Opinion: This just in: Our enemies hate us


I never thought I’d ever be texting with one of my kids about bombs and bomb shelters. But there I was last week, texting back and forth with my daughter, Shanni — who is studying at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and was driving with friends to a Purim event in the south when Palestinian bombs started falling. I was pleading with her to be careful and only go where there was a bomb shelter.

For years I’d tried to imagine what my friends in Israel go through when their children are fighting in wars or are exposed to terror. Now I was experiencing, on a much smaller scale, my own little “Israeli moment.” It had a clarifying effect.

Here’s what it clarified: Fear for my daughter’s safety makes me long for a war that would eliminate the threat once and for all, but also for a peace that would do the same.

In other words, I long for anything — war or peace — that will keep my daughter safe.

But there’s a difference between the two sentiments: When I long for war, I am saddened, even slightly depressed, that it might come to that. Still, I feel like a grown-up facing up to a very painful reality.

When I long for peace, I feel elevated to the highest ideals of my tradition, like a poet dreaming great dreams, or a preacher appealing to the divine in all of us.

But I also feel like an idiot, like a spoiled kid banging on the table and screaming: “Why won’t our enemies make peace with us?”

Well, kid, maybe because they really, really hate us.

There was plenty of Jew hatred on display last month when Lara Friedman, one of the leaders of Americans for Peace Now, attended the Arab League’s conference on Jerusalem in Doha. I wonder if Friedman felt like that frustrated kid as she walked around the conference and asked herself: “Why do they hate us so much?”

As she wrote in The Forward about her experience: “All throughout the day, it was unfortunately the same story. Participants talked about Jerusalem as if Jewish history did not exist or was a fraud — as if all Jewish claims in the city were just a tactic to dispossess Palestinians.”

She seemed especially disappointed that the Israel hate fest included the “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas: “If President Abbas cannot acknowledge Jewish claims in Jerusalem, even as he asserts Palestinian claims (a problem Yasser Arafat suffered from), he should not be surprised if it is more difficult for Israelis and Jews, wherever they are, to believe that he can be trusted in a peace agreement that leaves Jerusalem sites precious to Jews under Palestinian control.”

Jonathan Tobin, in the Commentary blog, gave Friedman credit for “having the wit to notice that just about everybody else there was focused on delegitimizing Israel, denouncing its existence within any borders and denying thousands of years of Jewish history.” But then he asks: “What will it take to convince supporters of Peace Now the imperative of their organization’s name depends on the Arabs rather than the Jews?”

Tobin adds: “She [Friedman] and her group had so convinced themselves all it will take to create peace ‘now’ was for Israelis to support a two-state solution and negotiate, it appears they never took the time or effort to realize the other side has little interest in peace, now or at any other time.”

I also wonder what went through the mind of professor Norman Finkelstein, one of Israel’s harshest critics and a passionate advocate for the Palestinian cause, when he lashed out last month at a Palestinian activist who was interviewing him about the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

In the video, Finkelstein has a “dayenu” moment when he challenges the goal of the BDS movement: “They’re not really talking about rights. They are talking about destroying Israel. In fact, I think the Israelis are right. That’s true. I’m not going to lie.”

For anyone who has cringed over the years at the nastiness of Finkelstein’s verbal assaults on Israel, the video is a remarkable portrayal of what happens when an ugly truth simply can no longer be ignored. Finkelstein, despite his support for the BDS movement, is forced to admit this painful reality: “We have to be honest, and I loathe the disingenuousness. They don’t want Israel.”

That’s right, they don’t want Israel, just like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t want Israel, and just like Mahmoud Abbas rejects any Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

But what should we do with such inconvenient truths?

For starters, we should call them what they are: truths. The deep-seated Arab animosity toward the Jewish state is a painful truth that predates the settlements by decades. Let’s hope it is not a permanent truth, but for now it is profoundly relevant and must be integral to Israel’s strategic thinking.

Also, we must recognize that desire and hope are not truths — they’re feelings.

Yes, I fervently desire and hope that Palestinian terrorists stop dropping bombs where my daughter travels in Israel, and that Ahmadinejad stops his nuclear program and that Israel’s enemies stop hating Israel and start respecting the 3,000-year Jewish connection to the Holy Land.

But while the child in me longs for this new reality, the father in me knows better.


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

Holocaust legacy drives ‘Enemies’ genocide film


Filmmaker Rob Lemkin’s most famous relative is the late Raphael Lemkin, a Polish attorney who spent his life crusading against mass murder and who invented the term “genocide” to describe what the Nazis had done to the Jews, including 40 members of his family.

Rob Lemkin never knew Raphael Lemkin, a distant cousin. But the elder Lemkin’s legacy has proved a motivation for the filmmaker’s work, notably his documentary “Enemies of the People,” an exposé on the Cambodian genocide that claimed 2 million lives during the Pol Pot regime of the 1970s. Co-authored with Thet Sambath, the groundbreaking film — which culminates with a confession by Pol Pot’s second-in-command, Nuon Chea — is short-listed for the Academy Award and has received a Writers Guild Award nomination.

“We went from village to village looking for individuals,” Lemkin said of his search with Sambath for lower-level peasant executioners. “I felt I was with people who had repeatedly looked into the faces of people they were killing. It was utterly chilling, but also inspiring that they were willing to be so open about their deeds.”

The movie is also the personal story of Sambath, whose father was stabbed to death in the Killing Fields and whose mother died in childbirth after being forced to marry a Khmer Rouge leader. An orphan by 9, Sambath became a journalist specifically so he could seek out and query the kinds of people who had destroyed his family. His most fervent mission was to gain the confidence of Nuon Chea by repeatedly visiting the octogenarian in order to elicit a confession. Sambath was so obsessive about his work that his newspaper career languished, and his wife and children were sometimes left without money for food.

Lemkin’s dedication to the project was also obsessive, stemming from his own family’s experience, he said during an interview in Los Angeles. The conversation turned back to Raphael Lemkin, who put everything else in his life on hold in order to convince the United Nations to declare genocide an international crime. The work took years and proved exhausting: Just three days after the U.N. finally voted to adopt the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, Raphael Lemkin became gravely ill and collapsed. When hospital doctors queried him about his malady, he said his condition was “genocide-itis.” When he died in poverty in the late 1950s, only seven people attended his funeral.

“My grandmother was very active in the Kindertransport,” Rob Lemkin continued of his connection to the Holocaust. “And my father was very much haunted throughout his life that another holocaust could happen in Britain — a nightmare that lurked in the shadows for him as a sort of brooding threat. I, myself, was very frightened by photographs of concentration camps as a child. There are images in ‘Enemies of the People’ of dead bodies and piled bones that are similar to the images I saw through the keyhole when my parents were watching late-night films about the Nazis. I think that was definitely a motor to keep me going on ‘Enemies of the People,’ because the work was quite tedious and grueling.”

Director and producer Rob Lemkin

Lemkin met Sambath in September 2006 when Lemkin traveled to Phnom Penh to make a film on Cambodian genocide following news that a United Nations-backed war tribunal was preparing cases against Nuon Chea and others.  Initially, he hired Sambath as a translator and “fixer” to help him secure interviews, but when he discovered that the Cambodian journalist already had access to Nuon Chea, the two men decided to collaborate.

Their goal, according to Lemkin, was to “peel back the so-called ‘mask of evil’ to reveal the human beings who committed these terrible crimes.” The resulting interviews are both chilling and heartbreaking: One peasant demonstrates with a plastic knife how he pulled back the heads of prisoners – in such a manner that they were unable to scream – and slit so many throats at once that his arm ached, and he had to switch to stabbing victims in the throat.

An elderly woman recalls how the swollen, piled-up bodies made hissing sounds as they decomposed in mass graves, causing rainwater to “bubble as if it were boiling.” Several executioners admit to drinking the liquid from human gall bladders, which they believed was a medical elixir. Echoing the language of the Nazis, they say they were only carrying out orders, and would have been killed had they refused.

When the Cambodian war crimes tribunal got word of the confessions, officials demanded that Lemkin and Sambath turn over their hundreds of hours of videotapes. “We refused,” Lemkin said. The two had promised interviewees their testimony would be used only for historical purposes. And a promise is a promise, even to a mass murderer. As a result, former executioners are continuing to speak to them, and, last year, a historic teleconference took place among several perpetrators and survivors now living in Long Beach, Calif. The plan is for another such conference to take place at the Museum of Tolerance in 2011.

The film has been described as a Cambodian “Shoah,” albeit without the hidden cameras. “But I see Sambath as quite different from [a figure like Nazi hunter Simon] Wiesenthal,” Lemkin said, “because Sambath believes reconciliation is not only desirable but possible, and every action is dedicated to that end.”

Lemkin does see parallels between Sambath and his famous cousin. “Raphael Lemkin waged an incredibly lonely, one-man campaign to get the word ‘genocide’ enshrined into international law, and in fact after that finally happened, he was found [exhausted] in the basement of the United Nations building, having about given up on the idea that the world would take it seriously,” Rob Lemkin said. “He was fighting a solitary campaign against world indifference, which is very similar to what I found in Sambath. The echoes are very real, because Sambath has been fighting alone for a kind of truth and reconciliation commission in his country, and to come to terms with the trauma of Cambodia.”

Oscar nominations will be announced on Jan. 25.

The second Lemkin’s Genocide story frames the ‘Enemies’


Filmmaker Rob Lemkin’s most famous relative is the late Raphael Lemkin, a Polish attorney who spent his life crusading against mass murder and who invented the term “genocide” to describe what the Nazis had done to the Jews, including 40 members of his family.


Rob Lemkin never knew Raphael Lemkin, a distant cousin.  But the elder Lemkin’s legacy has motivated much of the filmmaker’s work, notably his documentary “Enemies of the People,” an exposé on the Cambodian genocide that claimed two-million lives during the Pol Pot regime of the 1970s.  Co-authored with Teth Sambath, the groundbreaking film – which culminates with a confession by Pol Pot’s second-in-command, Nuon Chea – is short-listed for the Academy Award and has received a Writers Guild Award nomination.


“We went from village to village looking for individuals,” Lemkin said of his search with Sambath for lower-level peasant executioners.  “I felt I was with people who had repeatedly looked into the faces of people they were killing.  “It was utterly chilling.  But also inspiring that they were willing to be so open about their deeds.”


The movie is also the personal story of Sambath, whose father was stabbed to death in the Killing Fields and whose mother died in childbirth after being forced to marry a Khmer Rouge leader.  Orphaned by age 9, Sambath became a journalist specifically so he could seek out and query the kinds of people who had destroyed his family.  His most fervent mission was to insinuate himself into the confidence of Nuon Chea by repeatedly visiting the octogenarian in order to elicit a confession.  Sambath was so obsessive about his work that his newspaper career languished, and his wife and children were sometimes left without money for food.


Lemkin’s dedication to the project was also obsessive, stemming from his own family’s experience, he said during an interview in Los Angeles.  The conversation turned back to Raphael Lemkin, who put everything else in his life on hold in order to convince the United Nations to declare genocide an international crime. The work took years and proved exhausting: Just three days after the U.N. finally voted to adopt the Genocide Convention in 1948, Raphael Lemkin became gravely ill and collapsed.  When hospital doctors queried him about his malady, he said his condition was “genocide-itis.”  After he died in poverty in the late 1950s, only seven people attended his funeral.


“My grandmother was very active in the Kindertransport,” Rob Lemkin continued of his connection to the Holocaust.  “And my father was very much haunted throughout his life that another holocaust could happen in Britain—a nightmare that lurked in the shadows for him as a sort of brooding threat. I myself was very frightened by photographs of concentration camps as a child.  There are images in ‘Enemies of the People’ of dead bodies and piled bones that are similar to the images I saw through the keyhole when my parents were watching late-night films about the Nazis.  I think that was definitely a motor to keep me going on ‘Enemies of the People,’ because the work was quite tedious and grueling.”


Lemkin met Sambath in September 2006 when Lemkin traveled to Phnom Penh to make a film on Cambodian genocide following news that a United Nations-backed war tribunal was preparing cases against Nuon Chea and others.  Initially he hired Sambath as a translator and “fixer” to help him secure interviews, but when he discovered that the Cambodian journalist already had access to Nuon Chea, the two men decided to collaborate.


Their goal, according to Lemkin, was to “peel back the so-called ‘mask of evil’ to reveal the human beings who committed these terrible crimes.”  The resulting interviews are both chilling and heartbreaking: One peasant demonstrates with a plastic knife how he pulled back the heads of prisoners – in such a manner that they were unable to scream – and slit so many throats at once that his arm ached, and he had to switch to stabbing victims in the throat.


An elderly woman recalls how the swollen, piled-up bodies made hissing sounds as they decomposed in mass graves, causing rainwater to “bubble as if it were boiling.”  Several executioners admit to drinking the liquid from human gall bladders, which they believed was a medical elixir.  Echoing the language of the Nazis, they say they were only carrying out orders, and would have been killed had they refused.


When the Cambodian war crimes tribunal got word of the confessions, officials demanded that Lemkin and Sambath turn over their hundreds of hours of videotapes. “We refused,” Lemkin said.  The two had promised interviewees their testimony would be used only for historical purposes.  And a promise is a promise, even to a mass murderer.  As a result, former executioners are continuing to speak to them, and, last year, a historic teleconference took place between several perpetrators and survivors now living in Long Beach, CA.  The plan is for another such conference to take place at the Museum of Tolerance in 2011.


The film has been described as a Cambodian “Shoah,” albeit without the hidden cameras.  “But I see Sambath as quite different from [a figure like Nazi hunter Simon] Wiesenthal,” Lemkin said, “because Sambath believes reconciliation is not only desirable, but possible and every action is dedicated to that end.”


Lemkin does see parallels between Sambath and his famous cousin. “Raphael Lemkin waged an incredibly lonely, one-man campaign to get the word ‘genocide’ enshrined into international law, and in fact after that finally happened, he was found [exhausted] in the basement of the United Nations building, having about given up on the idea that the world would take it seriously,” Rob Lemkin said.  “He was fighting a solitary campaign against world indifference, which is very similar to what I found in Sambath. The echoes are very real, because Sambath has been fighting alone for a kind of truth and reconciliation commission in his country, and to come to terms with the trauma of Cambodia.”


The Oscar nominees will be announced on Jan. 25.

The dark side of Chanukah


Almost anyone who celebrates Chanukah today knows at least the rudimentary outline of its story. A righteous Judean clan in the 2nd century B.C.E. led an uprising against Greek-influenced Seleucid rulers who had desecrated the Temple and outlawed the traditional practices of Judaism. The revolt led to the recapture of Jerusalem, the purification of the Temple and the establishment of an independent Jewish state.

But there are a number of darker events related to Chanukah and its aftermath that have been swept away in the aroma of frying latkes and the whiz of spinning dreidels. The first is that the war Chanukah commemorates was in fact a civil war, fought between Hellenizing Jewish reformers and Jewish traditionalists whose Temple-centric life had been severely compromised by Greek influence and rule. The fratricidal conflict consumed 34 years in the life of the nation and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

With the conquest of Jerusalem in 164 B.C.E. and the complete defeat (although annihilation would be a better description) of the Hellenizers 22 years later, the lone surviving brother, Simon the Maccabee, stood widely recognized as ethnarch and high priest of the first independent Jewish state in 440 years. It would, then, be his progeny and descendants who would dominate Judean life over the next century.

Simon was succeeded by his able and fervent son John Hyrcanus, who expanded the realm and remained faithful to the example laid down by his father and uncles. It was during the reign of his grandson, Alexander Jannaeus (104 B.C.E.-76 B.C.E.), however, that the Hasmonean legend began to disintegrate. Alexander had no interest in the religious fervor of his ancestors and exhibited a particular hatred for religious rigorist sects, such as the Pharisees and Essenes. He carefully aligned himself with the upper-class Sadducees and in one incident massacred 6,000 Pharisee worshippers in the Temple courtyard after receiving a personal insult from them during the Festival of Sukkot. The incident spurred the renewal of a civil war that resulted in 50,000 more Jewish deaths. In one further event, after returning to Jerusalem following a victorious campaign in the north, Alexander had 800 of his Jewish male prisoners crucified, but not before murdering their wives and children before their very eyes.

After the death of Alexander Jannaeus, the Hasmoneans continued as rulers of Judea for another 40 years — in and out of civil war — until finally being all but eliminated by Herod the Great (37 B.C.E.-4 B.C.E.), an Idumean usurper who feared the family as a threat to his rule.

The point of recalling this gruesome tale is to illustrate a historical truism. History often comes full circle, rendering meaningless the achievements of previous generations because memory has lapsed and the commitment to former ideals is absent. The Hasmoneans began as liberators and ended as oppressors. They started as fervent adherents to Judaism and concluded as its deniers. In the end, they far more resembled the Greek-inspired Hellenizers they had fought to eliminate than the vaunted redeemers portrayed in legend.

Ancient Judea’s contemporary political incarnation, the State of Israel, also has much to learn from the historical lessons of the Hasmoneans. As a country that formed 60 years ago with high ideals and the promise of Jewish renewal, the current state is transforming into a bitter parody of itself. Rampant political corruption, an incompetent and self-serving echelon of leaders, an oligarchical economic structure that places 60 percent of the country’s assets in the hands of less than 1 percent of its population and a poverty level that hovers around 33 percent, are all signs of the imminent collapse of idealism and foundational principles. The abandonment of the Jews of Gaza, evicted from their homes in 2005, is yet another sad example of how deeply bruised is the Israeli notion of respect for and protection of Jewish life, property and dignity.

It is important to remember that men can never predict how their descendants will act or how their legacy of achievement will be treated. But the burning question the full Hasmonean story presents to us is how can nations protect the memory of past struggles and make them meaningful and relevant for the current generation? Ironically, the institution of the Festival of Chanukah was such an attempt. And in large part it succeeded. But the nagging question remains — why did things go so terribly wrong in ancient Judea within such a relatively short period of time? Given our current national challenges, this Chanukah our thoughts should be firmly on that question, as much as on the great Hasmonean triumphs of 2,000 years ago.

Avi Davis is the Executive Director and Senior Fellow of the American Freedom Alliance.

Pakistanis Thinking the Unthinkable


After more than half a century of viewing Jews as avowed enemies and negating their right to a Jewish state, Pakistanis are now learning to say “shalom” and debating recognition of Israel. Last weekend, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf became the country’s first head of state to speak to an official gathering of Jews, when he addressed the American Jewish Congress in New York on the sidelines of the start of the United Nations session.

Musharraf’s message was straightforward: Pakistan would take steps toward normalization of ties with Israel, if the Middle East peace process moves forward.

“What better signal for peace could there be than the opening of embassies in Israel by Islamic countries like Pakistan,” he said, adding that a just resolution of the Palestinian problem would lead to Israel’s recognition by Muslim states and “will extinguish the anger and frustration that motivates resort to violence and extremism.”

Musharraf’s address came in the wake of a “historic” meeting in Istanbul on Sept. 1 between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart, Silvan Shalom, in what is being called the first-ever diplomatic contact between Pakistan and Israel. The historic handshake was featured on the front pages of all the Pakistani national dailies the next day.

Recent moves by the Pakistani government toward recognition of Israel, with which it has no diplomatic relations, may be surprising for their rapidity, but they were the next moves in a continuum. Following Musharraf’s earliest comments on the subject in July 2003, the nation has been witnessing an on-again, off-again debate on the pros and cons of if and when to establish ties with the Jewish state.

The debate has only intensified since the Kasuri-Shalom meeting in Istanbul. What was once unthinkable about is now openly talked of from every perceivable angle on all the national networks and in newspapers.

The vigor of this national debate is understandable in the context of Pakistan’s longstanding support for the Palestinian cause, and its virtually automatic and reflexive denunciation of Israel and its policies at all international levels. On the domestic front, ordinary Pakistanis have been fed by politicians and the clergy a picture of Jews as the most evil of all of Islam’s enemies, while Israel is characterized as a pariah state that tramples on Palestinian rights.

For all the hype, however, the issues of contention between Israel and Pakistan are curiously few. Putting aside Pakistan’s genuine identification with Palestinians, experts in this Islamic nation can tally advantages of good relations with Jews and Israel.

Most analysts take the view that establishing diplomatic ties with Israel would create diplomatic space for Pakistan on two of its most important foreign-policy fronts: 1 — countering the growing India-Israel nexus in the domains of military and economic co-operation; 2 — gaining favor with Jewish lobbies considered influential in U.S. politics, economics, society and the media.

“There is no doubt that the dominant view [in Pakistan] is that it’s better late than never,” said B. Muralidhar Reddy, special correspondent from Pakistan for the Indian daily, The Hindu. The Indian government is watching closely the developing ties between Israel and Pakistan, he said.

For its part, the Pakistani government has to square its current actions with its past rhetoric. The official line speaks of Pakistan’s willingness as a major Muslim country to play an important role in the Middle East conflict by engaging Israel and encouraging both sides to make peace. Beginning with Musharraf, officials are taking pains to say that the ongoing parleys have specifically come about as a result of Israel’s pullout from Gaza, and in no way do they foreshadow any imminent recognition of Israel.

“This is not a question of Pakistan’s national interests,” Foreign Office spokesman Naeem Khan told The Journal. “Pakistan wants to play a helpful role in the establishment of a Palestinian state by sending an encouraging signal to Israel to take more steps like the Gaza pullout.”

Such extreme caution, however, may be unnecessary, at least for domestic Pakistani consumption. With the exception of the hard-line Islamists, other mainstream political parties are reacting to the issue more provincially than ideologically. Their chief objection was that Musharraf had failed to take Parliament’s leaders into his confidence on the issue.

The familiar angry masses protesting on the streets, a top government concern, have failed to materialize. The country’s top Islamist leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a member of the opposition, does not offer too many words on the subject, other than the traditional party line that calls Israel an “illegal state.” He told The Journal that his party would launch a “struggle” in tune with the party line. “We will also bring people on the streets.”

For now, however, many Pakistanis are content watching the lively TV debates, reading expert analyses and wondering what it means for their country.

“They [Israelis] have not done any harm to us, so why should we not have relations with them,” said 26-year-old Madiha Ali, who just completed a science degree and aspires to be a civil servant. Ali said that in the era of globalization, Pakistan cannot afford to stand alone.

“Common people do have reservations [about Israel], but it can be solved through proper propaganda,” she said.

In other words, the diatribes about the evils of Jews can be replaced with a more constructive message.

Ali slipped into another stereotype, even as she tried to speak positively about better relations with Jews. Jews, she said, “are the decision makers of the U.S., and they are eventually the policymakers of Pakistan. We need to engage them.”