Ankie Spitzer leads worldwide minute of silence for Munich 11

Ankie Spitzer led a minute of silence to honor the Munich 11 that was streamed live around the world.

Spitzer, the widow of an Israeli coach who was among 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team killed at the 1972 Games, led the minute of silence on Sunday evening at the JCC Maccabi Games opening ceremonies at the JCC Rockland in suburban New York.

The JCC Rockland had initiated a petition drive, which turned into an international campaign, to hold a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics in memory of the Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinians terrorists at the Munich Olympics. The International Olympic Committee turned down the request despite high-profile supporters such as President Obama, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and governments around the world.

“Maybe at the London Games we did not get the minute, but let me assure you, we did not have silence either,” Spitzer said at the Rockland JCC event. “For 40 years we walked this long and lonely road by ourselves, but not anymore. Two years ago I came here to the JCC Rockland and the JCC decided to dedicate the Maccabi Games to the memory of our loved ones. They were the ones who initiated the petition on the internet, and through this petition the world woke up.”

Some 1,225 athletes from 36 delegations from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico and Venezuela will compete in sporting events this week in the Maccabi Games.

Italian lawmakers join Olympics moment of silence push

Some 140 Italian members of the Parliament of Italy have added their voices to calls for a minute of silence during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London to honor the Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The MPs, from across the political spectrum, made their appeal in a letter this week to Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympics Committee.

The letter was spearheaded by Jewish MP Fiamma Nirenstein, who is vice president of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs commission.

“At all the Games since 1976, family members of the murdered athletes have requested a minute of silence but they have always been refused,” Nirenstein said in a statement. “This year marks the 40th anniversary of the massacre.”

It was time, she said, for “a moment of pity for these murdered athletes and a firm condemnation of terrorism.”

The IOC has never had a moment of silence at the games for the 11 murdered Israelis, other than the day after the tragedy. IOC officials have attended private Jewish community ceremonies in host cities during the games.

The U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, about 50 members of the British Parliament and about 100 members of Australia’s Parliament are advocating the moment of silence.

Opinion: The deadly sounds of Christian silence

This piece originally first appeared in The Christian Post

This just in: Get married or baptized in a church adjacent to Jesus’ birthplace, and it won’t be recognized by the law. You can’t make this up. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has just declared that it deems the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem to be illegitimate.

No sooner had 600 mostly American evangelicals departed from the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference (CATC) in Bethlehem, then the PA made its startling pronouncement. No reason was given, but people who know the church’s pastor, Rev. Naim Khoury, suspect that it has plenty to do with the fact that he has been unflaggingly even-handed in dealing with Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

What does the PA move portend about the future of Christian holy sites and churches in a future Palestinian state? As President Mahmoud Abbas continues to pursue a unity government with Hamas, no one knows whose template for treating religious minorities will be followed. We know the track record of Hamas in Gaza. We know of the attack on the only Christian bookstore in Gaza, now shut down. We know of the increasing frequency of neighbors in Bethlehem, jeering at the shrunken Christian population, calling upon them to convert to Islam. We have seen how the PA, which is responsible to guarantee the site of Joseph’s Tomb, stood by and allowed it to be destroyed – and then destroyed again, after it was rebuilt. We’ve watched the trucks of the Waqf, entrusted with the sanctity of the Temple Mount, remove tons of earth from one of the most important archeological sites in the world, with the goal of physically erasing all traces of the Jewish First and Second Temples. We’ve heard the PA’s imams declare that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and seen its Muslim allies go to UNESCO to have Rachel’s Tomb declared a mosque.

CATC participants and others committed to interfaith progress should ask themselves if they feel more optimistic after their stay in Bethlehem about the prospects for a secure Christian future in the Holy Land?

We are all witness to a broader challenge to historic Christian communities: there is immediate danger to lives, not only buildings. Some of the oldest Christian communities in the world have already been decimated in the Assyrian Triangle of Iraq. Its churches burned, clergy assassinated, many have tried fleeing to Iraq’s north – only to find poor prospects for rebuilding shattered lives. While they wait in limbo, a convert to Christianity sits on Iran‘s death row, awaiting execution for the crime of becoming Christian. In Saudi Arabia, Christians aren’t in any danger of dying because it won’t tolerate any Christian presence, except foreign workers and VIPs. How bad is it? Reacting to proposed legislation by a Kuwaiti Minister of Parliament to ban all church construction in his nation, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti and highest-ranking cleric Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah offered his ruling about the entire Arabian Peninsula: it is “necessary,” he said, “to destroy all the churches of the region.”

In Pakistan, Christians literally live in fear for their lives. And in Egypt, the brutal Maspero massacre of almost thirty Copts, belies the larger problem: intimidation of millions of Egyptian citizens – at least ten percent of the Arab world’s largest nation – is so severe and widespread, that some Coptic community leaders have advised those who can leave the country to do so.

Who is pounding on the doors of world leaders about the majority of those Christians who cannot leave?

Where is the outrage? Over many years of conversation with our Christian friends, we have learned much – and admired – the Christian compulsion to speak out against injustice. But we remain puzzled by the anemic response from so many circles when it is Christians themselves who are imperiled. Jews are often criticized for being overly protective of their own. And there is some truth to that. But why do Christian leaders seem so unmoved by mortal threats to their spiritual brothers and sisters? Does the universal embrace of Christian love preclude any special affinity for and responsibility towards other Christians? To be sure, we have proudly drawn closer to some who work assiduously to protect the lives of Christians. But why are there so few?

We, as an American Jewish (proudly Zionist) NGO raise the issue of the persecution of Christians at the UN, at the White House, and in the halls of Congress. When we report to law enforcement agencies on our Digital Terrorism and Hate Project, the targeting of Christians is high on our list of greatest concern. Why? Not only because in a democracy it is the right thing to do, but also because as Jews we know, that if Coptic Christians cannot live in peace, there will be no peace for anyone in the Holy Land, and if Christian minorities under siege from Pakistan to Nigeria are abandoned, there can be no talk of an era of global peace and tolerance.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs.

Silence on Israel loses the next generation

American Jewish organizations have, over the last decades, struck a Faustian bargain regarding Israel. In return for the façade of unity and to avoid controversy, we have organizationally either stayed silent about Israel or addressed it in only the most idyllic strokes. As a result of this lack of investment, the American Jewish-Israel relationship has fallen on tough times, and Americans have lost the “why” of the State of Israel.

One need not exert oneself to demonstrate the Israeli government’s own lack of savvy toward American Jews — its recent offensive repatriation commercials do such a beautiful job on their own.

However, we’re not doing much better in the States. A month and a half ago, The Forward reported that staff, participants and alumni of Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, a year-long social justice fellowship for Jews in their 20s, launched a petition protesting a Schusterman Foundation grant for a service trip to Israel. 

“A trip like this, organized by a social justice organization, helps normalize the oppression of Palestinians by drawing attention away from the daily abuses that they’re suffering,” said Michael Deheeger, the Avodah staff member who quit over the trip.

Not a ringing endorsement.

This particular brushfire is the symptom of a massive failure in Jewish leadership.

What one must understand is that each organization involved in the controversy represents the best that today’s Jewish community has to offer. Avodah has trained some of the most talented and brightest of my colleagues and friends — the most passionate, the most dedicated (I am not an alumnus). The Schusterman Foundation funds and develops the most innovative and successful of contemporary communal initiatives (I have worked for Hillel and Moishe House, and am quite biased, thank you). These two are the cutting edge, yet a simple trip to Israel caused revolt. Something is wrong.

My colleague Rabbi Ethan Linden has written convincingly that what joins the young social justice organizations is their silence on Israel: “For years, programs like Avodah and [American Jewish World Service] have been attracting hordes of young people to their programs on two important (but importantly unspoken) conditions … [the second of which is] we won’t be talking about Israel.” The dissenters themselves acknowledge this reality in their open letter: “As a domestic-focused service corps, Avodah has thus far refrained from addressing the potentially contentious issue of the conflict in Israel-Palestine.”

On the other hand, what links American funders and our old-guard institutions is their insistence that Israelis are still unified in their vision of a pioneering, kibbutznik, Zionist, enlightened ideal of the nation, and that American Jews are still unified by their strong connection to Israel. Neither belief has been reality for at least 20 years.

What we have here is a failure to communicate, and therefore a failure of leadership. In both cases, American Jewish institutions traded engaging contemporary Israel for fleeting freedom from the problems of dissention. But the bargain bought them time at best, and the years without connection to the real Israel have taken their toll.

As a result, the content of contemporary connection to Israel is almost entirely political, concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and thereafter empty. What I mean is that to be engaged with Israel today, either one joins the right or the left, Stand With Us or J Street, or one is politically disengaged and indifferent.

However, a relationship that encompasses more than politics has somehow become petrified, speaking of the past generation. A senior colleague of mine used to debate Zionist philosophy as a teenager in Young Judea – there is little opportunity, or interest, for such today.

We do not possess a contemporary vocabulary for the importance of Israel. The major reason given — a refuge from anti-Semitism — rings wrong in the ears of many Americans Jews, who feel safe and secure here.

We do not know what our individual relationship to Israel should be: Financial supporter? Political lobbyist? Unified in support of? Critic of policies of? Pray-er for in synagogue? Eventual maker of aliyah? American Jews no longer possess an idea of Israel; we are left only with the politics of Israel.

This reality is a shame and a tragedy. In a time when Jewish religious, cultural, social and communal ideas are literally growing faster than Jews can keep up with them — we are in a Jewish renaissance — ideas about Israel have lagged sorely behind. This is because we have had no investment in them, not because they do not exist.

Such people as David Hartman have done the first work of a new Zionism, in which Israel is, as he calls it, Judaism moving through history. In a summation that does not do him justice, Israel is the grand experiment of Judaism. It is important, critical, because it is the only place where the totality of the religious, cultural, political and social ideas of Judaism and Jews are expressed through a body politic. Israel is the only place in the world where Judaism is the civilization, and the ideals we claim to hold apply to a living country. For this reason, if for no other, Israel is of central importance to anyone who loves Judaism.

However, we have not carried this ball forward in our organizations.

It is incumbent upon us to make the idea of Israel — the why of its importance, the debate as to its future — a regular part of what we do and a noticeable chunk of our communal time. This process will be messy and contentious — if Israelis are divided as to Israel’s future, it’s ridiculous to expect Americans not to be. There will be no avoiding politics — that’s like talking football without mentioning tackling. But politics should be folded into the larger context — why Israel means something in the first place.

The good news is that making space for the why of Israel is an eminently achievable goal. Its accomplishment is simply a matter of some communal will and the patience to ride out the first wave of obnoxious comments. In this case, sowing in tears will mean reaping in joy, so let’s get to work.

Cluster Silence

I haven’t heard major Jewish groups rush to comment on Israel’s use of cluster bombs in the war against Hezbollah.When they have spoken up, they’ve eitherweakly defended Israel’s actions or expressed their concerns in private.

What a mistake.

Cluster bombs burst into bomblets that disperse over a wide area near the ground. Because many bomblets do not explode when launched — between 14 and 40 percent by varying estimates — they become de facto land mines that can kill or maim humans long after a conflict ends.

That’s what has happened in southern Lebanon, thanks to Israel.According to data collected by the United Nations’ Mine Action Coordination Centre of South Lebanon and by international and Israeli human rights organizations, Israel used between hundreds and many thousands of cluster bombs in its shelling of southern Lebanon.

The cluster bomblets spread over a radius of some 220 yards. As of Sept. 28, according to a report in The New York Times, cluster bombs had severely wounded 109 people — and killed 18 others.

The Times report told, among others, the story of Muhammad Hassan Sultan, 12, from Sawane, a hillside village in south Lebanon now littered with cluster bombs. “Muhammad was sitting on a hip-high wall, watching a bulldozer clear rubble, when the machine bumped into a tree.

“A flash of a second later he was fatally injured when a cluster bomblet dropped from the branches.”

The explosion cut into his neck and head.

As is becoming unfortunately more common, the only real Jewish outrage to these munitions is coming from Israel.

The most damning revelations that Israel was using these bombs were published in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. A Sept. 12 article quoted the unnamed head of an Israeli rocket unit as saying: “What we did was insane and monstrous; we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.” The commander said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used delivery systems called Multiple Launch Rocket System platforms, despite the fact that experts consider them highly inaccurate.The rocket unit head stated that Israeli forces fired about 1,800 cluster bombs, containing more than 1.2 million bomblets.

The IDF response was not, sad to say, an automatic denial. The military spokesman’s office said that “international law does not include a sweeping prohibition of the use of cluster bombs.” Israeli military, it said, “makes use only of methods and weaponry which are permissible under international law.”

In fact, there is ample evidence to conclude that Israel’s use of the cluster bombs in southern Lebanon clearly violated international law. Again it was an Israeli human rights group, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, that made the argument in a letter to Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz that cluster bombing civilian areas constitutes “an extremely severe violation of the basic principle upon which humanitarian law is based.”

The group cited numerous examples where “the firing of cluster bombs in urban areas, with complete disregard for the dangers they pose to the lives of innocent civilians, establishes, prima facie, sufficient criminal intent to carry out the deliberate killing or injury of innocent civilians.”

The State Department is investigating whether the munitions Israel used were American-made. The rules regarding Israel’s use of American munitions are not widely known or clear. But it doesn’t take a Karen Hughes, the Bush administration’s ambassador for public diplomacy to the Muslim world, to figure out that the continuing maiming and killing of Lebanese civilians by made-in-America cluster bombs cannot help America’s standing in the world.

That concern prompted two Democratic senators to introduce legislation that would require recipients of such munitions not to use them in or near civilian centers.

The Cluster Munitions Amendment to the 2007 defense appropriations bill, authored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would have prevented Department of Defense funds from being spent to transfer cluster bombs to foreign countries, unless the Pentagon ensures that such bombs do not jeopardize civilians.The measure lost a Sept. 15 Senate vote 70-30, with all 55 of the chamber’s Republicans voting against it.

At an Oct. 11 discussion in Los Angeles with the Pacific Council on International Policy, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard H. Jones underplayed criticism of Israel over its use of the bombs. He declined to confirm reports that the bombs were American made, pending the results of a State Department investigation, and he reiterated the most common rejoinder to Israel’s critics on this matter: That Hezbollah used similar munitions in Israel.

Indeed, Human Rights Watch reported Oct. 20 that Hezbollah guerrillas fired several hundred cluster rockets at civilian areas of northern Israel during this summer’s war with Israel.

He also said that Israel didn’t choose this war, and “war is hell.”I appreciate the ambassador’s defense of an ally, but it doesn’t change the fact that using cluster bombs in civilian areas is morally suspect, to say the least, and a good many Israelis think it is tactically counterproductive.

But American Jewish voices of outrage? Nada.

Look, I understand we live in a time when Israel is under constant attack from a well-Arab-oil-funded propaganda machine. I understand its enemies are ruthless and tireless, and that Israel’s opponents will undoubtedly harp on the cluster bomb issue with nary a word against Hezbollah, Hamas or Israel’s terrorist and dictatorial foes.But it does Israel no favors to stand mute when its policies undermine the country’s own moral foundations and challenge basic notions of humanity.

So here’s a little hint about when it’s time for AIPAC and AJC and the Museum of Tolerance and others to challenge Israel’s actions:When the best defense is “Hezbollah does it, too.”