January 19, 2019

Q&A with Wolf Blitzer on Muslim Refugees, ‘Fake News’ and His Favorite Journalism Movie

CNN newsman Wolf Blitzer, one of the world’s most recognizable journalists, has personal and professional connections to the Holocaust and Israel.

Blitzer’s paternal grandparents died in Auschwitz. His parents, both survivors from Poland, immigrated to the United States after the war, following the 1948 passage of the Displaced Person’s Act, which opened America’s borders to Europeans persecuted by the Nazis.

Blitzer, 69, was born in Germany and raised in Buffalo, N.Y. He was a reporter in Israel before joining the staff of CNN in 1990.

After being honored Nov. 5 by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Blitzer discussed today’s Muslim refugees, being a Jewish journalist at a time of rising anti-Semitism, his favorite journalism movie and more.

Jewish Journal: Can you compare the plight of Jewish refugees after the Holocaust with today’s Muslim refugees from Syria? 

Wolf Blitzer: As a son of Holocaust survivors who came to the United States as refugees after World War II, I strongly believe in refugee resettlement. This country welcomed my parents, who went on to establish a wonderful life in Buffalo, N.Y. My parents, like other Holocaust refugees, were thoroughly vetted by U.S. officials before they were granted entry visas. My dad told me about the questions he was asked. They were so grateful to this country and went on to become great American patriots.

JJ: How comparable are the situations?

WB: Refugees are refugees even as there are, of course, different degrees of oppression that made them refugees. Surviving genocide and mass murder, for example, is different than surviving a civil war. But make no mistake: Both are awful and brutal.

JJ: What can be done about Holocaust denial in the Muslim world? 

WB: The best way to deal with Holocaust denial is to get the truth out there — whether it’s here in the United States or elsewhere around the world, including in the Muslim world. And that’s where Holocaust survivors play such a critical role. They survived the horror and their stories are so powerful. Unfortunately, they are now in their 80s and 90s and there are fewer survivors every year. Their personal stories and testimony — shared at Holocaust museums on video — will remain and should be told in the Muslim world and everywhere else.

JJ: Before joining CNN, you worked at The Jerusalem Post and at Reuters’ Tel-Aviv bureau. How was the transition to CNN?

WB: It was very smooth. The folks at CNN are so nice. They really spent some time helping me during the transition. I was a print reporter and the hardest thing was learning how to write for television. It’s different than writing for newspapers or magazines. But in the end, it’s all about being a reporter and gathering the news. Those techniques are the same. My first day at CNN was May 8, 1990 — and Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait a few weeks later in August. I was CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, so I had no choice but to learn all about broadcast journalism very quickly.

JJ: Do Jewish journalists have special responsibilities at a time when anti-Semitism in on the rise?

WB: Our responsibility is the traditional responsibility: report the news honestly and fairly and get the job done. That’s what we’ve done for my whole career, that’s what journalists do and that’s what the viewers, readers and the listeners deserve — factual, honest reporting.

“Occasionally we make a mistake. If we have to correct something, we correct it, then we move on.”

JJ: In the age of “fake news,” and with President Donald Trump calling CNN fake news, how can journalists ensure that the public can continue to trust the media?

WB: Just keep doing our job and don’t get distracted. Just report the news and be honest and responsible. Look, we’re the first draft of history. Occasionally, we make a mistake. If we have to correct something, we correct it, then we move on. But it’s not that complicated: just report the news. That’s what we try to do.

JJ: What’s your favorite journalism movie?

WB: “All the President’s Men.”

JJ: What’s the likelihood of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement?

WB: We’ve been working on that a long time. Let’s see what happens.

Moving & Shaking: CNN’s Blitzer Honored by LAMOTH, Tour de Summer Camps, FIDF Gala

From left: CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer, who was honored by the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust; L.A. Museum of the Holocaust Executive Director Beth Kean and L.A. Museum of the Holocaust President Paul Nussbaum attend the museum’s gala dinner. Photo by Gina Cholick

Wolf Blitzer accepted an honor from the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) on Nov. 5 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. The CNN anchor discussed what his late Holocaust-survivor parents from Poland experienced before coming to the United States.

Blitzer’s mother, Cesia, was a forced laborer in an ammunition factory in Germany. She secretly distorted the bullets she made in the hope that the bullets would misfire and kill Nazis instead of Allied soldiers.

“That was how she survived the war,” Blitzer said. “She was a very powerful woman.”

In Munich after the war, Blitzer’s father, David, observed people standing in a long line. He didn’t know what they were waiting for but assumed it must be good since so many people were doing it.

After a half-hour of being in the line, his father asked a woman in front of him what everyone was waiting for, Blitzer said.

“‘America. They are giving visas for America,’” Blitzer said the woman responded. “My dad says, ‘Visas for America?’ It did not enter his mind he could come to America.”

LAMOTH President Paul Nussbaum presented Blitzer with the museum’s honor. During his acceptance speech, Blitzer, 69, said he thought of his parents as he reported on Nazis marching in the streets in Charlottesville, Va., shouting, “Jews will not replace us.”

“As I was reporting the news about that on CNN, I thought of my mom and dad, who would’ve been so stunned to hear those words shouted here in the United States of America. They wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. “This was a country they loved so much. They would never have believed in this day and age they would have heard slogans like that in the U.S.”

The hundreds of attendees included LAMOTH’s Executive Director Beth Kean and Education Director Jordanna Gessler; filmmaker Aaron Wolf and more than 70 survivors.

Manijeh Nehorai, founder and director of ETTA’s Iranian American Community Division, is honored at the organization’s 20th anniversary gala. Photo courtesy of ETTA

The Iranian-American Community Division of ETTA, which serves the housing and social services needs of disabled adults in the Los Angeles Jewish community, held a gala on Oct. 25 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel that celebrated 20 years of fundraising. The ceremony honored Manijeh Nehorai, founder and director of the Iranian-American Division for more than 22 years, and featured a congratulatory message from Farah Pahlavi, the former empress of Iran.

“It was a great privilege to be recognized by ETTA,” Nehorai said. “Over my more than 20-year association with ETTA — along with the board, staff and volunteers — we have worked hard to provide much-needed programs and services to individuals with special needs. The growth of ETTA continues to be phenomenal, and it is gratifying to be part of such an influential and important organization.”

More than 550 people attended the event that also included a fashion show by Iranian native and acclaimed designer Simin Couture, featuring ETTA clients and ETTA Young Professionals.

“Recognizing Mrs. Nehorai is long overdue,” said ETTA Executive Director Michael Held. “We are thrilled the Iranian Division board of directors, along with the greater Iranian community, will have the opportunity to express their gratitude for all she has done, and continues to do. Through her vast experience, professional training and dedication, she has changed the hearts and minds within the Iranian community and bettered the lives of the many Iranian clients and their families we serve.”

Throughout the past 20 years, the Iranian-American Division has been assisting ETTA, an affiliate of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, in providing programs and services to aid people with disabilities and their families.

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

From left: Jeffrey Kaplan and Rodney Freeman participate in the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ fifth annual Tour de Summer Camps. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hosted its fifth annual Tour de Summer Camps on Oct. 29, starting at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin campus of the American Jewish University in Simi Valley.

More than 650 cyclists and hikers who participated in the communitywide event raised a record-breaking $1.2 million for scholarships for kids to attend Jewish summer camps.

“The entire community has embraced this special event,” said ride master Rodney Freeman. “Tour de Summer Camps has become a day to celebrate the good in our community, which has resulted in almost $6 million raised over five years to benefit Jewish camping scholarships. My dream is that every child with the desire to attend Jewish summer camp will be able to do so, regardless of their family’s financial capabilities.”

The fundraiser, which had four bike routes of different lengths, had some new additions this year, including three hiking routes, a live band, a fun zone with a rock wall and lawn games, and a personalized bike plate.

“This event is incredibly supported and attended by the community, because we all know that Jewish summer camp is one of the greatest drivers of Jewish identity,” said Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson.

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

“Together As One,” an interfaith concert, featured clergy and attendees of all faiths and backgrounds. Photo by Farzana Ali

An interfaith concert at University Synagogue in Brentwood on Oct. 29, titled “Together as One,” had people dancing in the aisles to the music of the Yuval Ron Ensemble.

The nearly 180 attendees contributed canned or dried foods, underwear, socks and grocery store gift cards for homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Seated onstage below four Torah scrolls, the Yuval Ron Ensemble played traditional Middle Eastern music rooted in the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. A mystical whirling dervish — a person doing a devotional dance — performed during two selections. Vocalists sang in Hebrew and Arabic, with a Spanish-language singer joining in for a heartfelt, multilingual version of “Imagine” by John Lennon.

The evening’s finale included a blessing over the donated food and clothing by clergy members from multiple faiths, including University Synagogue’s Rabbi Morley Feinstein and Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro. The ensemble, joined by members of the University Synagogue choir and the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir, then performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” beneath a quote from Isaiah: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

The event, a Days of Compassion service project organized through the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, was sponsored by University Synagogue congregant Barry Silverman, the Agha Khan Council for the Western United States, Safe Place for Youth, Ward AME Church, and the St. Joseph Center.

Daniel Tamm, the mayor’s Westside representative and interfaith liaison, took part in welcoming guests.

Scarlet Michaelson, Contributing Writer

From left, back row: David Foster, Seal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cheryl and Haim Saban and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg attend the annual FIDF western region gala with IDF soldiers. Photo by Alexi Rosenfield

A record $53.8 million was raised at the annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region gala on Nov. 2 at The Beverly Hilton hotel. FIDF national board member and major supporter Haim Saban conducted the fundraiser during the sold-out event that drew 1,200 guests. It didn’t take Saban long to raise the record amount of donations, thanks in large part to Oracle co-founder and billionaire Larry Ellison, who didn’t attend but donated $16.6 million.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, donated more than $5.5 million. Over the years, Eckstein has donated a total of $40 million to FIDF. Among the gala attendees were Guess founders Maurice and Paul Marciano, who also donated millions to the FIDF.

Among the celebrities attending the event were Gerard Butler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joanna Krupa, Katharine McPhee and Gene Simmons. Simmons, a member of the rock group Kiss and a regular guest at the FIDF gala, performed Kiss’ signature song “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

“Year after year, the support from the Los Angeles community for this remarkable event continues to amaze me, and this year’s gala is no exception” Saban said. “[My wife] Cheryl and I are grateful for the outpouring of support for these great causes and deeply honored by this year’s record-breaking donations.”

The gala featured the screening of a video called “Heroes of the IDF,” which told the stories of women combat soldiers. Today, 95 percent of IDF jobs are open to women, who serve as pilots, infantry soldiers, artillery combat soldiers, electronic warfare specialists, and anti-aircraft and naval officers. About 11 percent of combat soldiers drafted into the IDF each year are women.

Among the 17 active-duty soldiers attending the gala was border policewoman Cpl. Ravit Mor, whose life was saved by the late border policewoman Hadar Cohen, 19, after she was attacked by a male terrorist in February 2016. After being stabbed several times, Cohen shot the perpetrator but she was then attacked from behind by another terrorist and died. Mor later told the Jewish Journal about the close relationship she formed with Cohen’s parents: “It’s amazing how they supported and embraced me during that time, even though they were in pain for losing their daughter. This experience had made me stronger and taught me how to appreciate every moment in life.”

Also in attendance was Noam Gershony, the former IDF pilot whose helicopter crashed as he was heading to rescue troops during the 2006 Lebanon War. Gershony broke nearly every bone in his body, and was paralyzed from the waist down. He emerged from a deep depression not only to be rehabilitated, but to win a gold medal and share a bronze medal in wheelchair tennis at the 2012 Paralympic Games. When Gershony came on stage walking with the assistance of crutches, he was received with a standing ovation. Addressing the audience, Gershony jokingly said: “Now I can finally go out with a beautiful girl in Tel Aviv — or even a few.”

Presiding as the evening’s master of ceremonies was Israeli actress Moran Atias. The event featured special performances by singer Seal, The Tenors and David Foster & Friends.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

London terror: No. 30,499 in a series

Commenting on the recent London attack that killed four and injured at least 50, the acting Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mark Rowley, told the BBC that it was “Islamist-related terrorism.”

A day earlier, on March 21, an Islamist suicide car bomber killed 10 people in Mogadishu, Somalia.

A day before that, two dozen people were blown up by an Islamist car bomber in a Baghdad neighborhood. 

Two days before that, a mother and her two children were among four people wiped out by three Islamist suicide bombers in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

A day before that, Islamist Shiite rebels fired two rockets into a Sunni mosque in Yemen, killing 34 people during Friday prayers.

On the same day in Paris, the throats of a father and son were slit by a family member yelling “Allah Akbar (God is great).”

A day earlier, a young child was blown to bits by an Islamist suicide bomber in Bangladesh.

On that same day, March 16, in South Ukkadam, India, an atheist was hacked to death by an angry Muslim over Facebook posts attacking his religion.

I know it’s painful to consider that 30,499 deadly attacks could be committed in the name of one religion.

That is just a little glimpse of weekly terror from the Third World and elsewhere. Worldwide, since 9/11, Islamist terrorists have carried out 30,499 deadly terror attacks, according to the independent watchdog site TheReligionOfPeace.com.

Most of these attacks never make it to CNN or The New York Times, because the victims don’t live in places like London, Brussels or San Bernardino. In the West, we see a fraction of the carnage done in the name of Islam. No matter how much media attention we give to the attacks on our soil, it doesn’t come close to capturing the scope of the global problem.

I know it’s painful to consider that 30,499 deadly attacks could be committed in the name of one religion. It challenges our narrative that all religions are pretty much the same, that there’s good and bad in all religions, and there’s no special reason to focus on one in particular. This is a comforting narrative that can lull us into complacency.

Still, there is an aspirational value to that narrative. It gives us something to look forward to. For humanity to succeed, we need it to become true. We need a reformation of Islam so that, one day, the number 30,499 will be reduced to a very low number and we can truly say that the religion is just like any other.

Because right now, it’s not. Too much killing, too much horror is done in its name.

It’s no longer enough to say, “This is not Islam.” For the killers doing the killing, it is Islam. It may be a radicalized, supremacist version of Islam, but there’s enough supporting text in the Quran to make the killers believe they’re doing God’s work.

Despite our efforts to counter this radical Islam, reform only gets more distant and the violence only gets worse. Defending the faith, accusing extremists of perverting it and engaging in interfaith projects is fine, but it’s not enough. True reform must come from the inside, not from interfaith but from innerfaith, from Muslims taking responsibility for the violence done in their name. 

It will come from Muslims who have the courage to acknowledge and confront the extremist parts of their texts and reinterpret them in a holy way that will honor their faith.

One such group is the little-known Muslim Reform Movement, a group of Muslim scholars and spiritual activists whose leaders call for “a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam” and reject interpretations that call for “any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam.”

For some reason, this movement has gained little traction among progressive circles, even though its founding declaration sounds like a love letter to progressive values. Going forward, we must ensure that such moderate groups are no longer marginalized by the mainstream, and are empowered to make progress in their supremely difficult mission.

We must pray that their nonviolent and tolerant interpretation of Islam will one day take hold throughout the jihadist world and win over the hearts of the killers, even if it takes a century. We must pray that the number 30,499 will eventually be reduced to zero.

Yes, that would be a miracle for humanity and for Islam, but God is great.

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

Blitzer asks Sanders if being Jewish complicates relationship with Muslim world

CNN host Wolf Blitzer suggested on Wednesday that Bernie Sanders becoming the first elected Jewish president may complicate the U.S. relationship with Muslim and Arab leaders in the world. 

“You, of course, are Jewish. Do you think that potentially could be a problem, working with the Muslim world out there and trying to get help – for example – in the war against ISIS?” Blitzer asked Sanders during a live interview on CNN. 

“No, I don’t,” Sanders responded. 

Blitzer’s question was a follow-up question after Sanders commented on President Barack Obama’s speech earlier in the day at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit to a Mosque since taking office. 

Meanwhile, CNN reported that starting Wednesday Sanders will be receiving Secret Service protection. The campaign requested a Secret Service detail last week, according to the report. 

Sanders is the fourth presidential candidate to receive Secret Service protection this campaign cycle. Donald Trump and Ben Carson requested it last fall. Hillary Clinton has lifelong Secret Service protection as a former First Lady of the United States.