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Jewish World Watch Holds Rally for Rohingyas at Myanmar Consulate


Persecution in Myanmar

The Jewish World Watch organizes a protest in front of the Myanmar Consulate to combat the injustices happening in Myanmar against the Rohingya people.

Posted by Jewish Journal on Thursday, November 9, 2017

 

For the first time in Los Angeles, a Jewish organization held a rally to speak out against the persecution of a Muslim minority in Myanmar.

Jewish World Watch held a protest Nov. 8 outside the Myanmar Consulate General in Koreatown to protest that country’s treatment of the Rohingya people. Holding signs and chanting “Stop Rohingya genocide!” and “Silence is violence!,” some 50 people — including representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities and about a half-dozen local Rohingyas — marched outside the Wilshire Boulevard high-rise housing the consulate.

Speaking through a megaphoine, Zubair Ahmed, a Myanmar-born Rohingya Muslim who lives in Hawthorne, thanked the protesters. “You all will be blessed by almighty God, because you are standing up for the Rohingya people,” he said

The Rohingya people are indigenous to southeast Asia and until recently had their population center in the western part of majority-Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Although discrimination against them dates back at least as far as a junta that brought Myanmar under military control in 1962, it has intensified in recent months, with more than 600,000 being displaced and driven into neighboring Bangladesh since August, according to the United Nations.

“If we don’t act now, things can get a lot worse.” — Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Although U.N. officials have stopped short of labeling the situation a genocide, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in September deemed it “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.”

A number of local rabbis offered speeches and prayers at the Nov. 8 rally. They included Rabbis Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul, Jocee Hudson of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom and Jason Fruithandler of Sinai Temple.

“Our voices will not be silent,” Hudson told the crowd. “Our feet will not be still. We will stand. We will march. We will speak.”

Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, also joined the rally.

“We feel the same as the Jewish community, that this is a matter of our religious obligation, of our human conscience,” he told the Journal. “I think that’s what brings us together.”

Bookstein said he keeps up on the crisis in online updates from a friend who volunteers in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

“As Jews, we can relate to this as well as anybody,” he told the Journal. “And if we don’t act now, things can get a lot worse — because instead of having the displacement of 600,000 people, we’ll have the death of 600,000 people.”

The Pico Shul rabbi wore his tallis to the rally, a nod to the “religious obligation to stand up and speak out,” he said.

Speakers at the protest told the crowd to urge their representatives in Congress to support Senate Bill 6060[TF1] , the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017, which would authorize sanctions against Myanmar and offer aid to displaced Rohingyas. (Myanmar was formerly called Burma.)

“We’re going to vote every single one of them out that are against it,” Jarin Islam, a Bangladeshi-born official from the neighborhood council that includes the consulate, told the protesters. “In election season, we will not forget the way you are acting in the Senate and Congress.”

The rally attracted a small group of counterprotesters, who held signs reading, “No Genocide in Myanmar” and chanted, “Stop your Propaganda.”

“We trust our leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,” said one, Aung Khine, an immigrant from Myanmar, referring to the country’s de facto civilian leader. “She would never do that to people.”

But Ahmed told a different story, saying that most Rohingya villages in western Myanmar had been bombed, with the young men killed and the women and children ejected from their homes.

Ahmed said some 10 to 15 Rohingya people live in the Los Angeles area, mostly in Inglewood. He said this is the first time he has seen the Jewish community come out to support the Rohingya cause.

“We don’t know how to thank you,” he told the Journal. “You understand our suffering.”

Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. Photo from Wikipedia

Who killed the Armenians?


The Journal’s editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman, recently wrote a column under the headline “Morgenthau’s Children,” about the film “The Promise,” whose subject is the Armenian genocide, and he addressed the subject of genocide in general. It was important to remind — or inform — people about the lesser-known genocides of the 20th century and the present century.

He noted the following genocides:

  • The Armenian genocide
  • “Those in Syria in Iraq”
  • The ISIS extermination of the Yazidis
  • “The failed state of Somalia”
  • The Myanmar government’s “persecution, deportation and starvation” of the Rohingya

But there is a word missing from all the genocides mentioned in Rob’s column.

That word is “Muslim.”

Every one of the genocides listed — with the exception of Myanmar (formerly Burma), where the victims are Muslims — was, or is being, committed by Muslims.

I don’t believe Rob intentionally omitted the fact that the perpetrators of all but one of the annihilations was/is Muslim. The fact is that with all the attention paid to the Armenian genocide, one always hears that the Armenians were mass murdered by the “Ottoman Empire” or the “Ottoman Turks” or the “Turkish regime” — but they are never identified as Muslims.

Rob rightly suggested that readers go to GenocideWatch.com for more information.

I took his advice, and here are headlines I saw on the site’s front page:

“Holocaust museum condemns ‘torture and killing of gay men’ in Chechnya”

“Violent Mortality in the Darfur Genocide”

“Syria: ‘Glimmers of humanity’ overshadowed by brutality of attacks on civilians”

“How Germany used Islam during World War I”

(Other headlines included news about Brazil, Auschwitz, Rwanda and Cambodia.)

Again, almost all genocide discussion was about Islam.

One of the least truthful major statements in the history of the modern American presidency was that of President George W. Bush, when he famously declared after 9/11 that “Islam is a religion of peace.”

I understand why Bush felt he had to say and keep repeating that line. But there is no excuse for all the academics and journalists who say it. Islam was a religion of war and violence from its inception, when Muslims forcibly converted surrounding tribes and then all of North Africa to Islam.

Muslims perpetrated the greatest slaughter of one group in history — the slaughter of about 80 million Hindus during the thousand-year history of Muslim rule in India. They even boasted about this slaughter by naming a large area of present-day of Afghanistan “Hindu Kush,” which means “Hindu-Slaughter.”

If Islam is to be reformed, as it needs to be, that reformation most likely will originate with Muslim Americans.

Jihad, or “holy war” — meaning the forcible conversion of non-Muslims to Islam — is part of the very fabric of Islam. The greatest Arab writer, and one of the world’s greatest writers, Ibn Khaldun, wrote in his seminal work, the “Muqaddima” (“Introduction to History”), that what distinguishes Islam from all other religions is its doctrine of jihad.

“In the Muslim community,” he writes, “the holy war is religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.”

Nor was there a “Golden Age” of Muslim tolerance in Andalusia (Muslim Spain). Jews and Christians often were persecuted terribly there. They just weren’t killed in large numbers. Read the recently published “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise” by Dario Fernandez-Morera, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University.

I note this not to incite resentment against fellow Americans of the Muslim faith. I regard them as precisely that: fellow Americans of the Muslim faith, deserving of the same respectful behavior that any other American deserves. More than that: If Islam is to be reformed, as it needs to be, that reformation most likely will originate with Muslim Americans.

The reasons it is vital to note that Islam is not simply “a religion of peace” are:

• To understand what the West is dealing with when it takes in additional millions of Muslims, especially from the Middle East, where Islam is most violent.

• To understand how much the left — most perniciously in Western universities — lies about Islam, or refuses to confront its negative aspects (while dwelling inordinately on the faults of Christianity).

• To understand why peace with Palestinians is unlikely. Palestinian society is first and foremost a Muslim society. That is why it honors suicide terrorists as the finest examples of the Palestinian people. The Arab and Palestinian conflict with Israel has always been caused by Islamic beliefs, not by a dispute over land.

• To understand why people whose hearts break for Syrian children nevertheless oppose bringing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into America and Europe. One is importing a vast number of people, many of whom share few values with Western civilization, and who are the products of contemporary Arab culture, the most Jew-hating culture outside of Iran.

• And because truth matters.

So, to return to the beginning, Rob Eshman is right to remind us to remember the Armenian genocide. We also need to remember who perpetrated it.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Jewish World Watch’s Walk to End Genocide participants included Mariya Svilak (fourth from left), part of the Stephen Wise Temple team, and Karina Zysman (far right), a senior at Taft Charter High School and captain of Team Taft. Photo by Ryan Torok

Community puts best foot forward at JWW’s Walk to End Genocide


To help raise awareness of efforts to end genocides, approximately 1,000 people participated in the 11th annual Jewish World Watch (JWW) Walk to End Genocide on April 30, starting at Pan Pacific Park.

“It’s one place where everyone comes together,” said Susan Freudenheim, executive director of JWW. “It’s a community event where people of all denominations and across the board — churches and other groups — come together.”

Indeed, clergy, synagogue members, high school students and elected officials, many wearing T-shirts that read, “This is what activism looks like,” covered 5 kilometers on streets neighboring The Grove and the Original Farmers Market.

“I think all of us who have genocide in our DNA need to stand right now with Jewish World Watch to make sure we understand genocide is not something in the history books,” Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer said in an interview. “Genocide is something happening right now.”

Beyond the Holocaust, during which the Nazis systematically targeted European Jewry for extinction, other groups have suffered genocide, which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines as “violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group.”

A Jewish lawyer from what is now Belarus, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term “genocide” in 1944. Genocides have occurred against Armenians in 1915, Cambodians in 1975, Rwandans in 1994 and Sudanese in the early years of this century.

“I think all of us who have genocide in our DNA need to stand right now with Jewish World Watch to make sure we understand genocide is not something in the history books.” — Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer

Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman, director of youth learning and engagement at Temple Beth Am, said the walk would not prevent killings in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, or Syria, which has endured civil war since 2011. Raising awareness about those countries, however, is important, Hoffman said.

“You don’t walk because it ends genocide,” he said, joined by his daughter, Mina, 10, at the event. “You walk to raise awareness that genocide is a real thing that exists today.”

Jordana Olszewski, who owns a jewelry company called Jordana Adrienne, participated as a member of Team Ohr HaTorah, named for a synagogue in Mar Vista. She started the day at 8 a.m., running in a 10K race that kicked off the event.

“I’m tired, but it’s all right, it’s great,” she said, as she completed the event. “All these different synagogues and organizations coming together, it’s really nice.” Moments later, she picked up a bongo drum and banged away as part of a drum circle drawing people of all ages.

Headquartered in Encino, JWW is focused on ending genocide by partnering with groups working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan.

In 2004, the late Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold Schulweis co-founded the organization with Janice Kamenir-Reznik, on the premise that Jews have a responsibility to prevent another Holocaust from happening, whether the victims are Jewish or not.

Schulweis delivered a 2004 High Holy Days sermon titled “Globalism and Judaism,” in which he declared, “To be a Jew is to think big; to be a Jew is to think globally; to be a Jew is to act globally; to be a Jew is to love God, who is global.”

At the walk, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz attempted to uphold the JWW co-founder’s mission.

“ ‘Never again’ does not just mean for Jews,” he said, wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. “We all have to fight genocide in any way we can.”

Freudenheim said the organization has expanded its work to include assistance for refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war.

“We’ve also been working on trying to help the Syrian refugees who are in Greece, in Lesbos, by providing help to support the psychological aspects of their residency, to give them psychological support,” she said.

Additional JWW Walk to End Genocide events took place this year in Washington, D.C., and Santa Rosa and the Conejo Valley in California.  Altogether, the four events raised more than $180,000.

Karina Zysman, 18, a senior at Taft Charter High School planning to attend UCLA this fall, is secretary of the JWW Teen Ambassador Program, which instills community organizing and advocacy skills in students grades 9-12.

As captain of Team Taft and participating in her first Walk to End Genocide, she carried a sign reading, “Welcome Refugees.”

“The first step to making a change is to show up,” she said. “I am so astonished by how many people did show up for this cause. It inspires me to have hope, using baby steps to change the world for the better.”

Oscar Isaac in “The Promise.” Photo by Jose Haro

Morgenthau’s Children


If you go see the movie “The Promise” this weekend — and you should — you’ll notice a brief scene about two-thirds of the way through, one that ought to resonate even more deeply with American Jews.

“The Promise” is the first large-scale Hollywood film about the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century. It uses big stars, gripping action and a wrenching love story to tell about what the United Nations recognizes as the first modern, organized mass murder of a single people. 

In the scene I’m referring to, Henry Morgenthau, the United States ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, played by actor James Cromwell, confronts Mehmet Talaat, the empire’s interior minister. Morgenthau demands the Turks put an end to the killing and forced deportation of innocent Armenians. When the official repeats the party line (which Turkish officials parrot to this day) that any deaths are the unfortunate consequence of the chaos of war, Morgenthau presents evidence compiled by American consuls and journalists of an organized and concerted effort to wipe out the Armenian minority. Talaat fixes Morgenthau with an icy stare.

“You are a Jew, Ambassador Morgenthau,” he says. “Why should you care about these people?”

Morgenthau answers that as a Jew and an American, he knows what it is to be persecuted, and a refugee.

That shuts upTalaat — but the killing continues.

I don’t know whether the incident happened exactly as it played on screen. But I do know that in reality, Morgenthau cabled Washington, D.C., to report, “a campaign of race extermination is in progress.” He exhausted himself trying to stop it and, despondent that he failed, spent much of the rest of his life raising the equivalent of $1 billion in today’s dollars for Armenian relief.

I used to think the Holocaust was special. I now know that it is, and it isn’t. It was preceded by genocides, it has been followed by genocides, and it will likely, tragically, be echoed by current and future genocides.

The current list includes those in Syria and Iraq, where, along with 500,000 casualties of the civil war, ISIS has singled out the Yazidi people for extermination. In the Central African Republic, continuing violence between Christian majority and Muslim minority militias have seen thousands murdered and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.

In South Sudan, genocide already has taken 450,000 lives since 2003 and threatens to take many more. This year, the group Genocide Watch listed the failed state of Somalia at Stage 9 on the 10 Stages of Genocide and issued a Genocide and Mass Atrocities Alert. In Myanmar, the 1 million members of the Muslim minority Rohingya face persecution, deportation and starvation.

We know these things are happening. The lack of information is only a convenient excuse in hindsight. Even in Morgenthau’s time, there was contemporary reporting and eyewitnesses.

This week, we learned from newly released archives from the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide that as early as 1944, the West knew what was really happening in Auschwitz and Treblinka. Documents smuggled out to the Polish government in exile provided all the evidence leaders needed to act. Today, we have even fewer excuses.

The American-Jewish community focuses a lot of attention on what will happen when there are no more Holocaust survivors to bear witness to what happened. I can understand why. Each year I go to Holocaust commemorative events, where the survivors in the audience are asked to stand up. What used to be dozens of resolute individuals has now dwindled to a handful — and most of these men and women were young children during the war years.

Fortunately, we have created a firewall of memory that includes liturgy, museums, art, film and TV, books, academic research and documentary testimony that will speak to future generations. It is easy to groan at yet another Holocaust memorial or movie, but each is a testament to the disappearing survivors, that their suffering will not be forgotten, that the living have done their duty to the past.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Have we done our duty to the living? Are we listening to the eyewitnesses to the contemporary genocides who are trying to speak to us? Are we reading the unpleasant journalism from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Myanmar? As we turn our attention, activism and philanthropy, for good reason, to the shambles that is our domestic politics, are we ignoring the urgent pleas from this generation’s victims?

The answer is yes, we are guilty of all those things. The internet has made it easier than ever to find out what fresh hell is happening — just click on the website for Genocide Watch or add The Mantle (mantlethought.org) to your favorites bar. But the internet also has given us the attention spans of 2-year-olds. 

Too sad?  Too hard? Too much?  Remember: We are the children of Morgenthau. If we, of all people, do not take up the cause of the victims of genocide, in every country, in every generation, who will? 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Czech minister under fire for questioning existence of Roma concentration camp


Czech Republic Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babis has come under criticism for questioning aspects of the wartime genocide of the Roma people.

Speaking in the northern Czech town of Varnsdorf on Thursday, Babis, who also serves as the country’s finance minister, disputed the existence of a concentration camp where hundreds of Roma, or Gypsies, died during WWII.

“There used to be times when all the Romani people worked. What they now say in the papers that the camp in Lety was a concentration camp, that’s a lie, it was a labor camp. Whoever avoided work was sent there,” Andrej Babiš said during a stop on his campaign trail ahead of October’s regional election.

The camp in Lety, located some 45 miles south of Prague, was set up in 1939 as a labor camp for people deemed to be avoiding work. But in August 1942, the Nazi authorities turned it into a concentration camp for the Roma people where more than 1,300 people were interned, including families with children.

Over 320 people died in the Lety camp. Most of the inmates were deported to the Auschwitz extermination camp, and the Lety camp was closed down in 1943. In total, some 5,500 Czech Roma people were deported to Auschwitz, with around 600 them having survived the Holocaust.

Andrej Babis, a billionaire leader of the populist ANO party, has denied intention to question the Roma Holocaust. In a Facebook post, he said he had been quoting someone else’s opinion, and that his words had been taken out of context.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka as well as several other government ministers and opposition leaders have meanwhile denounced Babis’ remarks. “He should be ashamed, and he should apologize and stop spreading such stupid things,” Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told the news website respekt.cz.

The head of the Czech Republic’s federation of Jewish communities, Petr Papoušek, told JTA Babis should apologize for his statements.

“It’s astounding that a government minister would say something like this. It was an ignorant and populist comment. And I don’t think his Facebook comment helped clear things out – it’s phrased in such a way that should still allow him to gain political support,” Petr Papousek said.

Author of Black Lives Matter position on Israel defends ‘genocide’ claim


The co-author of the Black Lives Matter platform passage accusing Israel of “genocide” defended the term, saying Israel’s actions fit in its wider definition.

Ben Ndugga-Kabuye co-authored the statement along with Rachel Gilmer, the former board member of a Zionist youth group. Ndugga-Kabuye told JTA he understood why Jewish groups disagree with the statement, but was perplexed that it has received so much attention.

He compared it with the accusations of genocide that black activists have leveled at the United States and called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of many international conflicts U.S. black activists feel connected to.

“The way we look at it is, we take strong stances,” Ndugga-Kabuye, a New York City organizer for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told JTA. “The demand we’re making is we’re against the U.S. continuing funding and military aid to the government of Israel. These are all things that are going to be in debate.”

The platform, released Aug. 2 by The Movement for Black Lives coalition, is largely a statement of the goals of a movement that coalesced around police violence directed against black people in the United States, mass incarceration of African-Americans and other domestic issues.

But it also calls for ending U.S. military aid to Israel and accuses Israel of being an apartheid state. The platform includes a link to a website promoting the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel called BDS.

“The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people” reads the “Invest/Divest” section of “A Vision for Black Lives.”

A string of Jewish organizations, from the Anti-Defamation League to the Reform movement and National Council of Jewish Women, has condemned the genocide and apartheid language as well as the BDS endorsement. T’ruah, a rabbis’ human rights group that opposes Israel’s West Bank occupation, also criticized the document.

Most of the organizations took pains to note that they are sympathetic to other parts of the platform, many of which jibe with liberal Jewish positions on the criminal justice system, economic justice and immigration.

“While we are deeply concerned about the ongoing violence and the human rights violations directed at both Israelis and Palestinians, we believe the terms genocide and apartheid are inaccurate and inappropriate to describe the situation,” NCJW wrote in a statement. “Further, BDS is too often used to de-legitimize Israel’s right to exist.”

Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye Photo courtesy of Ndugga-Kabuye

Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS, was the rare Jewish group that endorsed the platform in its entirety.

Ndugga-Kabuye said state actions don’t need to rise to the level of the Holocaust or other historical genocides to deserve the term, which he said could connote unjust state killing of a disadvantaged group. He compared his usage of the word to We Charge Genocide, a group that opposes police violence in Chicago.

“We’re talking about a structure of violent deaths that are state sanctioned, that are without accountability, and that are ongoing,” he told JTA. “We can say this is what’s happening in Palestine and not equate it with what’s happening in South America. It doesn’t say it’s the same number of people being killed or the [same] manner of people being killed.”

Ndugga-Kabuye said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just one of many international issues the platform comments on — including the dangers African migrants face in crossing the Mediterranean Sea, or conflicts in Somalia, Colombia or Honduras. He said the passage on Israel is longer because “there’s a certain prominence to it, and that may require us to go a little more in detail.” But he said the statements about other conflicts, charging the United States with imperialist actions, are just as strong as the language condemning Israel.

“I don’t see it as a special connection,” Ndugga-Kabuye said about the link between the Movement for Black Lives and the Palestinian cause. “We stand in solidarity with Palestine, but it’s not any different than our connection with the Somali community. It’s not any different than our connection with the Colombian community.”

The vast majority of the platform addresses issues unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its six sections deal with physical, social, economic and political discrimination against black people. Among its list of demands is an end to capital punishment, free universal education and a universal basic income for black Americans, the demilitarization of police, a broad reform of the prison system and reparations for black Americans.

In addition to demanding an end to foreign aid for Israel and Egypt, the platform calls for divesting from the fossil fuel industry and reducing the U.S. defense budget.

The platform accuses the U.S. of subjecting black Americans to “food apartheid” and “educational apartheid.” In both cases, it claims the government has deprived black communities of access to the same resources enjoyed by white Americans.

Ndugga-Kabuye told JTA that his goal was “thinking about all the different ways American military policy impacts different black communities across the world and how that’s tied into what’s going on here domestically.”

“The main effort of a number of the sections in the platform is to connect the domestic Movement for Black Lives to the international movement for black lives in a number of different countries,” he said.

Gilmer, the co-author of the Invest/Divest section, told Haaretz her father is African-American and her mother is Jewish. She is a former board member of Young Judaea, a Zionist youth group, although she no longer identifies as Jewish, according to Haaretz, and has become an anti-Israel activist. Now she is the chief of strategy for Dream Defenders, a black community organizing group based in Florida.

(Gilmer did not respond to  email and Facebook messages from JTA seeking comment.)

Dream Defenders released a statement doubling down on the genocide language. The statement accused pro-Israel critics of being “wolves in sheep’s clothing” for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement only as long as it supports Israel. It asserted that Israel committed genocide during its 1948 War of Independence, as some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from Israel or fled and were prevented from returning.

Fighting Israeli “apartheid,” the statement said, is inseparable from fighting racism in America. It called on its allies to join the BDS campaign.

“As Black people fighting for our freedom, we are not thugs and our Palestinian brothers and sisters are not terrorists,” the statement said. “For the children who are met with tear gas and rubber bullets as they walk home from school, for the families of those we have lost to police violence, for the communities devastated by economic violence and apartheid walls, we fight.”

On Friday, Jewish Voice for Peace released a statement from a group called the Jews of Color Caucus backing the platform’s section on Israel.

“We call on the U.S. Jewish community to end its legitimization of anti-Black racism through its combined attacks on the Black Lives Matter Platform and U.S. Palestine solidarity,” the statement said. “We call on the U.S. Jewish groups that have engaged in this anti-Black violence to retract their racist and harmful statements.”

Mainstream Jewish groups rejected the notion that because they object to the use of the term “genocide” and the emphasis on Israel, they are opposed to the economic and social justice goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. The groups noted how difficult, if not impossible, it is for them to work with members of Black Lives Matter on common causes when the Israel language signals they are not welcome.

“JCRC cannot and will not align ourselves with organizations that falsely and maliciously assert that Israel is committing ‘genocide,'” wrote Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council in a statement on the platform. That being said, the statement continued, “As we dissociate ourselves from the Black Lives Matter platform and those BLM organizations that embrace it, we recommit ourselves unequivocally to the pursuit of justice for all Americans, and to working together with our friends and neighbors in the African-American community, whose experience of the criminal justice system is, far too often, determined by race.”

Ndugga-Kabuye said he understood that the genocide term could prevent some Jews from joining the Black Lives Matter movement, but said it was “something we have to consider, but it’s also something we have to accept.” He said negative Jewish reactions to the platform recalled the later years of the 1960s civil rights movement, when white and black allies split over tactics and ideology.

He rejected the idea that accusing Israel of genocide makes the movement anti-Semitic, saying the accusation is not connected to Israel’s Jewish character.

“Are you saying I’m committing genocide because of who I am, my identity?” Ndugga-Kabuye said, hypothetically placing himself in Israel’s role. “That would obviously be racist. But if you’re talking about a series of policies that are in place between one group over another, folks may argue we’re wrong, but the question of whether we’re anti-Semitic is another question altogether.”

Calendar: July 29 – August 4


FRI | JULY 29

“OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES”

This comedy show pays tribute to and reinvents classic jokes of the past and present. It features comic songs, new and old, while giving a nod to some of the world’s great comedians. “Old Jews Telling Jokes” enjoyed a record-breaking and critically acclaimed off-Broadway run. Suggestive and raunchy at times, the 90-minute show, featuring five actors/singers, has “old Jews” making fun of themselves in a flurry of jokes, songs and comic monologues. For mature audiences only. 7:30 p.m. $39.95-$59.95. Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (844) 448-7469. ” target=”_blank”>fordtheatres.org.

SAT | JULY 30

“BLUEPRINT FOR PARADISE”

On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, local police occupied a Pacific Palisades compound where Nazi sympathizers allegedly hoped to make a West Coast headquarters, known today as Murphy Ranch. The abandoned site, currently in a state of disrepair and covered in graffiti, is owned by the city of Los Angeles and has become a popular hiking destination, as well as the inspiration for this new play. Set in 1941 during the weeks leadin g up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and inspired by true events, “Blueprint for Paradise” imagines the relationship between African-American architect Paul Revere Williams (designer of landmark L.A. buildings such as the Los Angeles County Courthouse, as well as private residences for Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra) and a wealthy American couple who employed him to design the compound. By Laurel M. Wetzork. 8 p.m. $25. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 960-4412. ” target=”_blank”>m.

LAST SABBATH: PASTRONOMY

Come take a culinary tour of some of the best pastrami in Los Angeles. The tour starts in DTLA with picnic sandwiches from Langer’s and Wexler’s (location TBA) from which the group will take the Metro to Dog Haus USC for pastrami dogs. Then the group will head back downtown for cocktails at Clifton’s before finishing with pastrami tacos at Stocking Frame. The event is hosted by some of the top Los Angeles food minds today. There will vegetarian options available. Last Sabbath is a casual, adults-only monthly dinner sponsored by East Side Jews. 1 p.m. $30. Cocktails not included in ticket price. RSVP required. joel@sijcc.net. (323) 663-2255. ” target=”_blank”>gilssanctuary.com.

STAND UP! A NIGHT OF COMEDY

Hosted by Michael Schirtzer, this fun night of laughs features headliner Debra DiGiovanni, as well as Dominic Harris, Garrick Bernard, Anna Valenzuela, Keith Carey and Chase Bernstein. 8:30 p.m. $15 online; $20 at the door. Malibu Playhouse, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (323) 960-7711. SUN | JULY 31

“WHATEVER YOUR HEART DESIRES”

Join in this one-night-only fundraiser and see eight-time Emmy Award winner Edward Asner and “Nebraska” star June Squibb in this play by Christine Rosensteel. “Whatever Your Heart Desires” is a humorous story about an elderly couple in Los Angeles who, on the verge of losing their independence, invite a young homeless couple to live with them. A clash of desires ensues when the young man’s brother has not-so-kosher plans for the elderly couple. 7 p.m. $20. Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 364-3606. ” target=”_blank”>yala.org.

MON | AUG 1

“ALL MY DISTANCES ARE FAR”

This world premiere of acclaimed playwright and actress Leda Siskind’s latest production, “All My Distances Are Far,” tackles hard questions, from the issue of a foster teen who ages out of the system to a straight-A student who is sexually molested to an adolescent boy with Asperger’s who falls in love. Through each of these characters’ monologues, the audience becomes a confidant, as well as the witness to the urban high school’s therapist. Siskind directs the cast of seven in this docudrama about the struggles of multicultural teens trying to fit in to society. 8 p.m. $25. Theatre 40 at Beverly Hills High School, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 364-3606. THURS | AUG 4

“GENOCIDE”

This award-winning Holocaust documentary by Arnold Schwartzman won the 1982 Oscar for best documentary feature. Narrated by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles, it was co-produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It’s part of “Hollywood Takes on the Holocaust,” a five-week series of screenings about films regarding the Holocaust. There are afternoon and evening screenings with a panel discussion in between. 4 and 8 p.m. screenings; 6:30 panel discussion. Free. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 S. The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704.

Berlin government to ban Hezbollah flags from anti-Israel march


The Berlin State Senate has agreed to ban Hezbollah flags, with their image of an upraised assault weapon, from an anti-Israel Al Quds march, likening the symbol to a call for genocide.

The announcement came following a request by the American Jewish Committee in Berlin. The march is scheduled for Saturday.

Berlin state interior minister Frank Henkel, on the advice of the Berlin police, said that the flags would be added to the propaganda material that is not permitted to be displayed publicly.

 

A spokesperson for the Berlin police, Thomas Neuendorf, told JTA that not only are Hezbollah flags banned, but  Hezbollah symbols themselves may not been shown at all – whether on flags or posters or clothing or any other manner.

This is due to the fact that  “the display of these flags and symbols can be tantamount to incitement to hate, in that they prompt people to chant hate slogans against a part of the population, namely Jewish fellow citizens,” he wrote in a statement. “In addition, such actions
represent an identification with and approval of Hezbollah and their acts that, in relation to the upcoming march, without current context, are not protected free speech.”

The AJC in Berlin greeted this as a step towards Germany recognizing that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. “We should not stop halfway,” Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office, said in a statement. “Germany should make every effort to have Hezbollah put on the EU terror list.”

Germany joined with other European countries in 2013 in calling for the group to be put on that list. Hezbollah is also considered a terrorist group by the Arab League, Bahrain, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, among others.

In his statement, Henkel said that past experience at the annual Al-Quds event in Berlin had shown that it made sense to bar the display of the flag, along with other statements or chants that incite hate. “Anyone who calls for the destruction of an entire people and promotes war and violence is abusing the right” of free speech and assembly, Henkel wrote, in part.

Al Quds Day, a protest against Israel’s existence, was established in 1979 by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Since then, his followers have marked the day in cities around the world with large Muslim populations, during or shortly after Ramadan. Since 1996, Berlin’s annual demonstration has attracted between 300 and 1,000 Islamists. Men and women march separately.

In its petition to the Berlin Senate, AJC also had asked that the march be rerouted away from one of Berlin’s major synagogues, where Sabbath services will be just concluding around the time of the event. This request was not granted.

This year’s counter demonstration is organized by several pro-civil society organizations and will take place one street away from the synagogue.

Letters to the editor: Eshman and Suissa work together; Breech babies; Moishe House and more


Divine Unity

A hearty yasher koach to Rob Eshman and David Suissa (“Forward … Together,” Sept. 18). Together is where we must be, left wing and right wing. After all, with one wing, no bird can fly. Here’s to more unity in 5776.

Rabbi Baruch Cohon, Los Angeles

Thanks to Rob Eshman and David Suissa for a thoughtful, meaningful and timely letter to all in our community. For weeks, I have been alarmed at the divisiveness of our Jewish community over the Iran deal and have witnessed the same emotions both Eshman and Suissa relate to. We all love Israel, we all love America, but there are two valid approaches to this problem. We all need the freedom to express and believe in our own solutions. Thanks for expressing your position … it was so very necessary.

Ronald Spiegel via email

The Journal expresses many diversities as mentioned by Eshman and Suissa in the last issue. Some at the Journal condemn Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu for not dealing kindly with its enemies within and beyond its borders. A few defend Israel’s struggle to survive at all costs. Unfortunately, the two work in contrast to each other. Survival won’t happen by making nice with your sworn, unbending enemies. Israel will not get any help from the U.S., so it has to be tough. Our current administration is not a friend of Israel. You can Yom Kipper together till you starve to death but it won’t help Israel. The Iran deal is only good for Iran.

Chuck Colton, Sherman Oaks

Breech Advice a Breach of Safety

The article about delivering breech babies distorts recommended obstetric practice and would endanger mothers and babies if they followed its advice (“Delivering Breech Babies, Offering an Option,” Sept. 18).

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology still recommends Caesarean section as the preferred mode of delivery for most breech presentations. 

Women with a breech presentation should rely on their personal physician’s advice and expertise, and would be well advised to think carefully, for the safety of both themselves and their babies, to go against mainstream medical practice when facing a breech delivery.

Two of the three obstetricians mentioned in the movie have been disciplined by the Medical Board of California. And chiropractors should stick to spinal manipulation — they have no training or expertise in obstetrics.

Daniel Fink, M.D., Beverly Hills

Foundation Proud to Support Moishe House

I want to commend the Journal’s excellent cover story on Moishe House (“Communes for Community,” Aug. 28), which is a truly inspired model for engaging Jewish millennials — culturally and religiously. Writer Aron Chilewich vividly captured the spirit, as well as the nuances, of this initiative. 

Social innovators such as founder and CEO David Cygielman give me great confidence in our Jewish future. It takes not only vision, but tireless effort, as well, to grow and scale a program like Moishe House and earn the confidence of various nonprofit funders, which David has done admirably.  

There is one notable omission of funders in the story, however. The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, which I lead, recognized Moishe House’s promise in 2011 with a $200,000 Cutting Edge Grant. The grant provided instrumental funding to help Moishe House establish its first multihouse community with residences in West Hollywood, West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

We are duly proud of what Moishe House has accomplished through our support and that of many others, as well as delighted to see it receive the recognition it richly deserves.

Marvin I. Schotland, President and CEO of Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

A Holocaust Is a Holocaust

As a child of a Holocaust survivor of a Vichy French camp, whose father, the grandfather for whom I am named and never met, perished in Auschwitz, I had the Holocaust drummed into my head both at home and in Saturday school from a very early age (“In Defense of Natalie Portman,” Sept. 4). In spite of that, it wasn’t until 1996, when I walked in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, where up to 3 million people perished at the hands of the communist despot Pol Pot, and had teeth and femurs staring up at me from the ground, that I truly understood man’s terrible inhumanity to man. We Jews should not think that we have somehow “cornered the market” on Holocausts. A Holocaust is a Holocaust is a Holocaust. Plain and simple. 

Marc Yablonka, Burbank

A story of survival and the healing power of familiarity


This time of year, we remember the Holocaust; the genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda  and sadly, many other places. We remember the faces of the victims and the stories so  horrible that hearing them can make one feel sick. And with all this to remember, there are still  tragedies that are lesser known, crimes against humanity so horrific that many would argue it  is impossible that they occurred in such recent history. Yet I am a survivor of such a tragedy ­the Khojaly Massacre of 1992, and one of the female survivors and witnesses of the Khojaly  torture camp.    

As a woman and a Muslim, it is extremely painful to reconcile the horrible trauma of Khojaly  with my faith and traditional culture, and my shame from suffering violations of the most  fundamental components of my identity. As a survivor of torture, I spent years in isolation at  home, watching films about the Holocaust; the only lens that captures anything relative to  what I experienced. I spent sleepless nights soothing myself out of panic with Schindler's List  and The Pianist. Living in that solitary world with films and nightmares was almost as tragic as  the reasons for which I lived there. My life hung somewhere in the balance of total isolation  mixed with the severity of ongoing and extensive surgeries to recover my body from the  brutality of torture and the impact of exposure during my captivity, procedures such as  receiving titanium spinal implants, with every second of this process and pain a reminder of its cause.     

I come from the town of Khojaly in Nagorno ­Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan once flourishing  and promising for my young generation at the time. In the early 1990’s, all of that suddenly  changed. Most of the world doesn’t even know the name of Khojaly, or that Armenia  perpetrated there one of the most brutal massacres in recent history against a terrified, fleeing  Azerbaijani populace. The night (Feb. 25­26, 1992)  the Massacre began, I ran for my life with  my brother, into the freezing woods, and got captured and taken to the torture camp. I was  only 20 years old…    

With dark irony, I understand why Armenia still denies that Khojaly happened. I understand  this because I will never shake the images of a 2 year old Azerbaijani child, shot while fleeing  with his parents, his blood spattered body suspended in my memory as if in the air for that  moment of gruesome impact. How could anyone face the taking of hundreds of innocent lives,  the bayoneting of pregnant women and elderly, the showering of fatal bullets onto fleeing  children, and mothers holding their lifeless infants. As a victim, facing my past has nearly  broken me, so I imagine that as perpetrators, denial must be of tangible comfort.     

As a Muslim woman, there is a certain and unspeakable pain I feel in explaining to the public  that I was subjected to brutal torture and humiliation, including rape, for many days in the Armenian captivity. Sharing this has been a tragedy for my soul, separate from the cruelties  my body suffered. But I realize that by sharing it, I can live beyond the shadows of shame and  step into the light of my own healing.     

The last few years, my life has dramatically changed. With immense support from my family  and community, I have begun the process of sharing. The hidden parts of my past have  become public and documented. I have begun to make a record of the nightmare I survived.     

Until February of 2015, I had never visited any country in the West. On my first day in  California, I met a Jewish community leader involved in global peace efforts, and we  conducted a radio interview, with an Iranian­Jewish psychologist and talk show host; a  specialist in the survivors of intense trauma and the Holocaust. Through connecting my story  with a caring psychologist, and my new friend, herself the 3rd generation of Holocaust survivors, I realized a powerful sense of understanding I had yet to experience before that  day.     

This feeling expanded when I learned of the Khojaly memorial held at a Los Angeles  synagogue, a week following my visit. The Jewish community’s response to learning of  Khojaly as a parallel to the Holocaust has been monumental for my ability to share and heal.  The genocide in Khojaly stands out as an example of the lowest displays of human depravity.  But now, through the welcoming arms of the Jewish community of Los Angeles, the  connection has been made and the silence broken. For me, this changes everything.     

Through the power of my own healing, I am deeply motivated to help other women face their  own stories of survival, and by doing so, eradicate the shame and loneliness that follows the  fact of torture and trauma. I once thought I could never share what happened, and now I know  that by sharing it, I am part of a larger movement to heal, and not only myself, but the entire  world.  It is my sincerest hope to inspire other survivors, those across the world who have had  the paradigms of their innocence blown away by the tragic cannon of hatred and oppression,  and join together in a unified bond, strengthening each other and the world. Not only the  survivors of torture and genocide, but also women from nations that have never experienced  modern war, for so many women live with the trauma of violence, some even in their own  homes. I strongly believe that through a growing commitment to the familiarity of all who  suffer, this world will become a different kind of place, one that would never allow the pain and  great sorrow of genocide or any kind of violence to happen ever again, to anyone, anywhere.     

Durdane Agayeva lives in Baku with her husband and daughter, and can be reached by email at ​ agayevadurdane@gmail.com ​Durdane truly believes in the power of unified voices, and  hopes to hear from you, your story of survival and your commitment to human rights for all  people.

On the eve of Yom Hazikaron, some thoughts on the Armenian Genocide


More than 60 years ago, my Aunt Ruth and her family escaped through the back door of their home as Nazi soldiers broke down the front.  She spent the next seven years of her life hiding in basements, monasteries and praying that she would survive.  She went on to have four children, naming her eldest, Vita, proving that life could persist even the darkest of moments. 

Aunt Ruth was able to live with the memory of the Holocaust, joined by a global community who never questioned her harrowing escape nor the near annihilation of our people. April 24 marks the 100-year anniversary of the systematic murder of at least 1.5 million Armenian grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters and children. As the Jewish community prepares to hold days of remembrance for the Holocaust, I can’t help but reflect on a century Armenian Genocide denial and the deafening silence from too many.

Like Jews, the Armenian people were relocated, sent on death marches, starved and burned. The Ottoman Turks waged a campaign of ethnic cleanings from 1915-18 well documented by The New York Times, which published more than 100 articles documenting the mass murder. Henry Morgenthau, the United States ambassador to the Ottoman Empire wrote a detailed account of the horrific scenes he witnessed and of the “men reeking with the blood of nearly a million human beings.”

Reading Morgenthau’s “The Murder of a Nation,” I am reminded of the stories of my own grandfathers’ accounts when they liberated Auschwitz and Dachau just 25 years after the genocidal campaign ended in the Ottoman Empire. Yet the truth remains silenced.

Honoring a person’s memory is integral to Jewish tradition.  We sit shiva for seven days when a person dies, and we light yahrzeit candles every year on the anniversary of their death. Each year, we commemorate the 6 million Jews were murdered during Yom Ha’Shoah and on Yom Ha’zikaron – which annually occurs around the same time as remembrances for the genocide – we remember those who died fighting for our Jewish homeland. Why don’t we dissent louder for our Armenian cousins when only days later we commemorate the slaughter of 1.5 million?

The world has been fed a false narrative that the campaign of horror inflicted by the Ottoman Turks was not a one-sided attempt to wipe out an entire people, but a two-sided war of aggression. All evidence to the contrary, the world has held its nose and implicitly agreed to silence its conscience. Would we also hold our nose if Germany decided to reject the historical nature of the Holocaust or persist in flipping the narrative that the Jews fought just as hard against a German army bent only on defending its Fatherland?

I am thankful to live in a country where we are free to remember history as it happened. I am also thankful we have an opportunity to rightly call wrongs for what they are. In 2004, Congress passed a joint resolution calling what was happening in Darfur “genocide.” In 2007, Rep. Adam Schiff introduced a measure to justifiably label the genocide, rendering peace of mind to survivors, families and a world seeking truth. Passage of the measure would put the U.S. along side 22 countries that have recognized the genocide and 40 of the 50 U.S. states.

Turkey scuttled it, warning that any passage of this non-binding resolution would threaten its strategic partnership with the U.S.

This is the play. Turkey is an ally, one of the only moderate governments in the region, and open to Israel using its airspace. As a result, the U.S and many Jews fear that an acknowledgement will result in alienation and a retraction of our diplomatic allowances.  If this pretense once held sway, it no longer does.

Turkey’s relationship with Israel has disintegrated since 2010, when nine people died aboard a Turkish flotilla at the hands of Israel navy soldiers attempting to secure Israeli ports. Just last year, during the last conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan accused Israel of genocide. In a fiery speech, he said,  “We have been witnessing this systematic genocide every Ramadan since 1948.”  These are not the sentiments of an ally nor someone interested in maintaining cool diplomatic alliances.

Domestically, Erdogan has been called an autocrat and lashed out at protestors throughout his country. Internationally, Turkey’s growing alliances with Hamas and al-Qaida financiers make its so-called ally’s in the Western world nervous.

But putting geo politics aside, recognizing the genocide is the right thing to do. As the granddaughter of liberators, grandniece of survivors, and as self-avowed Zionist, I strive to live a life of kavanah integrating my Jewish values into daily life. This is what compels me to implore our community to stand b’yachad – together – with the Armenian community, to call and write our members of Congress to ask that they stand on courage to properly honor and remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were deliberately murdered. Let’s demand that they call the systematic ethnic cleansing what it was:  Genocide. 

On August 22, 1939, less than two weeks before the invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” History has shown that we are what we do not what we say we are.  If we are a people who never forget, a people who do not stand idly by the spilled blood of our neighbors, then now is the moment that we must act.  Today is the day that we say, 100 years is long enough to deny an undeniable truth. Dayenu. Enough.

Genocide, the Jews and why they call Israelis Nazis


We’ve long witnessed Mahmoud Abbas – “the moderate” – naming public squares after Palestinian terrorists whose hands are dripping with Jewish blood. He posthumously bestowed the “Star of Honor” on Abu Jihad, the mastermind of the 1978 Coastal Road attack where 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were killed, calling him “the model of a true fighter and devoted leader.” He named a public square about Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman who led the attack, in 2011. Last August, Abbas gave a hero's welcome to Palestinian murderers who were stupidly released by Israel as a goodwill gesture.

We’ve also watched as Abbas has slowly become yet another Arab dictator who, once he is elected, ceases all elections. We’ve watched as Abbas has turned the Palestinian Authority into a kleptocracy enriching his two sons Tarik and Yasser as they’ve illegally taken control of the cigarette, construction, and other trades. 

Now comes the news that Abbas’ response to last weeks’ shooting by a Palestinian terrorist of an Israeli-American activist in Jerusalem was to write the murderer’s father praising him as a Palestinian hero.

All this from the Abbas who wants peace. The man Israel is supposed to be doing business with. The man who is not Hamas. The man who would lead a peaceful Palestinian state.

Last September, three days before he went before the UN and accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinians, Abbas spoke at Cooper Union’s Great Hall to a crowd comprised mostly of NYU students. Many gave him a standing ovation as he repeated his blood libel about the Jewish state. And this in a University with more than 8000 Jewish students. 

Only one protest was staged outside the building on the night. It was organized by my son Mendy, an NYU undergraduate, who wisely focused on the positive message of the American values of democracy, racial harmony, and freedom of expression and how Abbas contravenes all three. Abbas is in the 10th year of his 4-year term as President and has no plans to go to elections. In July 2103 he promised that no Jews would be allowed to remain in a Palestinian state. It would be judenrein. And his Palestinian Authority continues the practice of Yasser Arafat before him of punishing independent news editors who may be critical of his leadership.

I was very proud of my son and his siblings and friends who joined him in the protest. The American campus is now a battleground for Israel and how can a battle be fought without fighters? 

On 17 November we will go beyond that protest and organize a proper response in an evening panel featuring the greatest living Jewish personality and one of the three most respected people alive, Elie Wiesel, the living face of the holocaust and the world’s most respected voice on genocide. Who better to respond to Abbas’ lie of an Israeli genocide against the Palestinians. Prof. Wiesel has been my friend and I have been his disciple for 25 years. This past summer he and I published a full-page ad in the world’s leading newspapers that assailed Hamas for engaging in human sacrifice by intentionally firing rockets from schools and homes and encouraging Arab children to devote “their shoulders and bodies” to the Palestinian cause. 

The world needs Prof. Wiesel’s voice right now as so much slaughter and human rights abuses take place around the globe. We also need to him to safeguard the word genocide – the most powerful in the English language – so that it is not abused by those with a political agenda, be they Jew-haters who wish to trivialize the holocaust and compare Jews to Nazis, or tyrants like Recep Tayyip Erdogan who scapegoat Israel so as to conceal their destruction of Turkish democracy.

Holocaust denial started as an attempt to undermine the suffering of the Jewish people and delegitimize Israel. For if  the Jews of Europe were not exterminated, what were they doing coming from Germany and Poland to take away Arab land?   Abbas himself wrote his shameful Ph. D. thesis on holocaust denial. 

There was one problem, however. No matter how much anti-Semitic historians like David Irving and murderous tyrants like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran tried to deny the holocaust, there were just too many Jews who died with too much evidence to suppress it.

So another idea arose. OK, millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis. But rather than the Jews becoming more humane and sensitive as a result, they have internalized the hatred of their tormentors. They have become Nazis themselves. They are engaged in the extermination and genocide of the Palestinians people.

Thus, ignoramuses like Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz along with self-hating Jews like Naomi Wolf and terrorist-lovers like Mahmoud Abbas have been parading the ultimate blood libel, that Jews are engaged in genocide. What better way to destroy the State of Israel than to make it impossible to defend itself.  

On 17 November I have also asked my close friend Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, whose Rabbi I was during his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford, to join our panel to help legally define the term genocide and give it moral and political context so as to impede its abuse. Noah is one of the foremost public intellectuals and legal scholars in the world and played a central role in the formation of the Iraqi constitution. Noah and I do not agree on all things political. But few people are more respected as experts in the fields of human rights. 

And we’re especially honored to have my friend Samantha Power, America’s Ambassador to the United Nations, giving the introduction and special tribute to Elie Wiesel. Samantha’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning work A Problem from Hell is the foremost book on genocide ever published and influenced my life deeply. Since becoming Ambassador Samantha has traveled to areas around the world where true genocides are taking place, like the Central African Republic and South Sudan, not to mention having just visited, at great personal risk, West Africa to help lead the world’s efforts to fight the Ebola Virus. As our Ambassador and voice the UN she is a great American light unto the nations. 

When genocide is trivialized it is not just the six million of the holocaust who suffer. It is the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks. It is the 2.5 million Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge. It is the 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered by the Hutu. And it is all the innocent victims in Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo. 

It’s time for people who truly care about human rights to start responding to those who use the murder of the others as a smokescreen to camouflage their despicable treatment of their fellow man.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books including “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Lived Life.” He has just published “Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer”. Tickets for “Genocide and the Jews: A Never-Ending Problem” on 17 November are available at “>www.thisworld.us. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Cartoon: Hamas code of behavior


After the fog of war: An early assessment of the Israel-Gaza conflict


It is far too early to assess the impact of the latest war in Gaza, but still some preliminary thoughts are in order:

Anti-Semitism panic

Judging by what I have been reading in the press blogs and emails, it seems as if many Jews are in a panic about the rise in anti-Semitism. Once again, people are asking: Is this 1939? 1933? Even as distinguished a student of anti-Semitism as my revered colleague professor Deborah Lipstadt is quoted as saying that this may be 1934.

Permit me to dissent. 

Nothing fundamental has changed nothing.

In the United States, Judaism remains the most admired of America’s religions, and Jews are accepted, respected and empowered. The war in Gaza did not cause a spike in energy prices, as we experienced during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 or the oil crisis of 1979, or a drop in the stock market. It did not threaten global conflict, as in 1973. So no instability was introduced into the American economy or society. Political support for Israel has been strong, and while there are generational divides in such support, none of it translates into a reason to fear a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism. Support for Israel will be an issue on campuses this fall, and the divide between the human-rights community and the supporters of Israel will endure.

In Europe, the problem remains threefold: 

There is anti-Semitism “in Europe” but not necessarily “of Europe,” meaning that if the people living in Europe adopt European values, including pluralism and tolerance, then whatever their opinion about Israel’s practices in Gaza, they have no particular problems with their Jewish neighbors. 

However, a significant segment of Muslim populations living in European countries dwell in these countries — some for generations — without acculturating to European values. They live “in Europe,” but they are not “of Europe.” These non-European Muslim minorities respond to events in the Middle East — as they did at the beginning of the Second Intifada, the Passover attacks and the second Lebanon War  — with an outbreak of violence against Jews. 

Two factors are different this time: The governments of Europe have condemned, often in very strong terms, anti-Semitism within their own countries, and they have generally been far more supportive of Israel than in previous conflicts, thus depriving their local residents of the oxygen required to move opposition to Israel into license to attack local Jews.

What has not changed is that opposition to Israel on the left has given an intellectual “moral” veneer to primitive hatred. These Muslim inhabitants of European countries are not being assimilated into the lands in which they dwell; thus, their presence and their responsiveness to events elsewhere will persist. The problem will not go away, yet it is much larger than the Jewish question alone.

Fortunately, Muslim immigrants cannot find common cause with the other anti-Semitic elements in Europe — the far right — because the far right is deeply anti-immigrant. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen has muted her father’s anti-Semitism in order to strengthen her position with the voters. (Some might see this as analogous to the moves of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), though one must not equate former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) with Jean-Marie Le Pen.)

Parenthetically, this European problem should serve to warn against American proposals for a guest worker program or permanent residence permits for immigrants to America without a path to citizenship that would retain an ongoing non-Americanizing immigrant presence in the United States.

Such a policy is bad for America and even worse for the Jewish community.

Assessing the current situation is neither an excuse for complacency nor a reason not to condemn the expressions of anti-Semitism vehemently. One of the most significant dangers we face is the routinization of such anti-Semitism and the failure to disqualify the anti-Semites and their supporters from participating in the mainstream of European — or American — culture. Politicians must have the integrity to condemn anti-Semitism despite the growing presence of its supporters.

Problem for the right wing, the left wing, no return to status quo ante

The war has created a problem for Israel’s right wing as it demonstrated what security leaders of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Mossad and the Shin Bet — past and present — have long argued: There is no military solution to the conflict, at least not one that is compatible with Israeli values or with Israel’s willingness to sacrifice its young to reoccupy Gaza and thus more completely dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas. 

This summer, Israel faced almost optimal conditions for a maximalist solution, if it was willing to pay the price. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority would not have been unhappy to see Hamas thoroughly defeated. The United States and the European countries recognized Israel’s right to self-defense, and world attention was focused on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, the rapid gains of ISIS and President Barack Obama’s decision to defend the Kurds. Gaza was a second-tier story for much of the past month, and Hamas was as isolated as it has ever been, as it is discovering in cease-fire negotiations. Even then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his even more hawkish Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon refused to move the IDF back into Gaza, unwilling to sacrifice IDF soldiers.

The war also demonstrated that the status quo, even the status quo ante, is untenable and thus may call into question some of the political judgments preceding the war, including the severity of Israel’s reaction to the unity government of Fatah and Hamas, its judgment of Mahmoud Abbas, and its lack of imagination and boldness in pursuing negotiations with him.

The confluence of interests among Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel should be tested as to whether it can yield political results.

The left wing also should take no solace from recent events as the furies of hatred against Israel and the Jews are intense, persistent and unyielding. 

The perceived rise in anti-Semitism comes as a shock to Zionists who believed that the foundation of an independent Jewish state would extinguish the flames of Jew hatred. For more than 40 years, we have seen that Israel can also fuel the flames of anti-Semitism.

Ironically, some French Jews are fleeing violence at home to face enemy rockets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Perhaps Diaspora Jews need another type of Iron Dome.

Genocide

I have joined with other scholars of Holocaust and genocide studies to condemn the statements equating Israel’s actions in Gaza with genocide. On July 9, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech in Ramallah, accused Israel of “committing genocide.” On Aug. 1, on Al Jazeera’s English-language TV broadcast, Fatah foreign affairs spokesman Nabil Sha’ath described the situation in Gaza as “a Holocaust.” Also on Aug. 1, Turkey’s prime minister— now president-elect — Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “Hitler-like fascism.”

These comparisons are odious, especially so since Israel has the power to commit genocide and even the provocation to do so, but however overwhelming the destruction in Gaza, Israel’s response has been measured. Its use of power has been both restrained and horrendous.

Erdogan, who has amassed significant power within Turkey and who aspires to play a larger role on the world stage, must be led to understand that such outrageous thinking will marginalize him and the country he leads. His isolation from the cease-fire talks was not only warranted but required as a result of his utterances.

One may not condemn others without challenging our own.

I must also condemn not only the blog post offering a justification for genocide and the rabbi willing to justify the annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza, but also the proposals of the deputy speaker of the Knesset for advocating ethnic cleansing in Gaza. 

We Jews have been victims of ethnic cleansing many times in our history. We have been instrumental in outlawing ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the Shoah, and we must retain our opposition, especially when we have the power to impose such a solution.


Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at jewishjournal.com.

Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem: Moral idiots


About 10 days ago, Penelope Cruz and her husband, Javier Bardem, signed a public letter in Spain along with prominent Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and other Spanish directors and actors accusing Israel of “genocide” and “extermination.”

Some excerpts (unofficial translation from the Spanish):

“There is no distance or neutrality that can be justified in the horror taking place in Gaza at this time. It is a war of occupation and extermination.” 

“The West standing and allowing such genocide is shameless. I do not understand this barbarism, and considering the Jewish people’s background, this cruelty is even less comprehensible.” 

“I want to clarify certain issues: Yes, my son was born in a Jewish hospital; I have close, dear friends who are Jewish. Because someone is a Jew does not mean he supports this massacre, just as being a Hebrew does not make you a Zionist, and being a Palestinian does not make you a Hamas terrorist. That is as absurd as saying that being German makes you a Nazi.”

After receiving some blowback, Cruz and Bardem released a statement as moronic and even more fatuous than their original statement. 

Bardem: “My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace. Destruction and hatred only generate more hatred and destruction. While I was critical of the Israeli military response, I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses. I am now being labeled by some as anti-Semitic, as is my wife — which is the antithesis of who we are as human beings. We detest anti-Semitism as much as we detest the horrible and painful consequences of war.

“I was raised to be against any act of violence.”

On the meaningless-response scale, Cruz actually outdid her husband:

“I don’t want to be misunderstood on this important subject. I’m not an expert on the situation and I’m aware of the complexity of it. My only wish and intention in signing that group letter is the hope that there will be peace in both Israel and Gaza.”

One will notice that neither Cruz nor Bardem retracted their charges of genocide, extermination or Zionists as Nazis. 

There were, however, two true sentences in their follow-up statements. 

Bardem undoubtedly was “raised to be against any act of violence.” Raised in Spain as a leftist, that is exactly what he was raised to believe. That violence can never be moral is one of the many moral idiocies that almost all Europeans have been raised to believe.

The other truth was Cruz’s statement that she is “not an expert on the situation.”

But if she doesn’t understand the situation, why did she sign that vile letter against Israel? 

There are two possible reasons: One is that she simply did what her left-wing husband asked her to do. The other is that Cruz, like so many celebrities, thinks that fame makes one smart.

Let’s make something clear: The charge of genocide against Israel is morally and factually identical to the medieval blood libel — the claim that Jews slaughtered Christian children in order to use their blood for making matzah. 

This modern equivalent should henceforth be known as the genocide libel. And for the record, let it be noted that (A.) the Palestinian population has quintupled since Israel came into existence and doubled since 1990; and (B.) the Cruz-Bardem-Almodovar charge has thoroughly cheapened the real genocides of the Jews, Ukrainians, Chinese, Cambodians, Tutsis and others. These other communities, too, should be livid.

Every Jew and every decent non-Jew should regard Cruz, Bardem, Almodovar and the other signatories with the same contempt that is directed at medieval Christians who charged Jews with the blood libel and at contemporary Holocaust deniers. They are on the identical moral plane.

For that reason, if Cruz, Bardem or Almodovar were ever to enter a room in which I was present, I would leave. 

I ask everyone in Hollywood to do the same. However, with only two exceptions of which I am aware, not one Hollywood actor or director has said a word against Cruz and Bardem. Not a word from Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Harvey Weinstein, Norman Lear or anyone else.

The two exceptions are that wonderful man and actor Jon Voight and Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh. Both condemned Cruz and Bardem in the strongest terms.

Cruz, Bardem and Almodovar have done real damage to the Jewish state and to the Jewish people. The issue is not whether Cruz, Bardem or Almodovar are anti-Semites. Of course they have Jewish friends and don’t hate Jews per se. The issue is that of all the countries in the world, they singled out — to a worldwide audience — the one Jewish state (and the only one that must fight to stay alive) to libel with the most vicious charge that one can direct against a nation. And they equated “Zionist” with “Hamas” and with “Nazi.” They are not anti-Semites, but those words are anti-Semitic.

Cruz, Bardem and Almodovar should retract their charges completely, explain why, visit Israel and condemn Hamas as the genocidal party. They won’t, of course. Because they are too self-important, too morally confused and too shallow to understand the damage they have wrought. 

There is only one thing more troubling: the almost complete silence of the rest of Hollywood. The left-wing dominance of Hollywood has truly rendered it a moral desert. That is why Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem will remain in good standing. After all, they do oppose carbon emissions.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

100 Spanish celebrities accuse Israel of genocide in Gaza


A letter accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza was endorsed by 100 Spanish celebrities including Academy Award winners Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodovar.

On Monday the renowned actors, writers and directors endorsed a letter that Spanish actor Javier Bardem published last week in the Barcelona-based El Periodico de Catalunya, the daily reported.

“This is a war of occupation and extermination against a whole people without means, confined to a miniscule territory without water and where hospitals, ambulances, and children are targeted and presumed to be terrorists,” Bardem, himself an Academy Award-winning actor, wrote.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor told JTA that the “assertion that Israel is perpetrating genocide is not only patently false and detached from reality, but also inflammatory and outrageous at a time when demonization against Israel is fueling unprecedented levels of anti-Semitic violence in Europe.”

Kantor added: “I would be interested in reading the opinion of the same Spanish celebrities after 2,500 rockets explode on Madrid or Barcelona.”

In his letter titled “Genocide,” Bardem also wrote: “Being Jewish is not synonymous with supporting this massacre, just as being a Hebrew is not the same as being a Zionist and being Palestinian does not mean being a terrorist from Hamas. That is as absurd as saying that being German means espousing Nazism.”

Bardem also wrote: “My son was born in a Jewish hospital because I have Jewish people who are very near and dear to me.”

Small steps on NewGround for Muslims and Jews


On Saturday night, I joined 250 or so of my fellow Muslim and Jewish Angelinos at a storytelling event hosted by Mack Sennett Studios and sponsored by NewGround, an organization working to “replace the current atmosphere of mutual suspicion among Jews and Muslims” with a feeling of trust, partnership, and cooperation. At first, I thought the evening presented a missed opportunity. The performers were sincere and articulate, but most of them did not tell stories about “Standing Up for the Other,” as the title of the program promised. Rather, they told stories about friends or family members who were supportive of them in some way. Nice, but not the direct confrontation of conflict I was expecting. I was hoping we’d all be asked to wrestle with our assumptions, discuss politics, pave a grassroots way toward world peace.

I was nervous when I walked in the door, but largely because I’m anxious around large groups of strangers, even if they are all smiling at me. I relaxed when I realized we weren’t there to size each other up for “mutual suspicion,” and I also realized: we are the choir. Most folks willing to show up to an interfaith exchange don’t need preaching about the value of diversity and dialogue. It was all quite pleasant, but still, seemed purposeless. If we weren’t going to tackle anything serious, what was the point?

But then something shifted for me during a conversation with a young documentary filmmaker named Mustafa. We immediately connected as artists, and I asked him to teach me something in Arabic. He thought for a second and said, “iftah elbaab” which means “open the door.” I smiled. He’s got it, I thought. That’s exactly what we are doing here. But still, I wondered if it was enough.

We started talking about the theme of the evening, “otherness,” and we agreed that acknowledging subtle forms of resistance to the unfamiliar can have a transformative effect, so I decided to take a risk and admit something uncomfortable, thinking it might open the door to the kind of substantive engagement I was seeking. I told him about the immediate, visceral reaction I had to my German-speaking roommate when I moved into the dorms as a college freshman many years ago. I was a Jewish student with mostly Jewish friends, and it was agitating to hear my new friend speak what I considered to be the language of the enemy. I never even realized I equated “German” with “Nazi” until living with her forced me to interrogate my views.

“Oh, so did you avoid the showers when you knew she’d be there?” asked a girl who had joined my conversation with Mustafa. She saw the look on my face and said, “just a little Holocaust humor.” I do not have a sense of humor about the genocide of any group, least of all my own people. Whatever I expected about the evening, it certainly wasn’t that I’d be offended by a fellow, female Jew and feel such easy fellowship with a Muslim man. Mustafa seemed to share my discomfort with her joke, but he didn’t react to it as I did, so in some way, his presence made it easier for the three of us to acknowledge that humor is one of those means of testing a sociopolitical pulse. It can cross boundaries and open doors, at least to conversations as some form of evolution.

The friendly, relaxed environment made it easy to approach strangers and easy to ask questions. I was surprised that people were so willing to discuss former notions of prejudice. As I walked around the room listening to many of the Muslims greet each other with “As-Salaam Alaikum,” I recognized a subtle feeling inside of otherness, reinforced by my growing awareness that I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt around several women who were covered in fabric from head to toe. My Jewish friend suggested that I put on my sweater so as not to offend. While I’d certainly observe custom and protocol at a religious service or while visiting a Muslim community, at this event, I opted for my own comfort. I wondered how the Muslim women dressed like me regarded the women in traditional garb. Do their different choices signal different values? I hesitated to ask, but next time I will.

While we didn’t really learn to “Stand Up for the Other,” it’s worth acknowledging small steps on NewGround. We had snacks and conversations, took some photos, joked about snapchat, heard some good stories. And it felt really good. I connected with many people I’d like to see again. I didn’t hold back and wait to be invited into discussions; I extended my hand and was warmly received every time. That in itself expands my sense of home here in Los Angeles, and makes me more likely to reach out to others, less likely to judge, more likely to ask questions, less likely to make assumptions, and more likely to feel connected, receptive, and optimistic.

Casual, social interactions can seem less significant than intense political debate, but they have a powerful, cumulative effect. They can replace rigid attitudes with curiosity and increasing comfort. The organizers deliberately avoided force-fed agendas and opted instead to help us approach each other as people first rather than as representatives of difference. NewGround has been named by our Governor as 2013’s “Faith-based Organization of the Year,” and since this year’s turnout was twice last year’s, I’m confident that 2014 will open the door for many more of us to enter the conversation.

Saudi Arabia says Syrian war on rebels is ‘genocide’


Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday the Syrian government's attempts to suppress a rebellion amounted to “genocide” and called for rebels to get military aid to defend themselves, in a sharp escalation of rhetoric over the conflict.

Speaking at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Jeddah, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal criticized Iran, Russia and Hezbollah for backing and arming Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Syria is facing a double-edged attack. It is facing genocide by the government and an invasion from outside the government … (It) is facing a massive flow of weapons to aid and abet that invasion and that genocide. This must end,” he said.

The prince did not spell out what he meant by genocide but the kingdom has accused Assad of using air and artillery strikes against heavily populated civilian areas.

The Syrian war has also become increasingly sectarian, pitting the president, from an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, against rebels mostly from the country's Sunni Muslim majority.

The fighting has accentuated sectarian divisions across the region. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states have already sent arms to the insurgents, while analysts and diplomats say Shi'ite power Iran, along with Russia, is among Assad's main suppliers.

Prince Saud said the world's top oil exporter “cannot be silent” at the recent decision by Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah to send fighters into Syria to back Assad – the latest sign of how Syria's neighbors are getting entangled.

“The most dangerous development is the foreign participation, represented by Hezbollah and other militias supported by the forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” the prince said, repeating a call for rebels to be armed.

“The kingdom calls for issuing an unequivocal international resolution to halt the provision of arms to the Syrian regime and states the illegitimacy of the regime,” he added.

KERRY TALKS

Kerry has returned to the Middle East after a two-day visit to India and, his aides say, will continue efforts to strengthen the Syrian opposition and revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

In Jeddah, Kerry held discussions with Prince Saud and Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who coordinates the kingdom's efforts to topple Assad.

The discussions included Washington's plans for providing direct military support to General Salim Idriss of the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of Syria's main civilian opposition group.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he will arm the rebels but has not disclosed what type of assistance he will provide.

Kerry is trying to ensure that the aid to the rebels is properly coordinated among the allies, in part out of concern that weapons could end up in the hands of extremist groups.

“Our goal is very clear, we cannot let this be a wider war. We cannot let this contribute to more bloodshed and prolongation of the agony of the people of Syria,” he said at the conference.

A meeting between Kerry and European and Arab counterparts in Doha last week agreed to increase support for Syria's rebels although there was no consensus over providing arms, with Germany and Italy strongly opposed.

More than 93,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which began as a protest movement against Assad.

Reporting By Mahmoud Habboush and Lesley Wroughton, Editing by Angus McDowall and Andrew Heavens

A Turkish Muslim perspective on Yom HaShoah


When people of reason and conscience look back on the subject of Shoah (otherwise known as the Holocaust) today, it is common to hear questions like: “How could a nation of philosophers, composers of classical music, technology, poets, in this seat of the Enlightenment itself, suddenly give vent to savagery not seen since the Dark Ages? How could such dreadful, inhumane impulses seize every apparatus of a nation and cause it to commit such atrocities?”

In looking at the subject of the Holocaust violence, we can see the obvious influence of pseudo-scientific thought as well as a reversion to a far darker philosophy in human history. Arguably, the roots of anti-Semitism in Europe run quite deep, and found their most lethal expression in the Shoah itself; when some six million innocent Jewish men, women and children were done to death on the edge of mass graves in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia or had their lives systematically snuffed out at factories of mass murder such as Sobibor, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Chelmo and Belzec, names that shall forever be remembered as grim testaments to hatred. While it is not my intention to go too in-depth on the roots of European anti-Semitism, it must be touched upon in order to illustrate how prejudice led to disdain, then to hatred, and finally to genocide.

Anti-Semitism in Europe has a long and tragic history. For many centuries, this dislike of the Jewish people of the Diaspora was confined to the religious and social sphere; indeed, it's all too easy to recall such events as the massacres of the First Crusade in 1096, the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the assorted pogroms in Russia and Ukraine; the list is long and horrific. This awful situation persisted as recently as 1959, when a reference to “… perfidious Jews” was finally dropped from the Good Friday Liturgy of the Catholic Church (it must be said here that the Roman Catholic Church has made enormous strides in its relations with the Jewish people, most notably beginning with Vatican II and the later efforts of Pope John Paul II; and let us not forget the many Catholics – and others – who risked, and in some cases, lost their lives to save innocent Jews from Nazi terror).

Until the 19th century, European anti-Semitism was largely confined to the religious sphere (and to a lesser extent, the socio-economic sphere as well). Then, by the middle of the Nineteenth Century, it began to change in tone and style. Anti-Semitism became no longer a matter of theological difference, but rather a matter of biological differences. This was the introduction of so-called “scientific racism” through the introduction and application of Darwinian evolutionary theory, which had gained widespread acceptance by the end of the Nineteenth Century. And with this, the argument among European anti-Semites changed from, “Let us convert the Jews” to “Let us rid ourselves of this infectious and invasive species” (May God forbid). Simply put, an openly exterminationist sentiment had arisen, based on pseudo-scientific reasoning. The Jewish people had gone from being “the Other” to being “the Subhuman”, “a bacillus”, “a virus”. Surely they are beyond this defamation.

Darwinism, and its false implication that human beings are mere animals, classified as “superior”, “inferior” or “non-human” is the basis for the pseudo-science of racism. When Hitler said, “Take away the Nordic Germans and nothing remains but the dance of apes”, he was referring to the falsehood of Darwinist ideas. (Carl Cohen, Communism, Fascism and Democracy, Random House, New York, 1972, p. 408-409) While certainly, there are differences between people, to suggest that a group of people is inherently superior to another, and therefore has a right or moral imperative to subjugate the other, is a grossly mistaken idea.

As a result of such pseudo-scientific fallacies and and neo-romanticist fantasies, six million Jews, innocent men, women and children over a vast swath of the European continent were dehumanized, corralled into ghettoes and exterminated by the conquering Nazis. According to their racial delusion, the Nazi herrenvolk would rule over a vast empire of slaves, with the conquered peoples being the hewers of wood and drawers of water, and with the Jewish people (not to mention anyone else who failed to measure up to the Nazis exacting Darwinian standards) having been eliminated from the face of the earth itself. The Nazis' crude interpretations of Darwinism – influenced by agricultural practices such as animal husbandry – and their outlandish views of history such as Ariosophy, are all too familiar to anyone with even a rudimentary education, and there is no need to comprehensively explain their overall ideology. There are indeed people alive in Israel today, and many other countries, who survived this darkest period of human history, who can easily attest to the horrors they witnessed and experienced.

As Muslims, we bear a special obligation to confront the anti-Semitism that has infected the Muslim world. We must not traffic in discredited ideas and unbecoming stereotypes or proclaim, as truth, notorious forgeries such as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (it has been well known for almost a century now that this tract was a forgery by the Czarist Secret Police in order to justify pogroms in Russia). We must not subscribe to pseudo-scientific notions such as racism, nor allow ourselves to succumb to pseudo-historic nonsense such as Holocaust Denial. When it comes to anti-Semitism, we must confront it. We must educate against it. And most of all, we must repudiate it utterly.

We can also look to the recent past and remember how Turkish diplomats worked to save Jews from persecution and extermination during the Second World War. Although it is neither as emphasized or as well-known as the stories of Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg, it is a fact that Turkish diplomats provided official documents such as citizenship cards and passports to thousands of Jews. Just to give one example, the Turkish ambassador Behiç Erkin -in order to save the Jews- gave the Nazis documents certifying that their property, houses and businesses, belonged to Turks. In this way, many lives were saved. Yet another example is that of the Turks who organized boats to carry Jews to safety in Turkey. My intention in mentioning this is that Muslim Turks' attitude for centuries has demonstrated that Turks and Jews have continued to help each other in times of great crises and God willing, it will continue to be this way, no matter what happens.

For hundreds of years, Jews have known suffering, pain, and have never been at ease. Since the Diaspora, they have been expelled from almost every place they ever went for centuries. And now there are some who say they want the Jews to leave Israel also. The question arises, “Where are they supposed to go?” The Jews, the people of Israel, have the right to live in the Holy Land, in peace and security; indeed, it is so commanded by God Himself in the Qur'an: “And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land.'” (Surah Al-Isra, 104) Therefore, no one who professes submission to God and heeds the Word of God can oppose their existence in the Holy Land. And as Turks, as Muslims as much as we want the welfare of humanity, we want Jews to live in peace as well. We will always make our best efforts to ensure this goal. To do otherwise is to stand in defiance to the Will of God Himself.


The author is a political and religious commentator from Turkey, and an executive producer at a Turkish TV. She is also the spokesperson of a prominent international interfaith organization. She can be reached on http://www.facebook.com/sinemtezyapar and https://twitter.com/SinemTezyapar.

Officials walk out of IAEA talks after Iranian cites Israeli ‘genocide’


U.S., Canadian and Australian officials walked out of a meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency when the Iranian envoy accused Israel of genocide.

Joseph Macmanus, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, stormed out of the meeting in Vienna on Wednesday after Ali Asghar Soltaneh made the accusation, Reuters reported, as did Canadian and Australian officials.

Macmanus earlier had accused Iran of “deception, defiance and delay” in its dealing with the agency.

The meeting Wednesday comes weeks ahead of a renewed effort at talks in Istanbul by major powers, led by the United States, to negotiate terms with Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent. Western powers and Israel believe Iran is close to being able to manufacture a nuclear weapon. Iran denies this, and Soltaneh repeated these denials on Wednesday, calling the accusations “baseless.”

A day of Holocaust memories


When 89-year-old Max Stodel arrived for a Feb. 17 program at the Skirball Cultural Center marking the run-up to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) 20th anniversary in April, he didn’t come alone.

In addition to his daughter, Betty Lazarus, the survivor of the Shoah who was interred in nine camps in Germany and the Netherlands brought notes he secretly wrote on cement bags while working as a foreman in a camp requesting that cigarettes, rice and beans be smuggled inside. He also arrived with displaced-person forms and prisoner papers that were drawn up upon his liberation.

It was part of a program called, “Rescuing the Evidence,” in which survivors and their families gave personal artifacts from the Holocaust to museum curators so that the items could become a part of the Washington, D.C., museum’s collection. Stodel, who had been up since 3 a.m. cleaning out his apartment of artifacts in preparation for the event, said he was “overwhelmed” by the curator’s response. 

“It made me feel good that the world will know more from a survivor,” said the member of Temple Akiba in Culver City. 

The daylong celebration and commemoration at the Skirball attracted more than 1,200 people, in addition to 225 survivors and 50 World War II veterans. It was open to the public and featured panel discussions, the screening of rare historical film footage, opportunities to conduct research about survivors and their families, and more.

Los Angeles represented the second stop of a four-city national tour undertaken by the museum as a lead-up to its anniversary. The itinerary already included a visit to Boca Raton, Fla., and upcoming stops will be in New York and Chicago. These communities were chosen because they have the largest survivor and World War II veteran populations, according to Andrew Hollinger, director of communications at USHMM. A national tribute dinner will take place April 28 in Washington.

“We wanted to thank all the communities that helped create the museum and make it such a great success in the last 20 years, and certainly Los Angeles was very prominent in that regard,” USHMM director Sara J. Bloomfield told the  Jewish Journal. 

Throughout the day at the L.A. event, attendees engaged in education and remembrance. In the Skirball courtyard, survivors and American military veterans marked where they were when World War II ended, placing pins on a blown-up map of Europe and North Africa. Nearby, families browsed the museum’s online archive for Holocaust documents that might contain evidence of what their parents and grandparents experienced during the war.

Elsewhere, panel discussions explored topics such as “Collaboration and Complicity: Who was Responsible for the Holocaust,” “From Memory to Action: Ending Genocide in the 21st Century” and “The World Memory Project,” a collaboration between the museum and Web site Ancestry.com that recruits the public to help build the world’s largest online resource for information about individual victims of Nazi persecution. 

Broadcast journalist Warren Olney, host of KCRW’s “Which Way, L.A.?” and “To the Point,” was among those who spoke during an hour-long tribute ceremony for Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans. 

“The fragility of freedom, the nature of hate, the danger of indifference, the [Holocaust] survivors endured an unimaginable horror, they were tormented by their persecutors, betrayed by their neighbors, abandoned by the world,” he said. “The [United States Holocaust Memorial] Museum’s work is to share those stories.”

The tribute ceremony kicked off in the Skirball’s Ahmanson Ballroom with a presentation of the flags of the U.S. Army divisions that have been certified as liberating divisions. Bloomfield, who was followed by Olney, then addressed a packed room concerning the importance of the museum’s mission. As every seat in the room was filled, the ceremony was simulcast on video screens all over the Skirball. 

Cantor Herschel Fox of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino led the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Zog Nit Keynmol,” or “The Partisans’ Song.” Afterward, 34 children and young adults — ages 10 to 20 — approached survivors and veterans and attached memorial pins to their clothing, while a composition by musician Leon Levitch, a survivor of an Italian concentration camp, played.

The 34 are current or former participants of Remember Us, which runs Righteous Conversations (a project that organizes teens and survivors to speak out about injustices) as well as a b’nai mitzvah project that invites young people to use the occasion of their bar and bat mitzvahs to commemorate children who were killed in the Holocaust before they could have their own bar or bat mitzvah. 

Levitch, 85, who was in attendance, told the Journal that these sorts of events make him “feel that was it was all worth it to survive, that it wasn’t for nothing.”

Late in the day, parents with children sitting on their laps informally gathered around survivor Avraham Perlmutter as he shared his story. During the war, Perlmutter said he hid, with help from Dutch families, under piles of coal, underneath a latrine and buried beneath hay in a horse stable, among other places.

Eventually, he made his way to the British military front and began working with them as an interpreter. He immigrated to Israel and, later, to the United States. As a young adult, Perlmutter studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology and at Princeton University, then started his own aeronautics company.  

“You’ve done so well,” said a woman listening. “Mazel tov.”

The event concluded with an invitation-only fundraising dinner, where  Los Angeles philanthropist Max Webb, a major donor to the museum, was among the guests.

Kapesh Patel, 37, a non-Jewish self-described history buff who took part in the commemoration at the Skirball, said it was a unique opportunity for him to be around Holocaust survivors.

“Where I hear [survivors’] stories, it’s just like, wow,” he said. “There is always something to be gained, especially from firsthand accounts of survivors.” 

It is time for Israel and Turkey to remember their deep common history


I am a Turkish Muslim and every time I have a conversation with an Israeli friend, they keep asking me why the relations between Israel and Turkey have reached such a nadir, why Turkey seemingly has an antagonistic stance against Israel.

First of all, Turkey's being totally against Israel is out of question. Turkey and Israel are two countries who have deep-rooted, solid relations, and there will be no change in that. Although the language in the political arena may give a different impression, the bond between the Turkish and Israeli public remains unshaken. Yes, there has been a tension between Turkey and Israel for the last couple of years; however this is a temporary thing. And the Turkish public has never ceased to care for Israelis.

The Mavi Marmara episode was an unwanted incident and I do not believe that no one ever presumed that things would end the way they did. I am confident that if both sides had known the result ahead of time, they would have striven to handle things in an entirely different manner. The Israeli public has to decide how they want to compensate, but we consider Israel as a friendly country in any event and we want to overcome this regrettable incident in the soonest time.

Turkey and Israel share common features that deepens their alliance. Both states are officially secular while their people are predominantly religious. Since secularism is both a precaution and a blessing against hypocrisy, in both countries people who chose to be religious follow their free will and no one can compel anyone to any religion. That is to say, there is a firm stance against bigotry and in both countries people are respected and embraced regardless of their religion. And in both, just like believers can live by their faith, non-believers live as they choose as well.

Israel and Turkey being secular prevents coercion, compulsion in the name of religion, and does not give ground for hypocrisy. Their interpretation of secularism should not be confused with atheism; rather, it guarantees the freedom of the public to practice their religion as they see fit. In both Israel and Turkey, democratic awareness and democratic values are more firmly rooted than any other country in the region. There is no room or tolerance for dictatorship or despotic regimes.

Another commonality between the people of Turkey and Israel is that they do not have an overweening ambition to live a materialistic life in luxury. Both have known hardship and they have both been nurtured from their spirituality and conviction. They have been living under fire in a region that has never known stability and that has always been in the focus of the world with their conflicts.

As the Turkish nation, we want nothing more then the continuance of Israel’s existence in peace and tranquility. We are happy to see its being prosperous and all its citizens living in comfort and safety. As Turkish people, the settling of the Jews in the region, their residing in those lands and their being free is something that we are not uncomfortable about. On the contrary; when various public figures in the Middle East make threatening and, quite frankly, genocidal pronouncements against the Israeli state and its citizens, it disturbs us greatly and we would never let something like that happen.

Just like we came to the aid of our Jewish brothers and sisters and sailed them in private ships to Turkey in 1492 during the period of the Spanish Inquisition and welcomed them in our country, we will be ready to run to their help whenever they are in need. When Hitler targeted the Jews during the Nazis genocidal “Final Solution”, we struggled with all our might to protect them. We have lived in a friendly and brotherly manner together with our Jewish brothers. We have always provided good means for them, we have always wanted them to live in ease and comfort and that will always be the case as well. This is because such an attitude is the requisite of the morality that Islam requires. The Muslim Turks’ attitude for centuries has demonstrated that Turks and Jews have continued to help each other in times of great crises and it will continue to be this way, no matter what happens.

When we go a back a little further in history, this is even more evident that Jews and Muslims not only coexisted but also supported each other. After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and took control of the city, they expelled Jews from the city forbidding them to live there. When Rome adopted Christianity, they maintained a strict ban on Jews coming near Jerusalem after 325 A.D. Jews were only allowed to enter once a year to pray on Tisha B'Av. The ban on Jews entering the city remained in force until the Muslim Caliph Umar took control of the city. Muslims then welcomed the Jews to come back to Jerusalem for the first time in about 600 years. During the Abbasid Caliphate, Muslims continued to welcome Jews to settle in the city and this situation continued until the city was invaded by the Crusaders in 1099. Another point to be emphasized is that Muslims and Jews fought side-by-side to defend the city against the invading Crusaders. After the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, and put a good many of the inhabitants to the sword -both Jewish and Muslim alike- Jews were once again prohibited to enter Jerusalem. This prohibition continued till the Muslim leader Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known better as Saladin, finally liberated the city in 1187 from the Crusaders and invited the Jews to return to Jerusalem with no restrictions and allowed them to take up residence.

The existence of Turkey is a safeguard for Israel. We will be the first ones to stand up for any kind of threat that might be aimed at Israel. There will never be a formation in Turkey that would aim to harm the Jewish people. Just as it could be in any society, there may be one or two rare extreme radical people and those individuals might come up with some unreasonable or irrational opinions. But radical thought can never find a broad foundation in Turkey.
What matters is that we are not a state in search of hostility. From time to time, we might have problems, as is inevitable between sovereign nation-states, but there will never be a complete termination of our friendship.

We both want peace, friendship, democracy, human rights, goodness, compassion and love to be dominant in the region and we want to live a beautiful life together. Turkey and Israel working in unison can make the entire region faithful, prosperous and put an end to terror, radicalism and anarchy. Israel and Turkey will continue with their alliance as strong as steel and bring peace, love and tranquility to the region.

Violence in Eastern Congo is our problem


We’re staring down the barrel of another full-scale war in Congo. The M23 rebellion, launched in March 2012, last week stormed and seized Goma, a crucial town in eastern Congo. The M23 rebels already had been responsible for the displacement of more than half a million civilians — another 60,000 civilians have been newly displaced in the last week alone. While it might appear that the M23 rebels are retreating to the outskirts of Goma, they have made it clear that they will continue to administer and control Goma until their demands are met. 

The success of the siege is likely due in part to the support of the rebels by outside influences, namely elements within the Rwandan and Ugandan governments and militaries. The last time Congo saw this level of foreign incursion, the chain of events that followed led to the deaths of 5.4 million innocent civilians. This is what the beginning of horror looks like.

On the surface it may seem that our political leaders and the international community may be responding quickly to the crisis. But the reaction by both the Obama administration and the United Nations Security Council threatens to rehash old, failed “solutions” that set Congo on the path to repeat its cycle of violence. In particular, our political officials seem to be pursuing a policy of accommodation and protection of Rwanda, to the detriment of the development of sustainable solutions in Congo. 

Guilt over past horrors — the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in particular — might be clouding the judgment of the very people with the power to change international policies towards Congo.  U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, along with her former boss, President Bill Clinton, has carried the burden of inaction in Rwanda since those fateful 100 days that saw the murder of more than 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis. And that guilt has translated into consistent support for and protection of Rwanda’s leader, President Paul Kagame, credited with ending the genocide and restoring security to Rwanda. 

But our protection of Rwanda and its leadership can go no further. While advocates have long suspected Rwanda’s complicity in the exploitation of Congolese minerals and its support of proxy militias in Congo, we now have proof: two separate U.N. Group of Experts reports on Congo published this year have pointed to significant support to the M23 rebels by Rwanda and Uganda. The latest report, leaked earlier this month, named Gen. James Kabarebe, the Rwandan Minister of Defense, as sitting at the top of the M23’s chain of command.  

Despite this clear evidence, the Obama administration’s own statement condemning the M23 rebels, while swift, failed to call out Rwanda or Uganda for their role in the crisis. And the U.N. Security Council resolution passed last week similarly failed to explicitly name Rwanda or Uganda as supporting the M23 or expand targeted sanctions against Rwandan and Ugandan officials despite evidence that they had violated the arms embargo in eastern Congo. Rwanda and Uganda were, by all accounts, protected in the Security Council by the U.S. mission.  

Rwanda receives nearly 45 percent of its budget from Western donor countries like the United States — roughly $1 billion in aid annually. That is a lot of leverage that we could be using to bring about constructive negotiations that lead to long-term, regional solutions to this conflict. Instead, we are frittering away our political capital. 

The U.S. government must change tack and immediately: 1) push the U.N. mission in Congo to protect civilians against rape and pillage; 2) through the U.N. Security Council, expand targeted sanctions against all officials and parties that are blocking peace — from M23, Rwanda, Congo and Uganda; and 3) immediately appoint a special envoy to work with an African Union-/U.N.-appointed mediator to begin a real peace process that addresses both the immediate crisis and the underlying longer-term economic and political interests of the parties.

We bystanders should feel guilty for our silence and inaction during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  But the value of guilt is limited to its power to inform and shape future behaviors. When President Obama was Sen. Obama, he wrote and passed a single bill: the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006. Ending the crisis in Congo was important to him then; it must return to his list of priorities now. He, and all members of his administration, must not signal to Congo’s invaders that the United States will continue an acquiescent policy moving forward.


Janice Kamenir-Reznik is co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch.

$5,000 to be awarded to social justice educator


Humanities educators from secondary schools across the globe — from California to North Carolina, Ohio to South Africa — are competing to win $5,000 in a contest sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves, an organization dedicated to bringing lessons about the Holocaust and other genocides to classrooms everywhere. 

The Upstanders Contest celebrates educators, administrators and school staff who have taught students the importance of participating in a democratic society and to explore the impact and history of bigotry and injustice and foster civic engagement, tolerance and mutual understanding in their communities, according to the contest Web site. 

Oct. 9 to 22, community members nominated outstanding educators, administrators and staff, and included with their nomination a short description about why that person is an Upstander. Facing History narrowed the nominees to 20 semifinalists, including Californians Jose Navarro, principal at Social Justice Humanitas Academy in San Fernando; Deidre Powell, an eighth-grade homeroom teacher at St. John Chrysostom Catholic School in Inglewood; and Katherine Geers, a 10th-grade English teacher at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont.

“Mrs. Powell teaches every student that crosses her path to stand up for people getting hurt, because silence means we agree with those hurtful actions,” an alumnus of St. John Chrysostom wrote in nominating Powell.

The five semifinalists who receive the most votes will advance to the finals, and a winner will be chosen after the second voting around, which ends Nov. 16. Visit outreach.facinghistory.org to vote.

Shoah Institute gala celebrates completion of visual history project, laments continued genocides


The USC Shoah Foundation Institute hosted its annual Ambassadors for Humanity gala on June 6 with its customary panache, and there was good news and bad news.

On the upbeat side, institute executive director Stephen D. Smith announced that the organization had just completed the mammoth task of digitizing testimonies by some 52,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses, representing 105,000 hours of visual history.

It would take one person, watching the interviews 24/7, some 30 years to view all the material, he said.

Less uplifting was the confirmation that despite vows of “Never Again,” genocides are continuing across the world.

For example, among the guests at the dinner was Edith Umugiraneza, a young Rwandan woman, who told a Journal reporter that she had witnessed the murder of her parents and siblings during the bitter tribal strife in her African nation.

The evening’s honoree, Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co. — the world’s largest media company — said, “We have never lived in a world without genocide.

“The world is a slow learner.” he added, and suggested that the urge to wipe out those of different race or religion appeared to be a constantly renewed “toxic resource.”

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the Shoah Institute’s founder and chair of the evening, lauded Iger as “one of the good guys” and “a model corporate citizen.”

Because the event fell on the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe by Allied armies during World War II, Spielberg and Iger, describing themselves as “sons of the greatest generation,” honored two attending veterans of the Normandy landing.

The more than 500 guests attending the event at the Hollywood & Highland Grand Ballroom were entertained by host Jimmy Kimmel and singer Mary J. Blige.

From Obama to Natalie Portman, Washington marks Yom Hashoah


President Obama marked Holocaust Remembrance Day with calls to combat Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, as well as for vigilance against current and future atrocities.

“As societies, we must stand against ignorance and anti-Semitism, including those who try to deny the Holocaust,” Obama said in a statement issued Thursday.  “As nations, we must do everything we can to prevent and end atrocities in our time.”

Obama, who is scheduled to tour the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on Monday together with survivors, also noted in his statement the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews and then disappeared under Soviet occupation.

Holocaust Remembrance Day was also marked for the first time at the Pentagon by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a ceremony attended by survivors and by Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, with whom Panetta had been meeting.

Panetta said Barak’s career as a decorated soldier and a leader was itself a rebuke to the Nazis.

Survivors helped “build a strong and vibrant Jewish state in Israel,” Panetta said. “Ehud’s life has been a living tribute to the memory of the Holocaust.”

Visits by Barak to Washington have increased in frequency in recent months as Israel and the United States consult on how best to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The day also was commemorated by an event organized by the Holocaust Memorial at the Capitol, where Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, represented the Obama administration.

In a speech at that ceremony, Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, likened Iran’s current leadership to the Nazis, echoing earlier remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“To achieve its abominable goals, Iran is developing military nuclear capabilities and the missiles to deliver them,” Oren said.

Such comparisons earned a rare rebuke to Israeli leaders from Elie Wiesel, the Nobel peace laureate and Holocaust memoirist.

“Iran is a danger, but to say it will create a second Auschwitz?” Wiesel told Globes, the Israeli business daily, when asked to comment particularly on Netanyahu’s comparisons. “I don’t compare anything to the Holocaust.”

Congressional leaders from both parties issued statements marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On Wednesday evening, the Holocaust Memorial honored Burmese democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi with its Wiesel Award.

Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff, presented the award to Suu, who could not attend and who sent a video message. Lew, who is Jewish, recalled growing up among survivors, and praised Suu as among those who do not turn away from difficulties in the advancement of human rights.

“She refused to give up,” he said. “Instead, she continued to inspire the entire world with her faith in nonviolent action, and her belief that freedom would ultimately prove greater than tyranny.”

Natalie Portman, the Israeli-born Oscar winning actress, read a passage from one of Suu’s speeches.

Teachers learn lessons on Holocaust, genocide


Speaking on the Holocaust and 20th century genocides, Mark Gudgel, executive director of the Educators’ Institute for Human Rights, began his March 12 lecture at American Jewish University (AJU) with a declaration.

“Rwanda is not genocide,” said Gudgel, who also teaches literature of the Holocaust at Lincoln Southwest High School in Nebraska. Just like Jews don’t want to be defined by the Holocaust, Rwandans do not want to be defined by the “worst 100 days of their history,” he said. To do so, he said, is to ignore all the positive qualities of the African country — it’s mountainous geography; it’s democratically elected parliament, which has a high percentage of female representatives; its cuisine and unparalleled coffee — and it makes it sound as if nothing had ever happened in Rwanda other than the 1994 genocide. Defining the country by its genocide is one of the biggest mistakes he’s made as a teacher, he said.

Gudgel was one of more than a dozen speakers at a three-day teachers’ forum on March 11-13, an annual event put on by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) designed to give high-school and middle-school teachers tools to teach the Holocaust and 20th century genocides. It drew nearly 70 educators over the course of the conference, in its 11th consecutive year. Gudgel, who has participated in USHMM’s teacher fellowship program, also has run similar training on behalf of USHMM for teachers in Rwanda and is involved in the museum’s plans to conduct these trainings in Bosnia and Cambodia. USHMM provided fiscal support for the training in Rwanda.

He said he also takes his high-school students to Washington, D.C., to visit the Holocaust museum, and to New York to Ground Zero, Park51 — the Islamic community center nearby — and other locations. The purpose of the trip is to help students deepen their understanding about the Holocaust and terror, he said.

A bonus of taking the kids on the trip, Gudgel told the audience of approximately 50 teachers, including some community college faculty, is that the students come back to Nebraska — where it is universally misunderstood that Park51 is a mosque located at Ground Zero — and can tell others that it’s neither a mosque, nor is it located on the site of the former World Trade Center towers.

During his 90-minute lecture, “Connecting the Dots: The Holocaust and Contemporary Genocide in the Classroom,” Gudgel compared the Holocaust to the 1904 massacre of the Herero people in German South-West Africa (modern-day Namibia), the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, the Bosnian ethnic cleansing and the genocide in Darfur. He made connections between the Holocaust and these genocides while adhering to “Avoid Comparisons of Pain” guidelines, one of 15 guidelines that have been developed by the USHMM’s education department for high-school and middle-school teachers. “Avoid Comparisons of Pain” discourages teachers from comparing the experiences of victims and survivors of different genocides, because it reduces their experiences. Instead, Gudgel established thematic connections between the Holocaust and genocides that have taken place before and after it.

For instance, denial is part of the Holocaust narrative. Based on that, Gudgel made a connection between the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide, which the Turkish government officially denies.

California is one of five states where secondary-school teachers must teach the Holocaust in some capacity, and Gudgel’s lecture is designed to prepare L.A.-area teachers for situations in which their students are curious about events beyond the Holocaust and ask questions like: What about what happened to the Armenians? Or, what about what happened in Bosnia?

“Kids come in and say, ‘Hey, did you know this happened?’ And I can lie to them, or we can take it on,” Gudgel said.

Gudgel acknowledged that students have added interest these days in crimes against humanity because of “Kony 2012,” the video about African warlord Joseph Kony that went viral earlier this month.

“It’s become a part of our dialogue, and our students’ dialogue,” Gudgel said.

Other speakers at the conference included Holocaust survivor Peter Feigel; Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at AJU; John Roth, founding director of Claremont’s Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights; and Greta Stults, USHMM program coordinator at the National Institute for Holocaust Education; as well as other USHMM representatives and representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, Facing History and Ourselves, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, The Museum of Tolerance and the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation. It was free for teachers to attend, and schools were reimbursed for the hiring of substitutes.

This was the conference’s first year at AJU.

Shoah Foundation gathers stories of Rwandan genocide


The USC Shoah Foundation Institute is home to more than 52,000 videotaped testimonies about the Holocaust, and people searching the archive’s index enter a single keyword into their queries more than any other: “Auschwitz.”

“Auschwitz seems to be the one that people go to most,” said Crispin Brooks, curator of the foundation’s visual history archive.

Likewise, people tend to focus on dark topics when accessing the archive of videotaped testimonies at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center (KGMC) in Rwanda’s capital, which is dedicated to preserving and disseminating memories of that country’s genocide. Among the center’s holdings is an archive of recordings of survivors, perpetrators, rescuers and others telling of their experiences during the 100-day period in 1994 when 800,000 members of Rwanda’s Tutsi population were massacred by Hutu militias.

“Mainly they want to know the way people were killed,” said Diogene Mwizerwa, 29, an indexer at KGMC.

About 80,000 people visit KGMC every year, most of them to pay respects to the more than 250,000 Rwandan genocide victims whose bodies are buried in 14 mass graves on the site. But those visitors also include students and scholars interested in consulting the Rwandan genocide testimonies that are currently housed there.

Thanks to a new partnership between the Shoah Foundation Institute and KGMC, some of the Rwandan testimonies soon will become much more widely accessible and searchable.

Since mid-October, Mwizerwa and three other KGMC staffers have been in residence at the Shoah Foundation Institute in Los Angeles. The four fellows, who are all survivors of the genocide, are part of a recently announced joint effort between the two centers that will also expand the Shoah Foundation’s archive to include 50 new testimonies about the Rwandan experience.

“We are not trying to compare human suffering,” Stephen D. Smith, the foundation’s executive director, said, adding that there are also plans to incorporate voices from the Cambodian and Armenian genocides into the archive in the near future. “What we’re trying to do is document each of these experiences with depth and dignity.”

The new Rwandan testimonies, all conducted in Kinyarwanda, will be translated and subtitled into English. As part of this $500,000 project, they will become part of the Shoah archive by the end of 2012, making them accessible in part via the Internet, and in full at 32 locations around the world.

Karen Jungblut, the foundation’s director of research and documentation, who is directly responsible for the Rwanda project, also has worked with groups of archivists from Cambodia in the past.

“The mission of Shoah has always been, ‘To overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry — and the suffering they cause — through the educational use of the foundation’s visual history testimonies,’ ” said Jungblut, who started out as an indexer in 1996, just two years after the foundation was founded by Steven Spielberg, and 10 years before it moved its archive to the University of Southern California, in 2006, to become the USC Shoah Foundation Institute. “At that time, it was a conscious decision not to say ‘Holocaust testimony,’ with the view that it would open the door to including testimonies of survivors of genocides other than the Holocaust.”

To make the videos of Rwandan testimonies searchable for scholars in the way the Shoah archive’s testimonies of the Holocaust already are, they need to be indexed in the same way.

For the last few weeks, Mwizerwa and his colleagues have been working with Brooks and other Shoah staff to learn the process, starting with learning how to use the proprietary computer program that Shoah indexers used to attach keywords to specific segments of Holocaust testimonies.

On Nov. 10, Brooks led the Rwandan fellows through a segment of one Holocaust survivor’s testimony from the Shoah archive. In the upper-left-hand corner of Brooks’ computer screen, Peter Hersch, a Central European Jewish survivor who migrated to Australia after the Holocaust, could be seen describing a particularly vicious kapo, a prisoner who had authority over other prisoners, whom he encountered while imprisoned in Auschwitz.

The rest of the screen was full of drop-down menus and boxes. Using the mouse, Brooks could rapidly click and double-click on the menus and boxes to attach keyword tags to the Holocaust survivor’s story on a minute-by-minute basis.

“So we have the name of the kapo, and the ‘forced labor’ terms,” Brooks said, stopping the recording, “but I added in ‘forced labor conditions,’ because it definitely felt like, early on, he was describing what the conditions were like doing this forced labor.”

Distinctions between the more than 10,000 keywords in the Shoah’s database are very nuanced — “camp deaths” is not the same as “camp suicides,” “camp killings,” “camp executions” or “camp corpses” — and some keywords are specifically related to the Holocaust experience.

So, before the Rwandan fellows can index the testimonies about the 1994 genocide, they will first have to create a new set of keywords — a process that will require that they put themselves into the positions of the information’s end-users.

“How did you survive? That means how did you hide until the end,” said KGMC Archive Manager Yves Kamuronsi, 30, explaining why “hiding” would be one of the more commonly used keywords attached to the testimonies of Rwandan survivors.

The index will be crucial to the usefulness of the archive. Before joining KGMC, another fellow, Paul Rukesha, 33, spent one year working with the traditional Gacaca Courts that were set up after the Rwandan genocide to try perpetrators. Researchers, he said, shouldn’t have to go through three hours of testimony to get to the information they’re looking for.

“You want to be as perfect as possible, as accurate as possible, because indexing, for me, is all about time management for the researchers,” he said.

In addition to asking how people were killed, Kamuronsi said, visitors to KGMC also ask about other topics — like reconciliation or forgiveness — albeit less often.

That’s likely to change, Kamuronsi said.

“I’m imagining that, let’s say, 40 years after genocide, I think people will be asking different questions,” he said. “We will be asking ourselves different questions.”

By comparison to the Holocaust, Rwanda’s genocide is still recent history to many —  and especially so in the country itself, where people who once would have been identified as either Tutsi or Hutu now live side by side but are prohibited from using those group names in many contexts.

The very words “Tutsi” and “Hutu” started off as Rwandan cultural designations but took on far greater importance during the colonial and post-colonial periods, after the colonizers empowered the Tutsi minority to exercise authority over the country.

The mass killing of Tutsis by members of Rwanda’s majority Hutu population can be traced directly back to this distinction — and today, usage of the terms in Rwanda is banned in many situations. But, for the purposes of the index, the terms will be used.

“If you say, ‘Tutsis and Hutus,’ ” Kamuronsi said, “it’s fine. But if you say, ‘You are not allowed into here because you are Hutu or Tutsi,’ you will be punished, because you are discriminating against someone based on who you know he is.”

“Frankly speaking, people still have that kind of perception, of Tutsis and Hutus, in their minds,” said Rukesha, who trained in sociology at the National University of Rwanda. “And you can’t stop them from perceiving that issue like that.”

Some survivors, Rukesha said, consider all Hutus as enemies. But though he works at KGMC, he does not see it as part of his mission to change that perception.

“My mission is to index,” Rukesha said. “And to index is not to interpret the history; it’s just to facilitate you as a journalist, as a researcher, to focus on a certain issue you want to work on.”

This kind of compartmentalization was common to all indexers — no matter which group of testimonies they were working with.

“We have to forget the other things and focus on this,” Martin Niwenshuti, 34, said.

“You have to know how to deal with emotions,” Rukesha said. “You do some relaxation techniques.”

“You take a break,” Brooks said.

Rukesha nodded. “You drink some water.”

The Rwandan fellows will appear in conversation with USC Shoah Foundation Institute Director of Research and Documentation Karen Jungblut on Nov. 30. Visit the foundation’s Web site, dornsife.usc.edu/vhi, for further details.

Jewish groups praise Obama for genocide strategy


An array of Jewish groups praised President Obama’s initiative to develop a strategy to prevent genocide.

Obama issued two orders Thursday, one to set up an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board and another banning the entry into the United States of anyone who assisted in “widespread or systematic violence” against a segment of a civilian population.

The strategy would encompass “early warning” of atrocities by U.S. intelligence services and training the military, diplomats and aid professionals “in order to be better prepared to prevent and respond to mass atrocities or genocide.”

Obama wants the board operational within 120 days.

Groups praising the order included the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish World Service, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“We are gratified by the recognition that stopping genocide is not only a moral imperative but a crucial element of U.S. national security interest,” said Michael Chertoff, the Bush administration Homeland Security secretary who now directs the U.S. Holocaust museum’s Committee on Conscience, its genocide prevention arm. “Taking such a bold step firmly establishes America’s leadership in the world on this critical issue.”

Also praising the initiative was Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Opinion: In defense of another voice against genocide


It was the British establishment at its finest. Six years ago, several hundred Holocaust survivors filed into the Palace of Westminster for the annual Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations. The day also marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau. Her Majesty the Queen, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and members of Parliament and the House of Lords were in attendance. The London Philharmonic Orchestra provided the music, and BBC reported the proceedings. Earlier that day, the Holocaust survivors had sipped tea with the queen at St James’ Palace. And the person who organized this day of remembrance was a Muslim. 

Last week, Manhattan College appointed a Muslim woman, Mehnaz Afridi, as director of its renamed Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center. The appointment, coupled with the college’s decision to study other genocides and embrace an interfaith message, quickly drew fire from critics. An Islamic woman running a Holocaust program? they asked.

I’m no stranger to the question of who has the right to run a Holocaust center. As the son of a Methodist minister from rural Nottinghamshire, England, I was not the obvious founder of the U.K. Holocaust Centre. Nor was I the plain choice to be chairman of National Holocaust Memorial Day. Yet for a period of time, my colleagues and I — a Muslim and a Christian — led Britain’s day of remembrance.

Actually, it made and still makes perfect sense. The Holocaust was not the making of the Jewish community. Nazi anti-Semitism and its many Christian antecedents were the products of European civilization. The Holocaust is a heavy burden for the Jewish world, but it is not its responsibility. The onus to remember and then change things lies squarely with us all in equal measure.

Broadening Holocaust studies to include other genocides helps to make that possible; it does not need to dilute the specific experience. If we understand each other’s experiences, we can be present and speak for one another in a stronger way.

If there is one thing to be learned from the gradual exclusion of Jews over the many decades prior to the Holocaust, it is that we must take warning signs seriously and reach out to a wider audience prepared to act. The Jews of Europe were not looking for the Jewish world alone to speak out against the Nazis. They needed the whole world to raise its voice.

If we segregate suffering and persecution — insist that the Holocaust maintain its Jewish specificity — we are all in greater danger. That’s why teaching about genocide in its many manifestations — along with teaching tolerance and respect and reaching out to build a wider community of shared values — should be of a piece with teaching about the Holocaust. It was the absence of this knowledge and shared values that allowed the Holocaust to occur.

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute has the largest collection of Holocaust testimony in the world, but that’s not sufficient. It is also acquiring testimonies from Armenia, Rwanda, Cambodia and other genocides — different histories, same lessons, one humanity.

There are pitfalls to this approach to be on guard against. First, there is no continuum on which to rank human suffering. How do I know who suffers more, or less? Compassion should always precede comparison.

Second, elevating one travesty of history above others creates an obnoxious hierarchy, which does not do justice to the memory of the victims. If we nevertheless insist on making one people’s suffering more important than others, we are announcing our insecurity in the present — and closing doors to the current generation that we need open. 

This is a perilous time to be closing doors. There are still many in the Muslim world who wish for the eradication of Jews — in Israel and beyond. The Arab spring, while welcome, has opened the way for some hateful marginal voices to reach a wider audience. Their statements are not strictly a political threat against Israel. They are a genocidal threat against Jews.

My Muslim colleague in Britain found her role a difficult one.  Not everyone in the Jewish community welcomed her; some went out of their way to make it difficult for her.  Her own community did not always respect the choices she made. Today, she remains a friend of the Jewish community but no longer works in the field.

But if we are to succeed in our joint mission to ensure that “never again” has any meaning in the world, we need to encourage, support and ensure that more people like my former colleague and Afridi succeed. After all, we are all in this together, like it or not.

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