Tag: Hebrew Poetry


Open Letter to Ban Ki-moon on Terrorism & “Human Nature”: Hillel C. Neuer, UN Watch, Feb. 5, 2016 — Dear Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon…

Getting Serious About the UN’s Anti-Israel Bias: Ben Cohen, Algemeiner, Feb. 18, 2016— Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, this week sounded an unusually strong — and therefore welcome — warning about the continuing bias against Israel in the corridors of the world body.

The Tragedy of Ehud Olmert in Retrospect: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 17, 2016— The image of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, now 70, entering Ma’asiyahu Prison to serve a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice is a shocking stain on the entire nation.

‘The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai,’ Edited by Robert Alter: Rosie Schaap, New York Times, Jan. 29, 2016 — I have one selfish quibble with the expansive, magnificent new book “The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai,” edited by Robert Alter.


On Topic Links


Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Israel: Ban Ki-Moon, New York Times, Jan. 31, 2016

The Moral Relativism of the United Nations: Manfred Gerstenfeld, JCPA, Jan. 13, 2016

UN Ignored Claims of French Peacekeepers Giving Children Food for Sexual Favours, Report Says: Cara Anna, National Post, Dec. 17, 2016

Double Standards and the Intifada: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Jan. 20, 2016

Justice Antonin Scalia and the Jews: Aish, Feb. 13, 2015              





Hillel C. Neuer                       

   UN Watch, Feb. 5, 2016 


Dear Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Tomorrow when you attend synagogue to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day—after two weeks when you singled out Israel at the Security Council and in the New York Times—I hope you will pay heed to the following verses of Exodus in the weekly Bible portion that will be read out before the congregation: “Do not spread a false report… Do not follow the crowd to do evil; neither shall you testify in a dispute by siding with the multitude to pervert justice.” (Exodus XXIII)


As you begin your 10th year as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I hope you reflect upon these words, and on how your conduct has changed over time. Because I remember when, during your first year in office, in 2007, you admirably criticized the Human Rights Council after it decided to permanently single out Israel under a special agenda item at every one of its meetings. You were sharply rebuked for this by the 56-strong Islamic group.


Today, perhaps because you have been stung by such rebukes from the multitude that dominates your organization—including the 120-strong Non-Aligned Movement, now chaired by Iran—too often your own actions, and those carried out by U.N. officials under your command, spread false reports, follow the crowd to do evil, and deliver testimony that perverts justice.


Let us begin by your remarks last week to the Security Council. Though you started by saying that you condemned Palestinian stabbings, car attacks and shootings against Israelis, you swiftly absolved the terrorists of any moral responsibility by saying “it is human nature to react to occupation.” Going further, you drew a narrative in which Palestinian “alienation,” “despair,” and “frustration” are “driving” the murder of Israelis. You chastised Israel for “provocative acts,” some of which you described as “an affront to the Palestinian people.”


No, Mr. Secretary General. It was not “human nature” for Palestinians, in the week preceding your UN remarks, to stab to death Dafna Meir, a mother of six children, outside her home; to stab Michal Froman, a pregnant woman; or to stab Shlomit Krigman, a 23-year-old university graduate, who died from her wounds on the day of your testimony. The truth is that Palestinian youth are being incited day and night to murder Israelis. While you did say that “incitement has no place,” you deliberately refused to condemn the perpetrators, omitting any mention of the Palestinian Authority, its president Mahmoud Abbas, or Fatah, all of whom have glorified the murderers of Israelis as “martyrs.”


Likewise, while you condemned the firing of rockets into Israel, you again noticeably declined to name Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or its leaders, sufficing instead with a generic reference to anonymous “militant groups.” Doubling down, you then published an unprecedented New York Times op-ed last Sunday which repeated the same one-sided charges, pointing the finger at “senior members of Israel’s government.” Hamas and Abbas again went unmentioned. Instead of making excuses for terrorists, you ought to learn courage from Muslims like Lucy Aharish, an Arab Israeli journalist, who, unlike you, has unequivocally condemned Arab leaders’ incitement to kill in the name of Islam, saying, “I refuse to accept excuses of frustration.”


As noted by Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post, none of your 85 op-eds of the past decade have gone after a specific country in this fashion. China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other regimes, all get a free pass. Instead, your 2007 op-ed on Darfur actually commended President Omar al-Bashir—the same man who is wanted by the ICC for genocide in Darfur—for his “unqualified commitment to support the peacekeeping mission.” And in the same article you found reason to shower praise on Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi for “generously” offering to host peace talks, and for his “remarkable” water pipeline. What a perversion of truth!


Mr. Secretary-General, neither Israel nor any other government is above criticism. But it’s time for you to consider that Palestinians must be held morally responsible for their own actions, and not infantilized. It’s time for you to consider that Palestinian anger might also be a consequence of oppression by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority—both of them dictatorial governments—just as hundreds of millions of other Arabs and Muslims throughout the Middle East, as the world suddenly learned five years ago during the Arab Spring, have been oppressed by their own regimes.


It’s time for you to consider that Israel is not the problem in the Middle East, which is sinking into chaos because of ideologies of ignorance, medievalism and death; and that, on the contrary, having more Middle East societies like open-minded, innovative and democratic Israel is the solution.


Most importantly, you ought to consider your own organization’s role in all of this. When was the last time that you spoke out against the demonization of Israelis that pervades the resolutions and debates of the U.N. General Assembly, UNESCO, and the Human Rights Council? When last year the GA condemned Israel in 20 one-sided resolutions that gave a free pass to Hamas—with only three resolutions on the rest of the world combined—why were you silent?


When Hamas terrorists fired thousands of rockets at Israel in the summer of 2014, and the U.N.’s highest human rights body held an emergency session that condemned Israel 18 times and Hamas 0 times, why were you silent? When that same body created a biased commission of inquiry headed by William Schabas, a life-long anti-Israel activist who did paid legal work for the PLO, why were you silent? When the upcoming March session of the Human Rights Council is planning to hold yet another follow-up debate on the discredited 2009 Goldstone Report — even though Goldstone long ago retracted the core charge of that report — why are you silent?


When UN Watch revealed last year that the Goldstone Report’s key author—whom your Geneva staff deliberately hired—was in fact a rabid Hamas supporter, Grietje Baars, who served as European spokeswoman for the Gaza Flotilla of 2010, and who dedicated her life to prosecuting Israelis for alleged war crimes, why were you silent? Why are you not launching an investigation into this fundamental breach of U.N. neutrality? When the UNHRC is planning next month to name a new Special Rapporteur into “Israel’s violations of the bases and principles of international law,” a one-sided mandate that looks only at Israeli actions and presumes guilt in advance, why are you silent?


Mr. Secretary-General, your op-ed was entitled “Don’t shoot the messenger, Israel.” Perhaps you ought to consider that the U.N. is not a messenger here, but a key actor; and that, too often, your organization’s actions encourage, enable and legitimize terrorism. If you unequivocally condemn terrorism that strikes French, American, and Nigerian victims, without expressing sympathy and understanding with the alleged grievances of the murderers, you should do no different when the victims are Israelis. I conclude again with the words of the Bible: “Do not spread a false report… Do not follow the crowd to do evil; neither shall you testify in a dispute by siding with the multitude to pervert justice.”


Hillel Neuer is a Former Editor of CIJR’s Dateline M.E. Student Magazine





Ben Cohen

                                                Algemeiner, Feb. 18, 2016


Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, this week sounded an unusually strong — and therefore welcome — warning about the continuing bias against Israel in the corridors of the world body.


On a visit to Israel, Power spoke publicly about the experience of ZAKA, an Israeli humanitarian aid organization, in its efforts to gain accreditation at the UNN. After describing Zaka’s venerable record of assistance not just in Israel, but in New York City after the 9/11 atrocities and in Haiti after the devastating earthquake there in 2010, the ambassador pointed out that when, in 2013, the agency applied for accreditation to the UN’s NGO committee, it was flatly denied. It took another five attempts before the same committee until the accreditation was granted, thanks to pressure from Power herself along with Israeli diplomats.


In the same speech, Power reflected that “bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country [to] Israel as an idea.” In particular, she noted the insidious role of the UN’s Human Rights Council. Power said, “The only country in the world with a standing agenda item at the Human Rights Council is not North Korea, a totalitarian state that is currently holding an estimated 100,000 people in gulags; not Syria, which has gassed its people — lots of them. It is Israel.”


It should be remembered that the Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the old Commission on Human Rights. At the time, the outgoing UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, expressed hope that the new Council would break with the past, by preventing serial human rights abusers from gaining membership as easily as they had with the previous Commission, and by shifting away from the excessive focus on Israel. So Power’s remarks confirm that this goal has yet to be attained. She’s right, too, about the bias in the UN against Israel “as an idea.” The roots of the rot go very deep.


Fifty years ago, when the West Bank was still occupied by Jordan, the Soviet Union began a campaign that was to culminate in the 1975 UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism. The Israeli scholars Joel Fishman and Yohanan Manor have unearthed how, in the October 1965 proceedings of one of its sub-committees, the Soviets responded to a joint US-Brazil resolution condemning antisemitism with an amendment urging the inclusion of “Zionism” as well. So let there be no doubt: Before there was an “Israeli occupation,” there was a demonization campaign against the Jewish nature of the state underway.


By the time the General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 in 1975, the key slander it contained — the bracketing of the national liberation movement of the Jewish people with South African apartheid — was already a familiar one in the halls of the UN. It fed on the same poisonous atmosphere, marked by terrorism and the constant threat of a Middle East war, that birthed such horrors as the Red Army Fraction, a group of well-heeled German students who hijacked planes and murdered Jews and others in the name of the Palestinian cause. And it remained on the books for 16 years before it was rescinded in a curt, single-line resolution on the eve of the historic 1991 Middle East peace conference.


The problem is that the UN continues to behave as if it regards Zionism as a form of racism. And the reason for that is simple. Structurally, nothing has changed at the UN since the coming, and then going, of Resolution 3379. The systemic bias identified by Power remains because the same bodies that have targeted Israel in the past continue to do so now.


It’s not just the Human Rights Council. On the same day that it passed the Zionism-is-racism resolution, the General Assembly created the memorably named “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” along with an entire “Division of Palestinian Rights” for research, information, and propaganda requirements. For more than 40 years now, the UN has annually spent several million dollars of member-state money on NGO conferences on the Palestinian territories, “fact-finding” junkets composed of minor officials who decide that Israel is guilty before they even reach the airport, and endless resolutions and reports that cement the false image of Israel as a rogue state.


The Palestinian People Committee’s report to the General Assembly for its 2015 activities tells you all you need to know about how anti-Israel bias works its way through the UN system. Inter alia, we learn that one “Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” delivered a lecture as part of the “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” We are told about the economic costs of the “occupation,” but the rife corruption in the Palestinian Authority that has eaten billions of dollars in aid money isn’t mentioned. At another point, we are informed that calculating the “occupation’s cost” is “complex and multidimensional, requiring expertise in economics, law, history, and politics.” Preferably acquired at the Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, I’ll wager.


These and similar ignominies are documented on a regular basis by UN Watch, which also reports diligently on those human rights crises ignored by the UN. But what hasn’t yet happened is an international discussion about the future of the Palestinian People Committee and its associated bodies…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




                   Isi Leibler                      

                                                Jerusalem Post, Feb. 17, 2016


The image of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, now 70, entering Ma’asiyahu Prison to serve a 19-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice is a shocking stain on the entire nation. To witness such a talented man fall to such depths saddened me. I befriended Olmert after hosting him in Australia in the 1980s, where he made a tremendous impact on the community and built up a cadre of friends who admired him. Subsequently, I spent many hours with him in the Knesset, in his ministerial offices, and was especially close to him when he became mayor of Jerusalem.


Olmert was a consummate politician and fundraiser, an outstanding networker with an engaging personality and a well-deserved reputation of loyalty to his friends. Ironically, following in his father’s footsteps and being elected to the Knesset as the youngest MK, his initial impact was a vigorous campaign against corruption. He opposed the peace treaty with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat but subsequently mended his fences with prime minister Menachem Begin and rose within the ranks of Likud, serving a term as an exemplary health minister in the Shamir government.


Olmert was a leader in the national camp, bitterly opposed the Oslo Accords, sought to close Orient House, the PLO’s headquarters in Jerusalem, and even demanded the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. In 1993, he was elected mayor of Jerusalem, defeating the longstanding and legendary Teddy Kolleck. For 10 years as mayor he was a champion for a united Jerusalem. When prime minister Ehud Barak floated the idea of dividing the capital in an unsuccessful effort to coax Yasser Arafat to agree to a settlement, Olmert organized a massive global meeting in support of a united Jerusalem, attended by 300,000 people.


In 2003, Olmert reentered the Knesset as a member of Sharon’s government, serving for three years as minister of industry, trade and labor. In a shocking display of crude political opportunism, the rightwing Likud leader with a Revisionist background became, virtually overnight, prime minister Sharon’s most aggressive and effective proponent of the disastrous unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. He was brutal and even cruel in the mocking of his former friends and allies and trivialized the forcible eviction of the Gush Katif settlements. At that stage, I became one of his most fervent critics.


Olmert’s volte-face was reflected in a keynote speech he gave to the left-wing American-based Israel Policy Forum in June 2005, when he stated, “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.” Having secured for himself the title of deputy prime minister, he was able to seize the reins of leadership when Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke…


In 2007, Olmert participated in the revived peace talks in Annapolis, Maryland, where he virtually adopted the Palestinian narrative, stating that “for dozens of years, many Palestinians have been living in camps, disconnected from the environment in which they grew, wallowing in poverty, neglect, alienation, bitterness and a deep, unrelenting sense of deprivation. …I know that this pain and humiliation are the deepest foundations which fomented the hatred against us.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ignored Olmert’s groveling remarks, stressing that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.


Olmert told the Israeli media that unless a Palestinian state were created, the Jewish state would be engaged in apartheid and “the State of Israel is finished.” Desperate to rehabilitate his political reputation and retrieve his legacy – and without consulting the Knesset or cabinet – Olmert offered Abbas 98% of the West Bank, forgoing defensible borders and Israel’s security presence along the Jordan River. Furthermore, he agreed to divide Jerusalem and was even willing to yield jurisdiction of the Temple Mount to a multinational committee. He also undertook to allow a number of Arab refugees to settle inside Israel without any reference to restitution for Jews expelled from Arab countries in 1948.


Fortunately for Israel, like his predecessor Arafat, Abbas rejected Olmert’s proposals and even failed to make a counter offer, merely repeating his demand of the “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees, which amounts to the dissolution of the Jewish state. In retrospect, Olmert proved to be the worst prime minister Israel has known. The irresponsible unauthorized offers he extended to the Palestinians are to this day being exploited by them as a benchmark for reopening negotiations…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]                                                           





Rosie Schaap                                             

New York Times, Jan. 29, 2016


I have one selfish quibble with the expansive, magnificent new book “The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai,” edited by Robert Alter. It excludes a personal favorite, “The Eve of Rosh Hashanah.” Every year, on the occasion of its title, I read the poem aloud. In Chana Bloch and Stephen ­Mitchell’s translation, it begins: “The eve of Rosh Hashanah. At the house that’s being built,//a man makes a vow: not to do anything wrong in it,//only to love. — and ends: And whoever uses people as handles or as rungs of a ladder//will soon find himself hugging a stick of wood//and holding a severed hand and wiping his tears//with a potsherd.”


I share it with my family and my friends, Jews and non-Jews, poetry lovers and those who have made their distaste for poetry known. I often share poems I love, but nothing ever gets a response as enthusiastic as “The Eve of Rosh Hashanah” does. It reminds us — because Amichai knew we sometimes need reminding — to treat one another with decency and care; to love, not to exploit. It is useful, and usefulness mattered to Amichai. Chana ­Kron­feld, in her penetrating new monograph on the poet, THE FULL ­SEVERITY OF COMPASSION (Stanford University, $55), quotes him: “ ‘The main thing is to be useful,’ ­Amichai would often say. . . . Providing useful ­poetry was indeed something he was always proud of, especially when it was ordinary human beings, not the mechanisms of state or institutional religion, that would find some practical application for his words.”


Amichai was so famous in Israel that, as Mel Gussow wrote in his 2000 New York Times obituary, “walking in Jerusalem, his home for many years, he would be recognized and accorded the attention that in the United States might be reserved for a movie star or athlete.” Both Alter and Kron­feld (many of her translations, with Chana Bloch, also appear in Alter’s book) disclose a deep concern about the peculiar burden of Amichai’s popularity in Israel that feels both corrective and protective: They are not only the poet’s exegetes and translators, they were also his friends. Amichai’s popularity — facilitated by the clarity and immediacy of his poems, and a tendency, in Alter’s words, to “think of Amichai primarily as a vernacular poet of everyday experience” — has been a deterrent to understanding that “his language is scarcely as vernacular, and not at all as simple, as it is often imagined to be.”…                                                    

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]


CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Shabbat Shalom!



On Topic


Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Israel: Ban Ki-Moon, New York Times, Jan. 31, 2016—IN Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, 2016 has begun much as 2015 ended — with unacceptable levels of violence and a polarized public discourse. That polarization showed itself in the halls of the United Nations last week when I pointed out a simple truth: History proves that people will always resist occupation.

The Moral Relativism of the United Nations: Manfred Gerstenfeld, JCPA, Jan. 13, 2016 —The United Nations, its affiliated organizations, and its representatives pervasively and recurrently employ moral relativism to attack Israel.

UN Ignored Claims of French Peacekeepers Giving Children Food for Sexual Favours, Report Says: Cara Anna, National Post, Dec. 17, 2016—The United Nations’ “gross institutional failure” to act on allegations that French and other peacekeepers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic led to even more assaults, according to a new report released Thursday.

Double Standards and the Intifada: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Jan. 20, 2016—That the Obama administration has forfeited the trust of Israelis is not news. After seven years of picking fights with their government over consensus issues like Jerusalem, the 1967 borders and then embracing détente with Iran, the growing divide between the two allies is not in dispute.

Justice Antonin Scalia and the Jews: Aish, Feb. 13, 2015—US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016. Justice Scalia was a strong-willed and polarizing figure on the bench. Here are five little-known facts about Justice Scalia as they relate to the Jewish community.











The resurgence of Hebrew literature in America and the Jewish refugees from Arab lands.


Denouncing Tehran as the biggest threat to global security, Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and will expel all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada within five days Foreign Minister John Baird, cited Iran's nuclear program, its hostility towards Israel and Iranian military assistance to the government of President Bashar Assad Syria…
"Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today," said Baird, accusing Iran of showing blatant disregard for the safety of foreign diplomats.  "Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran … Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have been suspended," he said.

In response, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Canada's decision to expel the Iranian ambassador from Ottawa and to close the Canadian embassy in Tehran,  "I congratulate Canada's PM [Stephen] Harper for showing leadership and making a bold move that sends a clear message to Iran and the world. The determination shown by Canada is of great importance in order for the Iranians to understand that they cannot go on with their race toward nuclear arms. This practical step must set an example of international morality and responsibility to the international community,"

Cynthia Ozick
The New Republic,  June 7, 2012
On December 17, 2007, on the storied stage of the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York, the Hebrew language—its essence, its structure, its metaphysic— entered American discourse in so urgent a manner as to renew, if not to inflame, an ancient argument. The occasion was a public conversation between Marilynne Robinson and Robert Alter: a not uncommon match of novelist with literary scholar. In this instance, though, the scholar is an English Department anomaly: not only a master of the Anglo-American corpus, but a profoundly engaged Hebraist and Bible translator and expositor, whose newly published volume of Englished psalms is the evening’s subject.

The novelist, too, is exceptional among her contemporaries—a writer of religious inclination, open to history and wit, yet not dogged by piety, if piety implies an unthinking mechanics of belief. Robinson may rightly be termed a Protestant novelist, in a way we might hesitate to characterize even the consciously Protestant Updike. Certainly it is impossible to conceive of any other American writer of fiction who could be drawn, as Robinson has been drawn, to an illuminating reconsideration of Calvinism.
Protestant and Jew, writer and translator: such a juxtaposition is already an argument. The expectation of one may not be the expectation of the other. The novelist’s intuition for the sacred differs from the translator’s interrogation of the sacred. And beyond this disparity stands the inveterate perplexity, for English speakers, of the seventeenth century biblical sonorities of the King James Version (KJV): can they, should they, be cast out as superannuated? The question is not so much whether the KJV can be surpassed as whether it can be escaped.

From that very platform where Robinson and Alter sit amiably contending, a procession of the great modernists of the twentieth century (among them Eliot and Auden and Marianne Moore and Dylan Thomas) once sent out their indelible voices—voices inexorably reflecting the pulsings and locutions that are the KJV’s venerable legacy to poets. And not only to poets: everyone for whom English is a mother tongue is indebted to the idiom and cadences of the KJV. For Americans, they are the Bible, and the Bible, even now, remains a commanding thread in the American language.
It is that thread, or call it a bright ribbon of feeling, that animates Robinson as she confronts Alter’s rendering of Psalm 30, marveling at its “sacred quality of being,” and at the Psalmist’s “I, this amazing universal human singular who integrates experience and interprets it profoundly.” Any translation, she concludes, “is always another testimony.” Here the novelist invokes exaltation in phrases that are themselves exalting, as if dazzled by a vast inner light washing out both the visual and the tactile: hence “testimony,” an ecstatic internal urge. But Alter responds with an illustration that hints at dissent.

The KJV, he points out, has “I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up,” while for “lifted me up” Alter chooses, instead, “drew me up.” The Hebrew word dolah, he explains, refers to drawing water from a well; the image is of a bottomless crevasse in the earth, fearfully identified in a later verse as “the Pit.” Rather than turning inward, the translator uncovers sacral presence in the concrete meaning of the Hebrew, so that the metaphor of the well instantly seizes on weight and depth and muscle. Which approach is truer, which more authentic?
This, then, is the marrow—the unacknowledged pit—of the argument. And it becomes explicit only moments afterward, in Robinson’s beautiful recitation of Alter’s translation of Psalm 8, followed by Alter’s reading of the Hebrew original. The contrast in sound is so arresting that Robinson is asked to comment on it. She hesitates: it is clear that to American ears the Hebrew guttural is as uncongenial as it is unfamiliar. Diffidently, courteously, she concedes, “I have no Hebrew.” “Well, I have,” says Alter.
And there it is, the awful cut exposed: the baleful question of birthright. The translator asserts his possession of the language of the Psalms: is this equal to a claim that he alone is their rightful heir? Perhaps yes; but also perhaps not. The novelist, meanwhile, has embraced and passionately internalized those selfsame verses, though in their English dress—then is she too not a genuine heir to their intimacies and majesties? Never mind that Alter, wryly qualifying, goes on to address the issue of vocal disparity: “And if anyone thinks that he is reproducing the sound of Hebrew in English, he is seriously deluded.” A translator’s gesture of humility—the two musical systems cannot be made to meet; it cannot be done. But this comes as an aside and a distraction. What continues to hang in the air is Alter’s emphatic declaration of ownership.
Hebrew in America has a bemusing past. The Puritans, out of scriptural piety, once dreamed of establishing Hebrew as the national language. Harvard and Yale in their early years required the study of Hebrew together with Latin and Greek; Yale even now retains its Hebrew motto. Divinity school Hebrew may be diminished, but it endures. And though the Hebrew Bible is embedded in the Old Testament, its native tongue is silenced. “We have no Hebrew,” admits biblically faithful America.

Then can Hebrew, however unheard, be said to be an integral American birthright? Was Alter, on that uneasy evening in New York, enacting a kind of triumphalism, or was he, instead, urging a deeper affinity? Deeper, because the well of Hebrew yields more than the transports of what we have come to call the “spiritual.” Send down a bucket, and up comes a manifold history—the history of a particular people, but also the history of the language itself. An old, old tongue, the enduring vehicle of study and scholarship, public liturgy and private prayer, geographically displaced and dispersed but never abandoned, never fallen into irretrievable disuse, continually renewed, and at the last restored to the utilitarian and the commonplace.

Hebrew as a contemporary language, especially for poetry, is no longer the language of the Bible; but neither is it not the language of the Bible. And despite translation’s heroic bridging, despite its every effort to narrow the idiomatic divide by disclosing the true names of things (the word itself, not merely the halo of the word), we may never see an America steeped in Hebrew melodies.
Yet once, for a little time, we did.

THERE WAS A PERIOD, in the first half of the twentieth century, when America—the land, its literature, its varied inhabitants and their histories—was sung in the Hebrew alphabet. Long epic poems on American Indians, the California Gold Rush, the predicament and religious expression of blacks in the American South, the farms and villages and churchgoers of New England, the landscape of Maine—these were the Whitmanesque explorations and celebrations of a rapturous cenacle of Hebrew poets who flourished from before World War I until the aftermath of World War II. But both “cenacle” and “flourished” must be severely qualified.

Strewn as they were among a handful of cities—New York, Cleveland, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago—they rarely met as an established group; and if they flourished, it was in driven pursuit of an elitist art sequestered in nearly hermetic obscurity. They were more a fever and a flowering than a movement: they issued neither pronouncements nor provocations. They had no unified credo. What they had was Hebrew—Hebrew for its own sake, Hebrew as a burning bush in the brain. Apart from those socio-historic narratives on purely American themes, they also wrote in a lyrical vein, or a metaphysical, or a romantic.

Though modernism was accelerating all around them, and had taken root through European influences in the burgeoning Hebrew poetry of Palestine/ Israel, the American Hebraists almost uniformly turned away from the staccato innovations of the modernists. They were, with one or two exceptions, classicists who repudiated make-it-new manifestos as a type of reductive barbarism. Rather than pare the language down, or compress it through imagism and other prosodic maneuvers, they sought to plumb its inexhaustible deeps. And when their hour of conflagration ebbed, it was not only because their readers were destined to be few. Hebrew had returned to its natural home in a Hebrew-speaking sovereign polity: a fulfillment that for the American Hebraists was, unwaveringly, the guiding nerve of their linguistic conviction.

Who, then, were these possessed and unheralded aristocrats, these priestly celebrants unencumbered by a congregation, these monarchs in want of a kingdom? Were they no more than a Diaspora chimera? In a revelatory work of scholarly grandeur that is in itself a hymn to Hebrew, Alan Mintz has revivified both the period and the poets. The capacious volume he calls Sanctuary in the Wilderness is history, biography, translation, criticism, and more—a “more” that is, after all, an evocation of regret. The regret is pervasive and tragic. Think not of some mute inglorious Milton, but of a living and achieving Milton set down in a society unable to decipher so much as a-b-c, and unaware of either the poet’s presence or his significance. Yet Mintz never condescends; with honorable diffidence, he repeatedly refers to this majestic study as merely introductory, an opening for others to come. (Top)

[This article has been shortened  in the interests of space.
For the full article please see the On Topic links below.]

Irwin Cotler
Jerusalem Post, Sept. 6, 2012
This November will mark the 65th anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947. It is sometimes forgotten – and often not even known – that this was the first-ever blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian “two states for two peoples” solution. Regrettably, while Jewish leaders accepted the resolution, Arab and Palestinian leaders did not, and by their own acknowledgment, declared war on the nascent Jewish state while also targeting the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries.
Indeed, had the UN Partition Resolution been accepted, there would have been no 1948 Arab- Israeli war, no refugees, and none of the pain and suffering of these past 65 years. The annual November 29 UN-organized International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People might well have been a day commemorating a Middle East peace, and the establishment of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.
Yet the revisionist Middle East narrative – prejudicial to authentic reconciliation and peace between peoples as well as between states – continues to hold that there was only one victim population, Palestinian refugees, and that Israel was responsible for the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) of 1948.
The result is that the pain and plight of 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab countries – the forgotten exodus – has been both expunged and eclipsed from both the Middle East peace and justice narratives these past 65 years.
Indeed, the upcoming United Nations commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – celebrated on the anniversary of the Partition Resolution – will likely ignore, yet again, the plight of Jewish refugees, thereby indulging and encouraging this Middle East revisionism.
Moreover, this revisionist narrative has not only eclipsed – and erased – the forgotten exodus from memory and remembrance, but it also denies that it was a forced exodus, and one that resulted from both double rejectionism and double aggression. This is the real nakba – the real double catastrophe.
Simply put, the Arab countries not only rejected a proposed Palestinian state and went to war to extinguish the nascent Jewish state, but also targeted the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries, thereby creating two refugee populations – the Palestinian refugee population resulting from the Arab war against Israel, and the Jewish refugees resulting from the Arab war against its own Jewish nationals.
Indeed, evidence contained in the report entitled “Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights And Redress” documents in detail the pattern of state-sanctioned repression and persecution in Arab countries – including Nuremberg-like laws – that targeted its Jewish populations, resulting in denationalization, forced expulsions, illegal sequestration of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and murder – namely, anti-Jewish pogroms.
And while the internal Jewish narrative has often referred to pogroms as European attacks on their Jewish nationals, it has often ignored Arab-Muslim attacks on their Jewish nationals. Moreover, as the report also documents, these massive human rights violations were not only the result of state-sanctioned patterns of oppression in each of the Arab countries, but they were reflective of a collusive blueprint, as embodied in the Draft Law of the Political Committee of the League of Arab States in 1947.
This is a story whose voices are only now being heard by many for the first time. It is a story whose painful testimony has been shared too often only among the victims themselves. It is a truth that must now be affirmed, acknowledged, and acted upon in the interests of justice and history.
Regrettably, the United Nations also bears express and continuing responsibility for this distorted Middle East and peace narrative.
Since 1948, there have been more than 150 UN resolutions that have specifically dealt with the Palestinian refugee plight. Yet, not one of these resolutions makes any reference to, nor is there any expression of concern for, the plight of the 850,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries. Nor have any of the Arab countries involved – or the Palestinian leadership involved – expressed any acknowledgment, let alone regret, for this pain and suffering, or for their respective responsibility for the pain and suffering.
How do we rectify this historical – and ongoing – injustice? What are the rights and remedies available under international human rights and humanitarian law? And what are the corresponding duties and obligations incumbent upon the United Nations, Arab countries, and members of the international community?…
It must be appreciated that while justice has long been delayed, it must no longer be denied. The time has come to rectify this historical injustice, and to restore the plight and truth of this forgotten – and forced – exodus of Jews from Arab countries to the Middle East narrative from which they have been expunged and eclipsed these 65 years.
…Remedies for victim refugee groups – including rights of remembrance, truth, justice and redress, as mandated under human rights and humanitarian law – must now be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab countries.
…In the manner of duties and responsibilities, each of the Arab countries – and the League of Arab States – must acknowledge their role and responsibility in their double aggression of launching an aggressive war against Israel and the perpetration of human rights violations against their respective Jewish nationals. The culture of impunity must end.
…The Arab League Peace Plan of 2002 should incorporate the question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as part of its narrative for an Israeli- Arab peace, just as the Israeli narrative now incorporates the issue of Palestinian refugees in its vision of an Israeli-Arab peace.
…On the international level, the UN General Assembly – in the interests of justice and equity – should include reference to Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in its annual resolutions; the UN Human Rights Council should address, as it has yet to do, the issue of Jewish as well as Palestinian refugees; UN agencies dealing with compensatory efforts for Palestinian refugees should also address Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
…The annual November 29 commemoration by the United Nations of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People should be transformed into an International Day of Solidarity for a Two-State – Two-Peoples Solution, as the initial 1947 Partition Resolution intended, including solidarity with all refugees created by the Israeli-Arab conflict.
…Jurisdiction over Palestinian refugees should be transferred from UNRWA to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There was no justification then – and still less today – for the establishment of a separate body to deal only with Palestinian refugees, particularly when that body has been itself compromised by its incitement to hatred and violence, as well as its revisionist teaching of the Middle East peace and justice narrative.
…Any bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – which one hopes will presage a just and lasting peace – must include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder of discussion.
…During any and all discussions on the Middle East by the Quartet and others, any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees should be paralleled by a reference to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Some governments have made welcome progress on this question, such as the US Congress in recently adopting legislation recognizing the plight of Jewish refugees and requiring that the issue be raised in any and all talks on Middle East peace. I have a motion before the Canadian Parliament in this regard which I hope will soon be adopted. Legislatures around the world should hold hearings on the issue to ensure public awareness and action, to allow for victims’ testimony, and to right the historical record – an effort in which I trust that Canada will be engaged this fall.
In sum, the exclusion and denial of rights and redress to Jewish refugees from Arab countries continues to prejudice authentic negotiations between the parties and a just and lasting peace between them. Let there be no mistake about it – as I have said before and will continue to affirm: Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace – which we all seek.(Top)