Canal until floods sent it into receivership in 1924. Its adjacent towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers, birdwatchers, skateboarders and anyone else who likes to wander through one of the only places you can walk without traffic. In less than 15 minutes on foot, the hustle of the city morphs into the serenity of the countryside. Once you pass under the 34th Street Bridge, vine-covered trees and wildflowers replace the flowerbeds and the bricks. If you’re lucky, you may share the path with wood ducks, beavers, foxes and turtles. It’s particularly busy when the sun sets at 5 p.m.

The oldest-standing building in Washington, D.C., is the Old Stone House (3051 M. St.) that sits incongruously in the middle of the main shopping drag. Built from locally quarried blue granite as a one-room dwelling in 1765, this pre-Revolutionary house has had a few facelifts over the years, including the addition of a second and third floor. Its handsome garden and majestic weeping willows is a patch of tranquility on an otherwise busy street, and an ideal spot to take a load off.

Further down M Street, at Wisconsin, is the gold-domed Riggs National Bank, which dates back to an era when only farmers and mechanics were allowed to use its services. North on Wisconsin to Martins Pub you’ll find the local version of the bar from “Cheers.” Every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush has eaten there since it opened 70 years ago. Although discreet about his famous customers, fourth-generation owner Billy Martin may dish a secret or two if you ask nicely.

The Tudor Place House at 1644 31st St. was purchased with an $8,000 legacy from President Washington, and six generations of Martha Washington’s descendants have lived in this manorial mansion since 1805. Perched on an entire city block and overlooking the former wilds of Virginia across the Potomac River, the long-fronted house with its striking white portico and four tall pillars is one of the notable survivals of Georgetown architecture. A sizeable collection of Washington relics remains and trees planted more than 100 years ago still stand on the sloping south lawn.

Also significant but less grandiose is the three-story chocolate-colored stucco house at 1527 35th St. It was home to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and is believed to be where he contemplated the idea of the telephone. If the walls could talk at the Dumbarton House (2715 Q St.), it would be about that day in 1814 when Dolly Madison took refuge in one of its rooms as the British burned the White House. During World War II, the Red Cross moved in and today it’s a museum owned by the National Society of Colonial Dames.

The first public market in the area stands uptown at 32nd and M streets. Built for butchers, fishmongers and dairy farmers in 1795, the current tenant is quite thematically correct. The gourmet food store, Dean and Deluca, has taken over continuing Georgetown’s love affair with the freshest and the finest.

The Four Seasons Hotel at Pennsylvania and M streets is where people watching is at its finest. Kings, queens, dignitaries, politicos and movie stars pay big bucks for the hotels unrivalled discretion, but if you sit long enough in the lobby there’s a good chance you’ll see a famous face or two.

And then there are those cherry blossoms. If the weather forecasters are right, they should be in bloom by March 26, with celebrations lasting until April 10. This year marks the 93rd celebration of the original gift of the 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington, D.C.

Highlights include the Cherry Blossom Opening Ceremony (March 26 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel), Smithsonian Kite Festival (April 2, 10 a.m.-4 p.m), Lantern Lighting Festival (April 3. 2:30 p.m. at the Tidal Basin Viewing Area), Cherry Blossom Parade (April 9, 10 a.m. Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th Street), Sakura Matsuri-Japanese Street Festival (April 9, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue).

There’s also plenty to do for sports enthusiasts, including Bike the Blossoms tours, Blossoms Secrets Walking Tour, Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Race (April 3), Cherry Blossom Festival Rugby Tournament (April 9 -10) and the George Washington Invitational Crew Classic (April 9).

For more information, visit

Jewish D.C


Kosher Restaurants

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• Ben Yehuda Pizza.1370 B Lamberton Drive, Silver Spring, Md. (301) 681-8900. www.ben-yehuda-pizza.com.

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• Carolyn Cafe at The Holocaust Museum, 100 Raul Wallenberg Plaza SW, Washington, D.C. (202) 488-6151.

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• Center City Cafe. 1529 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 387-3246.

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• Max’s Kosher Café and Market Place, 2319 University Blvd. W., Silver Spring, Md, (301) 949-6297.

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• Nuthouse.11419 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, Md. (301) 942-5900

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• Pita Plus. 4425-4427 Lehigh Road, College Park, Md. (301) 864-5150.

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• Red Heifer Restaurant. 4844 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, Md, (301) 951-5115. www.theredheifer.com.

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• Royal Dragon Glatt Kosher Restaurant. 4840 Boiling Brook Parkway, Rockville, Md. (301) 468-1922. www.royalkosherrestaurant.com.

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•Â Stacks Delicatessen, 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 628-9700.

Hotels With Kosher Options

(The following hotels offer prepared meals for guests through the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington-Vaad.)

Capital Hilton Hotel

16th and K St. NW
Washington, D.C.
(202) 393-1000

Doubletree Hotel

1750 Rockville Pike
Rockville, Md.
(301) 468-1100

Grand Hyatt Hotel

1000 H St. NW
Washington, D.C.
(202) 582-1234

Holiday Inn Bethesda

8120 Wisconsin Ave.
Bethesda, Md.
(301) 652-2000

Hyatt Dulles

2300 Dulles Corner Blvd.
Herndon, Va.
(703) 834-1234

Park Hyatt Hotel

1201 24th St. NW
Washington, D.C.
(202) 789-1234

Washington Hilton Hotel

1919 Connecticut Ave.
Washington, D.C.
(202) 483-3000

Jewish History Draws in Bratislava


Once we declared here that we would visit Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, we expected people to say, “How quaint! How interesting! What an unusual place to visit.” Instead, we invariably heard, “Why Bratislava?” And in Prague, when we announced our next stop, the reaction was, “Why do you want to go there?” Amazingly, even in beautiful Bratislava itself, residents asked in wonder and bemusement, with no hint of being impolite: “Why would you want to come here?”

Folks in Bratislava are not used to tourists. It is not, as they say in the travel trade, a “destination.” No tourist buses crowd the streets like in Prague. No Israelis swarm here. And even if tourists come, we were told, they are ultra-Orthodox Jewish tourists visiting Budapest who take a taxi to Bratislava for a quick visit to the tomb of the revered early 19th century sage Rabbi Moshe Sofer (the Chatam Sofer), and then scoot back to Budapest without so much as a backward glance.

Which is too bad, for Bratislava is a lovely place to behold — despite a long-time resident’s semi-jocular remark: “It’s a pleasant town to live in, but not to visit.”

Known also as Pressburg, Bratislava has a special place in Jewish history. Jews have been connected to this city for more than 800 years, and may even have been here (like in Budapest) with the Roman legions. Since the 1700s it has been an important center for organized Jewish life. Hebrew and Yiddish book printing thrived — always a mark of a community’s importance. In the 100 years between 1830 and 1930, about 340 Jewish books appeared, as well as Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers and magazines.

In 1940, nearly 15,000 Jews lived in Bratislava, about 12 percent of the general population. Services were held in three shuls and in 14 Chasidic shtibls (prayer rooms). During World War II, few of the Bratislava Jews survived the combination of German racial laws and Slovak state anti-Semitism, sponsored by the fascist leader/priest, Father Tiso, and other church leaders who cooperated with the Germans. Of the 90,000 Jews in pre-War Slovakia, only 15,000 survived.

In 1947, the Jewish population in Bratislava was 7,000, bolstered by survivors who made their way to the capital from outlying towns and villages where Jewish life was not reconstituted after the war. During the following years, several thousand Jews went to Israel, so by 1969, the population had declined to 1,500. Today, 720 Jews are registered in the Jewish community.

An active synagogue functions under the leadership of a bright, energetic, 38-year-old American Chabad rabbi, Baruch Myers, who is secularly educated (a rarity among Chabadniks, for Lubavitch discourages non-Jewish higher education). The synagogue is part of the modern communal offices complex, and consists of a large, well-lit room, divided partly by a partition to create a woman’s gallery. The kehilla’s kosher kitchen serves meals to the elderly for less than $1. The community also runs a small kindergarten, but admits only children who are halachically Jewish (born of a Jewish mother).

Bratislava’s grand synagogue, built in 1926 in the elaborate 19th century style, with six great white columns, is the only pre-World War II shul still standing in the city. But this imposing edifice, with a beautiful interior, is rarely used nowadays.

At Sabbath services we noticed a mixture of older men, all Holocaust survivors, middle-aged men, and a couple of young adults, about 15-20 in all. All the pain of the Jewish past is borne by these old men. You look around the shul and see, even more than a half-century later, the suffering etched into their faces. At one table, a man in his late 70s looks sadly out the window. Who is he remembering? Another snoozes during the davening, a third man is missing an arm. Some of the middle-aged men sit, but do not participate. Two or three younger men with obviously Slavic faces are either converts or on their way to conversion. No teenagers were present; nor did we see any father-son duos, which is always the hallmark of Jewish continuity.

The only youngster in shul, of any age, was the rabbi’s 6-year-old son, who sat in the hollow of the prayer stand behind which his father was giving the sermon in Slovak. (Yes, Myers took the trouble to learn and master the local language.) No old women were seen in shul, but there were two of college age, one a Jewish teacher from South Africa, the other a gentile from Bratislava who, after working for a Jewish camp, decided to convert.

Like in America, the intermarriage rate is 50 percent. A curious fact: the assimilated Jews in prewar Bratislava married Jews — but the postwar Jewish children intermarry. Still, Myers has performed several marriages during the past few years.

We stayed at the simply appointed, comfortable, community-owned hotel, the Chez David. As spare as its rooms are, so impressive is its kosher restaurant, which is patronized mostly by local Slovaks. The talented and imaginative chef serves meals that are not only delicious, but artistically presented; they could be photographed for Gourmet magazine. The Chez David is ideally located, a few minutes away from the historic Old Town and a short walk from the synagogue.

In the Old Town, accompanied by the president of the
Jewish community, Peter Salner, we noticed a Cafe Mikva. But he told us that neither the owners nor the patrons know what a mikvah is. It is so named because an old mikvah used to be located on that street. The Old Town, with narrow cobblestone streets and a large, imposing square, is an esthetic entity, with fine old buildings, a market on one side, and upscale shops and an elegant cafe on the other. Posters are seen everywhere advertising the many concerts, plays and folklore evenings available almost nightly in Bratislava. A short walk from the Old Town stands a rather large memorial to the Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The dollar in Slovakia makes everything rather inexpensive. The rabbi and members of the community are warm and welcoming. When we arrived at Chez David, Salner was waiting for us to show us around; he returned later that evening to escort us to the shul. And once we met the rabbi, he immediately invited us to his house for the Sabbath meals.

To get to Bratislava we flew with the reliable and efficient British Airways to Vienna. Once there, we used our Eurail Flexipass obtained in the United States. Not only do the passes save you money — more important, they save you the hassle and waste of time in long lines at ticket counters.

So the next time anyone asks you, “Why Bratislava?” tell them it’s a beautiful town in the heart of Europe, with a rich Jewish past.

For information on the Eurail Flexipass, call (888)
342-7245; for information on Bratislava, visit “>www.chaverim.sk or

Disney’s Dangerous Course


Just last month, Walt Disney World appeared to be right in the path of a bona fide hurricane. Hurricane Floyd was headed for Florida’s eastern coast, and Walt Disney World was forced to close its doors for the first time in its 28-year history. But Mickey’s luck held out. Floyd veered north, and Walt Disney World was saved from potential devastation.

But the Walt Disney Company has now found itself right in the eye of a political storm that is stalled smack dab over Orlando. How Disney has chosen to weather this storm may tip the balance of power between political pressure groups and the entire entertainment industry for years to come.

First, the back story: In 1998, Disney invited 24 nations to participate in a millennium celebration at its Orlando-based Epcot Center. Israel was invited to join in this hoopla that celebrated cultural diversity. Israel contributed $1.8 million to the reported $8 million project. In the last several weeks, the media has been reporting that Jerusalem would be depicted in Israel’s exhibit as the capital of the Jewish state. Clearly, Disney was not prepared for the controversy that these stories would bring.

The status of Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue between three of the world’s major religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In fact, until 1967, the city was divided between Israelis and Arabs. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured Jerusalem’s eastern portion and declared the entire city to be its eternal, undivided capital. Palestinians have insisted that East Jerusalem be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

Once the Arab world got wind that the exhibit was intended to portray Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, many of its leaders called for a boycott of the entire Walt Disney Company. Unlike other entertainment conglomerates, Disney has been the frequent target of boycotts from several interest groups, including the American Family Association, the Southern Baptist Convention, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the National Federation for the Blind and the Catholic League. In fact, the Arab-American community has protested or boycotted Disney in the past, objecting to the depiction of Arab characters in the Disney films “Aladdin,” “Kazaam” and “Father of the Bride 2.” In most of these instances, Disney has tried to weather these storms and not buckle to the pressure of these interest groups, by issuing brief statements and waiting for the headlines to pass.

Hoping to dodge Hurricane Jerusalem, Disney has taken a different course. Instead of laying low, the company actually ceded to the demands of the Arab community. Bill Warren, a Disney spokesman, recently announced that while Epcot would proceed with the Israeli pavilion, “the exhibit contains no reference to Jerusalem as the capital.” In the final analysis, this decision may prove to torment Disney and other entertainment conglomerates for years to come.

In response to the “Aladdin” flap, Disney altered two lines in a single song at the behest of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination League. Playing on negative stereotypes of any group is wrong, but making these changes did not touch on the political agenda of the Arab community. On the other hand, when Disney officials declared that the Israeli exhibit would not refer to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, they inserted the Happy Kingdom into the debate over the fragile Israeli/Arab peace process.

Most distressing, however, is a statement issued by the president of the Walt Disney World Resort upon the Oct. 1 opening of the exhibit. When Al Weiss was asked what changes were made to appease Arab detractors, he responded: “The process we go through to develop entertainment, exhibits, attractions and shows is a process we hold near and dear to our hearts. It is a proprietary process that we go through, so I’m not going to comment on anything as it relates to that competitive advantage.”

This refusal to answer demonstrates that Disney could have adopted their standard strategy — issue a brief statement and wait for the headlines to pass — without declaring under threat of boycott that they would cave to the demands of a political interest group.

Now that a leader in the Hollywood community has acquiesced to political pressure, other interest groups may feel emboldened and take Disney’s action as their cue to pounce. These pressure groups will surely try and manipulate other studios’ creative decisions by waging an all-out media assault against the studio they subjectively believe has offended their sensibilities.

For example, the Parents Television Council recently targeted Fox for broadcasting what it deemed to be the least family-friendly programming during the 8 to 9 p.m. “family hour.” Taking solace from Disney’s recent inability to withstand political heat, this interest group may now intensify its efforts — hoping that Fox will similarly buckle under political pressure.

Whether you support or reject any one interest group’s view of the world, exerting political pressure on the creative community will only hobble those gifted with the ability to make us laugh and cry with the written and spoken word.

While Disney may believe that it has dodged Hurricane Jerusalem, in return, it may have spawned other hurricanes surely to make landfall on the Hollywood coast in seasons to come.


Brad Pomerance is the entertainment and media correspondent for Los Angeles- area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-89.3 FM. The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s. His column, “The Industry,” will appear in this space bimonthly.

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