Episode 20 – Putting Holocaust denial on trial with Prof. Deborah Lipstadt

tnjb-logo-2-0Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s amazing story has been recently adapted into the beautiful Hollywood movie “Denial” starring Rachel Weisz. She sat with 2NJB as we spoke about Holocaust Deniers, her career and the life-turning event that unfolded as she was sued by Holocaust Denier David Erving.

Deborah Lipstadt provides free speech lessons to Rachel Weisz for ‘Denial’ role

Before the most dramatic episode of her professional life became a movie, Deborah Lipstadt had some work to do.

No, she didn't have to make some last-minute changes to the script or take a crash course in acting. Her job: To teach Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz how to talk like a Jewish woman from Queens.

Weisz, who grew up in London, portrays Lipstadt, a Holocaust historian, in the forthcoming film “Denial,” which hits select theaters on Sept. 30. The film tells the story of Lipstadt’s dramatic win in British court against a prominent Holocaust denier, David Irving. It was a high-profile case that made the Holocaust front-page news in 2000, and unequivocally refuted Holocaust denial at a time when the tragedy was fading from living memory.

But before Weisz donned a red wig and delivered striking defenses of the Holocaust and free speech, she had to learn to sound just like Lipstadt.

“She would call me and say, ‘Record for me how you say 'I’ll call you.' Record for me how you say 'goodnight,'” Lipstadt recalled.

Weisz's attention to detail paid off.

“She got my accent,” Lipstadt said.

Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, had criticized Irving’s falsification of Holocaust history in her 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust.” In 1996, Irving sued her for libel in British court, where the burden of proof lies with the defendant. The movie depicts how Lipstadt won the case, exposing Irving as an intentional falsifier of Holocaust history.

Lipstadt acknowledged to JTA that she had thought about the trial’s cinematic potential. Still, when producers first approached her about “Denial” in 2008, she laughed — the same reaction, she recalled, that she had when she found out Irving was suing her.

“When you sign over a book, you are essentially giving them control over your story,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to say, ‘No, that’s not right, I don’t like that, don’t include this.’ So what I kept querying them about is, this is a movie about truth. Do you understand you have to stick to the truth?”

The finished product, Lipstadt says, hews closely to the truth. The story heightens her tension with her lawyers and combines a string of meetings with Holocaust survivors into one encounter. But the courtroom scenes are taken verbatim from the record, and dramatic scenes — from Irving ambushing Lipstadt at a lecture to a tense Shabbat dinner with British Jewish leaders — happened more or less as they play out on screen.

Decades ago, Lipstadt said she playfully imagined Meryl Streep portraying her in a movie. But she was very happy with how Weisz captured her character and interactions — from her forthright confidence to the culture clash with her lawyers. The orange scarf Weisz wears in the film’s promotional poster is the same one Lipstadt wore on a recent Friday in New York.

As a child of Holocaust refugees, Weisz had a personal connection to the movie. And because she is Jewish, Lipstadt said, it was easier for Weisz to slip into Hebrew when the script called for it.

“She was unbelievable,” Lipstadt said of Weisz. “She’s a professional’s professional. I think she would have brought to this the same professional quality even if she hadn’t been the child of two refugees because she’s such a great actress.”

The movie’s title, Lipstadt told JTA, refers both to Holocaust denial and to the self-denial she had to practice when she refrained from testifying. Standing on the side of a set of a movie about your life, she said, didn’t feel that different.

“Everybody has a job — big, little, it’s all important,” she said. “I didn’t have a job. It was my story. It’s similar in the trial. Everybody had a job. I didn’t have a job. It was learning how to be to the side, learning to let others speak for you in the trial and act for you.”

The movie keeps the drama alive by focusing much of the plot on Lipstadt’s conflict with her lawyers. Throughout much of the film, Lipstadt attempts to coax her reserved British legal team to allow her and Holocaust survivors to take the stand.

“There were moments that I wish had gotten more play in the movie,” she said. “The movie I would have made would have been 3 1/2 hours, maybe four hours.”

At times, filming felt almost too spot-on for Lipstadt. A central scene takes place at Auschwitz, where Lipstadt and one of her lawyers meet to gather evidence. The filming caused Lipstadt to relive some of the experiences, which felt “very strange, and I tried to stay as far out of sight lines as possible.”

But the movie’s central message, she said, is about the need to affirm historical truth, uncomfortable as it may be. And in an age where Lipstadt says anti-Semitism is again rising, she is grateful to have played a role in preserving Holocaust memory.

“I got a chance to be out there on the front lines,” she said. “I got a chance to fight the good fight, and I know so many people — Jews, African-Americans, gays, people who have faced prejudice, but certainly Jews — who would want the chance to fight the good fight. And I feel very lucky.”

The Holocaust defense in the face of ‘Denial’

There was a time when the esteemed Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt would never have imagined that one of her books might be turned into a dramatic feature film.  But in 2000, a series of startling events unfolded for Lipstadt, beginning when British Holocaust denier David Irving announced that he was suing her for libel in the British courts.  He asserted that Lipstadt’s 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” had smeared him, damaging his reputation and livelihood.  

Irving eventually lost his case, and Lipstadt went on to write her 2005 memoir of the lawsuit, “Denial: Holocaust History on Trial” (previously published as “History on Trial: My Day in Court With a Holocaust Denier”).  The story of their courtroom battle was so dramatic, and the stakes of proving the verity of the Holocaust so high, that, several years later, Hollywood producers came calling on the Jewish scholar.  The result is Mick Jackson’s new film, “Denial,” the saga of Lipstadt’s courtroom ordeal and ultimate victory, starring Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt.

Having taught at UCLA and currently a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Lipstadt is considered one of the nation’s leading experts on Holocaust denial. But back in the late 1980s, when some esteemed professors from Hebrew University suggested to Lipstadt that she should delve into the topic, she was initially hesitant. “I thought, ‘Why would people even believe that absurdity?’ ” Lipstadt said in a telephone interview during the film’s press day in New York. “Would someone ask a scientist to write about flat earth theory? … It just seemed over the top.” 

Even so, she agreed to explore the topic because of her respect for the Hebrew University professors, who viewed Holocaust denial as a new and insidious form of anti-Semitism. Six years later, her studies became the subject of her groundbreaking book, “Denying the Holocaust.”  

The tome revealed a disturbing trend of pseudo-historians who were manipulating history in an attempt to debunk the Shoah — creating the illusion that there is a valid “other side” to Holocaust history.

Weisz (left) and Deborah Lipstadt. Photo courtesy of EPK.TV

The denier who stood out as most dangerous among them was Irving, who had earned some favorable reviews in mainstream publications as well as scholarly esteem for his books about World War II and the Third Reich. In “Denying the Holocaust,” Lipstadt describes Irving as a “Hitler partisan wearing blinkers,” who distorted data in order to reach his “untenable” conclusions.

Irving argued that gas chambers were never used to systematically kill Jews; that there had never been a Third Reich plan to annihilate European Jewry; that Hitler was probably the biggest fan the Jews had in Nazi-occupied Europe and that Holocaust survivors were either liars or charlatans.

Before the libel trial, Irving had even shown up with a camera crew at one of Lipstadt’s lectures and declared that he would give $1,000 to anyone who could prove that Hitler ordered the extermination of the Jews. “He popped up in the back … and it was a pretty horrible moment,” Lipstadt told the Journal.

Early in the film, we see that interaction during the lecture, as well as Lipstadt responding to Irving that she does not debate deniers, just as she wouldn’t argue with someone who insists that Elvis is still alive.

Later in the movie, Lipstadt can be seen laughing when, in 1995, she receives a letter from her British publisher, Penguin UK, informing her that Irving intends to sue her for libel. The scholar doesn’t take the threat of  a lawsuit seriously, and promptly tosses the letter into the trash. 

But a year later, Irving indeed files suit in Britain, which puts Lipstadt in an unexpectedly difficult bind. In a United States courtroom, Irving would have been considered a public person and to win a libel suit would have had to prove Lipstadt maligned him with malicious intent. But in England, the reverse is the case: The burden of proof was on Lipstadt to show Irving deliberately distorted history because of his underlying anti-Semitism. In order to win, her legal team also had to prove that the Holocaust had, indeed, occurred.

In the film, as the trial gets underway, the bold, outspoken Lipstadt chafes at the fact that her attorneys will not let her testify, since their strategy is to focus on Irving alone. Nor will Holocaust survivors be allowed to give testimony, lest Irving — who is representing himself — traumatize them further. “People will say I’m a coward,” Lipstadt protests when she learns she will not be able to take the stand. “It’s the price [to] pay for winning,” one of her lawyers replies.  

Lipstadt suffers angst and sleepless nights throughout the grueling, three-month trial.

But her team’s strategy proves correct. As Judge Charles Gray reads from his verdict, he calls Irving “a right-wing, pro-Nazi polemicist” who persistently distorted historical evidence for ideological reasons.

In real life, as in the movie, Lipstadt was relieved and elated at the verdict. But, she said, she nevertheless had trepidations, some years later, when producers contacted her about turning her book “Denial” into a movie. “I said, ‘Before I give you the green light, you have to understand that this is a film about fighting for truth; you can’t pretty it up or fictionalize it,’ ” said Lipstadt, whose latest book, “Holocaust:  An American Understanding,” was published this summer. “And they heard me very clearly.” 

Screenwriter David Hare (“The Reader”) spent hours with Lipstadt before writing his script, which took all its courtroom dialogue directly from trial transcripts. And Weisz (“The Constant Gardener”) also hung out with the scholar in order to absorb her persona.

The actress was drawn to the role, in large part, because “it was in the end a very uplifting story about a woman’s fight for truth and justice, and a woman standing up to a bully,” Weisz said in a telephone interview from New York, where she lives with her husband, James Bond star Daniel Craig.

Weisz also wanted to play Lipstadt for personal reasons: “I’m not English, after all; my parents were refugees,” she said. Her Jewish-Hungarian father fled Budapest with his family in around 1938, when he was just 7. And her Austrian mother, daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, “had memories of being 5 years old and suddenly neighbors and kids stopped playing with her and speaking to her because she was half Jewish,” Weisz said.  Her mother’s family escaped Vienna to England two weeks before Germany’s invasion of Austria. Weisz’s mother later converted to Judaism before marrying the actress’ father, a prolific scientific inventor.  

Young Rachel grew up in the shadow of her parents’ wartime experiences. “If you and your family have to leave a country, even to find safety, it defines who you are for the rest of your days,” she said. “They talked about it all the time; it just became normal to me.”

Weisz went on to study English at Cambridge University, where she also fell in love with acting; she began her movie career performing in independent films such as “Stealing Beauty” (1996) and burst into stardom with her turn in the 1999 blockbuster “The Mummy,” opposite Brendan Fraser.

That same year she also performed in another film that drew on her Jewish heritage:  Istvan Szabo’s “Sunshine,” the saga of how anti-Semitism affects three generations of a Hungarian-Jewish family, including their experiences during the time of the Holocaust.

But Weisz had never visited Auschwitz-Birkenau until she took on the role of Lipstadt for “Denial.” She learned about the workings of the camp while reading some of Lipstadt’s books, but was not prepared for her emotions as she performed scenes outside Auschwitz’s perimeter. (Shooting feature films is prohibited inside the former camp). “I was struck by the level of industrialization — the systematic order and the lack of waste in terms of exploiting and using every part of the human body,” she said. “How incredibly organized it was, was very startling.”

Interior sections of Auschwitz were re-created on a set in England; for the scene in which Lipstadt recites the El Male Rachamim, the Jewish prayer for the dead, above a gas chamber, Weisz learned to how to say the Hebrew words of the Jewish prayer.  “It had undeniable power,” she said.

In another sequence, set in a camp barracks, Weisz passionately argues with her lead barrister, who is interested only in learning facts that can help him win the case, and not in memorializing the Holocaust. She tartly tells him to show some respect for the dead.

Lipstadt, who was on the set at the time, recalled that when Weisz finished shooting that scene, she said, “That wasn’t acting.”

As for actor Timothy Spall’s portrayal of Irving, Weisz said, “What he says is pretty shocking, but what was brilliant in his performance is that he had a certain charm.  There were moments when I almost felt sorry for him.”

Weisz said she believes the film is especially relevant today, given the racially charged rhetoric of presidential candidate Donald Trump and the escalation of anti-Semitism in Europe. But she disagrees with those who believe the verdict against Irving could dampen free speech among historians.  

“David Irving brought this lawsuit against Deborah,” she said.  “He was trying to censor her free speech.”

Denial” opens Sept. 30 in theaters in Los Angeles.

My behind-the-scenes ‘Denial’ story

“Denial,” the film opening nationwide on Sept. 30, captures the drama, importance, and personalities of the 2000 London Holocaust denial trial of David Irving vs. Penguin and Deborah Lipstadt.

In 1993, Lipstadt – then, as now, a distinguished professor at Emory University –  wrote a book demonstrating that denial of the Holocaust wasn’t quirky history but anti-Semitic hate. In passing, she mentioned David Irving — British author of many books about World War II — as a dangerous denier of the Holocaust.

Lipstadt’s publisher –Penguin – had sold a small number of copies in the United Kingdom.  Irving sued, something he did not do in the United States, where libel cases are difficult to win, especially if the plaintiff is a public figure. In the United Kingdom, if someone defames another in writing, they must prove that what they wrote was true.

Solicitor Anthony Julius — known for his legal representation of Princess Diana and his scholarly work on the anti-Semitism of T.S. Eliot — represented Lipstadt without fee, until it became clear that Irving was determined to bring the matter to trial, and that this wasn’t a case that could afford to be lost or settled.

The film does not depict a conference call in which Julius explained to a room of American Jewish leaders what was at stake, and how much money needed to be raised to pay for solicitors, barristers, graduate student researchers and the world’s top experts.  (“Denial” correctly notes Steven Spielberg’s support for the defense, but there were many more individuals and groups from the United States — and depressingly few from the U.K. — who put up the required funds.)

Toward the end of the film, Lipstadt (played superbly by Rachel Weisz, who captures her personality, intellect and accent) mentions what a great “team” she has had working years with her to win the case.

I was fortunate to have been part of that team. A staff member of the American Jewish Committee at the time, I was a friend of Lipstadt, had written a less important book on Holocaust denial and was a former trial lawyer specializing in high-profile cases. I helped raise the funds and worked with the lawyers, graduate students and experts, sometimes from London and sometimes from my home in Brooklyn (where the courtroom stenographer’s real-time transcript appeared on my computer, and I could communicate with a paralegal with a vibrating cell phone in the courtroom, if need be).

The “behind the scenes” work on the case was not portrayed in the movie, and many of the in-court events of note weren’t either, including testimony from world-class historians such as Peter Longerich and Christopher Browning. Nor was the trial’s “Dr. Strangelove” moment, when Irving mistakenly referred to the judge as “Mein Fuhrer,” rather than “My Lord.”

The omissions and the few artistic changes were absolutely necessary to tell the story, its ups and downs, and the imperative of exposing Irving’s distortion of history to promote hate.

Having lived through the case, knowing all the characters, I was astonished by how well each and every actor captured the person they played. When the film was being cast, I quipped to Lipstadt that of course Mel Gibson should play David Irving, but Timothy Spall was Irving reincarnate. Irving had tried to keep one foot in the world of respectability and another in the world of anti-Semites, but jumped into the latter with both feet when he became convinced by a fraudulent “scientific” report (by a man named Fred Leuchter — subject of the superb 1999 movie “Mr. Death” by Errol Morris), that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Irving was repeatedly demolished in the courtroom by Barrister Richard Rampton (played beautifully by Tom Wilkinson, who showed Rampton’s commitment, brilliance, and affection for Claret regardless of the time of day). Rampton got Irving to demonstrate his impressive capacity for self-delusion. Caught in lie after lie, but then proceeding as if he had not been, Irving reminded me of that 1950s inflatable clown with a lead bottom that one would knock down, only to see it slowly rise to become upright, as if nothing had happened.

Anthony Julius is one of the most brilliant people I know. One day we were all huddled in Julius’ office, with Rampton and the other barristers and solicitors on the phone, finishing a document that needed to be handed into court within the hour. Julius was fully engaged in the detailed discussion and at the same time vigorously typing on his computer. I peeked over his shoulder: He was writing a chapter of his book on art history.

Andrew Scott replicates Julius’ smarts, his inability to suffer fools and his laser-like commitment to doing everything to win the case. One of the main themes is the lawyers’ clarity that the defense had to be conducted as if it were a prosecution of Irving (what would a credible historian have done with the information before him?), and that no survivors would be called to testify. Lipstadt was on board with those decisions more easily than the film portrays, but it captures the difficult discussions and, in an intense scene, Julius’ harsh impatience, but intellectual power and sound reasoning.

Mark Gatiss as Van Pelt (the expert on Auschwitz) recreates his strong testimony, which was central to the case. (If you go to the website that has the trial records — hdot.org – you’ll find all the expert reports. Van Pelt’s is a full history of how Auschwitz changed, step by step, from a concentration camp for Poles to a genocidal factory. Historian Richard Evan’s is a blueprint for anyone interested in knowing how we know what we know about history.)

Of all the people on the team, I was happiest to see Laura Tyler’s contribution portrayed (ably by Caren Pistorius). Tyler was Anthony Julius’ paralegal, thrust into her first case. She and the two graduate students — who tracked through Irving’s voluminous writings to demonstrate how he distorted facts, always to benefit the Nazis in general and Hitler in particular — were the largely unheralded heroes at the time. Without their work, the courtroom success would have been impossible.

Irving was a falsifier of history, and part of the challenge of the trial was whether this was a case only about bad history, or one about hatred. Why would Irving’s errors always err on the side of diminishing or denying the Holocaust? What was the motive?

Irving’s vast connections with neo-Nazis and white supremacists (and his own racist and misogynist comments) showed that this wasn’t a case about the Holocaust any more than the claim that Jews poisoned wells was a question of water quality. Holocaust denial is about hatred and anti-Semitism.

Kenneth S. Stern is the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation

Stages of grief in the search for a permanent peace

Prophecy and predictions of apocalypse are staples of life in Jerusalem. The current outbreak of violence, against the backdrop of biblical landscapes and sacred sites, lends itself to both. Under circumstances like these, it is wise to recall the words of a biblical prophet who walked the land 2,700 years ago: “He who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.”

The causes of the current violence are complex. Some are acute, like July’s murder of a Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and the war in Gaza. Others are rooted in the daily lives of the city’s 300,000 Palestinians: a population adrift, disenfranchised, cut off physically and politically from their West Bank hinterland, ruled by authorities that are at best apathetic to their needs, and often actively hostile to their interests. Add to the mix the volatile gases of a holy site, the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, which has become the arena of choice for religious pyromaniacs of every possible persuasion, and there are conditions in Jerusalem for a perfect storm of violence.

The responses of official Israel to the crisis in Jerusalem have followed the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model of the stages of grief, starting with denial: Don’t acknowledge the violence. Early on, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat urged the press not to report the violence. The second stage was anger: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to respond with an iron fist. He has been as good as his word, going well beyond the unprecedented, if understandable, massive security response. The starkest example is the demolition of the family homes of the dead terrorists, punishing innocents while every Palestinian in the city bitterly notes that no such step is taken against the families of Jewish terrorists. Other forms of collective punishment are meted out against the entire Palestinian population of East Jerusalem: Neighborhoods and roads sealed with concrete blocks and an Orwellian policy of “enhanced enforcement” designed to break the will of the Palestinian population — mass arrests of youth, lengthy sentences for minor infractions, fining parents for failing to control their children, parking tickets, fines for building violations and vehicle seizures.

In the past, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have not been the vanguard of Palestinian national resistance, nor have they been predisposed to violence. According to official Shin Bet statistics, during the eight years of the Second Intifada, Israel arrested only 270 East Jerusalem Palestinians for terror–related activities — fewer than Israel arrested in the West Bank in any given two-week segment of that period. For now, however, the era of Palestinian East Jerusalemites rejecting violent protest is over. Since July 2 — the day of the Abu Kdheir murder — more than 1,300 Palestinians have been detained, about half of those boys younger than 18. The change is not only quantitative: For the first time since 1967, the murderers who perpetrated the recent vehicular terror attacks and the slaughter at the Har Nof synagogue have become akin to folk heroes in an East Jerusalem that sees itself very much in the grip of a popular revolt against Israeli rule.

Anger, made concrete in Israeli efforts to break the will of the Palestinian population, is clearly prolonging, rather than cutting short, the violence. Based on the Kubler-Ross model, the next response from official Israel should be bargaining. One might expect this to mean promises from Israel to improve the lives of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, if only they behave. Like bargaining over grief, this, too, would  fail. Palestinians in East Jerusalem will not be broken, and years of experience shows they will not be bought. But in any case, under Netanyahu, there has been no bargaining, nor will there likely be. Netanyahu appears to believe that Palestinians in East Jerusalem must be subdued and defeated but never engaged.

In the next stage, depression, violence can be expected to abate, sooner or later. Palestinians tire of fighting; Israelis will tire of worrying. But even after a semblance of calm is restored, there will be no resurrecting the fragile pre-summer 2014 Jerusalem status quo. Palestinians in East Jerusalem have fully absorbed the message sent to them by official Israel these past months: You are an alien, hostile, ever-suspect population; if you fail to accept the docile, domesticated role we have assigned you, we will give you no quarter. In this context, any non-routine event — a provocation at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, an act of terror or vigilantism by a Palestinian or an Israeli — can reignite conflict.  

The final stage of grief, according to Kubler-Ross, is acceptance. In the Jerusalem context, acceptance means recognizing this truth: Failing a genuine political process that will address the inherent dysfunctionality of Israeli rule over the Palestinian collective of East Jerusalem, the countdown toward the next round of violence already has begun, even before the flames of the current one have been extinguished.

Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem attorney since 1987, is the founder and director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli non-governmental organization that promotes the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status peace agreement on the issue of Jerusalem.

Seidemann will present the talk “Getting Real About Jerusalem” at the Professor Gerald B. Bubis Lecture at Valley Beth Shalom, Encino, on Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. for more information or to RSVP: apnwest@peacenow.org or (323) 934-3480.

Clinton: Remain vigilant against Holocaust denial

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Holocaust denial and Israel criticism that crosses into anti-Semitism require vigilance.

On Tuesday, Clinton addressed a symposium at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on preventing genocide.

“Let me begin by acknowledging that here in this museum, it’s important to note that every generation produces extremist voices denying that the Holocaust ever happened,” she said.  “And we must remain vigilant against those deniers and against anti-Semitism, because when heads of state and religious leaders deny the Holocaust from their bully pulpits, we cannot let their lies go unanswered. 

“When we hear Holocaust glorification and public calls to, quote, ‘finish the job,’ we need to make clear that violence, bigotry will not be tolerated,” she continued. “And, yes, when criticism of Israeli government policies crosses over into demonization of Israel and Jews, we must push back.”

Clinton outlined policies that she said were aimed at genocide prevention, including training officials in detecting warning signs, the use of technology to enhance monitoring, pressuring oppressive regimes and making clear that perpetrators will be held accountable.

She also emphasized limits, suggesting that some well-intentioned efforts could worsen the situation.

“We have to approach this work with a large dose of humility and understanding,” Clinton said.

The museum released a poll, timed for the symposium, showing that substantial majorities of Americans believe that genocide is still possible and favoring intervention to stop it. The poll, commissioned and conducted by Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm, and Penn Schoen Berland, a pollster, showed that 94 percent of Americans believe genocide “is still very much a concern and could occur today.”

It also showed that 69 percent “think the U.S. should prevent or stop genocide or mass atrocities from occurring in another part of the world.”

Greek gov’t, Jews slam Golden Dawn chief for Holocaust denial

The Greek government and Jewish community condemned the leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party after he denied there were gas chambers or ovens at Nazi death camps.

Speaking Sunday in an interview on the private Mega TV network, Golden Dawn head Nikolaos Michaloliakos said gas chambers were lies and claims that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust was an exaggeration.

“There were no ovens. This is a lie. I believe that it is a lie,” said Michaloliakos. “There were no gas chambers either.”

His comments drew condemnation from the Greek government.

This “constitutes a distortion of history and a fierce insult to the memory of the millions of Holocaust victims,” government spokesman Pentelis Kapsis said Tuesday.

“The Greek people have not forgotten that they mourned hundreds of thousands of victims of Nazism, including tens of thousands of Greek Jews,” Kapsis said.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece called on the Greek government and public to “firmly condemn and isolate the forces seeking the revival of the darkest ideology of European history.”

Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece today. The prewar community of some 78,000, most of whom lived in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, was almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust.

“It is an insult to the historical memory, the memory of the 6 million Jews, our brethren, amongst whom there were 70,000 Greek Jews, who perished in the death camps of Auschwitz, Dachau [and] Treblinka,” the Jewish community statement said.

The extreme-right Golden Dawn Party, whose flag closely resembles the Nazi swastika, received 21 seats in parliament, the first time it passed the threshold to enter the legislative body. It campaigned heavily on an anti-immigrant platform under the slogan “So we can rid this land of filth.”

Michaloliakos came to prominence when he won a seat on the Athens City Council in 2010 and celebrated by giving the Nazi salute at the first City Hall meeting.

Uruguay condemns Iranian diplomat’s Holocaust denial

Uruguay has condemned statements denying the Holocaust made by Iran’s ambassador to the country.

The country’s Foreign Ministry called in an official from the Iranian Embassy on July 29 to condemn the statements made earlier in the week, according to reports. The ministry also released a statement calling the Holocaust an “undeniable historic event,” according to the World Jewish Congress.

Irani Ambassador Hojatollah Soltani had said during a public meeting that “World War II began in 1939 and ended in 1945. It is said that during that war the Nazis killed 2 million, 4 million, 6 million … there are different figures on the Jews’ news. This was named a ‘Holocaust,’ and Israel is using this issue to present itself to the world as a victim, and asking for economic and political support from some countries in Europe.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the program, Soltani said that “Maybe some people died, some were murdered, I don’t know, maybe thousands of Jews. But that figure of 2 million, 4 million, 6 million, that is a lie according to some European historians who have submitted documents.”

Soltani also called Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians the current Holocaust.

Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro told the Irani embassy official that Jewish Holocaust survivors still live in Uruguay. He also said that diplomatic and trade relations with Iran would not change over the incident, according to the WJC.

Facebook firm on Holocaust denial pages, despite survivors’ letter

Facebook, citing free speech, has rejected a request by Holocaust survivors to remove some pages that espouse Holocaust denial.

“We think it’s important to maintain consistency in our policies, which don’t generally prohibit people from making statements about historical events, no matter how ignorant the statement or how awful the event,” the popular social networking site said in response to a letter http://www.wiesenthal.com/survivors-letter-to-facebook from Holocaust survivors dated July 8.

Survivors and relatives of Holocaust victims wrote Facebook asking that the site change its policies permitting Holocaust denial before their aging generation is gone. The 21 survivors who signed the letter listed their concentration camps, ghettos and other Holocaust experiences below their names.

“We, the undersigned, are Holocaust Survivors who saw our parents, children and loved ones brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust,” the letter begins. “We are writing to you to protest Facebook’s policy that categorizes Holocaust denial as ‘free speech,’ rather than the shameless, cynical, and hateful propaganda that it is.”

The letter goes on to point out that not only are the Holocaust-denial sites offensive and hateful, but also could negatively influence scores of people due to Facebook’s popularity and accessibility.

“By allowing this hate propaganda on Facebook, you are exposing the public and, in particular, youth to the anti-Semitism which fueled the Holocaust,” it says.

The survivors who signed the letter are volunteers at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles who speak there and at its Museum of Tolerance.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, criticized Facebook’s policy on Holocaust denial.

“A review of denial sites currently active on Facebook confirms that it is not mere speech but that it constitutes at its core a platform for bigotry and hatred of Jews, dead and alive,” said Cooper, who briefs online companies such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo on digital hate and terrorism.

He added, “We will continue to urge Facebook officials to reflect on the pain and suffering their policy is causing victims of the Shoah. For these aging heroes, every posting by deniers labels them, not victims of history’s greatest crime, but liars and thieves.”

Pope Admits He Mishandled Bishop Matter

ROME (JTA)—Pope Benedict XVI admits in a letter that his rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop backfired.

The remarkable letter to bishops, whose text was officially released Thursday by the Vatican, also says the Vatican must become Internet savvy to
prevent further mishaps.

Benedict specifically addressed the Jan. 21 lifting of the excommunication order on Richard Williamson and three other traditionalist bishops, saying
it unleashed “an avalanche of protests” whose “bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment.”

Lifting the excommunications had been intended to heal a rift in the church. But due to the uproar over Williamson, the pope said, it “suddenly appeared
as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews,” and a revocation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The pope continued, “A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an
apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council—steps which my own
work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support.” This, Benedict said, he “can only deeply regret.”

“I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned
the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news,” the pope said.

A pontiffs very rarely issues a document admitting errors in such a detailed and personal way. Benedict said he was particularly hurt by the “open
hostility” from within the Church itself.

“Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the
atmosphere of friendship and trust which—as in the days of Pope John Paul II—has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues
to exist.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder praised the pope.

“The Pope has found clear and unequivocal words regarding Bishop Williamson’s Holocaust denial, and he deserves praise for admitting that
mistakes were made within the Vatican in the handling of this affair,” Lauder said in a statement.

“The Pope’s letter conveys the essential requirements for interreligious dialogue: candor and the willingness to tackle difficult issues squarely.
His expressed anguish at the events following the Holocaust-denying statements by Williamson reflects the similar emotional pain felt by Jews
worldwide during this affair,” he said. “We reciprocate his words of appreciation for Jewish efforts to restore interreligious dialogue and will
continue to work with the Catholic Church to further strengthen mutual understanding and respect.”

Holiday Heartburn

I had this crazy dream the other night where all across my neighborhood, in all the Jewish homes and on all the dining tables, the only thing being served to celebrate the High Holy Days was brown rice and seaweed.

I’m not sure where this Spartan nightmare came from, but if I had to guess, it would be that I’ve been talking too much lately with a couple of religious Jewish women who want to start a mini-revolution on how Jews eat.

These culinary rebels believe that it’s difficult to connect with God and the spiritual demands of the Holy Days while we’re injecting 3,000 calories of eggplant salad, hummus, brisket, potatoes, sweet and sour chicken, honey cake and cookies — and then desperately reaching for the Zantac.

In other words, they believe that kosher and holy eating should reflect not just what we eat, but how — and how much — we eat.

This is a painful time for me to consider such notions, with my blessed mother cooking enough food for a Third World country as we prepare for the annual rite of nonstop holiday meals for 20 people. It’s fair to assume that my mother, and probably most of the mothers of her generation, wouldn’t know what to make of a movement that called for light eating and portion control.

It’s not just the old generation. Food, particularly large quantities of delicious food, is a traditional and accepted way of honoring guests and holidays. In my hometown of Montreal, you know how much someone is honoring you by the variety of protein they serve you. If they serve you, for example, brisket, chicken, meatballs and lamb, they probably want you to hire their daughter for a summer internship. If you only get chicken, you probably owe them money.

Here in Pico-Robertson, most of us have, I’m not kidding you, about 125 Thanksgiving-level meals a year. Do the math: Just the two Shabbat meals a week account for 104, and when you throw in all the annual holiday meals — which include, by the way, not one or two but eight elaborate meals for a holiday like Sukkot (four meals in the first two days and four more in the last two days) — well, that’s a lot of Zantac.

This injection of many millions of guest-honoring calories is one reason why people walk very slowly around here during the holidays.

But one observant Jew who never walks slowly is the trim and perky Deborah Rude (pronounced Ruday), one of the culinary rebels of the neighborhood. Rude, a mother of two, bills herself not as a dietician, but as a “livitician” (“Don’t diet, live it!” said the slogan on her business card).

I checked out her office the other day, and, as I pondered the display of flax seed oils, pumpkin seeds and other organic goodies, I couldn’t resist asking her if she remembered a specific moment when she snapped — when she knew that her future would be devoid of starch and protein overload.

It turns out that moment was six years ago, at a Shabbat lunch she was invited to in the Hancock Park area. As she recalls it now, all the food platters on the table had a variation of one color: brown. The overcooked potatoes, the kugel, the cholent, the chicken, even the green beans, she said, were “brownish.”

She promised herself that day that in the future, all her Shabbat meals would have lots of color, freshness and variety — and, most of all, be served in small portions. In fact, when she hosts her Shabbat guests today, she actually serves the portions herself and never leaves any tempting platters on the table.

“The less we eat,” she said, “the more energy we’ll devote to singing and speaking words of Torah.”

That noble sentiment is shared by another health rebel of our neighborhood: Susan Fink, a mother of four and a member of B’nai David-Judea Congregation.

Fink is hip to the dangers of caloric overload under the cover of religious celebration, but her big thing is the spiritual and physical value of exercise. She’s a personal trainer whose goal is “to promote a healthy lifestyle for mind, body and spirit.”

Many of her clients, she said, are fellow observant Jews who see exercise as a way to enable their continued indulgence of those neverending festive meals.

Fink tries to set them straight — “two bites of kreplach can be the equivalent of 30 minutes on the treadmill,” she warns them — but it’s not easy.

“We the Jews are very attached to our food,” she said, in a sharp burst of understatement.

It is this deep attachment to food that my friend Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller reflected on when I asked him for his thoughts on the subject.

First, he quoted a rabbinic scholar and ethicist of the 19th century who connected the Hebrew root for eating with the Hebrew root for destruction, suggesting a dark side of culinary indulgence.

Then he got more spiritual.

“Not eating is not suffering,” he said, “it’s elevating ourselves to a state of transcendence. The fast, on Yom Kippur, reminds us how little material we really need; that we can do with less meat, with less bread, with less of everything. It makes us soar away from our animal side toward our holy and spiritual side.”

Of course, this is the same guy who once served me about five courses when he had me over for dinner, and who made a special announcement at a recent Hillel retreat that “all of you must try these amazing desserts!”

I guess you can call it the disconnect between our intellectual instinct and our primitive urges; between knowing the value of moderation and succumbing to that extra helping of noodle kugel; between understanding the benefits of high-fiber nutrition and surrendering to our grandmothers’ mouthwatering tradition.

If Judaism is about negotiating the tension between opposite impulses, this is surely a very Jewish subject.

Have an easy fast.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Israel @ 60: Confronting denial

Each year, in preparation for Israel’s birthday, newspaper editors feel an uncontrolled urge, a divine calling in fact, to invite Arab writers to tell us why Israel should not exist.

This must give them some sort of satisfaction, such as we might have in inviting officials of the Flat Earth Society to tell us why the the earth is not, could not or should not really be round, and to do so precisely on Earth Day, lest the wisdom would escape anyone’s attention.

Evidently, the banalization of absurdity has its kicks. It is sporty, “out-of-the-box-ish,” admirably “Jewish” and, if only we were not dealing with a dangerous experiment involving the lives and dignity of millions of human beings, could easily have earned its authors the National Cuteness Award.

But the issue before us is an adult matter, and the result is a depressing Kafkaesque choreography in which Israel, the heart and soul of Jewish peoplehood, is put on trial for its very existence, while pro-coexistence commentators, if they are invited, deal with the future of Israel and its achievements, but leave the accusations unanswered.

There is some wisdom to ignoring insults and unfounded accusations. By answering one tacitly bestows credence, however minimal, upon the arguments that put you on the accused bench—the last bench that Israel’s birthday deserves, even ignoring her accusers’ record. So, perhaps it is wise to write chapter and verse about Israel’s achievements (as Tom Friedman did on June 8) and let the “colonial” and “apartheid” accusations hang there, unanswered, as living witnesses of the Orwellian mentality of the accusers?

I am not totally convinced.

I am concerned about the possibility that a non-negligible percentage of Los Angeles Times readers, especially the novice and the hasty, would interpret the publication of Saree Makdisi’s call for dismantling Israel (“Forget the Two-State Solution,” L.A. Times, Opinion, May 12) as evidence that his arguments and conclusions are deemed worthy of consideration in the eyes of the editors of the L.A. Times, whose judgment the public has entrusted to protect us from Flat Earth-type deformities. This concern became especially acute after reporters Richard Boudreaux and Ashraf Khalil (“For Some Palestinians, One State With Israel Is Better Than None,” L.A. Times, World News, May 8 ) had already touted the “one-state” slogans in the same newspaper, with unmistaken sympathy, under the cover of “World News.”

I am concerned because evil plans begin with evil images. Once the mind is jolted to envision deviant images it automatically constructs a belief structure that supports their feasibility and desirability. The first phase of Hitler’s strategy was to get people to envision, just envision, a world without Jews—the rest is history. Today we are witnessing a well-coordinated effort by enemies of coexistence to get people to envision, just envision, a world without Israel—the rest, they hope, will become history.

The American press seems to fall for it.

In fairness to the editors of the L.A. Times (unlike The Nation and The Christian Science Monitor), articles calling for the elimination of Israel are often balanced by articles calling for peaceful coexistence. But, ironically, this “balance” is precisely where the imbalance occurs, for it gives equal moral weight to an immoral provocation that every Jew in Israel considers a genocidal death threat, and most Jews in the world view as an assault on their personal dignity, national identity and historical destiny. After all, we do not rush to “balance” each celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with articles by white supremacists, and we do not “balance” a hate speech with a lecture on peaceful breathing technique; a hate speech is balanced with a lecture on the evils of hate.

A true, albeit grotesque, moral balance would be demonstrated only if for every “down with Israel” writer the newspaper were to invite a “down with Palestinian statehood” writer. But editors may have strange takes on morality; for some, questioning the legitimacy of Israel’s existence is a mark of neutrality, while questioning the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations is a social taboo.

Decency should somehow inform these editors that both “down with” calls are morally reprehensible and insulting to readers’ intelligence, hence, both should be purged from civil discourse and marginalized into the good company of white supremacy and Flat Earth rhetoric.

But until decency reigns, we can be sure to see them again at Israel’s birthdays, the predators of peace, paraded by the press, demanding their annual prey: Once more to envision, just envision, a world without Israel.

Ironically, in this context, Arab commentaries published around Yom HaAtzmaut can actually be of great service to Israel, for they provide a faithful mirror of the prevailing sentiments in the elite ranks of Palestinian society and thus gauge precisely how ready it is to accept a peace agreement, whatever its shape, as permanent.

This year, the L.A. Times (May 11), The Nation (May 26), The New York Times (May 18), the Washington Post (May 12), the Christian Science Monitor (May 30) and others lured an impressive group of Arab intellectuals into unveiling their worldview to American readers. These authors are highly educated, mostly secular champions of modernity and masters of communication—yet keenly attuned to grass-roots sentiments. Enticed by the limelight, and seemingly caught off guard, they revealed the naked landscape of the Palestinian mindset.

Sadly, what they revealed in 2008 is not what Mahmoud Abbas would have liked us to think. They revealed what we feared all along but were afraid to admit: The notion of a two-state solution never began to penetrate the surface of Palestinian consciousness.

In vain would one search these articles for an idea, or a shred of an idea, that morally justifies a two-state solution, or that acknowledges some historical ties of Jews to the land, or that makes an intellectual investment contrary to the greater Palestine agenda. One by one, the articles depict a culture forged by five generations of rejection and denial, a culture in which compromise means defeat and national identity means denying it to others.

This does not mean that the two-state solution is dead—after all, it is the only proposal worthy of the word “solution”—but it means that the current efforts to reach a peaceful settlement are absolutely futile unless they address the real obstacle: The ideological landscape as revealed to us by our Arab brethren on Yom HaAtzmaut.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org), named after his son. He and his wife Ruth are a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Briefs: Holocaust denial resolution goes to U.N.; Swiss admit Israel-Syria mediation; Survivors owed

Holocaust Denial Resolution Goes to U.N.

The United States presented a resolution condemning Holocaust denial to the United Nations General Assembly. The text, introduced Tuesday in advance of the U.N.-designated International Day of Commemoration for victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 27, urges member states “to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event” and “condemns without reservation any denial of the Holocaust.” Although it does not mention Iran, the measure is seen as a reaction to last month’s Holocaust denial conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a reaction to, but certainly the conference in question only reminds us that there are those among us who actually minimize or deny the Holocaust, and we find that frightening,” said Richard Grenell, the U.S. mission’s spokesman. “And this resolution makes clear it’s unacceptable to even minimize it.”

The resolution, which has some 25 sponsors, is expected to go to a vote Friday.

Pole Wins Jerusalem Prize

This year’s Jerusalem Prize will go to Leszek Kolakowski in recognition of his critiques of the repressive aspects of Soviet communism and his championing of human liberty. The prestigious literary prize will be presented at next month’s Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Born in 1927, Kolakowski earned a doctorate from Warsaw University and went on to serve on the faculties of Harvard, Oxford and the University of Chicago before retiring in 1995. Past recipients of the prize include Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera and Simone de Beauvoir. Some of the recipients went on to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, including V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee.

Swiss Admit Israel-Syria Mediation

Switzerland confirmed that it had been mediating secret efforts to launch Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Monday that top emissaries from her government were currently in Damascus. She refused to elaborate, but the disclosure appeared to confirm a Ha’aretz report earlier this month that a European country had mediated two years of unofficial talks between a retired Israeli diplomat and a Syrian American businessman about how the two countries could resume peace talks that were cut off in 2000. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed the contacts as unauthorized, while the Syrian government called the Ha’aretz report baseless.

Survivors Owed Billions, Study Says

Holocaust survivors are still owed as much as $175 billion in reparations, according to a new study. The Jewish Political Studies Review in Jerusalem said European nations had promised $3.4 billion in reparations, but only half of that had been paid by 2005. Only about 20 percent of Jewish assets have been returned overall, according to the study, which was made public last Friday by Reuters. The study said payments slowed after the United States stopped pressuring Europe on restitution. Holocaust survivors, many of them poor, are frustrated with the lack of payments. “Things are moving much too slowly,” said Menachem Rosensaft, founder of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The Claims Conference said it would not comment on the report.

Katsav to Face Rape Charges

Israel’s attorney general decided that President Moshe Katzav should be charged with rape. Menachem Mazuz’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying it had collected enough evidence to support charging Katsav with rape and sexual harassment of former employees, obstruction of justice and fraud. A final decision on whether to indict Katsav will be made after a hearing in which the president may present his case. The president has immunity while in office, but said last month that he would resign if indicted. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing.

JDub, Matisyahu End Legal Troubles

In a release issued Tuesday, nonprofit Jewish record label and management team JDub announced it has resolved all legal disputes with Matisyahu, although its business relationship with the artist remains severed. In a surprise move last March, the Chasidic reggae star abruptly ended his management agreement with JDub’s Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harrison on the eve of the release of his first major studio album, “Youth.” JDub claimed their agreement with the artist had three years remaining on a four-year contract when Matisyahu moved to representation by former Capitol Records president Gary Gersh.

— Staff Report

Rap Mogul Addresses Jewish Congress

Rap mogul Russell Simmons called on Jewish entertainers to fight racism. In a speech Monday to the World Jewish Congress titled “Unity: Fighting Our Fights Together,” Simmons spoke about his public service announcements against racism and anti-Semitism that will be aired in Europe later this month. The ads, produced by Simmons, co-leader of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, feature Simmons and rapper Jay-Z encouraging young people to fight racism and anti-Semitism in their communities. Simmons called on the Beastie Boys and other Jewish entertainers to create another public service announcement with him, this one focusing on Islamophobia.

Saddam Chroniclers Look to Yad Vashem

Iraqis documenting Saddam Hussein’s crimes have been consulting with Yad Vashem. Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that a group of Iraqi exiles that want to honor the late dictator’s victims visited the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial last year and also met with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who has documented the stories of Holocaust survivors. “It is difficult for me to make a comparison between the story of the Iraqi victims and the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe,” Kanan Makiya, one of the researchers, told Yediot. “Yet there are many basic similarities. Saddam behaved toward some parts of his people as Hitler did toward the Jews. Both cases are tragedies and there were innocent victims in both cases.”

Shipwreck Found Off Israel’s Coast

An eighth-century shipwreck was discovered off Israel’s northern coast. Though the 50-foot-long boat was discovered almost a decade ago, Haifa University’s Institute for Maritime Studies announced the find Tuesday after completing its research into the vessel.

“We do not have any other historical or archaeological evidence of the economic activity and commerce of this period,” said the university’s Ya’acov Kahanov. “The shipwreck will serve as a source of information about the social and economic activities in this area.”

In addition to the wooden hull, many of the boat’s contents were preserved. Among them are 30 vessels of pottery of different sizes and designs containing fish bones, ropes, mats, a bone needle, a wooden spoon, wood carvings and food remains, mainly carobs and olives.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Is molestation being swept underneath the Eruv?

Within Jewish circles, much of the focus on sexual predators has centered on the Orthodox community, particularly its more ultra-religious precincts, where some contend that clergy sex abuse is more hidden — and possibly more widespread — than elsewhere.

Whether or not those contentions are true, the problem in that community was spotlighted by two recent episodes in the fervently Orthodox, or haredi, community.
The first involved a fierce debate over public remarks criticizing his community by a haredi rabbi. The second involved the arrest of a haredi rabbi and teacher, who was charged with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor.

On Thanksgiving, at the annual national convention of Agudath Israel of America, a haredi advocacy organization, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, a featured speaker, ignited a controversy with his discussion of the haredi response to clergy sex abuse.

Salomon, a dean of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., one of the world’s largest yeshivas, said, according to an Agudath Israel spokesman, that haredim are indeed guilty of “sweeping things under the carpet.” What he meant was open to interpretation.

Salomon declined comment, but according to the Agudath Israel spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran, Salomon meant that rather than ignoring or covering up sexual misconduct, as detractors maintain, haredi officials deal with it discreetly to protect the dignity of the families of perpetrators and victims. The response to Salomon’s remarks was swift and often heated, with several Web site and blog contributors arguing that the rabbi’s comments should be taken literally — that is, haredi officials often look the other way when clergy sex abuse takes place in their midst.

Shafran, who accused the online detractors of making glib and sweeping generalizations without corroborating evidence, termed the comments “abhorrent.”

Other communities were criticized as well on one Web site.

“Denial, secrecy and sweeping under the carpet are not unique to charedi, Orthodox or Jewish institutions,” wrote Nachum Klafter, a self-described “frum psychiatrist,” in a Nov. 26 posting on the Web site, haloscan.com. “They are typical reactions of well-intentioned, scandalized human beings to the horrible shock of childhood sexual abuse.”

Eleven days after those remarks were posted, a haredi rabbi, Yehuda Kolko, was arrested and charged in connection with the alleged molestation of a 9-year-old boy and a 31-year-old man, both former students of his during different eras at Brooklyn’s Yeshiva-Mesivta Torah Temimah. Kolko, 60, had long served the yeshiva as a teacher and an assistant principal.

Kolko, meanwhile, is named in at least four civil suits filed over the past eight months by his alleged victims, including the 9-year-old boy. The most recent litigation, which seeks $10 million in damages from Torah Temimah, was filed in New York state court the day before Kolko was arrested. It alleges not only that Kolko molested the 9-year-old during the 2003-04 school year, but that the school administration covered up the rabbi’s pedophilia for 25 years.

The suit charges that Rabbi Lipa Margulies, identified as the leader of Torah Temimah, knew of many “credible allegations of sexual abuse and pedophilia against Kolko,” yet continued to employ him as an elementary school teacher “and give him unfettered access to young children.”

Avi Moskowitz, the attorney representing Torah Temimah, said: “The yeshiva adamantly denies the allegations in the complaints and is sure that when the cases are over, the yeshiva will be vindicated.”

Another one of the lawsuits brought against Torah Temimah was filed in May by David Framowitz, now 49 and living in Israel. In that $10 million federal litigation, Framowitz, who was joined by a co-plaintiff also seeking $10 million, alleged that he was victimized by Kolko while he was a seventh- and eighth-grader at Torah Temimah.
Although the lawsuit, which named Kolko as a co-defendant, referred to Framowitz only as “John Doe No. 1,” he has since dropped his anonymity and gone public with his story.

“That’s the only way that people would believe that there’s actually a problem, if they knew that there’s a real person out there who was molested,” Framowitz said in a recent telephone interview. “There are many other victims out there, and I want people to know that this really exists.”

Framowitz grew up in part in ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn, where rabbinic sex abuse, he said, is rarely reported. And when it is reported, he added, rabbinic courts seldom have the expertise or the inclination to deal with it effectively.

After his own reports of abuse were met with disbelief and inaction, Framowitz said he chose to “deeply bury” his painful memories of the alleged incidents.

“I never really got over it,” he said, “but I was able to get on with my life.”

An accountant by trade, Framowitz made aliyah several years ago, and now lives in the West Bank community of Karnei Shomron with his wife and four adult children. They have one grandson.

Framowitz said he decided to speak out publicly about his experience after he learned through the Internet in the fall of 2005 that Kolko was still teaching young boys. He said he is relieved that Kolko has been arrested and charged, although in connection with reported incidents unrelated to his alleged victimization.

“It’s a relief knowing that the story is finally out there,” Framowitz said, “and that maybe Kolko will be prevented from being around other kids.”

JTA tried unsuccessfully to reach Kolko, who along with Framowitz, was the focus of a May 15 New York magazine story that said “rabbi-on-child molestation,” according to several sources, “is a widespread problem in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and one that has been long covered up.”

Attorney Jeffrey Herman, who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuits stemming from Kolko’s alleged misconduct, was quoted in the New York magazine piece saying that the clergy abuse situation in the haredi community “reminds me of where the Catholic Church was 15 or 20 years ago. What I see are some members of the community turning a blind eye to what’s going on in their backyards.”

Sifting the Evidence

Hard numbers are not available to determine if clergy sex abuse is more widespread in haredi communities than in other Jewish locales. However, several insiders said there is anecdotal evidence that abuse often goes unreported there. The reason, they said, is that many individuals in those communities, which are noted for their insularity, resistance to modernity and reverence for religious leaders, are loath to confront rabbis for fear of being publicly shunned.

Laura’s Smile

Laura Benichou was born on June 9, 1998, with a hole in her heart. This hole probably saved her life, because she was also born without her main pulmonary artery.

The blood had to go somewhere, so it went through the hole. Her condition would take too long to explain, but one result was the lowering of the oxygen level in her blood to 75 percent and below (normal is 99 percent to 100 percent), which meant that her body had to compensate by producing more red blood cells. This in turn thickened her blood and caused other complications, like periodic brain seizures.

The first major seizure happened before she was a year old. To save her life, the top cardiac team at a major hospital in Los Angeles performed an 11-hour operation that implanted small “pipes and faucets” to help normalize the blood flow between her heart and lungs. This didn’t get the results they wanted, so a few weeks later they went back in to implant larger devices. Laura was not responding well to post-surgery care, which created more complications and led to another operation. After six months and three major operations, Laura was a year and a half old when she returned home.

Laura has never spoken a word, but she can coo, laugh, sigh and cry. At her best, she has taken steps with the help of a walker. She has a thin body with a smallish, sweet face framed by dark-brown hair. She gets 24-hour home care, with three rotating nurses monitoring her breathing and other vital signs.

One of those nurses says that Laura expresses a wide range of “appropriate” emotions, from happiness to surprise to crying for attention. Her favorite movie is “Mary Poppins,” and her favorite TV show is “Hannah Montana.” She likes toys that move, and she has a fondness for anything slapstick.

Oh yeah, and she loves to smile.

It’s that spontaneous smile, which I saw firsthand on a recent visit to her family’s handsome high-ceilinged apartment in West Hollywood, that her mother says “hypnotizes everyone who meets her.”

I think the smile has also helped her family fight to keep her alive. While she was in the hospital for six months, her parents took turns to be with her at all times. Her brother, a very cool-looking 16-year-old who’s a starter on his high school basketball team, is very protective of her and seems to have a knack for making her laugh.

Her mother, Veronique, a thin and perfectly put-together French Moroccan Jew in her early 40s, has become a walking medical handbook. During my late-afternoon visit, while she was serving mint tea in elegant china, she took several hours to calmly answer all my questions regarding their ordeal, and Laura’s medical history, even drawing a diagram to explain one of the surgeries.

Veronique says she “stopped living” when the doctors told her the news about Laura. At the time, she had a thriving international trading business. Her husband Richard, an intense, darkly handsome, French Algerian Jew who is a member of the Pinto shul on Pico Boulevard, ran a successful garment business. They were also going through a major renovation of their home near the Sunset Strip, which they were preparing for the new baby.

It didn’t take long for the house (which they have since sold) and their businesses to take a back seat to Laura. Veronique herself was in a “coma of denial” for the first few months, but once she got out of it, she became quietly unstoppable — whether fighting in court against insurance companies (so far, she has prevailed at the key hearings) or doing constant research on the Internet to make sure that everything medically possible is being done for her daughter.

And God knows she’s done it all, medically and otherwise. She recalls now, with a tinge of disappointment, how vulnerable she was to faith healers of all kinds. She especially remembers the woman mystic from Israel, who spent three days rubbing different oils on her daughter while chanting special prayers. Veronique knew then that because they were people of means, there would be no shortage of miracle workers knocking on their door. But she was too vulnerable to turn them away.

Meanwhile, she was knocking on the doors of emergency rooms at all times of the day and night, whenever Laura had a seizure or some other complication. After a few years, she got so frustrated with the service and long waits that she started a company called SOS Medlink, which coordinates a network of doctors who make house calls (I’ve used the service myself, and if I had a say on the Messiah, I’d nominate a doctor who makes house calls). She is currently looking for partners to expand the business nationally, in the hope that it will help provide for Laura’s future care. Her husband has also gone back to work.

Right now, they’re both hoping for a medical success. They don’t like the option of doing nothing, because Laura’s condition hasn’t gotten any better, which leaves her at risk of another seizure (Veronique won’t elaborate). At the same time, though, an “out of the box” operation to repair Laura’s heart is also delicate. So they’re torn between two risky options.

Veronique and her husband will soon make a decision. In the last few days, they have met with a prominent surgeon, and they are exploring a “middle of the road” option that will hopefully do a little repair of the heart and buy them some more time.

In the meantime, they will continue to care for Laura around the clock, take her to parties and to visit family around town, and enjoy one thing that can always fill the hole in their own hearts.

Her smile.

What do Dennis Prager, Jimmy Carter, Mel Gibson and General Motors have in common?

Understanding Prager

Your Dec. 8 edition of The Journal had two prominent headlines regarding recent comments made by Dennis Prager. These headlines stated: “Prager Won’t Apologize After Slamming Quran in Congress” and “Prager Opposition to Quran in Congress Rite Draws Fire.”

Since I previously read Prager’s commentary regarding the new Muslim congressman wanting to use the Quran, instead of the Bible, during his upcoming swearing-in ceremony, it was difficult to reconcile both your headlines and the related article. Nowhere did we see Prager “slam” or “oppose” in a practical sense. Rather, his commentary sought to perpetuate American values for this traditional congressional swearing in ceremony. Our courts also use a similar process to swear in witnesses and assure truthful testimony. Will our court system be next in line?

Your paper was quite transparent in editorializing against, not reporting, Prager’s position. Moreover, some of the same Jewish leaders named as Prager’s critics have also been at the forefront of keeping religious and Jewish symbols out of our secular society.

In this latter instance, the constitutional separation of church and state argument is invoked. Interesting how they now cloak their argument against Prager with another constitutional position, i.e., the First Amendment.

You also cite an Islamic advocacy group, which vehemently attacks Prager both personally and via his position on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Instead of overreacting to political correctness, we would be better served by pursuing the real facts and premise here.

Steven Fishbein

Talented Mel

I pay tribute to Mel Gibson … and believe that the word police are alive and well out there. (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto,’ Now,” Dec. 8).

How many of us are innocent of never making a racial or ethnic slur? Because he is who he is, the media goes after him, waiting for him to mess up and nail him. So what — they are only words. I believe he is a most talented actor and director no matter what anyone says … and will probably go back and see [“Apocalypto”] again.

J. Sklair
Via e-mail

General Motors

The series, “Hitler’s Carmaker,” by Edwin Black examines once again the role of Adam Opel AG, GM’s German subsidiary, in the period before and during World War II (“Hitler’s Carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine,” Dec. 1).

It has been well documented that, like all German companies, Opel participated in the rebuilding of German industry during the 1930s. As Germany rearmed, Opel sold trucks and other vehicles to the German military, as did all other German vehicle manufacturers.

In independent research supported by GM, historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr. concluded that GM executives in charge of Opel strove to evade Nazi demands to convert the firm’s main factory for production of dedicated war material. His book, “General Motors and the Nazis” (Yale University Press, 2005), documents that by mid-1940, soon after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had taken complete control of operations at Opel.

It was during this later period, from 1940 though 1945, that the Nazis turned to forced labor to bolster Germany’s manufacturing industry, and that sanctions against Jews and others grew into the horrors of the Holocaust.

During this period, GM had no role in supporting the Nazi regime. In fact, GM became a key part of the American war effort, without which the Nazis might have remained in power for many years longerGeneral Motors finds the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime abhorrent and among the darkest days of our collective history. General Motors deeply regrets any role the company or its vehicles played in the Nazi era.

While “Hitler’s Carmaker” makes for compelling reading, it is not news. It covers a period of history that has been extensively researched. For example, following in-depth investigations in 1999, Opel made a $15 million contribution to the German multicompany Trust Fund Initiative to compensate forced labor workers and their survivors.

Nor does it reflect the General Motors of today, which is firmly committed to basic human rights. These principles, spelled out in GM’s Human Rights and Labor Standards, the Global Sullivan Principles and related documents, are proudly supported by the men and women of GM around the globe.

Steven J. Harris
Vice President, Communications
General Motors Corp.

Playing With the Facts

Perhaps President Carter’s latest book is not “Mein Kampf” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but give his supporters more time to play with the facts (“With Friends Like These…” Dec. 15). For example: The response to [Theodor] Herzl’s gentle diplomacy was “Protocols of Zion”; the Palestinian response to Jewish immigration of legally purchased land where the Jews did their own labor, at slave level, were pogroms (called riots); Palestinian Nazification erupted with Hitler’s ally in genocide, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and blossomed with Arab Ph.Ds in Holocaust denial; currently there is mass Nazi education for Palestinian youth.

Don’t worry, give Carter’s book time.

Meanwhile, I hereby nominate his book for the “Janjaweed Martyrs of the Year” award.

Charles S. Berdiansky
West Hollywood

Vegan Versions

My mouth was watering as I read about Follow Your Heart’s annual all-vegetarian Chanukah feast (“Follow Your Heart to a Vegetarian Chanukah Feast,” Dec. 15). But are latkes and vegetarian liver really that foreign to us? Indeed, there are tons of vegan dishes that are common Jewish foods, from falafel and hummus to blintzes and vegetarian cholent.

My favorite part about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays is getting together with loved ones and chowing down on the easily vegan versions of virtually all Jewish staples. Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it’s easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.

Michael Croland
Norfolk, Va.

Correction:The Dec. 15 Journal cover illustration should have been credited to Steve Greenberg. The Journal regrets the error.

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Don’t dismiss Iran Holocaust conference as harmless fringe elements

Even Borat, the bumblingly anti-Semitic comic character, could not have contrived a more absurd and utterly offensive assemblage: David Duke, erstwhile Imperial
Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, alongside Robert Faurisson, the French pseudo-academic who argues that the Holocaust never happened, accompanied for dramatic effect by a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews whose anti-Zionist fanaticism motivates them to desecrate the memory of millions of murdered Jews.

On Monday and Tuesday, they and other likeminded sociopaths “debated” at the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran whether or not my grandparents and my 5 1/2-year-old brother were gassed at Auschwitz. And the sponsors of the “International Conference on ‘Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision'” are the very folks James Baker and Lee Hamilton, authors of a recent re-evaluation of U.S. policy in Iraq, want to enlist to stabilize the Middle East.

Other participants in this perversion included Australian socialite Michele Renouf, who explained that anti-Semitism is caused by “the anti-gentile nature of Judaism,” and Rabbis Moishe Arye Friedman from Austria and Ahron Cohen from England, who strutted through the conference halls and gladly posed for the cameras.

Friedman told the press that he believes that only about 1 million Jews perished in the Holocaust, and Cohen declared that he does not consider Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who sponsored the conference and who has called frequently for the Jewish state to be destroyed, an anti-Semite.

The Tehran reunion of misfits demonstrates conclusively why the Ahmadinejad government cannot be allowed anywhere near responsible political endeavors of any kind. If the international community ostracized South Africa during apartheid and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it should isolate present-day Iran in the most remote diplomatic Siberia imaginable.

Ahmadinejad has made it clear that his espousal of Holocaust denial is a pretext for his desire to destroy the State of Israel. In response, a group of Iranian students showed tremendous moral courage by publicly demonstrating against their president, burning his picture and protesting the “shameful conference” which, in the words of one student, “brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world.”

In contrast, the reaction of the U.S. government was surprisingly, even shockingly, subdued. Substantially after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Tony Blair all sharply condemned the Tehran conference, the White House issued a statement calling the event an “affront to the entire civilized world” and accusing the Iranian regime of providing “a platform for hatred.”

President Bush, however, has not personally spoken out on the subject, relegating his administration’s response to an institutional press release. The man who usually never misses an opportunity to bash one of the charter members of his Axis of Evil seems to have developed laryngitis.

So, apparently, have Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Their failure to use their bully pulpit on this occasion not only plays into Ahmadinejad’s hands, but serves to empower Holocaust deniers generally.

Why does the Tehran conference have ominous significance? Because Duke, who managed to get 43 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful 1990 U.S. Senate campaign from Louisiana, will now be able to tell students at colleges in heartland America with a straight face that his contention that there were never any gas chambers has international academic and institutional support. And because the noxious views emanating from the podium in Tehran are hardly unique.

Pat Buchanan, a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and now a well-paid television commentator, would have fit in perfectly. He once wrote that it would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of Treblinka and has referred to a “so-called Holocaust-survivor syndrome” which he described as involving “group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.”

Professor Deborah Lipstadt has long maintained that while we should never engage Holocaust deniers in debate, we must nevertheless expose them at every opportunity. The Tehran conference is not just another gathering of skinheads in some obscure beer cellar; it is a government-sponsored effort to evoke and manipulate the darkest, most heinous impulses in society.

Every single one of us, from the president of the United States on down, must repudiate this inexorable obscenity publicly, unambiguously and in person.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

Hitler’s Favorite Book Ignites Feud

A mounting Internet feud has led to the expulsion of a public leader of the Holocaust revisionist movement from Amazon.com and triggered a slew of threatening e-mails against a Jewish communal official.

The trouble started soon after Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the Los Angeles office of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), ordered one of Hitler’s favorite books, “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success,” Sept. 10 from a seller on Amazon.com’s marketplace. Only afterward did she find out that she had purchased the book from Holocaust revisionist Michael Santomauro, who runs an e-mail list called, ReportersNotebook, that is dedicated to Holocaust denial, as well as to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel material.

When Amazon banned Santomauro from its marketplace a few weeks later — due to e-mails he had sent to Taylor — he distributed her home address and e-mail account to his thousands of subscribers. Taylor was immediately hit with a barrage of threatening e-mails — one of which led her to contact the Los Angeles police: “Since you support Zionists,” the anonymous e-mailer wrote, “I’m sure you won’t mind having your family members shot and your house bulldozed.”

The Internet has been a boon for Holocaust revisionists, who have found few other mainstream outlets for their ideas and products. Earlier this year, Santomauro began selling “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success” on the Amazon marketplace, which serves as a middle man between Internet buyers and sellers.

The book, which was written by Theodor Fritsch, was first published in 1887 and became one of Hitler’s favorites. In an e-mail to supporters, Santomauro wrote that the book explained how “Judaism is a conspiracy against non-Jews. Its aim is to fulfill the covenant and gain dominion over mankind by controlling wealth.”

He reprinted 1,000 copies of a translation of Fritsch’s book, and by September, he had sold more than 100 of them. Taylor came across the book as part of her work with the AJCongress, where she said she is “in charge of monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism on high school and college campuses.”

Taylor has posted a number of online reviews of books relating to Israel and Judaism on Amazon.com. In a review of a book edited by prominent left-wing Israeli historian Tom Segev on Israeli political dissent, she wrote, “If you like lies, revisionist history, falsehood and numbers without statistics to back them up, then this is the book for you.”

The same day that Taylor bought “Riddle” from Santomauro, she posted a review of the book. In it, she wrote, “Shame on Amazon and shame on you if you purchase this trash.” Santomauro wrote to Taylor using the e-mail address he had received through the order, and asked her why she had written a bad review before reading the book. (Taylor said that she had read excerpts before purchasing it.)

Amazon prohibits sellers from having any contact with customers that is unrelated to the transaction. Taylor said that soon after, she received two more e-mails from Santomauro’s personal e-mail account, one of which, she said, “talked about Jews masturbating over body parts.” When Amazon asked for a customer review of her experience, she sent along the e-mails from Santomauro.

In an interview with The Forward, Santomauro said he sent the e-mails only after Taylor asked to join his ReportersNotebook e-mail list. Taylor countered that she did request to join his list — for monitoring purposes — but only two days after receiving the first batch of e-mails. Neither claim could be confirmed, because both Santomauro and Taylor told The Forward that they had deleted their e-mails from the relevant time period.

Amazon.com has already taken steps to avoid any possibility of a repeat occurrence, at least one involving Santomauro. Amazon spokesman Craig Berman confirmed that Amazon.com will no longer allow the Holocaust revisionist to sell books through its Internet Marketplace.

The Marketplace allows third parties to sell “new, used, refurbished and collectible items” through Amazon facilities, in exchange for a fee equal to 15 percent of the proceeds.

Santomauro violated his participation agreement with Amazon, which prohibits information about a book buyer from being misused “for sending unsolicited e-mail, harassment, invasion of privacy, or other objectionable conduct,” said Berman.

However, as a basic principle, Berman added, “Amazon believes in providing access to all reading material, however controversial or distasteful. Anything else, we believe, is censorship.”

Santomauro and various pro-Nazi groups have urged their followers to protest Amazon’s alleged censorship in cutting off sales of “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success.” Berman said he had no information on how many protest e-mails Amazon had received.

This is not the first time that his various e-mail lists have gotten crossed. He also runs a roommate-matching service on the Internet and in 2003, was swamped with complaints after his Holocaust revisionist e-mails accidentally were sent out to his real estate clients.

Amazon wrote to him Oct. 11, telling him that he was “no longer able to sell on our site,” because of “inappropriate e-mail contact that originated from your e-mail address.”

Santomauro told a different story in e-mails that he sent out to his supporters after he was banned by Amazon. He immediately wrote to his ReportersNotebook list, proclaiming that he was the target of a “professional campaign to smear booksellers that deal with the ‘Jewish Question.'” He told his readers to protest to Amazon.

Then he sent out a separate e-mail with Taylor’s home and e-mail addresses. Santomauro told The Forward that he sent out Taylor’s personal information to help journalists who wanted to write about the story.

Since then, Taylor said, she has received about 50 threatening e-mails. A friend helped Taylor track down the person who sent the most threatening e-mail, and she reported it to the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI.

While two additional neo-Nazi groups — Mein Kampf and Der Leibstandarte — have joined the campaign against Taylor, she has received no further hate e-mail following the initial flurry, Taylor reported this week.

“Apparently, they have been scared off by learning that the FBI is on the case,” Taylor said.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, citing agency policy, but The Journal has learned that the FBI is actively investigating the threats against Taylor as a domestic terrorism case.

Santomauro said he saw nothing wrong with his decision to publicize her address: “For somebody who is trying to destroy my livelihood, and saying things in derogatory ways — I didn’t see what was wrong to announce her address.”

About the threatening e-mails, Santomauro said, “How do I know it’s not a campaign being fabricated in cahoots with the [Anti-Defamation League]?”

Neo-Nazi Internet magazine National Vanguard picked up Santomauro’s story and reprinted his telling of it, without including a response from Taylor. The magazine identified her as an “alleged operative of the ADL,” because of an e-mail she wrote to one of Santomauro’s supporters, saying she intended to pass along the book to the ADL. An ADL official said that the organization has had no contact with Taylor about the incident.

Taylor has written to Amazon, asking the site’s operators to display prominently the fact that sellers on the site will receive buyers’ contact information.

“Had I known I was giving all my information to Santomauro,” Taylor said, “I would have done things differently.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward (

Rabbi Expelled Over Sex Abuse Claims


The decision of a leading association of centrist Orthodox rabbis to expel one of its members has highlighted for some in the community the difficulties of addressing sexual abuse in the Orthodox world.

Following an investigation into allegations from several women of sexual harassment, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) announced last week that it had expelled Rabbi Mordecai Tendler.

Tendler had “engaged in conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi” and refused to cooperate with the committee investigating the claims, the RCA said in a statement.

Tendler referred JTA to his spokesman for comment on the case, though he did say that members of his synagogue, Kehillat New Hempstead, located near Monsey, N.Y., have been “very supportive.”

Asked if he plans to remain in his pulpit, he replied, “Of course.”

Hank Sheinkopf, Tendler’s spokesman, said the RCA procedure leading to Tendler’s expulsion was “reminiscent of the Salem witch trials,” referring to fraudulent trials in colonial America.

“A decent man has been smeared, his family damaged irreparably and a community injured after a prolonged witch hunt,” Sheinkopf told JTA.

He complained that Tendler was not permitted to confront his accusers and that information on the case was leaked to the media.

The charges against Tendler include claims that over the last few years, he engaged in sexual affairs with several women, among them women who had come to him for rabbinic counseling.

Brian Leggiere, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan whose clientele is comprised largely of Orthodox abuse victims and offenders, said the case highlights the fact that the Orthodox community is beginning to “wake up” to issues of abuse among its leaders, but still has “a ways to go.”

“We imbue our leaders with a great sense of kavod, respect, and usually it’s deserved,” he said. “It’s a wonderful value, but when you have a community that over-idealizes [its leaders at times,] that’s a recipe that allows abuse to occur.”

In the Orthodox world, where marital matches, or shidduchs, are highly valued commodities, even the victims of abuse often remain silent for fear they will damage their chances to find a husband or wife.

Tendler’s expulsion reportedly went into effect immediately, though expulsion from the RCA does not necessarily entail removal from the pulpit. Some 1,000 ordained rabbis in 128 countries have membership in the RCA.

“Synagogues and institutions are entirely independent entities,” Rabbi Basil Herring, the RCA’s executive vice president, told JTA. “Therefore, it’s up to every synagogue to decide how it will wish to deal with its rabbi or its clergy or employees.”

Herring declined to comment directly on the case, as did several other RCA members complying with official RCA policy.

One Orthodox rabbi who requested anonymity said it was the first time the RCA had expelled a member following sexual abuse allegations.

The expulsion was based on protocols, instituted in April 2004 for addressing accusations of sexual impropriety against RCA members. The new protocols followed the highly publicized conviction of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox Union official who is serving seven years in prison for sexually abusing a student when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in New Jersey.

The Lanner case, in which allegations emerged that victims’ complaints had gone unheeded, has been seen as a watershed in the way the Orthodox community addresses sexual abuse.

Tendler’s expulsion is a particularly sensitive issue for the RCA, Orthodox insiders said, because he comes from an important family of respected rabbis. His father is the well-known bioethicist and Yeshiva University teacher Rabbi Moses Tendler. His grandfather, the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, was among the Orthodox world’s leading experts in Jewish religious law.

Orthodox movement insiders said Tendler gained respect for his work on women’s issues within Judaism, particularly his approach to helping agunot, women unable to secure divorces from their husbands.

“As painful as it has been” for the community to start coming to terms with abuse issues, “I think it’s helpful when it comes to the fore because it helps people respond,” Leggiere said. “Generally, people aren’t going to respond to a situation until you get past a level of denial.”


History on Trial


“History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving,” by Deborah E. Lipstadt (Echo, 2005) $25.95.

For five excruciating years, from the moment that David Irving sued her for libel in England until the appeals process ran its course, Deborah Lipstadt had to remain silent. Others defended her scholarship and revealed the deceitfulness and deliberately misleading nature of Irving’s writings. But Lipstadt would not, did not take the stand in her own defense.

Lipstadt is a contemporary women not known for her reticence. Silence was hard on someone who prides herself on fighting her own fights — but it was necessary. Now, finally, she speaks freely.

It all started in 1993, when Lipstadt wrote “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault Against Memory and Truth,” a book which described Holocaust denial in our age. A few paragraphs were devoted to Irving, the most informed, original and therefore most dangerous of Holocaust deniers.

Irving could not bring action against Lipstadt in the United States, because as a public figure, the burden was on him to prove that Lipstadt engaged in reckless disregard of truth — a near impossible task — since what she said was true. In England, the burden of proof is reversed. So when Penguin published the book in England, Irving sued both the author and publisher in London.

Lipstadt wrote that Irving was “a Hitler partisan wearing blinkers, who distorted evidence, manipulated documents and skewed and misrepresented data,” and that “Irving seems to conceive himself as carrying out Hitler’s legacy.”

British revisionist historian
David Irving.
by Martyn Hayhow/AFP

She considered him a dangerous Holocaust denier. As the court determined in 2000, Lipstadt was not wrong, merely understated.

Perhaps Irving thought that Lipstadt would back down, issue a pro forma apology and settle for a symbolic sum. As the trial neared, he asked for a pittance — 500 pounds — to go to charity. Perhaps he thought the potential liability would force the parties to back down.

Lipstadt could not back down. To concede would be to accept defeat, inflict injury upon Holocaust survivors and desecrate the memory of the dead. She had to take a stand to preserve her standing, her dignity and her values.

The lawyers decided that the case would not be tried in the court of public opinion in the press, but in a courtroom. The trial was held before Judge Charles Gray — without a jury.

The press fury Irving induced as he played to them for months allowed his side of the story to be ubiquitous, while Lipstadt was silent. In the end, it was up to the judge to deliver a decisive, clear judgment.

What did Lipstadt do during five years of public silence?

As a blind person may hear more clearly; a deaf person see more intently, one who is muted may listen more carefully.

Lipstadt proves to have the keen eye of a journalist, observing the setting, the demeanor and even the fashion style of everyone from the court clerk to the judge and her barrister. She writes with a novelist’s sense of plot, so that while the reader is led through the entire trial, from first accusation to final vindication, the major story is never lost in the details. She doesn’t tell everything — but she does convey the drama, the anguish and the wealth of emotions that were her day-in, day-out experiences.

She writes without self-pity, but the reader is likely to pity her restraint. For those who did not follow the trial day by day, this book is fascinating reading that gives one a sense of what it was really like to sit there, to see the nature of the evidence, and see how strategic decisions were made.

In the end, all drama aside, the judge understands and renders the clearest of judgments by unmasking the pretense and politics of Irving’s pseudo-scholarship and the racism and anti-Semitism of his beliefs. And the plaintiff, Irving, plays his role to perfection, exceeding even our fondest wishes for him, by destroying himself in public. In defeat, his sting is diminished.

As Lipstadt writes, she did not stand trial alone. Her book is a tribute to those who stood by her. She is the first to recognize their importance, their competence, generosity and dedication.

Her brilliant and dedicated legal team included Anthony Julius, a fine lawyer and literary scholar, who wrote a doctoral thesis on T.S. Eliott’s anti-Semitism, and was a proud Jew known as Princess Diana’s divorce lawyer. His partner, James Libson, and his law firm, Mishcon de Reya, were prepared to take the case pro bono. They recruited Richard Rampton, a distinguished London barrister, to try the case after they prepared it. He, too, was prepared to work pro bono.

In the end, adequate funds were raised for the defense from Leslie and Abigail Wexner, Steven Spielberg, William Lowenberg and other Jewish philanthropists. Rabbi Herbert Friedman, whose distinguished career began as a U.S. Army chaplain working with soldiers and survivors and working with Bricha, organized the fund-raising effort discretely. (For the record, I was honored to assist him.)

The American Jewish Committee stepped in without seeking credit or publicity. Ken Stern, a lawyer and an authority on Holocaust denial, masterfully ran its efforts. Emory University, where Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, stood by her and gave her paid leave. Others taught her Holocaust course; friends visited, called, e-mailed and supported her through the long ordeal.

Scholars were recruited: Richard Evans of Cambridge, a superb historian and an expert on historiography, read each of Irving’s works and then checked and double-checked the original documents Irving cited and his translations — a tedious and increasingly loathsome task, as the depth of Irving’s deceit became clear.

Christopher Browning of the University of North Carolina, a worthy successor of Raul Hilberg as the leading authority on German documents, worked on German documentation of the “Final Solution.” Robert Jan Van Pelt, a Canadian of Dutch origin, an architectural historian who wrote brilliantly of the gas chambers of Auschwitz and who reads German documentation, testified on gassing at Birkenau.

Peter Longerich, a German living in England, analyzed the work of the Einsatzgruppen in former Soviet territory in 1941-42. Hajo Funke examined Irving’s association with neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and racist groups; the speeches he made, and the manner in which he played to his crowd.

Evans examined Irving’s footnotes and documentation. Their findings were devastating to Irving.

The team’s scholarship became contributions to the historiography of the Holocaust. Evans’ case became an extended discourse on how historians should read documents and reach their learned conclusions, an expression of historiography at its best — that demonstrated the most egregious violations of the cannons of the profession. The books that emerged from this team have added significantly to our knowledge of the Holocaust in clarity and in depth.

No survivors were called as witnesses, no Israelis. The trial was designed to be a trial of documents — an added benefit, since we are approaching the day when the last survivor will leave this earth and living memory will become the stuff of history. To those who feared that this natural development of time would put the memory of the Holocaust at risk, the trial proves otherwise.

Lipstadt is entitled to gloat, but does not. She understands the importance of her vindication — and its limitations. The British press was nasty, seeing it as a battle of class — an English gentleman against an American Jewish woman upstart Some barely concealed their anti-Semitism, and sometimes they confusingly presented the trial as an issue of free speech.

In our world, where rumor and innuendo parade as fact and insight, there is a tendency to believe that in every squabble there is some truth to each side and a basic laziness to uncover the truth. At least in England, Lipstadt was spared cable’s Court TV spinning.

Anyone who opens this book will be gratified by Lipstadt’s vindication. But what was all-important was the unmasking of Irving. He may have made the greatest contribution to that himself by bringing the suit in the first place, defending himself and then destroying himself.

Irving was the superstar of Holocaust deniers, and now he is known as the racist and anti-Semite who deliberately misread and mistranslated documents toward one end, the exoneration of Adolf Hitler. This case — and this book — prove that good scholarship can beat bad scholarship, and that even in our age of relativism and deconstructionism, there is a difference between good history and fraud.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and an adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism.