Sympathy for the suffering goes to the dogs

Americans would care more about the genocide in Darfur if the victims were puppies, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof claimed in a provocative May 10 op-ed.

Is he right?

“Time and again, we’ve seen that the human conscience isn’t pricked by mass suffering, while an individual child (or puppy) in distress causes our hearts to flutter,” Kristof wrote.

He cited psychological studies that have found that people who are given a choice between helping one suffering person or helping a large number will overwhelmingly choose to help just that one.

Thirty-thousand children around the world die each day as a result of the consequences of poverty, but the American public hardly notices, according to Kristof. What really moves people is an ordeal like that of the toddler Jessica McClure, who fell into a Texas well in 1987, or Hok Get, a terrier stranded on a burned-out oil tanker in the Pacific in 2002. The public contributed some $45,000 to try to rescue the dog.

The eviction of a red-tailed hawk from its nest on a Manhattan apartment building sparked an international outcry, with actress Mary Tyler Moore and others rising up in passionate defense of the bird’s rights. Kristof’s comment: “A single homeless hawk aroused more indignation than 2 million homeless Sudanese.”

For the last several years, Kristof has done more than any other journalist to expose the Sudanese Arab militias’ massacres of blacks in Darfur. He has also been a courageous — and often lonely — voice against the failure of the United States and other governments to actively intervene against the killings.

Kristof knows that one way to change government policy is through an outraged public, but getting the American public to care about millions of nameless genocide victims in faraway Africa is no easy task. “What we need,” he proposes, “is more troubled consciences — pricked, perhaps, by a Darfur puppy with big eyes and floppy ears.”

Sadly, there is a historical precedent for Kristof’s disturbing scenario.

The Wagner-Rogers bill, which was introduced in Congress in early 1939, proposed to admit 20,000 refugee children from Nazi Germany. A number of prominent Americans, including former First Lady Grace Coolidge and New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, backed the bill. But their support could not overcome the tide of public opinion, which was strongly against increasing immigration, despite the recent Kristallnacht pogrom.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to support the bill.

FDR’s cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, who was the wife of the U.S. commissioner of immigration, articulated the sentiment of many opponents of Wagner-Rogers when she remarked at a dinner party that “20,000 charming children would all too soon grow up into 20,000 ugly adults.”

Such hateful attitudes were all too common in those days.

The following year Pets Magazine published a sympathetic photo of a British puppy, accompanied by an appeal to rescue purebreds that were endangered by the German bombing raids on England. This time, the American public’s response was swift and generous:

Several-thousand readers offered to shelter the puppies.

Our generation looks back at the defeat of Wagner-Rogers and the remark by Houghteling with shock and disapproval. We like to think that we have learned the lessons from that experience and would never again ignore mass murder.

But how will future generations judge our response to Darfur?

Los Angeles Events for Darfur

May 18

Light of HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere) Art Exhibit and Silent Auction. Opening reception for community Darfur Observance Day, featuring artwork incorporating Brian Steidle photo of young Darfurian siblings. 7 p.m. $20. Bradley Tower, City Hall, 200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies,

Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rape; U.S. funding Hamas opponents

Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rapeIsraeli police recommended indicting President Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and sexual harassment. Katsav rejected calls to resign, and his attorney said Monday morning that he will quit only if an indictment is submitted. Investigators presented their findings and recommendations to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and senior officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office. The most serious charge is for the alleged rape of two women, but police also accused Katsav of purchasing dozens of gifts with money taken from the President’s Residence budget, Ha’aretz reported. Katsav’s attorney noted that the police recommendations have no legal validity because only the state prosecutor can decide on an indictment.

U.S. funding Hamas opponents

The United States has launched a funding campaign aimed at bolstering groups in the Palestinian Authority opposed to the Hamas government. Reuters reported over the weekend that the Bush administration has earmarked up to $42 million for overhauling Hamas rival Fatah, providing schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that offer an alternative to Hamas’ Islamist teachings, and bankrolling Palestinian journalists and watchdog groups that would monitor the Hamas government. The report cited official documentation and was tacitly confirmed by a U.S. envoy in the region. The report suggested that Washington is pursuing a “hearts and minds” campaign in the Palestinian Authority aimed at undermining Hamas and boosting the Fatah leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks peace talks with Israel.

Bush signs Darfur Act

President Bush signed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Jewish groups led lobbying for the act, signed by Bush last Friday. The act bans dealing with Sudan until it abides by a peace treaty with tribes in the Darfur region and allows an international peacekeeping force. Government-allied Arab militias have slaughtered tens of thousands of people in the Darfur region, atrocities the Bush administration and Jewish groups have labeled a genocide.

Israel welcomes North Korea sanctions

Israel welcomed the U.N. Security Council resolution punishing North Korea for its nuclear testing. Israeli officials said Sunday that the unanimous Security Council decision to impose sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its controlled nuclear blast last week could send a message to Iran about its own atomic ambitions.”Iran, like North Korea, is a poor country. Such sanctions have a deterrent power,” one official said.Under the sanctions resolution passed over the weekend, arms shipments going in and out of North Korea are subject to monitoring, a step that could help stem the flow of missile and nuclear technology if applied to Iran, Israeli officials said.

Missiles said to be reaching Gaza

Palestinians are smuggling advanced shoulder-fired missiles into the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said. Brig. Gen. Yossi Beidetz told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been bringing both anti-tank and light anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza in preparation for a major confrontation with Israel. The anti-aircraft missiles would complicate Israeli air force efforts to provide cover for ground troops operating in the coastal territory, Beidetz said. He added that Syria is still smuggling weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in violation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended this summer’s Israel-Hezbollah war.

EU backs forum on Anti-Semitism

The European Union endorsed a high-level conference on anti-Semitism in Bucharest next year. The endorsement was made at an annual meeting last week in Warsaw of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s human rights unit.”These OSCE conferences have become not only opportunities for political leaders to speak to the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism, but they focus attention and government action on steps to address it,” said the American Jewish Committee’s Andrew Baker, who attended the Warsaw meeting and lobbied for the Bucharest conference.

A final decision on the conference is due in December. Jewish groups have worried that the conference will be canceled; several countries wanted the OSCE, which includes 55 member states, to focus on other priorities. The conference would follow similar OSCE events in recent years in Vienna; Cordoba, Spain; and Berlin.

Turkey defends book fair selections

Turkish officials defended themselves against charges of choosing anti-Semitic books for a recent book fair in Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center complained last week that three anti-Semitic books were displayed at a Turkish Culture Ministry stand at the October fair in Frankfurt, one of the world’s largest book shows. The ministry said the Publishers Association chose the books, but the association said it was not responsible for the books at the ministry’s stand. The association also denied that any of the books on display was anti-Semitic, but the Wiesenthal Center noted they included an account of alleged Jewish plots against Turkey titled, “The Greater Israel Strategy,” and “Password Israel,” which claims that codes in the Torah show how Jews are planning World War III and the destruction of Turkey. Last year, “Mein Kampf” reportedly became a best seller in Turkey, and several anti-Israel books enjoyed popularity as well.

Russian Jews protest Hitler restaurant

Jewish leaders in a Russian region are protesting against the use of Adolf Hitler’s name by a new pub. The pub, set to open soon in the city of Ekaterinburg, is named Hitler Kaput. In a letter to the local mayor, leaders of the Jewish community said that any use of Hitler’s name to attract public attention is unacceptable. Authorities haven’t yet responded to the Jewish community.

Survivor, Author Normal Salsitz dies

Author Normal Salsitz died of pneumonia Oct. 11 in Boston at age 86. Salsitz, a Polish-born Jew, wrote “Against All Odds,” which tells the story of how he and his wife survived the Holocaust by pretending to be Christian. Salsitz received a false baptism certificate from a Polish priest and fought with the Polish underground against the Nazis. At one point, he killed a group of Polish partisans intent on murdering Jews.

Ukrainian leader coming not coming to Israel

Ukraine’s president will not visit Israel next month, contrary to reports. A press officer for Viktor Yuschenko said last Friday that earlier reports of a state visit to Israel in early November were “a newspaper hoax.” Earlier this month, some media reported from Berlin that Yuschenko announced his upcoming visit to Israel when he and Israel’s vice premier, Shimon Peres, received a prestigious international award in the German capital. A member of Yuschenko’s administration said that the visit is likely to take place at a later date but could not specify when. This is at least the third time in two years that a potential visit by Yuschenko to Israel has been postponed.Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.