Michael Karkoc, far right, has been accused of being a member in the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion, a unit that burned Polish villages and killed civilians during World War II. Photo is a screenshot from YouTube.

Son of Minnesota man, 98, accused of Nazi war crimes, calls for release of evidence


The son of a Minnesota man, 98, accused by a police court of Nazi war crimes, has called for the evidence against his father to be released.

Andriy Karkoc, son of the Minnesota man first identified by the Associated Press as Michael Karkoc, called on Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, the two Democratic senators from Minnesota, to intervene in his father’s case “on legal and humanitarian grounds” and to investigate the source of the evidence against him, the AP reported Saturday. Andriy Karkoc reportedly says the evidence was fabricated by Russian intelligence.

The arrest warrant issued Wednesday by the regional court in Lublin is the first step toward requesting the extradition of Michael Karkoc, The Associated Press reported.

“My father was, is, and remains an innocent man,” his son said Saturday.

Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance–Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation said in a statement on its website that Michael Karkoc was one of the commanders of the SS Galicia Division, also known as the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion, a unit that burned Polish villages and killed civilians during World War II. He is accused of playing a role in the murders of civilians in the villages of Chłaniow and Kolonia Władysławin in July 1944.

He did not mention his Nazi past when he entered the United States in 1949, which would have prevented him from entering the country, the AP reported.

Andriy Karkoc said his father served “honorably” with the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, and that he cannot be judged by the actions of other people in the unit.

Michael Karkoc now lives in a nursing home in Minneapolis, according to The New York Times. Its report cited family members as saying that he is innocent of the charges, and that he has dementia and is not fit to stand trial.

In a Ukrainian-language memoir published in 1995, Michael Karkoc said he helped found the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion in 1943 in collaboration with Nazi officers to fight on behalf of Germany and against the Soviet Union, The New York Times reported.

He must appear in court in Poland since the country does not recognize trial in absentia, according to the AP.

The Associated Press said that it stands by its reporting of Michael Karkoc.

Rep. Keith Ellison speaking at a news conference in front of the Capitol, Feb. 1, 2017. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Keith Ellison, in run-up to DNC chair election, calls for party to fight anti-Semitism


Rep. Keith Ellison called for Democrats to speak out against anti-Semitism and reject hatred of refugees during a debate for candidates to head the Democratic Party.

The Minnesota Democrat also made clear during the CNN debate Wednesday evening that he supports Israel and has strong backing from the Jewish community. He is vying with seven others to chair the Democratic National Committee; Ellison is considered among the front-runners with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Ellison noted his “long, strong history of interfaith dialogue, interfaith communication.” He called suggestions that he is anti-Semitic – based on his involvement with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam while he was in college – “smears.”

“I just want to say, it is critical that we speak up against this anti-Semitism because right now, you have Jewish cemeteries being defaced and desecrated,” he said. “Right now, you have Jewish institutions getting bomb threats. We have to stand with the Jewish community right here, right now, four square, and that’s what the Democratic Party is all about.”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, added that he spoke at a HIAS event last week to support the right of refugees to enter the United States.

“They’re saying, we were once refugees, and they stood out in New York and demanded that we have respect for refugees now,” he said of the Jewish organization that assists refugees.

Ellison was asked about aid to Israel, noting that at a private 2010 fundraiser, he said that American foreign policy is seen through the eyes of the 7 million citizens of Israel. He responded that he believes the U.S.-Israel relationship is “special and important,” and noted that he has “voted for $27 billion in bilateral aid to Israel over the course of about six or seven votes. I have been to the region many times and sat down with members of the Knesset and worked with them.”

Some 447 electors made up mostly of  state party officials and officials in state government, among others, will vote for DNC chair on Saturday in Atlanta.

Israel and the Middle East likely will not figure highly in their considerations. The electors are concerned much more with rebuilding a party devastated by its across-the-board losses in November’s elections, including for president.

Lawsuit claiming Hebrew National foods aren’t 100% kosher dismissed


A lawsuit alleging that Hebrew National foods are not strictly kosher has been dismissed.

A U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota ruled Wednesday that because kosher is a religious standard, it is a subject for rabbinic debate — not a federal court ruling.

“The definition of the word 'kosher' is intrinsically religious in nature, and this court may not entertain a lawsuit that will require it to evaluate the veracity of Defendant’s representations that its Hebrew National products meet any such religious standard,” Judge Donovan Frank wrote. “Because all of Plaintiffs’ claims derive from Defendant’s alleged misrepresentation that its Hebrew National products are '100% kosher,' all counts of the Amended Complaint are barred by the First Amendment. “

The suit against ConAgra, the massive packaged food conglomerate that owns the Hebrew National brand, was originally filed in May by eleven customers who accused the company of consumer fraud for claiming products sold under the label were kosher.

Hebrew National carries the symbol of the Triangle K kosher certifier, an agency that is considered insufficiently reliable in certain Orthodox circles. The complaint alleged that Triangle K and AER, which does the slaughtering, did not abide by “objective” standards of kosher slaughter. In particular, they claim the company did inspect, clean, or segregate the meat in a manner “required to be considered kosher.”

“It is Triangle K and its Orthodox rabbis who make such determinations,” said Frank. “Naturally, therefore, this court cannot determine whether defendant's Hebrew National products are in fact kosher without delving into questions of religious doctrine.”

Wolpe on Brandon’s Holocaust analogy: ‘It is stupidity on stilts’


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Every now and then we forbid certain things to certain select individuals: Boxers may not use their fists in casual fights; CIA agents may not write freely of their personal experiences. I think it is time for a new restriction: any mention of Hitler, the Holocaust or gas chambers should be legally forbidden to manifest idiots.

Exhibit A: The Rev. Brad Brandon with Minnesota for Marriage analogizing critics of gay marriage to those silenced by Hitler. This is not stupidity. It is stupidity on stilts.

It is long past time that we stopped belittling the memory of millions who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis by pressing them into service for every political analogy. We hear this ignorant comparison deployed with reference to abortion, gay marriage, offensive art, budget cuts, with virtually any public issue where the speaker feels that his rhetorical jets need rocket fuel.

Stop it. Just stop. Survivors deserve better than to hear their unspeakable suffering turned into a talking point. And the dead, the millions slaughtered on the altar of hatred and savagery, should not have their memory besmirched by the moronic compulsion to invoke the holocaust at every presumed offense.

The attempted destruction of an entire people should be spoken in hushed tones, with the reverence due the victims and the shocked horror at the evil of the perpetrators. Anything else tells us nothing about the issue and everything about the speaker. I read that Pastor Brandon apologized. That is a good start. The next step, to be wished for and emulated, is to just keep quiet.

This piece is first appeared on WashingtonPost.com.


Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, David Wolpe is the author of seven books including “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times” and his latest, “Why Faith Matters.” Follow him on Facebook.

Minn. rabbinical group opposes ban on same-sex marriages


Members of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association have signed a statement opposing a state ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriages.

The group represents rabbis from 15 congregations in the state from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements. No Orthodox rabbis signed the statement, which was adopted last month.

The statement said the rabbis were unanimous in opposing the amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot recognizing marriage only as a union between a man and a woman.

In their statement, the rabbis said the amendment “seeks to continue the practice of leaving individual families within the LGBT community vulnerable and unprotected by the law. To honor an individual is to fight against discrimination in society for any reason, including race, religion, natural origin, gender, age or sexual orientation.

“Throughout history the Jewish community has faced discrimination, and therefore we will not stand by while others are targeted,” the rabbis said. “The MRA cannot condone using the constitution to deny civil rights. As rabbis, we embrace the diversity of God’s creation.”

The association “urges all Minnesotans of conscience and faith” to vote against the initiative, the statement said.

Some 42,000 Jews live in Minnesota, according to the Star-Tribune.

President George W. Bush to speak at Minnesota synagogue


Former President George W. Bush will speak at Beth El Synagogue on Sept. 21, the Minnesota synagogue said.

The fundraising event at the Conservative synagogue in St. Louis Park is being billed as “An Intimate Evening with the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush.” The audience will be limited to 250; ticket prices start at $1,250.

Bush’s speaking fee is reported to be between $100,000 and $150,000.

No press will be allowed to cover the event, according to an Aug. 22 letter from Beth El president Gil Mann. The letter notes a Sept. 1 deadline for ticket orders, “so that appropriate security measures can be taken.”

In his letter, Mann wrote that “[Bush’s] appearance coincides with the 10th anniversary of 9-11, a time when our country came together with a singular purpose. This national tragedy defined much of his presidency, and the lessons of that time should prove illuminating and provide important perspective today as our country strives to be more united.”

Other world leaders who have spoken at Beth El include former President Clinton, ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Rice’s appearance in November 2009 engendered controversy in the congregation and in the larger community. Dozen of protesters decrying her support for the Iraq War and the use of torture against suspected terrorists picketed outside the event.

Jewish school in Minnesota closes


A Jewish boarding school in Minnesota is closing.

Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities, which opened five years ago, is shutting down after failing to pay a $60,000 balloon mortgage payment in June, the Star Tribune reported Tuesday. The school’s website does not announce the closure.

The school was attempting to purchase a former Baptist church in Cottage Grove, Minn. It had made $400,000 in payments and added $200,000 in improvements to the building.

The school sign has been removed and the doors chained shut, according to the Star Tribune.

Yeshiva High had opened with 18 students and grew to 40 from around the world. It was aimed at Orthodox Jewish teenage males at risk.

Radio host threatens to oust Minn. lawmaker over invocation objections


A conservative radio host suggested that he would work to unseat a Minnesota state senator who opposed a pastor’s invocation in the statehouse for being nonsectarian.

An invocation earlier this month by the Rev. Dennis Campbell, a conservative Baptist, mentioned Jesus Christ three times. Campbell’s invocation had prompted state Sen. Terri Bonoff, a Democrat who is Jewish, to ask the body’s leadership to change the standard letter given to clergy to say that it requires prayer to be “interfaith and nonsectarian” rather than the current “request.” Bonoff told The Associated Press that the invocation made her “highly uncomfortable.”

Campbell told Conservative radio host Bradlee Dean over the weekend that Jewish members of the Senate should not be offended by the prayer since Jesus was a Jew. He also said he thought that America’s Founding Fathers would have supported the prayer.

Dean is the founder of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International, a Christian youth ministry that holds assemblies in public schools. He suggested that Campbell’s ministry work against Bonoff’s re-election in 2012.

“Maybe what we need to do is get her name eradicated,” Dean said, according to the Minnesota Independent. “She’s looking to get rid of who we are as a people. Well, then, why don’t we help her possibly leave?”

Campbell described what happened after the invocation.

“After the prayer we were ushered out to the back room there and I had one or two people that opposed the prayer—and they were both Jewish folks—to one of them I said, ‘I want you to know that as Christians that we really love the Jews,’ ” Campbell told Dean and his radio sidekick, Jake McMillian. “He made a comment that they weren’t interested in our love so much as respect.”

Al Franken leads in Senate race, poll finds


Al Franken has taken the lead over incumbent Norm Coleman in the Minnesota Senate race, according to a new poll.

The Star-Tribune Minnesota Poll, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 2, showed the Democrat and former writer-performer for “Saturday Night Live” with a 43 percent to 34 percent advantage over Coleman, a Republican, in a contest of Jewish candidates. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley garnered 18 percent.

Coleman led Franken by four points last month in the same poll. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 points.

Coleman campaign officials, according to the Minnesota Star-Tribune, criticized the poll’s methodology by noting that a SurveyUSA poll conducted by a local TV station and released earlier in the week had Coleman up 10 points on Franken, 43 percent to 33 percent.

The Star-Tribune Minnesota poll also found that Barkley was drawing more votes from Coleman than Franken, and that Franken would be ahead by seven points in a head-to-head match.

–JTA