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Jewish Nationalism is a Lot Older Than the Zionist Movement: Joël Lion, Montreal Gazette, May 6, 2014— As Israel enters its 67th year of existence as a modern state, Jews throughout the world will join together in celebration of Jewish freedom and nationhood.
The Fake ‘Martyrdom’ of J Street: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2014 — Despite widespread predictions to the contrary, J Street failed dismally to gain admission into the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (Presidents Conference).
The Netherlands: A Country Which Refuses to Admit its Guilt Toward the Jews: Manfred Gerstenfeld, Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2014 — May 4 is National Memorial Day in the Netherlands.
Welcoming Back Spain’s Jews — 522 Years Later: Allan Levine, National Post, May. 6, 2014— Until the Holocaust, there were few greater Jewish tragedies than the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.
Roman Vishniac Rediscovered (Virtual Exhibition): International Center for Photography, 2014
Thank You J Street (You Too, Reform Movement): Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, May. 2, 2014
: Graeme Hamilton, National Post, Apr. 25, 2014
When the Nazi Holocaust Came to Hungary: Irwin Cotler, National Post, May. 6, 2014
Montreal Gazette, May 6, 2014
As Israel enters its 67th year of existence as a modern state, Jews throughout the world will join together in celebration of Jewish freedom and nationhood. Although many erroneously link Jewish nationalism with Theodor Herzl, and consider Israel to be the end result of western guilt for the Holocaust, few are actually aware of the uninterrupted presence of Jewish life in Israel after Rome’s decimation of Judea in the years 132 to 136.
Throughout the ages, pilgrims, Crusaders and travellers attested to this in numerous accounts of their voyages. In fact, even accounts of Saladin’s life recount his having permitted Jews banned by the Crusaders to resettle in Jerusalem. From generation to generation, Jews have always maintained a spiritual link with Israel, a land that gave birth to our prophets and the liturgical Hebrew language that still unites us in faith.Our pledge to never forget where we came from is integral to our everyday lives and has continued to guide us through our daily prayers, which require us to direct our minds and bodies toward Jerusalem. For centuries, Jews from the Cabalists expelled from medieval Spain to the pioneers driven out by pogroms in Eastern Europe made true on our people’s ritual pledge of “next year in Jerusalem” by settling en masse in the land of our forefathers.
Although the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which favoured the establishment of “a national home for the Jewish people,” did serve as a modern catalyst for Jewish renewal in the Land of Israel, Jews were already a majority in most parts of modern-day Israel, including Jerusalem, where they had been so since the 1870s. When a majority of states voted in favour of the United Nations’ partition plan, dividing British Palestine into two states — one Arab, the other Jewish — the Jewish leadership accepted the compromise, even though it entailed the painful loss of much of Judea and Samaria, once our people’s cradle. The Arabs’ refusal to comply with the plan and unwillingness to accept our right to self-determination led to a war of annihilation against Israel in 1948 and forced us into a constant struggle to assert our existence.
Unfortunately, little has changed since then. Just last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walked away from months of constructive peace talks in order to pursue the folly of forming a unity government with Hamas, whose covenant calls for the destruction of Israel. Although our detractors would have many believe that settlements are the main stumbling block in our long-standing conflict with the Palestinians, their refusal to recognize our right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state is what has fuelled hatred from the very beginning. Those who continue to harp on this fail to see that the very existence of any Jewish state anywhere is a non-starter for our foes. Sadly, this impasse will continue as long as the Arab masses are fed anti-Semitic propaganda and historical revisionism that denies any Jewish link to Israel. When our neighbours come to terms with history and accept our right to live alongside them as equals, we will be the first nation to extend our hand in peace and friendship. Until then, Israelis and Jews throughout the world will join in celebration of our people’s revival in Israel and the wonderful things that we have accomplished together in spite of all odds.
Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2014
Despite widespread predictions to the contrary, J Street failed dismally to gain admission into the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (Presidents Conference). It was unable to obtain the constitutionally required two-thirds majority, and could not even muster a simple majority. Only a third of the constituents supported its affiliation. An embittered J Street and its allies have launched a campaign seeking to portray the organization as a martyr, claiming it was blackballed by a fanatically rightwing Jewish establishment which is blindly supportive of Israel, brooks no dissent in its ranks and is effectively a bigoted, reactionary body undermining the pluralism and tolerance of the American Jewish community. The reality is that the Presidents Conference also includes left-wing organizations such as Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu and the Jewish Labor Committee. It is also noteworthy that Rabbi Meir Kahane’s right-wing Jewish Defense League was previously excluded.
There have even been false allegations that the voting was rigged. In fact, J Street was given a fair hearing and overwhelmingly rejected by a majority of organizations, many of whom were neither right-wing nor Orthodox. The most vocal condemnation of the exclusion came from Rabbi Richard Jacobs, head of the Union of Reform Judaism – a former member of the J Street Board of Rabbis – who even threatened to withdraw the Reform movement from the Presidents Conference. Yet, were he to do so, this would create a schism within his own movement. One need only read the recent moving appeal by Rabbi Richard Block, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), calling on rabbis to express solidarity rather than continuously criticize Israel, to appreciate that Rabbi Jacobs’ enthusiastic support of J Street would not be endorsed by all his colleagues and constituency. His criticisms were endorsed by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, who described the vote as “misguided and destructive.” Yet, in the same breath, she conceded that she had “painfully witnessed” rabbis in her own movement facing searing criticism from members for having joined the J Street “rabbinic cabinet.”
What was the justification for excluding J Street from the Jewish mainstream umbrella organization? Was it, as J Street would have us believe, an intolerant expression of prevailing bigotry, a fear of engaging in dialogue, an attempt to deny freedom of expression to a dissenting minority, an effort to enforce conformity and exclude dissidents from the “big tent” of the Jewish community? Nobody is seeking to suppress the right of J Street to express its views – which receive media coverage far in excess of its standing and influence within the Jewish community. Nor is there fear of engaging in dialogue and debate with J Street. On the contrary, I recollect that a few years ago during a visit to New York, when invited to participate in a TV debate, J Street informed the compère that it refused to share a platform with me. The crux of the issue, which has distressed many well-intentioned people, is the confused belief that the community has a moral obligation to encompass all viewpoints in the “big tent” and that this was breached by excluding this purportedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” liberal, humanistic organization. This presupposes that an organization primarily created with the express purpose of serving as a vehicle to express support for Israel should take under its umbrella organizations committed to opposing its raison d’etre.
Most committed Jews believe in the centrality of Israel in Jewish life. They also recognize that as a matter of decency, Diaspora Jews should recognize that issues relating to security should be determined exclusively by Israelis, as these decisions could have life and death repercussions for them and their children. The Presidents Conference has respected this status, irrespective of the political composition of the democratically elected government of Israel and despite its constituents spanning the broad political spectrum from Americans for Peace Now to the hawkish ZOA. Despite J Street allegations to the contrary, the Presidents Conference also steadfastly endorses a two-state policy. AIPAC is the most proactive organization promoting the case for Israel on a ground level and can take most of the credit for the bipartisan Congressional support that Israel currently enjoys. One of J Street’s principal objectives is to undermine AIPAC by maliciously and falsely labeling it an “extreme right-wing organization,” even accusing it of generating anti-Semitism by its “one-sided support for Israel,” creating hostile feelings that American Jews harbor dual loyalties.
When J Street describes itself as “pro-peace, pro-Israel,” it is simply engaging in Orwellian doubletalk. In reality, it is actively campaigning to encourage the US government to exert greater pressure on the democratically elected government of Israel. It has the chutzpah to insist that it knows better than Israelis what is good for them, and that they should be treated with “tough love.” To cite a few examples of J Street’s bizarre “pro-Israel” initiatives:… • Despite its self-designated “pro-Israel” tag, J Street actively canvasses for and raises millions of dollars to fund anti-Israeli Congressional candidates. • J Street claims to oppose Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, but invites pro-BDS groups to promote their case at its conferences. • A co-founder of J Street, Daniel Levy, is on record describing Israel’s creation as “an act that went wrong.” • J Street collaborated with the biased UN Goldstone Committee which accused Israel of engaging in war crimes. It even facilitated meetings on Capitol Hill for Goldstone to promote his wretched, now discredited, report. • For a long time, J Street totally opposed any sanctions against Iran. It now lobbies against promoting the threat of military action… • Most recently, it defended US Secretary of State John Kerry’s offensive remarks that Israel could become “an apartheid state.” • Until it was conclusively exposed, J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami lied repeatedly to conceal that George Soros, the vicious anti-Israeli financier, was and still is one of the principal funders of J Street. There are also other donors with questionable political interests.
It is surely undeniable that J Street is in fact canvassing and promoting anti-Israeli initiatives while castigating and seeking to undermine the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel. If J Street’s self-description as “pro-Israel” is to be accepted, we must truly be living in wonderland. Reform leader Rabbi Jacobs says that there should be “no litmus test of ideological orientation” applied to candidates for the Presidents Conference. Under such terms Jews for Jesus and the Neturei Karta sect would presumably also qualify for membership. Rather than sanctimoniously castigating the majority of organizations who voted to reject J Street, Rabbi Jacobs and Rabbi Schonfeld should consider reviewing their own educational programs, which seem to lead many of their rabbis toward supporting anti-Zionist leftists who demonize the Jewish state. They should concentrate on educating youngsters about the values and achievements of the Jewish state and its central role for the future of the Jewish people. Bringing organizations which display constant hostility to Israel into a mainstream umbrella body committed to promoting Israel would not widen the Jewish tent. It would destroy it.
[Isi Leibler is a CIJR Academic Fellow]
Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2014
May 4 is National Memorial Day in the Netherlands. Originally, it was a remembrance day for the murdered and fallen during Germany’s occupation. In the past few years, the issue of memorializing the dead has been partly diluted and stripped of its significance. In several local memorial meetings, Jews are not mentioned specifically, even if they comprised the majority of local victims. In 2012 at the national commemoration in Amsterdam, a 15-year-old boy was invited by the organizers to read a poem in memory of his relative after whom he was named, who had joined the SS. This was ultimately canceled, with great difficulty. Several Dutch towns also commemorate fallen German soldiers on May 4. After the small town of Geffen wanted to inscribe the names of its murdered Jews together with those of fallen Germans on its war memorial, relatives of the Jews protested. It was then decided to leave all names off the monument.
The above cannot be viewed as unrelated to the consistent Dutch refusal to admit the disinterest of the Dutch wartime government and Queen Wilhelmina in exile in London regarding the fate of Dutch Jews. The same goes for the massive collaboration of Dutch bureaucracy with the Germans in the occupied Netherlands. However much the Dutch try to avoid it, this behavior is not forgotten. In February this year, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, wrote a letter to Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher. The text focused on his request that the Dutch government investigate what caused almost 39 percent of the current Dutch adult population to accept the huge lie that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.
Rabbi Cooper also wrote that it had been brought to his attention “that the Netherlands has neither admitted the negligence of its World War II government and the collaboration of the bureaucracy with German occupiers, nor offered any apologies. I believe the Netherlands is the only occupied country during the war where this is the case.” In his reply to the rabbi, Minister Asscher ignored this issue entirely. The last time this topic got major attention in Dutch public opinion was when the Dutch daily De Pers devoted a front-page article to it. The article was based on two interviews from the appendix of my book Judging the Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process 1997-2000. Two former Dutch deputy prime ministers, Els Borst – who was murdered earlier this year – and Gerrit Zalm, declared that they would publicly support the government if it offered apologies to the Jewish community.
That same day, parliamentarians Geert Wilders and Raymond de Roon posed parliamentary questions to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. They asked him why the Netherlands would not offer apologies to the Jewish community for the country’s misconduct toward the Jews during the Holocaust. Thereafter, the Associated Press published two articles on this issue which were picked up by hundreds of media outlets all over the world. Rutte got away with an entirely irrelevant reply. He referred to a Dutch government declaration from the year 2000. However, the apologies offered to the Jewish community then were unrelated to the war period, but referred to the formalistic, bureaucratic and heartless post-war restitution process. Even those apologies were only half-truths, as they claimed that this unacceptable attitude had not been intentional.
There were, however, many documented cases in which Dutch policy toward the Jews was quite deliberate. At the time it was already known that the post-war finance minister had preferred the interests of the stock market brokers who collaborated heavily with German occupiers, above those of the original Jewish owners of stolen securities. Since then, a variety of other intentional examples of post-war misconduct toward the Jews have become known. The most recent is that the Amsterdam Municipality charged and fined Jews for non-payment of their wartime long-lease debts accrued during the Second World War. Their homes had been expropriated for use by Germans and Dutch Nazi collaborators. A few years ago it had already become known that Jewish survivors in Amsterdam were forced to pay gas and electricity bills accrued for their expropriated homes, after they returned from German camps or hiding…
Can all these shortcomings be explained by the Dutch national character? This is too hasty a conclusion. In 2005, then-president of Dutch Railways Aad Veenman offered apologies to the Dutch Jewish community for the collaboration of his firm with the Germans in the transport of Jews on the first leg of the journey to their deaths. The railways organized a major publicity campaign detailing what had happened during the war. It was a very good example – by international standards too – of how one can deal with a difficult past.
The Dutch government can continue to ignore the misconduct of its predecessors during the Second World War. However, it would be mistaken to think that the failure to admit guilt and offer apologies will soon be forgotten.
[Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center
for Public Affairs (2000-2012), and a CIJR Academic Fellow]
National Post, May 6, 2014
Until the Holocaust, there were few greater Jewish tragedies than the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Refusing to convert to Christianity, anywhere from 40,000 to 120,000 or more Spanish Jews departed Spain for the Ottoman Empire and parts of Christian Europe that were prepared to accept these refugees. The Edict of Expulsion had been decreed by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, in March, 1492. When it was made public, the Jews were given three months to leave. Most had to dispose of their property and businesses for less than they were worth and were subject to high exit taxes to augment the royal treasury. Ancient synagogues and other community buildings were abandoned, and many were converted into churches, which many still are to this day. The majority of Jews were gone by the end of July — about a week before Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain on his first voyage — and a vibrant Jewish civilization that had lasted for a 1,000 years was dramatically altered forever.
Now, at long last, 522 years later, Spain has decided that it is time to correct this historical wrong; what the Spanish justice minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, has called “the biggest mistake in Spanish history.” A year and a half ago, the Spanish government announced it was introducing new citizenship legislation, now approved by the Council of Ministers (or cabinet), that would permit descendants of Sephardic Jews around the world to reclaim Spanish citizenship and entitle them to a Spanish, and more significantly, a European Union, passport. According to 2012 statistics, there are approximately 13.7 million Jews in the world, of which 83% (or 11.3 million) live in either Israel or the United States (Canada’s Jewish population was 375,000 in 2012). Of those, perhaps 20% have Sephardic roots (i.e., they are descended from ancient Jewish communities in the Iberian peninsula). In Israel, there are about 1.4-million Sephardic Jews — a quarter of Israel’s Jewish population, with sizable numbers also residing in France and North America. Ruiz-Gallardón does not anticipate that more than 150,000 Sephardim will take him up on the country’s offer. This is despite the fact that the legislation has a dual-citizenship proviso, and relocation to Spain is not required. Once the legislation passes, the invitation will remain in effect for two years. All Sephardi applicants have to do is obtain proof of their family’s heritage from a rabbi or local community organization.
Turkey’s estimated 15,000 Sephardi Jews, most of whom live in Istanbul, might be the most interested in acquiring Spanish citizenship, since during the past few years their lives have been impacted by the uneasy tension between Turkey and Israel, and a rise of anti-Semitism in Turkey. There would be historical symmetry in that development, and a reversal of sorts. In the years after the 1492 expulsion, it was the Muslim Ottoman sultans who were the most hospitable to Sephardic Jews. Though Jews were subject to heavy taxation and special rules that governed their daily lives, from the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453 until the eventual demise of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, religious persecution by the sultans and their officials against Jews was minimal and pressure to convert to Islam minor, in contrast to the rest of the Christian-controlled continent. The Ottomans regarded the Jews, who were skilled tradesmen, artisans and merchants, as a boon to the Ottoman economy. The Jews, even those who had not been born in Spain, established a rich Sephardi culture, as Sephardi Jews also did in Amsterdam, Venice, North Africa and other locales. The synagogues were built in the Sephardi style, women prepared Spanish recipes, and Ladino, a Spanish-Hebrew dialect, was the spoken tongue…
Though Spain’s Jewish population is a mere 12,000 (out of a total population of 47 million) the country, according to a 2010 report by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain and the independent organization, is “one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the European Union.” Another recent poll by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that millions of Spaniards believe that “the Jews are powerful because they control the economy and the mass media.”(This is similar to Poland, with an estimated 10,000 Jews among a total population of 38.5 million. The Jewish Daily Forward reported in January that in a recent Polish national survey, a majority of respondents believed “that there’s a Jewish conspiracy to control international banking and the media. Yet 90% of these Poles say they’ve never met a Jew.”)
On a more positive note: This week, Lorenzo Rodriguez Pere, the mayor of the tiny northern Spanish village of Castrillo Matajudios, literally “Castrillo Kill Jews,” has announced plans to hold a referendum in May. The village’s 60 citizens will be asked to vote on whether it would be better for tourism and less offensive to revert back to the original name of the village, Castrillo Motajudios or Castrillo “Jews Hill.” This was its name from about 1035 to 1627, when it was altered, possibly at the urgings of conversos, who 135 years after the expulsion were still trying to prove that they were true Spanish Christians.
CIJR wishes all its friends and supporters: Shabbat Shalom!
Roman Vishniac Rediscovered (Virtual Exhibition): International Center for Photography, 2014—More than any other photographer, Roman Vishniac's images have profoundly influenced contemporary notions of Jewish life in Eastern Europe.
Thank You J Street (You Too, Reform Movement): Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, May. 2, 2014 —In the aftermath of being denied entry to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, J Street has fulfilled the predictions and warnings of those who foresaw divisiveness and petulance within the ranks had J Street been admitted.
: Graeme Hamilton, National Post, Apr. 25, 2014—When masked men distributed leaflets last week in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk advising Jews they needed to register with authorities or face deportation, shivers were felt well beyond Ukraine’s borders.
When the Nazi Holocaust Came to Hungary: Irwin Cotler, National Post, May. 6, 2014—This month marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the 1944 genocide of Hungarian Jewry — when some 600,000 Jews, three-quarters of that country’s Jewish population, perished as part of the Nazi Holocaust.
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