Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Scientologist and the German officer who tried to kill Hitler: Tom Cruise attempts to go where some Germans [and I] think he should not

A movie on the leader of the 1944 failed plot to assassinate Hitler is about to start filming in Germany. Tom Cruise is going to play the role of Col. Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg the leader of this plot. He was joined in this effort by other German military leaders, all of whom believed Hitler was leading Germany down the path of ultimate defeat. They wanted to negotiate a peace settlement.

They are great heroes in German WWII lore. In certain quarters their heroism is subtly juxtaposed with the Nazis' brutality. [What is often lost in the adulation about them is that they only rose up to oppose Hitler when they thought military defeat loomed on the horizon. His earlier misdeeds did not prompt them to do this. But that's for another time....]

In contemporary Germany there is a great hostility towards and distrust of [most legitimately so] of Scientology. Germans consider it a totalitarian system that captures its adherents as would a cult.

According to today's NYTimes, there are many people, including some members of the colonel's family who are appalled by the idea of Cruise, Scientology's emissary, playing von Stauffenberg.

The government official who heads the government's efforts to oppose Scientology's expansion got it just right when she said:
Tom Cruise is not just an actor who is a Scientologist. He is an ambassador for Scientology. All totalitarian systems have their celebrities to open doors for them.”
[Another thought about the military leaders who wanted to negotiate peace: Had they been successful we might never have known of the Holocaust. They would certainly have used the opportunity to erase all evidence of it since so many Germans -- and German military leaders -- were implicated in it. There was a novel that used this premise -- Hitler won and the evidence was hidden -- a number of years ago. It's a good read.]

Hamas TV: An Israeli kills off Mickey Mouse.... And this is what they tell children????

A few months ago I posted a comment about how Hamas children's television was using a Mickey Mouse look-alike names Farfour to preach Islamic domination.

Well he's been killed off in the final episode according to the NYTimes. And guess who did it? An Israeli of course. Why? Because he wanted his land.

Sara, the teen presenter of the show declared:
"Farfour was martyred while defending his land. He was killed by the killers of children.''
No comment necessary except for the fact that these are the people whom Jimmy Carter wants the Israelis and the world to trust.....

Friday, June 29, 2007

Canadian Professor Shiraz Dossa goes to a Holocaust denial conference and then denies: Professorial Obfuscations

Shiraz Dossa, a professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Canada, attended the Holocaust denial conference in Iran. He has now published a lengthy defense of his decision to attend in a small Canadian publication Literary Review of Canada.

His explanation is full of distortions, obfuscations, and simple inventions. Here is one graphic example. Dossa writes:
Iranian president Dr. Ahmadinejad; he did not attend or participate in the conference. It was not a Holocaust-denial conference by any stretch. That’s all false.
Problem for Dossa is that the official website of the President of Iran says otherwise.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that the Zionist regime is a constant threat to the Middle East states. "This threat has caused the regional countries to divert their resources from development to spending them on purchasing arms which will increase discord among them," he told participants of the international conference World Vision on Holocaust who met him in Tehran.
Then, of course, there are the pictures above.

My question is for the Literary Review of Canada. How could it claim that Shiraz's article was subjected to "rigorous fact-checking that went on for a number of weeks"? I found and uploaded this information in about 5 minutes.

Once Shiraz Dossa chose to attend the conference one could get a sense of what kind of man this is. But what can we say about this supposedly cautious and intellectual honest magazine? Clearly it is none of those things, at least in this regard.

Note:It is possible that the conference participants went to a different venue to meet the president. If this is Dossa's way out of his claim that Ahamdinejad did not attend or participate he is even more of an obfuscator [and far less smart] than I originally thought he was.

More on Dossa later.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The diaries of James G. McDonald: WSJ review

The Wall St. Journal has a very positive review of Advocate for the Doomed, the first volume of the diaries of James G. McDonald, an American who served as League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and who passionately sought to sound the alarm about the dangers of Nazism. In fact, he was one of those Americans who worked to change American immigration laws to aid Jews' entry into this country... to no avail.

I read the manuscript a few months ago and was mesmerized by the book. McDonald understood the Nazis as did few other commentators at the time, many of whom were inclined to dismiss Nazi antisemitism as rhetoric designed to appeal to the German populace. In contrast, Johnson writes,
McDonald was shocked by the Nazis' rise to power and felt an immediate horror at the prospect of the Nazis carrying out the policies implied by their annihilationist rhetoric.... He knew such rhetoric firsthand. At a meeting with Adolf Hitler on April 8, 1933, at the new chancellor's office, Hitler told him: "I will do the thing that the rest of the world would like to do. It doesn't know how to get rid of the Jews. I will show them."
This is only volume one of the diaries but the reviewer, Ian Johnson, has obviously seen subsequent volumes. The final lines of the the review intrigued me:
The next volume .... will show that International Business Machines -- the American-based company with extensive foreign dealings in the 1930s -- was not, contrary to previous claims, indifferent to the looming genocide.
The book will take aim at Edwin Black, who has long tended towards sensationalism in his books [and some would say I am being very kind]. As Johnson writes in his review:
Edwin Black, in his "IBM and the Holocaust" (2001), alleged that the company had unusually close business relations with Hitler's Germany and that its card-punch machines made it possible for Nazi bureaucrats to identify and track down Jews.

Some historians have already faulted the book -- arguing that IBM had close business ties with many countries at the time and that the perpetrators of the Holocaust did not depend on card-punch machines. But the charges have stuck. McDonald was apparently in contact with IBM Chief Executive Thomas J. Watson, who in turn lobbied on behalf of Jewish refugees, even urging Secretary of State Cordell Hull in 1938 to set up a Jewish homeland.
For this alone I look forward to the next volume of the McDonald Diaries.

No comment necessary

[compliments of ADL]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I made a mistake

Two nights ago, when I was tired and sweltering in New York, I mistakingly posted a link to a review of A Mighty Heart. I correctly described it as scathing.

A number of people contacted me to say that they did not think the tone of the review was of the calibre of this blog.

I have reread the review and decided that, while the tone was certainly not one that I would adopt, the contents were solid. So I posted that comment in response to the criticisms some readers had sent and left it at that.

Then this morning I gave it some more thought and decided that tone counts for a lot. In this day and age of vituperative politics and the like, I don't want to contribute to that atmosphere.

Therefore, even though it may be contrary to accepted blog practices, I am deleting that post. Those of you who want to read Debbie Schlussel's review will be able to find it, I am sure, on her website.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Iranian cleric calls for death for Salman Rushdie: Will England's UCU respond with a boycott?

According to a dispatch released by MEMRI, in Tehran in a sermon on this past Friday, Ahmad Khatami of the Iranian Assembly of Experts decreed that the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie must be carried out. His statement was greeted with chants of "Death to England."

He called Rushdie a "wretched man." I wonder if the UCU will propose a boycott of Iran for this attack on one of its own. I am not betting on it...

These are Khatami's words:
"The old, decrepit, and colonialist English regime presents itself as the defender of human rights, yet it awards a medal to such a wretched, bankrupt man [Salman Rushdie], who has offended the sacred values of more than 1.5 billion Muslims. Are these your human rights?"

Crowd chants: "Death to England. Death to England. Death to England."

Ahmad Khatami: "Is this your civilization? This old, decrepit government of England should know that the days of its imperialistic aspirations are gone, and today it is considered America's branded slave. They must also know that the wave of Islamic revival in the world has begun, whether they like it or not.

Under these circumstances, awarding England's highest honor to a wretched man, who lacks any talent whatsoever... He is not considered a prominent novelist or author. They awarded him this medal only because he cursed the Prophet.... Awarding a medal to such a man entails a conflict with one and a half billion Muslims throughout the world, and you will gain nothing from this. The one thing that will happen is that you will see the Islamic world roaring together.

In Islamic Iran, this revolutionary fatwa of Imam Khomeini still exists. It is unchangeable and with God's grace, it must be carried out."
If the UCU doesn't vote for a boycott, will it at least protest??? I doubt that too.

Express your view on the boycott of Israeli universities....

I don't believe in these online votes run by media outlets. They mean little except how active the two sides of the debate in question were in spreading the word and getting their supporters to log in and vote. And for the media outlet it is a way of getting more traffic to their site.

Having said all that, for those readers of this blog who do, you can express you views on the British boycott of Israeli universities at

Monday, June 25, 2007

Saul Friedlander's new book

Saul Friedlander's new book gets an extemely positive review in yesterday's New York Times from Richard Evans.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Mighty Heart: Why was Danny Pearl killed?

I saw A Mighty Heart two nights ago. Angelina Jolie was outstanding. Having said that, there was a theme that disturbed me greatly. Marianne Pearl seems to steadfastly refuse to recognize the fact that Danny Pearl was made a target not just because he was an American or a reporter but because he was Jewish.

There is also a spot on observation in the review on Beliefnet. The paragraph that jumped out at me was
Unfortunately, the impact of Pearl's final words, caught on the horrific videotape of his death--"My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish"--is beyond the scope of this movie. With their echo of Jewish martyrdom throughout the ages, those words, whether forced or volunteered, instantly became both a point of pride for Jews worldwide and a sobering reminder that, in the eyes of anti-Semites, a Jew is just a Jew, no matter how secular and untraditional they are, no matter how liberal and open-minded and worldly they are, no matter how much they embrace multiculturalism and diversity.
It's not that this theme is beyond the scope of the movie. It's beyond the scope of people with the world view of Marianne Pearl. The way she is portrayed in the movie [I have not read the book], Marianne does not "get this." She reminds me of Rodney King's plaintive question in the wake of the LA riots: "Can't we all get along?" Jews recognize that it ain't so simple when it comes to antisemitism.

There will be those, I have no doubt, who will attack me for this view. But it seems so clear to me....

There is also an interesting critique on it in the Washington Post

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

About This Blog

Deborah Lipstadt’s Blog began when my book History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving was published. While I intended this blog to be a place to post reviews and comments on the book, I also used it to track the controversy that emerged right after publication when C-SPAN's Book TV refused to let me appear unless I agreed either to appear with David Irving or to have him appear immediately after I did, that is, back-to-back.

Since then, this blog has morphed into far more. I now address issues of antisemitism, Holocaust denial, politically correct idiocies, and free speech particularly as it pertains to Holocaust and genocide denial. While this blog gives me a chance to comment on these issues as they arise, it also saves me from having to answer the same questions numerous times. And though I aim to keep this blog focused on these issues, occasionally I write about something that cries out for comment. Other times, because something is so mind-boggling, it needs no comment.

I treat the items that I post as somewhere between email* and op-ed columns. This means that I try not to let typos or spelling errors creep in. However, the postings are not as polished as I try to make my op-ed columns. Sometimes, due to the pressure of time and/or my desire to get something posted rapidly, a mistake will pass me by. I apologize for that.

Regarding comments: I post most of the comments that come my way. I do not post items that come from deniers or antisemites. I feel no need to make this blog a soapbox for them. Nor do I post unabashed or even slightly abashed attempts to use this blog to advertise other blogs, particularly those with no connection to the topics under consideration.

I created this blog under the tutelage and at the urging of my blogmother, London's Sasha Frieze, whose observations on life can be found at Sashinka. During the early months, particularly during the whirlwind of the C-SPAN controversy, I simply could not have maintained it without the help of Hilary Ostrov who stepped forward to volunteer invaluable technical assistance. Tamar Orvell helped me take this blog into its latest incarnation. My photo is by Jillian Edelstein. And my friends at the Starbucks on LaVista and Briarcliff Roads, in Atlanta, continue to provide hospitality, friendship, and strong coffee. Their early morning camaraderie is essential to my work.

* I do not correct tpyos in email. That would destroy the prupose of email.

Tom Friedman nails it: The Proposed British boycott of Israeli universities

A Boycott Built on Bias


The New York Times
June 17, 2007

Two weeks ago I took part in commencement for this year’s doctoral candidates at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The ceremony was held in the amphitheater on Mount Scopus, which faces out onto the Dead Sea and the Mountains of Moab. The setting sun framed the graduate students in a reddish-orange glow against a spectacular biblical backdrop.

Before I describe the ceremony, though, I have to note that it coincided with the news that Britain’s University and College Union had called on its members to consider a boycott of Israeli universities, accusing them of being complicit in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Anyway, as the Hebrew U. doctoral candidates each had their names called out and rose to receive their diplomas from the university’s leadership, I followed along in the program. The Israeli names rolled by: “Moshe Nahmany, Irit Nowik, Yuval Ofir. But then every so often I heard an Arab name, like Nuha Hijazi or Rifat Azam or Taleb Mokari.

Since the program listed everyone’s degrees and advisers, I looked them up. Rifat got his doctorate in law. His thesis was about “International Taxation of Electronic Commerce.” His adviser was “Prof. D. Gliksberg.” Nuha got her doctorate in biochemistry. Her adviser was “Prof. R. Gabizon.” Taleb had an asterisk by his name. So I looked at the bottom of the page. It said: “Summa Cum Laude.” His chemistry thesis was about “Semiconductor-Metal Interfaces,” and his adviser was “Prof. U. Banin.”

These were Israeli Arab doctoral students — many of them women and one of whom accepted her degree wearing a tight veil over her head. Funny — she could receive her degree wearing a veil from the Hebrew University, but could not do so in France, where the veil is banned in public schools. Arab families cheered unabashedly when their sons and daughters received their Hebrew U. Ph.D. diplomas, just like the Jewish parents.

How crazy is this, I thought. Israel’s premier university is giving Ph.D.’s to Arab students, two of whom were from East Jerusalem — i.e. the occupied territories — supervised by Jewish Israeli professors, all while some far-left British academics are calling for a boycott of Israeli universities.

I tell this story to underscore the obvious : that the reality here is so much more morally complex than the outside meddlers present it. Have no doubt, I have long opposed Israel’s post-1967 settlements. They have squandered billions and degraded the Israeli Army by making it an army of occupation to protect the settlers and their roads. And that web of settlements and roads has carved up the West Bank in an ugly and brutal manner — much uglier than Israel’s friends abroad ever admit. Indeed, their silence, particularly American Jewish leaders, enabled the settlement lunacy.

But you’d have to be a blind, deaf and dumb visitor to Israel today not to see that the vast majority of Israelis recognize this historic mistake, and they not only approved Ariel Sharon’s unilateral uprooting of Israeli settlements in Gaza to help remedy it, but elected Ehud Olmert precisely to do the same in the West Bank. The fact that it is not happening now is hardly Israel’s fault alone. The Palestinians are in turmoil.

So to single out Israeli universities alone for a punitive boycott is rank anti-Semitism. Let’s see, Syria is being investigated by the United Nations for murdering Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Syrian agents are suspected of killing the finest freedom-loving Lebanese journalists, Gibran Tueni and Samir Kassir. But none of that moves the far left to call for a boycott of Syrian universities. Why? Sudan is engaged in genocide in Darfur. Why no boycott of Sudan? Why?

If the far-left academics driving this boycott actually cared about Palestinians they would call on every British university to accept 20 Palestinian students on full scholarships to help them with what they need most — building the skills to run a modern state and economy. And they would call on every British university to dispatch visiting professors to every Palestinian university to help upgrade their academic offerings. And they would challenge every Israeli university that already offers Ph.D.’s to Israeli Arabs to do even more. And they would challenge every Arab university the same way.

That’s what people who actually care about Palestinians would do. But just singling out Israeli universities for a boycott, in the face of all the other madness in the Middle East — that’s what anti-Semites would do.

UNBELIEVABLE: Swiss government told Iranians it would host a Holocaust conference on "all views" on the Holocaust

According to a report in Die Weltwoche, a Swiss weekly, Switzerland's foreign minister proposed in December that her government host a conference on varying perspectives on the Holocaust. Those invited would include both Israel and Iran.

According to Die Weltwoche, the foriegn minister said she told the Iranians that she believed the "Holocaust was a historical fact."

This is so unbelievable that it's hard to know what to say except that the Swiss foreign minister has done PRECISELY what deniers want. She has made denial a legitimate "other side."

It would be the equivalent to inviting flat earth theorists to a conference on the nature of the universe. You might have sessions on why people believed the earth was flat. But you would be laughed out of town if you invited the flat earthers to speak.

I am sure that, as this news spread and protests mount, the foreign minister will quickly backtrack and apologize. That's essentially beside the point. The frightening point is that she thought this was a legitimate thing to do in the first place.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The British boycott of Israeli Universities

Ken Stern, of the American Jewish Committee, has written a thoughtful piece on the proposed boycott of Israeli universities by British academics.

Israel as the N-word

A few years ago an American Indian friend phoned me, absolutely perplexed. He could not reconcile two stories in his morning paper – one in the news section, the other in sports. Both were about major Florida universities.

The first story reported universal outrage at and severe sanctions on a fraternity which had hosted an event where participants dressed in blackface. The leadership of the university spoke in strong language about not tolerating racism, the hurt of stereotypes, the psychological impact of dehumanization, and the incompatibility of such offensive behavior with the standards of a university.

The second noted, without comment, that the leadership of another Florida university (which had an Indian mascot) was encouraging students to show up at a major sporting event in red face.

“How can people get it when it comes to racism against African Americans,” he lamented, “but don’t have a clue when Indian people are victimized by the same outrageous nonsense?”

I had some theories, none of them completely satisfactory. But I recall thinking such a blatant double standard rarely appears regarding bigotry against other groups, including Jews.

Recently I opened the New York Times and saw two articles. One reported that a union of academics in the United Kingdom (The University and College Union) voted to support the principle of a boycott against Israeli academics.

The other noted the plight of an Iranian-American academic from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who was being imprisoned by the repressive regime in Iran. I was tempted to call my Indian friend and ask him, how could it be that academics want to demonize their Israeli colleagues simply because they are Israelis, but are absolutely silent when a repressive regime in the same region is actually imprisoning scholars?


It is bad enough that repressive regimes in the Arab and Muslim world (many of which are theocratic and autocratic) demonize Israel and promote dehumanizing views of Jews through their media and religious and education institutions.

[....] But now many in intellectual circles, especially in Europe, are also demonizing Israel with such regularity and glee as to resemble sport.

There is an historic parallel here which, while not applicable in every particular, is becoming increasing apt: the way leading Southern institutions treated blacks fifty years ago. Israel has in effect become the ni**er among the family of states or in the terms of anti-Semitic slur, “the ‘kike’ among the nations.”


Kenneth S. Stern

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Columbia's Prez Bolinger condemns British boycott of Israeli univerisites

Columbia President Lee Bolinger has issued a scathing critique of the proposed British academic boycott of Israeli universities. I hope other University presidents join him.

The proposed British boycott of Israeli academics

I have, much to my chagrin, failed to say enough about this. It is unequivocally outrageous and antisemitic.* It is pernicious and it is stupid. [Most forms of prejudice -- and antisemitism prominently among them -- generally are quite stupid.]

Now that you know how I really feel, let me recommend an outstanding article by Anthony Julius and Alan Dershowitz from the London Times. It is a tour de force.

It is also available in a much longer form.

*Just because there are some Jews involved does not inoculate it against charges of antisemitism. Jews can be antisemitic. Blacks can be racists. Women can be sexist. And most readers of this blog know people who fit into each of these categories.

A weak reason to "believe" in the Holocaust: Thoughts on the statement by the Indonesian former President

In a previous post I quoted the statement made at the Bali conference on the Holocaust by Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia. In it he said he saw the shoes at Auschwitz and that convinced him.

Maybe he is using shoes as a metaphor for the factory of death which is Auschwitz-Birkenau. In any case, the shoes could be a ploy brought there after the war. As compelling as they are, they are certainly not the most convincing bit of evidence.

The Holocaust has the dubious distinction of being the best documented genocide in the world. There is a mound of evidence [mound may not be the right word to use in this context.... then again it might be the perfect word...] from perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. There is material evidence. There is documentary evidence. There is testimony. And there is the fact that approximately 6 million Jews went missing.

I welcome Abdurrahman Wahid's statement. I just thought it important to make this observation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Postscript [not so happy] to the ecumenical statement by the Muslim and the Jew

The two previous posts made reference to the conference in Bali and the condemnation of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial by the former president of Indonesia. There are two important post-scripts to this meeting:

Rabbi Lau, the co-author of the article, was denied a visa to the conference by the Indonesians.

Last week Indonesia, which does not have diplomatic ties with Israel, together with Qatar, delayed a proposed U.N. Security Council statement condemning Ahmadinejad's comments about the forthcoming destruction of Israel.

According to the Jakarta News this action at the UN was taken in response to domestic pressure. That's even more depressing because it means that the person in the street wants this standoff [that's a kind word for it] to continue.

The former President of Indonesia and the Former Chief Rabbi of Israel on Holocaust Denial

From the Wall Street Journal

As the authors say,"Those who tell big lies about the Holocaust are bound to tell smaller lies about nearly everything else."

The Evils of Holocaust Denial
Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2007; Page A17

BALI, Indonesia -- Today, religious leaders from many faiths and nations will gather here for a landmark conference in a unique place -- an island of tolerance, not terrorism. In a world in which religion is manipulated to justify the most horrific acts, it is our moral obligation not only to refute the claims of terrorists and their ideological enablers but also to defend the rights of others to worship differently: in freedom, security and dignity.

While there are many things that can be said and done to advance this cause, one issue in particular stands out as something we religious leaders must unite in denouncing: Holocaust denial. This denial is not a new phenomenon. Yet it is becoming an increasingly pervasive one. Long a hobbyhorse of the neo-Nazis and other figures from the fringe, it is gaining currency among millions of people who are either ignorant of history or are being misled by their media, their governments or -- sad to say -- their own religious authorities.

In recent years, we have seen that notorious 19th century Russian forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," being widely disseminated in bookshops from London to Cairo. We have seen Hitler's "Mein Kampf" become a bestseller in Turkey. We have seen schools in Britain stop teaching the Holocaust for fear of offending their students. We have seen notorious academic frauds invited by the president of Iran to raise "questions" about the Holocaust -- as if this is just another controversy in which all opinions are equally valid. We have seen the Holocaust deniers use the fashions of moral relativism and historical revisionism to deny not just truth but fact, all the while casting themselves as martyrs against censorship.

Worst of all, we have seen Holocaust denial being turned to an insidious political purpose: By lying about the events of the past, the deniers are paving the way toward the crimes of the future. They are rendering that well-worn yet necessary phrase "Never Again" meaningless by seeking to erase from the pages of history the very event that all people of good faith seek never to repeat.

Let us be clear: The real purpose of Holocaust denial is to degrade and dehumanize the Jewish people. By denying or trivializing the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their allies, the deniers are seeking to advance their notion that the victims of the 20th century's greatest crime are, in fact, that century's greatest victimizers. By denying or trivializing the Holocaust, the deniers are seeking to rob Jews of their history and their memory -- and what is a people without history and memory? [emphasis added]

Indeed, by denying or trivializing the Holocaust, the deniers are perpetrating what is, in effect, a second genocide. Extinguished as they were from the ranks of the living, Hitler's Jewish victims are now, in effect, to be extinguished from the ranks of the dead. That is the essence of Holocaust denial.

Yet even as we recognize the threat that Holocaust denial poses to Jews everywhere, we must also be cognizant of the peril it represents to people of all faith traditions. Nations or governments that historically have given free rein to Jew-hatred -- whether in Medieval Europe or Inquisition-era Spain or 1930s Germany -- have invariably done lasting damage to themselves as well.

Today, the countries in which Holocaust denial is most rampant also tend to be the ones that are most economically backward and politically repressive. This should not be surprising: Dishonest when it comes to the truth of the past, these countries are hardly in a position to reckon honestly with the problems of the present. Yes, the short-term purposes of unscrupulous rulers can always be served by whipping up mass hysteria and duping their people with lurid conspiracy theories. In the long term, however, truth is the essential ingredient in all competent policy making. Those who tell big lies about the Holocaust are bound to tell smaller lies about nearly everything else.

Holocaust denial is thus the most visible symptom of an underlying disease -- partly political, partly psychological, but mainly spiritual -- which is the inability (or unwillingness) to recognize the humanity of others. In fighting this disease, religious leaders have an essential role to play. Armed with the knowledge that God created religion to serve as rahmatan lil 'alamin, or a blessing for all creation, we must guard against efforts to demonize or belittle followers of other faiths.

Last year, Muslims from Nigeria to Lebanon to Pakistan rioted against what they saw as the demonizing of their prophet by Danish cartoonists. In a better world, those same Muslims would be the first to recognize how insulting it is to Jews to have the apocalypse that befell their fathers' generation belittled and denied.

Sadly, we do not live in such a world. Yet if radical clerics can move their assemblies to hatred and violence -- as was the case during the Danish cartoons episode -- then surely moderate and peace-loving clerics can also move theirs to rise above their prejudices and facilitate good relations between peoples of different faiths. In the words of the Holy Quran, which echo the story of creation from the book of Genesis: "Oh mankind! We created you from a single pair, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another, and not to despise each other."

Today in Bali, we look forward to hearing different ideas from diverse voices on how to advance this divine goal. Facing up frankly to the evil of Holocaust denial will be evidence that the conferees are "living in truth" and determined to act against hatred.

Mr. Wahid is the former president of Indonesia and co-founder of the LibForAll Foundation. Mr. Lau, a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, is the former Chief Rabbi of Israel. Today's conference in Bali, "Tolerance Between Religions: A Blessing for All Creation," is cosponsored by LibForAll Foundation, the Wahid Institute and the Museum of Tolerance.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Indonesian leader opposes Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial

According to the JTA a former leader of Indonesia has criticized Ahmadinejad's denial.

Abdurrahman Wahid told an interfaith conference in Bali on Tuesday that he opposes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dismissals of the Holocaust as a myth.

"I visited Auschwitz's Museum of Holocaust and I saw many shoes of the dead people in Auschwitz. Because of this, I believe Holocaust happened," said Wahid, a moderate who led the world's most populous Muslim nation from 1999 to 2001. "Although I am a good friend of Ahmadinejad, I have to say that he is wrong. This is important, courage to say the right thing. I don't have favoritism here. The Jews, Europeans, Arabs are all the same."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Back from Bucharest: Off to watch the Sopranos....

The ending won't be a surprise because I could not resist reading the NY Times story on the last episode [after all, they put it on the front page]

So now I am off to friends who TIVO'd it.

A welcome change from my focus of the past few days [and much of the rest of my life] .....

From Bucharest: Corrections on Communist misdeeds

I noted that Anna Pauker had built the addition of the pool onto what is now the home of the American Ambassador. She did not. Another communist official -- who was even more of a scoundrel -- did.

On Bucharest: Talk fest or something important ?(2)

At the airport I bumped int Radu Ioaind of the United States Holocaust Museum. He had spent a good part of his time here talking with Romanian officials. They are well aware of the persistence of antisemitism in their country and are anxious to address it.

They seem to recognize, as do a number of other Eastern European countries, that one of the measures of their entry into the Western democratic world is the degree to which they address age-old problems in their country, particularly antisemitism.

I posed my question to Radu about the value of such gatherings. He was fully in agreement with what I wrote in a previous post said about this.

It's not what happens at the meeting that counts as much as the very fact of the meeting and the preparation for it by each country.

Post-Bucharest Reflections: Session on discrimination against Muslims and others

A short postscript to the previous post: I am not sure that discrimination against Muslim or, for that matter, against other religious, political, ethnic, or sexually oriented groups should be folded into a conference on antisemitism.

That is not to say -- and I stress this because there will be those who will happily misinterpret my comments -- that these are not serious problems.

At the meeting there were those who posited that some of the most vicious violence today in Europe is against Muslim women* and homosexuals.

This is horrible and must be addressed but, as I have noted elsewhere and will note in another post, antisemitism is a different matter, especially when one is talking about the European continent.

*The violence against these women is perpetrated by other Muslims. There will be those, I assume, particularly in the Muslim community who will argue this is not intolerance, this is religious discipline. I think that kind of terrible rationalization needs no comment.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

From Bucharest: Session on discrimination towards Moslems -- an embarrassment

This session was an embarrassment. It was much later than it was scheduled to be because previous sessions had run over. Consequently, the translators had left so that anyone who needed a translator was out of luck. The room was quite empty because people had left for other commitments.

If you want to telegraph a message to a particular group that you don't think their issues are really important, this is a way of doing it.

I am not suggesting that that was the case, but I am suggesting that some people will interpret it as such.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

From Bucharest: Some final thoughts on meetings such as this: A big talk fest or an important contribution??? (1)

Now that this meeting is over and I am about to return home, I have to ask: was this just a big talk fest [57 countries and dozens of NGOs represented] or did it -- and other meetings like it -- accomplish something?

I don't think much concrete action was accomplished in the formal part of the meetings. Too many countries used the opportunity to make canned statements and there was little give and take [except for Ambassador Finley and the Egyptian Ambassador Raouf Saad... which was dramatic, unambiguous, but not too constructive].

Last night at Shabbat dinner at the Jewish Community Center [one of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's projects here] in addition to talking with some nice young people [yes there were more young people there than elderly], I had a conversation with Dr. Gert Wiesskirchen, the OSCE's personal representative on combating antisemitism.

He stressed the need for these meetings to be focused on implementation. In other words, what actions have been agreed upon and what has been done. Fewer speeches and more concrete analysis of what has worked and what has not.

Stacy Burdett, the ADL veteran representative at this meeting is someone who knows this process well. When I posed this question to her she said that the very fact that individual countries have to analyze what the situation is in their country, that they have to come and talk about, that a spotlight is shown on the topic is important and, in fact, may well be far more important than precisely what is accomplished at the meeting itself.

Of course, you would not have these countries assessing the situation that faces them if they were not preparing for a meeting.

So, in short, the work done for the meeting and the fact that this conglomeration of countries is saying, "this is a problem and we have to deal with it" is a valuable enterprise. [Except, of course for the Egyptians and the NGO from the Arab countries who were quite emphatic that they have no problem.]

From Bucharest: A reception at the home of the American Ambassador and a history lesson

We ended the conference with a reception at the home of American Ambassador Nicholas Taubman and his wife, Eugenia. Ambassador Taubman's father helped negotiate the agreement with the Romanian government which resulted in the release [sale] of Jews so that they could leave the country in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The Ambassador told us that the garden [above] used to be the site of 2-3 homes. They were simply torn down to create a larger garden for the communist officials. [After the end of communism the US government, I believe, had to make restitution to the families whose homes were destroyed.]

The home is quite beautiful with an indoor pool [visible from a small dining room]. The house has an interesting history. It was "given" to Anna Pauker, the Foreign Minister of Romania in the Communist regime. She expanded the house to include the pool wing.

Next door to this beautiful home is a pretty decrepit apartment house. During the communist era, in order to keep ordinary people from seeing how the communist officials lived they erected a large sheet to block the view. Every couple of days the sheet would be blown down and have to be replaced.

You can see the edge of the apartment house in the right of this photo. I learned this history from my friend Radu Ioaind of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [on left] who grew up in the apartment house.

From Bucharest: Some photos from the meeting

C. Christian Kennedy, U.S. Special Envoy for the Holocaust issues in conversation with Jeremy Katz, Special Assistant to President Bush for Policy. Christian Kennedy handles property restitution issues among other matters. Jeremy Katz works on domestic policy has well as being the special liaison to the Jewish community.

Malcolm Honelein paying rapt attention to the proceedings.

Immediately after speaking on behalf of the USA at the session on Holocaust education. I noted that Holocaust education, while crucial, is NOT an antidote against prejudice, discrimination or intolerance. I also spoke about how impressive the materials on the Holocaust which have been prepared by the OSCE/ODIHR in that they are country specific.

Views from the Palace

To give you additional indication of Communist leader Ceaucescu's mega-maniacal behavior this is the view from the Palace. You can see how an entire neighborhood[s] was destroyed, a boulevard created, and dozens of Stalinesque buildings erected.

In fact, though it has been a long time since I visited here, I was struck that I recognized nothing. Then I was shown area after area where the old buildings are gone and these large, heavy, and completely tasteless apartment buildings have replaced old -- sometimes quite lovely -- neighborhoods.

All because Ceauescu wanted a modern city.

A true megalomaniac.

From Bucharest: Discussion of Antisemitism

[Former Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Irwin Cotler and Rep. Eric Cantor, leader of the US delegation in front of the "Palace."]

The discussion of antisemitism was, as is predictable at a gathering such as this, all over the place. At times it got caught up in or lost in the general talk about intolerance. At other times it was hard hitting and quite specific.

Many of the countries spoke about the record of what they have done in the past. Much attention was focused on the UK and the hard hitting parliamentary report it prepared last year on the existence of antisemitism in the UK. The House of Commons created a new tool to assess the existence of antisemitism.

The Israelis were quite specific in what they thought should be done in response among the actions they called for was a demand issued directly to the Iranians that they stop the campaign of Holocaust denial and antisemitism. They also urged educational and legal approaches to the problem.

Interestingly the Chair of the antisemitism session, Dr. Bert Wiesskirchen, supported Minister Herzog's comments and stressed that the demonization of Israel is none other than antisemitism in another guise.

What is clear is that in many countries there is a new kind of toxic antisemitism which involves young people among others. One delegate commented that there was a feeling that "Europe has been caught in maelstrom that shows it has not liberated itself from demons of the past."

In certain countries there has been a "revival of the Jew as a mythical enemy." Part of this stems from a hostility to the idea of a united Europe and, of course, to a severe anti-Americanism and to all forms of Western influence. There is a basic intolerance of diversity in many European countries.

Those who feel disenfranchised by the changes in their society find antisemitism increasingly attractive.

Another point of view was that, while antisemitism is not the most acute problem in Europe, it is so much discussed because the way in which it is addressed is a litmus test of the strength of democratic institutions in a society.

One delegate said it can point to a degree of moral health.

The French delegate acknowledged that the recent rise in antisemitism may be linked to the war in Lebanon but that that is not only factor.

The delegate called attention to the fact that the figures which report on antisemitic incidents often do not take account of low intensity antisemitism which is to be found in streets: harassment, public discourse during political campaigns, proliferation of racist, antisemitic, xenophobia Internet sites.

The French made specific mention of the Halimi incident, the young man who was tortured to death for mere fact of being Jewish. The "Middle East had no part to play here. He was killed just because he was Jewish."

Irwin Cotler, who spoke on behalf of Canada, noted that the Supreme Court of Canada had observed that the Holocaust did not begin in gas chambers but with words. He attacked Ahmadinejad who supported "state sanctioned on fundamental principles that underpin Helsinki accords."

After the bombing of a Jewish school in Montreal, Rex Murphy, a CBC commentator observed that "the bombing was directed at the Jewish community as a whole. To ignore that particularity is to diminish criminality."

Cotler stressed that the "demonization of Israel can provide license for attacks on Jews. It is not discrimination in the abstract. It attacks Jews in their specificity. ... These are not random acts of racism but intentional acts of Jewish hatred. Don’t ignore particularity of this hate. If we ignore it harm victim a second time."

Other things were said but in the end the question remains, what kind of action can be taken to address the situation.

More thought on this later.

Friday, June 8, 2007

From Bucharest: The Egyptian delegate in his own words

Seems that the Egyptian delegate, H.E. Ambassador Raouf Saad, Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, gave the OSCE the precise text of his remarks so that it could be distributed to the delegates.

[NOTE: This is not standard operation procedure so it suggests that the Egyptians were very comfortable, if not proud, of what they said.]

This is the presentation which set off the American Ambassador, Julie Finley. [See previous post] Lest anyone think I was in anyway exaggerating what he said, I quote:
1. The the anti Semitism [Note: this is how the word is repeatedly used in the document, no hyphen, two separate words] phenomena don't exist in the Arab world as this concept don't apply to the Arab cultural body and the Jewish communities are even called "our cousins" in the Arab common spoken language. It's worth mentioning in this regard that the Jewish communities lived and flourished and where [sic.] fully integrated in the Arab societies till the middle of the past century.

2. I noted that the tone and approach used by many speakers portrayed the Jewish people as hated people and subject to suppression all over the world, the the extent that the Israeli Minister for Social Affairs [Herzog] is asking for governmental protection for Jewish communities in light of this growing phenomenon and its surge in new regions like Latin America.

3. I find that his approach contradicts the facts of life as the Jewish people are strong and influential and rather growing in power in many parts of the world. So the question poses its self [sic], if such a way of thinking serves the interests of the Jewish people. Moreover, I believe that instead of spreading the negative image we need to look for the reasons behind that feeling towards Jews.

4. To this end, we must make the difference between anti Semitism and the rejection of the Israeli practices in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

5. Consequently, I believe that achieving a fair, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East will certainly contribute to contain and reduce this negative feeling against the Jews thus putting the anti Semitism in its real size
Chapter II
At the end of this session the Chair, Dr. Gert Wiesskirchen, said "Egypt suffers from the same problems we all do." It was an eloquent and powerful answer to the Egyptian's remarks.

In the next session, the Egyptian Ambassador commented on both Ambassador Finley's response to him and Dr. Wiesskirchen's remarks:

After hearing the interventions made by the lady US delegate, it is the chairmanship's responsibility to ensure that the delegations are not terrorized by certain individuals who are not accustomed to democratic dialogue.

I ask you Mr. Chairman, to convey to the OSCE Presidency, our outrage at the deplorable intervention made by the lady delegate which crossed all boarders [sic] of constructive and diplomatic practices.

Moreover, I ask you, Mr. chairman to convey to the OSCE presidency our displeasure with the way the moderator conducted this part of the session.

The moderator not only failed in applying discipline on this part of the session, but also made an unnecessary and biased comment regarding my country Egypt.

From Bucharest: An Arab NGO demonstrates why we need these kind of meetings... despite himself

This morning, at a session on dsicrimination against Christians, the representative of the Islamic Societies of the Arab States [an NGO] launched into a long and virulent attack on Israel.

He began by claiming that Islam was under seige all over as exemplified by the headline in an Austrian [I think it was Austrian, he was hard to understand] paper: Islam: The Fascism of the 21st Century?

He said that there is an urgent need to discuss the attacks on Islam particularly the scurrilous [my word] link betwee "terrorism and Islam which is a religion of ethics, tolerance, and values."

He stated unequivocally that "All Arab states condem all forms of terrorism and intolerance."

He then turned to Israel. He said: "Rejection of racism and antisemitism does nhot mean that we have to remain silent towards the occupation powers which deny the legitimate rights of the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular."

"The question is: why are the Moslems and Arabs accused of antisemitism when at the same time they are subjected to occupation."

"Antisemitism is an European phenomenon. It was not known in the Arab lands at all."

He attacked Israeli MP and Cabinet Member Herzog for "mixing between antisemism and anti-Israeli policies and anti-Zionism which is a political doctrine based on occupation and expantionism."

"Antisemitism must not be exploited," he said, "to cover up the occupation power and pracitices of Israel... including the racist wall."

His distortions of history [Jews and, for that matter, Chrisitians were persecuted in Arab lands and contemporary facts, i.e. the intense antisemitism on Egyptian and Syrian TV or Ahmadinejad's comments [just two examplesamong many others], what I find amazing is the absolute refusal of people such as this and his Egyptian partner the day before to acknowledge that maybe -- just maybe - they too have done something wrong.

At the very least, when he finished the Chair asked all other spreakers to be short and constructive.

From Bucharest: An Egyptian distorts and an American explodes

[Ambassador Julie Finley at bilateral meeting with representatives of Finland. Rep Cantor is to the left and Dr. Gregg J. Richman of the State Department to his left.]

In a previous post I noted that some amazing things had happened at yesterday's session. It is early a.m. and I am rushing off to breakfast but, since I won't have a chance to blog until tonight, I thought I should explain what happened.

During the session on antisemitism [more on that later], the Egyptian representative said that "antisemitism does not exist in the Arab world. Jews have lived the best part of their history in the Arab countries until the first half of the 20th c."

He then said one must distinguish between antisemitism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Israel practices. He stressed that he was not talking about anti-Israel attitudes but practices. Here, he said, was the crux of the relationship between the Middle East conflict and the phenomenon of antisemitism.

He then said: "I feel nervous that Jews are being portrayed as subjects of hatred. It is wrong to portray Jews as victims. Jews are strong and have an influence that is rising in other countries."

"Why," he asked, "is this phenomena happening?" Because of Israeli practices. He concluded by saying: "A major part is the solution is to address Israeli practices. Peace would be an answer."

I simply could not believe what I was hearing nor, for that matter, could Ambassador Finley, the US ambassador to the OSCE. By this point she had taken the US chair at the table.
She signaled asking to be recognized and when she was she let loose.

She said, turning to the Egyptian representative, "If you think Jews have not suffered and are not the most likely to suffer your brain is swimming in caramel." [She later said that they had some sort of caramel dessert at the luncheon for the heads' of delegations and that's why she used that metaphor. I wonder how the translators dealt with the word caramel.]

She then went on to say: "The intensity of the hatred shown to the Jews is unparalleled. This organization must concentrate on solving antisemitism." [And not become caught up in focusing on other problems.] "The same tools you use to solve antisemitism will be the same tools you use to conquer the other 'antis.'"

"When Algeria refuses to go to a seminar hosted by Israel what can of cooperation is that? I am challenging you all go back to Vienna and solve the problem of antisemitism. The others [forms of intolerance] will take care of themselves."

Whew. It was quite a statement. The reactions were varied. Some people praised her for being so direct, particularly to the Egyptian. Others, who agreed with her statements, felt that it could have been said in a more constructive fashion.

She certainly left no doubt where she stood.

BTW, the session ended with the chair saying to the Egyptian: "Egypt suffers from the same problem we all face."

Thursday, June 7, 2007

From Bucharest: A unequivocal condemnation of antisemitism by Dr. Richard Land, President, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Libery Commission

During the bi-lateral meeting with the British, Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission made a powerful and unequivocal condemnation of antisemitism.

He described antisemitism as unique which must be recognized as having the potential to do violence in an unparalleled fashion.

My guess is that there will be those reading this blog who are not fans of the Southern Baptists. One must, however, give people such as Dr. Land tremendous credit for their absolutely unequivocal and forceful condemnation of this phenomenon.

Though one might argue that they are simply stating the truth, given the reluctance of so many others to see things in this fashion, I say Bravo.

From Bucharest: A Bi-lateral meeting with the British regarding the UK boycott of Israeli academics etc.

When we had our briefing the State Department folks stressed that much of the "work" takes place in bi-lateral meetings, i.e. meetings where two delegations sit face to face and discuss the issues of concern to them, particularly as they relate to the delegation across the table.

Our first bi-lateral meeting was with the Rt Hon The Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.

She spoke of the UK's strong desire to address antisemitism, diversity issues, and questions of immigrants and their acculturation to British society. She pointed out that her husband is descended from Austrian immigrants who were forced to flee from that country when the Nazis took over the country.

Gregg Rickman urged her not to conflate the different issues and pointed out the steep rise in number of antisemitic events in the UK. He also urged the prosecutors be pressed to utilize the laws on the UK books which guard against racial and religious incitement.

Imam Talal Eid, of the Islamic Institute of Boston and Muslim Chaplain at Brandeis, cautioned the Baroness that one cannot depend on members of the Muslim community to report on dangerous people in their midst. Simply put, he stressed, they are frightened. They have been frightened by extremists in their midst. They are simply too scared to stand up to extremists.

He spoke with passion and with force. [Later I pointed out that he had used the word terrorism while places such as the BBC and NPR insist on the pareve "militants." He laughed a bitter laugh and pointed out that the Fatah al-Islam [those who invaded the Palestinian camps and situated themselves there and began fighting with the Lebanese army] had killed Lebanese soldiers.

"If that's not terrorism," he said, what is?

We also discussed the academic boycott. The Baroness condemned it in no uncertain terms. We strongly urged that the British government take pro-active steps to address this problem. It had, we reminded her, terrible potential to spread.

From Bucharest: The Opening Plenary or Rep. Eric Cantor gets to give his much edited speech

[On the left: Gregg Rikhman, crouching, consulting with Rep. Eric Cantor on responding to Prince Hassan's criticism of US policy. Right: Rep. Eric Cantor during a meeting of the delegation, Dr. Gregg Rickman next to him]

The morning plenary began with a video presentation by Elie Wiesel and a speech by the former Crown Prince of Jordan, Hassan. Hassan spoke about the need for Muslim moderates to be nurtured. He noted that he studied Hebrew at Cambridge, has a Jew as an advisor at school, and has worked closely with a number of Jews.

He also argued that there was no such thing as Islamic terrorism. Islam is a religion and terrorism is an act. If I would have had the chance I would have pointed out to him that Islamic is an adjective which modifies the noun. But it was a relatively small part of a pretty long speech.

One section did cause a bit of commotion. He condemned America's actions in Iraq. As soon as he made that statement the American Ambassador to the OSCE, Julie Finley, jumped up and went up to the chair to give him a note. [I assume it was a request to respond at once.]

When she returned to her seat, Gregg Rickman, the U.S. Sprecial Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism immediately came over to Cantor. You can see him huddling with Cantor in the picture on the left and sitting behind Cantor in the one on the right. The blond "flip" in the picture on the left belongs to Ambassador Finley.

Rep. Cantor quickly wrote and delivered a short but forceful statement to the effect that this was a conference on antisemitism and other forms of intolerance and to make statements such as that is to hijack it for another purpose.

He spoke quite eloquently. It was interesting to watch all this happen in front of my nose.

From Bucharest: Some additional views of the Palace

There are literally hundreds of room such as these. All this in one of the poorest countries in Europe, where the populace could not get light bulbs of more than 40 watts because of a lack of electircal power.

From Bucharest: What happens when 56 countries plan a meeting

I referred to earlier to the UN resolution about the Holocaust and its failure to mention antisemitism. I continue to be flabbergasted by this. Antisemitism is “controversial” in that it is seen as helping Israel and creating sympathy for Jews.

The absurdity of this is overwhelming. It’s hard to find an analogy. Of course, let us remember that this resolution comes from the UN which not only has a dubious -- to say the very best -- record on antisemitism and has, in fact, been one of the purveyors of antisemitism. Remember the Durban conference???

That is why a meeting of the OSCE which includes antisemitism in the title is noteworthy. But even the title of this meeting was a matter of great debate. The full name is

High Level Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding, follow-up to the Cordoba Conference on Anti-Semitism and other forms of Intolerance

In addition to being the longest title to any conference I have ever heard of, note that the word antisemitism only appears as a reference to a previous conference. There were those counties which did not want to appear at all. Others protested. So the compromise was to mention it by referring to a conference which had already taken place.

Interestingly however the official delegate IDs we received do not include the part of the entire title. It stops after the word understanding. This is a way of not mentioning antisemitism.

[Though, as the picture shows, on the placards the entire title appears.]

The only way of describing this debate over the use of this word:


From Bucharest: The Palace - The Second Largest Office Building in the World

We then headed to what is known as the "Palace," which has the distinction of being the second largest office building in the world. [The Pentagon is larger.]

The building was built by Ceausescu. It is simply monomaniacal in size and grandeur. The building is full of marble, gold leaf, humongous chandeliers, marble floors with intricate inlays and Oriental woven rugs to match the inlay. It has 1100 rooms.

Entire neighborhoods were given a few weeks to move out so that this building could be built and a tremendous boulevard could be created leading up to it.

[I will post some pictures I took upon my return.]

From Bucharest: Thursday a.m.

Morning 1: Early a.m. The delegation met over breakfast. One of the things that had to be decided was who was to sit in the USA chair at each of the different sessions.

I was assigned to sit in the position of delegation chair for the session on Education against Intolerance, Holocaust education. [Each country has one seat at the table and the rest of the delegation sits behind. Same set up as Security Council except much bigger.]

Transport to Meeting: We then headed as a delegation over to the meeting. Since Rep. Eric Cantor is the head of the delegation he gets to ride in a special car [the rest of the delegation is in a bus behind]. Yesterday when we first went someplace as a delegation he said he would rather go on the bus with us but the Romanian security people would not let him. This morning he asked me to ride with him.

The best part was that we had a police escort and cut our way through the traffic. Too bad we did not have that on our way in from the airport. Note in the picture how the traffic is pulling aside for us as the police car clears the way.

In the car going over Rep. Cantor and I discussed the great concerns of the State Department officials over his speech and their feeling that matters needed to be worded very carefully lest we inadvertently insult a country and make it harder to work with that country in the future.

I told Canto that, apropos of the big debate yesterday over his remarks, in November 1938 right after Krystalnacht FDR was asked about events in Germany. He dodged the question and said: “Better ask State [Department] about that.”

Then he watched the human outcry – media, Universities, churches, political leaders etc. – speak out he knew that it was safe for him to say something. So at his weekly [!] press conference five days later FDR read a strong statement. It had been prepared by the State Department. But he felt it was not strong enough. So he added his own words to strengthen it.

We laughed at the thought that the same dance continues to play itself out 70 years later.

From Bucharest: Defining the Topic: Background Issues

The day is finally over [we began with a 7:30 meeting this a.m.]. Let me try to recap some of the highlights of the day.

Background: This meeting, convened by the OSCE, is one of a series of meetings that have been held over the past few years to deal with European intolerance in general and antisemitism in particular. Though that definition might be a matter of some debate. More on that later.

The initial impetus for the first meeting was the spike in antisemitism in Europe. But after a while there were those who called for a more "holistic" approach to the problem, i.e. address intolerance against Muslim [aka Islamaphobia], homosexuals, Christians as well. In other words, group them all together.

There are many people, particularly most of those on the American delegation, who argue that antisemitism is something that is quite different from the other forms of discrimination. Antisemitism is a centuries old hatred that has resulted in genocide and mass murder more than once.

Most of those who argue for this position do not, in any way, diminish the importance of the discrimination many Muslims face in, for example, employment in France and other countries. Nor do they dimiish the significance of the attacks on mosques and Muslim centres.

However, they would argue that antisemitism is far more pervasive, runs deeper in the society, is not a question of the assimilation of immigrants, and is of such deep roots that it exists in places where they are no Jews.

This was a source of tension in the planning for the meeting and would become a theme during the meeting.

From Bucharest: An amazing day with some fireworks

Just spent the most amazing 13 hour day with the delegation. We are off to dinner but I will be blogging about this shortly.

There were some real fireworks. Explosive. More later.

Is antisemitism just a subset of all forms of prejudice? Background Issue

One of the issues that is simmering under the surface it seems is whether antisemitism is something unique or is is just another form of prejudice that should be treated under the general term "intolerance"?

Obviously, I think that, while it is certainly a form of prejudice, it cannot simply be swept up in an all encompassing categorization.

More later. Off to the meetings.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

From Bucharest: Use of the word antisemitism: Background Issues

As I wait for some of the Americans who are going to workout with me to get ready, a thought: One of the interesting things that has already come up is the skittishness [is that a word?] of some of the countries involved in this meeting to use the word antisemitism and especially "new" antisemitism.

Seems that the UN Resolution on the Holocaust, someone pointed out to me, does not use the word antisemitism.

New antisemitism is particularly controversial because it is linked to events concerning Israel and therefore is considered "political."


From Bucharest: A Few Initial Reactions

It's early a.m. here and I am about to go workout then we are scheduled to meet for a 7:30 a.m. briefing meeting of the delegation prior to leaving for the "Palace" [Ceausescu's former residence] where the meetings will be held.

Yesterday afternoon the State Department people who are here and Rep. Eric Cantor [R-Virginia] who is heading the delegation spent a lot of energy coming to a joint decision on what he can and cannot say in his opening speech.

Seems that members of Congress and State Dept. folks express things very differently. Cantor speaks, in great measure, to his constituents at home and the State Deptartment to the nations represented at the meeting. It was a lot of nitpicking but fascinating to watch.

This should be a packed 2.5 days. Last night the Jewish NGO [non-governmental organizations] held a joint reception for people associated with the meeting. It was lovely. Met some fascinating folks from many places.

More later.

"Be Careful What You Sue For": The Wall Street Journal on Lawsuits filed by the guilty

Be Careful What You Sue For
June 6, 2007; Page A19

Pursuing a libel or slander suit has long been a dangerous enterprise. Oscar Wilde sued the father of his young lover Alfred Douglas for having referred to him as a "posing Somdomite" and wound up not only dropping his case but being tried, convicted and jailed for violating England's repressive laws banning homosexual conduct. Alger Hiss sued Wittaker Chambers for slander for accusing Hiss of being a member of the Communist Party with Chambers, and of illegally passing secret government documents to him for transmission to the Soviet Union. In the end, Hiss was jailed for perjury for having denied Chambers' claims before a grand jury.

More recently, British historian David Irving sued American scholar Deborah Lipstadt in England for having characterized him as a Holocaust denier and was ultimately so discredited in court that an English judge not only determined that he was indeed a Holocaust denier but an "antisemite" and "racist" as well.

On May 29 of this year, the potential vulnerability of a plaintiff that misuses the courts to sue for libel once again surfaced when the Islamic Society of Boston abandoned a libel action it had commenced against a number of Boston residents, a Boston newspaper and television station, and Steven Emerson, a recognized expert on terrorism and, in particular, extremist Islamic groups. In all, 17 defendants were named.

Those accused had publicly raised questions about a real estate transaction entered into between the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Islamic Society, which transferred to the latter a plot of land in Boston, at a price well below market value, for the construction of a mosque and other facilities. The critics urged the Boston authorities to reconsider their decision to provide the land on such favorable terms (which included promised contributions to the community by the Islamic Society, such as holding lectures and offering other teaching about Islam) to an organization whose present or former leaders had close connections with or who had otherwise supported terrorist organizations.

On the face of it, the Islamic Society was a surprising entry into the legal arena. Its founder, Abdurahman Alamoudi, had been indicted in 2003 for his role in a terrorism financing scheme, pled guilty and had been sentenced to a 23-year prison term. Another individual, Yusef Al-Qaradawi, who had been repeatedly identified by the Islamic Society as a member of its board of Trustees, had been described by a U.S. Treasury Department official as a senior Muslim Brotherhood member and had endorsed the killing of Americans in Iraq and Jews everywhere. One director of the Islamic Society, Walid Fitaihi, had written that the Jews would be "scourged" because of their "oppression, murder and rape of the worshipers of Allah," and that they had "perpetrated the worst of evils and brought the worst corruption to the earth."

The Islamic Society nonetheless sued, claiming both libel and civil-rights violations. Motions to dismiss the case were denied, and the litigants began to compel third parties to turn over documents bearing on the case. In short order, one after another of the allegations made by the Islamic Society collapsed.

Their complaint asserted that the defendants had falsely stated that monies had been sent to the Islamic Society from "Saudi/Middle Eastern sources," and that such statements and others had devastated its fund-raising efforts. But documents obtained in discovery demonstrated without ambiguity that fund-raising was (as one representative of the Islamic Society had put it) "robust," with at least $7.2 million having been wired to the Islamic Society from Middle Eastern sources, mostly from Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic Society claimed it had been libeled by a variety of expressions of concern by the defendants that it, the Society, had provided support for extremist organizations. But bank records obtained by the defendants showed that the Islamic Society had served as funder both of the Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas-controlled organization that the U.S. Treasury Department had said "exists to raise money in the United States to promote terror," and of the Benevolence International Foundation, which was identified by the 9/11 Commission as an al Qaeda fund-raising arm.

The complaint maintained that any reference to recent connections between the Islamic Society and the now-imprisoned Abdurahman Alamoudi was false since it "had had no connection with him for years." But an Islamic Society check written in November 2000, two months after Alamoudi publicly proclaimed his support for Hamas and Hezbollah, was uncovered in discovery which directed money to pay for Alamoudi's travel expenses.

To top it all off, documents obtained from the Boston Redevelopment Authority itself revealed serious, almost incomprehensible, conflicts of interest in the real-estate deal. It turned out that the city agency employee in charge of negotiating the deal with the Islamic Society was at the same time a member of that group and secretly advising it about how to obtain the land at the cheapest possible price.

So the case was dropped. No money was paid by the defendants, no apologies offered, and no limits on their future speech imposed. But it is not at all as if nothing happened. The case offers two enduring lessons. The first is that those who think about suing for libel should think again before doing so. And then again once more. While all the ultimate consequences to the Islamic Society for bringing the lawsuit remain uncertain, any adverse consequences could have been avoided by not suing in the first place.

The second lesson is that in one way (and perhaps no other) we should learn from the English system and award counsel fees to the winning side in cases like this, which are brought to inhibit speech on matters of serious public import. Because all the defendants in this case were steadfast and refused to settle, they were eventually vindicated. But the real way to avoid meritless cases such as this is to have a body of law that makes clear that plaintiffs who bring them will be held financially responsible for doing so.

Arrival in Bucharest

Just arrived. City has certainly changed but there are areas we passed on the way in from the airport [traffic is HORRENDOUS, akin to Moscow] that were reminiscent of the Communist era.

No official details to report yet our first delegation meeting is in a few hours.

Emory has released an announcement of the conference with some information on the delegation etc.