Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai and the Media: Avoiding the T-Word

Honest Reporting has a pretty comprehensive analysis of how some media outlets bent over backwards to avoid using the term terrorist to describe the killers [aka terrorists] in Mumbai.

Mumbai: The Terrible Tragedy

I have expressed particular sorrow about the death of the Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Gavriel and Riki Holzberg. Lest any one think otherwise, I am also deeply deeply saddened -- and enraged -- by the death of so many other victims.

This entire event has demonstrated that these kind of terrorists have found a new form of terrorism with terrible terrible implications.

These are people whose minds have been corrupted and who have lost any sense of morality. I say that even as we know so little about them.

We don't know their so-called "motives." In fact, in many respects their "motives" are irrelevant. It does not matter what they are. Their actions are despicable and so are they.... [[I use the present tense because I am convinced that many of them are still alive. This criminal act was not committed by just 10 people.]

Poland and the Jews: A New Era

The Jerusalem Post carries an interesting article on how the relationship between Poland, particularly the Catholic Church, and the Jews has changed.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Barukh Dayan Emet - Blessed is the Truthful Judge: In Memorium to R' Gavriel and Riki Holtzberg

Link to JTA coverage added 2:55 p.m.

Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, were murdered along with three other hostages in the terror attack on the Chabad house in Mumbai.

May their memory and the work they did be a blessing to those remain behind.

They were killed by terrorists who had to seek out the Chabad House.

CNN: "Militants"????

Some of the comentators on CNN persist in talking about militants. What does one have to do to be considered a terrorism? Kill more than 140 people? Take control of more than 3 places?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tragedy in Mumbai: Why was the Jewish Center [Chabad] Attacked?

I am watching CNN discuss the attacks. The various anchors, reporters on the scene, and commentators keep asking, "But why did they attack the Jewish center?"

They keep asking yet it seems so self-evident to me....

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Emory Wheel and Other "Antisemitic" Incidents at Emory


The editor of the Emory Wheel has an editorial in today's paper regarding the editorial board's decision to run the cartoon. It is written in a way that will allow people to interpret it as they wish, though it does seem to acknowledge that many people in the Emory community found the editorial distasteful. After posting this I heard from the editor. He said that, since there are still letters coming in to the paper, he did not want to shut down conversation by making a definitive statement one way or the other. [Or, at the least, that's how I understood him...]

Another Emory related item: Last week on a Sunday evening there was a fire set at the fraternity house a fire at the AEPi house. The fraternity is known as a "Jewish" fraternity. Many people linked this to the Emory Wheel cartoon and the excitement on campus over a demonstration about the West Bank fence/wall. For the Atlanta Journal Constitution coverage of the story see here.

There were those who assumed it was an antisemitic act. The police don't know if it is. The situation is complicated by the fact that at Kappa Alpha house this past Friday morning there was an incident of vandalism and one at the Sigma Chi house last Tuesday.

People should wait for the police investigation to be completed. Then they should look at it and decide if it is a fair and comprehensive effort rather than one that is designed to calm fears.

There is always time to yell, scream, and accuse. Now is the time to let professionals do their jobs.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Meeting with Emory's "Infamous" Cartoonist: A Learning Experience

Yesterday afternoon I met with Dylan Woodliff, the young man who drew the cartoon in the Emory Wheel comparing the wall/fence between the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the ghettos under the Nazis. For background on this see here.

After hearing from some of his teachers and his fellow students that he was a "good guy" who got into something way over his head. I had emailed him offering to meet him. He readily agreed.

My motivation for doing so was twofold. I felt, based on what I had been told and on his "explanation" which accompanied the cartoon, that he had gotten in way over his head. Maybe there was room to do what it is our job to do, educate. I wanted him to understand why what he did was so wrong.

Secondly, he had been subjected to a barrage of criticism, well deserved criticism but criticism nonetheless. Rarely does a single student do something that gets 46 professors to unequivocally condemn his actions. I was concerned about him. It's pretty heavy stuff for one person -- particularly a student -- to face. I wanted him to know that though I felt strongly about what he did but felt empathy for him as a person.

I found a contrite student who was worried that people thought he was an antisemite and that he had ruined his future. [In the age of Google these things don't go away.] I found a student who tried to make a point about the politics of the Middle East and did so in a thoughtless and ill informed fashion.

We did not talk that much about the cartoon itself because by this time he knew full well that he had really messed up and that he should never have made the analogy. In fact I told him about how, in the past, I had tried, on occasion, to make a point about something and, in the course of so doing, said something stupid, angry, or extreme. My point was lost because all anyone could focus on was the extreme way in which I had expressed myself.

I assured him that I had no doubt that he was not an antisemite. In fact, if I had thought otherwise I probably would not have bothered to meet him.

The previous evening I had also met with Sal Rizzo,the editor of the Wheel. I think he too realizes that he and his editorial board failed in their job of ensuring responsible journalism. I am not talking about censorship. Obviously they have the freedom to screw up... as they did royally. I talked about judgment.

Both students realized that by using this false and hurtful analogy they had ultimately shot themselves in the foot. No one had discussed Middle East policy. All people had discussed was the thoughtless analogy.

These two meetings reminded me that we do a lot of our educating in the classroom but sometimes we do our most important educating outside of it. I think they learned something... and so did I.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Cartoon that Says it All, No Explanation Necessary

With thanks to Bruce's Mideast Soundbites for finding this cartoon.

An Antisemitic Cartoon in Emory's Student Newspaper Generates a Torrent of Criticism from Across the Campus

Last Friday an unquestionably antisemitic cartoon appeared in Emory's student newspaper, The Wheel. I was sent the cartoon and the cartoonist's accompanying explanation.

The cartoon was split into two sides. One side showed the wall/fence between the West Bank and Israel with Israeli soldiers in front of it and on the other side were Jews in a ghetto with a Nazi guard in front of it. Underneath in caps was the following sentence: EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER.

The accompanying explanation decried the wall and accused it of creating the economic gap between Israelis and Palestinians. It also claimed that it was NOT comparing the situation on the West Bank to the Holocaust. [Despite the fact that the cartoon did exactly that.] The cartoonist also said he did not mean to be offensive. [Despite the fact that he was.]

The cartoon was also accompanied by a dissenting op-ed by two students saying that this was a form of Holocaust denial and antisemitic.

What's most interesting than the cartoon is what happened next.

Faculty began to hear about this on Sunday. Within a day and a half 40 faculty members had signed a letter to the editor decrying the cartoon. They included people of at least 4 different faiths [Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist], different ethnic groups, and different disciplines [Jewish Studies, African American Studies, Islamic Studies, German Studies and many many more]. In addition a number of other faculty wrote their own letters to the editor.

To my mind this is the story. Not the cartoon and the cartoonist's misguided attempt to create a cartoon about a serious problem.

is what people should take away from this story: People with widely different views of the political situation and with disparate attitudes about the Israeli/Palestinian situation were able to set those differences aside to condemn a blatantly ill informed and prejudicial cartoon.

What follows are the joint faculty letter, an op-ed by me on the topic, and some other letters regarding the cartoon:
The Emory Wheel
November 17, 2008

Faculty Letter in Response to Cartoon:
To the editor:

The cartoon published in the Emory Wheel comparing Jews to Nazis is historically inaccurate, belittling to the Holocaust, slanderous to Israel and the Jewish people and, in our view, frankly antisemitic. The Wheel owes all its readers a retraction and an apology. We acknowledge the Wheel’s First Amendment rights, and we assert our own right to denounce the bigoted and irresponsible content that it may print.

Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science

Frank S. Alexander, Professor of Law

Angelika Bammer, Associate Professor in the Institute of Liberal Arts

Robert Bartlett, Arthur Blank/National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professor

Michael Berger, Associate Professor of Religion, Law and Religion, and Jewish Studies

David Blumenthal, Jay and Leslie Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies

Oded Borowski, Professor of Biblical Archaeology and Hebrew

Michael Broyde, Professor of Law

Rudolph Byrd, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies

Vincent Cornell, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies

Richard Doner, Professor of Political Science

Tara Doyle, Senior Lecturer in Religion

Marshall Duke, Candler Professor of Psychology

Astrid M. Eckert, Assistant Professor of History

Shoshana Felman, Woodruff Professor of Comparative Literature and French

Sander L. Gilman, Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Hazel Gold, Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Benjamin Hary, Associate Professor of Hebrew, Arabic and Linguistics

Ann Hartle, Professor of Philosophy

Peter Höyng, Associate Professor of German

Herbert Karp, Professor Emeritus of Neurology and Emeritus Medical Director, Wesley Woods Hospital

Walter Kalaidjian, Professor of English

Harvey Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History

Melvin Konner, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology

Howard I. Kushner, Nat C. Robertson Distinguished Professor, Rollins School of Public Health and Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts

Scott Lilienfeld, Professor of Psychology

Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies

Judd Owen, Associate Professor of Political Science

Edward L. Queen, Director, Ethics and Servant Leadership Program and Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies, Center for Ethics

Dan Reiter, Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science

Mark Sanders, Associate Professor of African American Studies and English

Caroline Schaumann, Assistant Professor of German Studies

Raymond F. Schinazi, Frances Winship Walters Professor of Pediatrics

Joseph Skibell, Associate Professor of Creative Writing and English and Director, The Ellmann Lectures

Barbara J. Stoll, George W. Brumley Jr. Professor and Chair, Department of Pediatrics

Donald Stein, Asa G. Candler Professor, School of Medicine

Kenneth W. Stein, William E. Schatten Professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History, Political Science and Israeli Studies

Brian Vick, Assistant Professor of History

John Witte Jr., Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Director, Center for the Study of Law and Religion

Paul Root Wolpe, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics and Director, Center for Ethics

In addition there were letters by Professors Don Seeman [who was at Hebrew University the day the cafeteria was bombed], Laurie Patton and Gordon Newby, Michael Berger, Mark Bauelein, Paul Wolpe

And there was a separate op-ed by me:

My op-ed on the topic:

A Spurious, Prejudicial Cartoon

By Deborah Lipstadt Posted: 11/17/2008

In Friday’s Wheel there was a disturbing cartoon directly comparing the Nazi ghettoes with the separation fence the Israelis have erected on the West Bank. This equation is historically spurious and highly prejudicial. The Germans put Jews from throughout Europe in ghettoes to either die a slow death of starvation, deprivation and disease or a faster death with a bullet or poison gas.

Irrespective of what one thinks of the fence/wall (most of it is a fence), it was not built for this purpose. It was built as a defensive mechanism. Even if one opposes it, one cannot ignore the fact that it has tremendously reduced homicidal bombings (sometimes mistakenly called “suicide bombings”) of Israeli targets. There was no fence/wall before there were these bombings of busses, schools and other civilian targets. It was built in response to them.

Regarding the disparity of wealth which Woodliff seems to blame on the wall/fence, this existed long before the wall/fence was ever there. The Palestinian Authority has received countless billions of dollars to help its people. During the corrupt regime of the late Yasser Arafat most of these funds disappeared. (Look under Swiss Banks to find some of them, or in Paris, where his widow lives a life of supreme splendor.) The funds obviously were not used to aid the Palestinian people, many of whom are suffering terribly.

When Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, it left behind fertile farms, hothouses filled with advanced hydroponic systems for growing vegetables, and other installations which could have been used to better the Palestinians’ lot. Most were destroyed by the Palestinian people. International funds were raised to help the residents of Gaza. These too have resulted in little improvement. Meanwhile, rockets from Gaza continue to be fired into Israeli towns. A barrage Saturday put 18 people in the hospital. In response, Israel has shut the border between Gaza and Israel, further increasing the suffering of the residents of Gaza.

There is a serious problem in the Middle East but Woodliff’s glib comparison of Jews to Nazis is not only ill-informed, it demonstrates a certain prejudice — antisemitism — which will never help resolve the situation. Whatever one thinks of Israeli policy, to describe it as akin to the Nazi policy of murdering all of European Jewry is to engage in antisemitism and a form of Holocaust denial.

Finally, I was struck by the explanatory note the Woodliff appended to the drawing. No editorial cartoon should need an explanation or an addendum. If the cartoonist is any good, his work should speak for itself. With that I rest my case.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

UK Schools Drop Teaching the Holocaust: A False Story Persists

There is a video slide show making the rounds that begins by talking about Dwight D. Eisenhower's comments on the liberation of the camps. Then it proceeds to condemning the UK's cessation of the teaching of the Holocaust.

One would think that people who are Internet savvy would have heard that this is a rumor that is untrue. Yet somehow it does not seem to sink in. I have blogged about this a lot

I don't doubt that there are schools where teaching the Holocaust is done in the most cursory fashion, if at all. But this is NOT the same thing as the UK officially dropping the Holocaust from its curriculum.

There are enough things to worry about and to protest against. We don't need to create false ones.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Racism: Engages in Antisemitism

Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Racism includes an article on Zionism which is deeply antisemitic in the most classic fashion. It is written by Noel Ignatiev, a name which might ring a bell for some readers. The article presents Zionism as a form of Jewish racism and repeats all the old canards from the 1970s.

Some of the shortcomings and rather outrageous aspects of this story are encapsulated by the letter the American Jewish Committee (AJC) wrote to Macmillan. Among the points made by the AJC and other critics are.

1. No other form of nationalism is included in the three-volume encyclopedia. Only Jewish nationalism is addressed. That should immediately raise a red flag.

2. Noel Ignatiev has absolutely no track record of scholarship in Middle Eastern or Jewish studies. He has described Zionism as an "ideology of race" and scandalously promotes the canard of Zionist-Nazi "collaboration." This is hardly an impartial article on Zionism in what is supposed to be reference work.

3. In fact Ignatiev wrote a very similar article which appear on Counterpunch, a site known for its anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism [opposition to the existence of the Jewish state not just to its policies].

4. Apparently when the AJCommittee contacted Macmillan for an explanation John Hartwell Moore, the encyclopedia’s Editor in Chief, defended the entry by arguing that Jewish nationalism is racist because it’s Jewish.

5. In his earlier statements and in the article conflates Zionism and Nazism. Ignatiev claims that Zionism “shared the [Nazi] belief that the Jews were a racial community based on blood.” This. of course, is complete balderdash, if not worse. Zionism says nothing about Jews being a racial community based on blood. This is Nazi talk and has nothing to do with Zionism.

6. Since the author is known as a propagandist -- not a scholar -- opposed to Zionism. As Brian Henry, a Canadian author, has asked "If the editor concerned chose Ignatiev because of his prejudices, how many other entries in the encyclopedia might reflect the editor’s political agenda?"

There is an excellent in depth critique of this whole shameful episode here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Israel and Obama: Interesting perspective on getting it wrong

Israelis, it turns out, were overwhelmingly supportive of Obama's election. Why then were early reports of pro-McCain support so off the mark? Read about it here.

More Racism in the Georgia Senatorial Campaign: Saxby Chambliss does it again

When I reported on Saxby Chambliss' overt racism in the closing days of the campaign [his statement that the "other folks" are voting, i.e. African Americans], one could have dismissed it as a slip of the tongue.

But the fact that he absolutely meant it was made clear by some of the things he said on Fox News in the aftermath of the election. Note his juxtaposition of "minority voters" with "our people." [You can watch the clip here.]
COLMES: Why do you think you’ve been unable…[to] close the deal with the people of Georgia in terms of what happened on Election Day?

CHAMBLISS: Well, listen, we have, for the first time in the history the our state, a 30-day advanced vote period, and let’s give the Obama people credit. They did a good job of getting out their vote early.

There was a high percentage of minority vote, and I am tickled to death that as many Georgians as did examined their right to vote. That’s what make our election process the envy of the whole free world, but we weren’t able to get enough of our folks out on Election Day.

No comment necessary. Except maybe to Georgia voters: vote.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Mormons are at it Again: Posthumous conversions of Holocaust victims

Years ago I went with Ernie Michel, an Auschwitz survivor, to meet with Sen. Orrin Hatch. Hatch had stepped in to tell Michel that the Mormon church would not continue converting Holocaust victims who had died in camps.

[The reason I was there was because Hatch had said that he wanted to pass a Congressional resolution affirming that the Holocaust happened as a response to deniers. I had told Michel, when I learned of this, that I did not think it was a good idea. "We don't have resolutions affirming that World War II happened."

Michel agreed and asked me to come with him to Hatch to explain why there should not be such a resolution. He was convinced and then decided to enter a new resoluiton commemorating the Holocaust. A signed copy of that resolution hangs in my office today.]

At the meeting, Hatch again told Michel that there would not be more conversions.

Well now, twelver years later, it seems that they are going on anyway. [Read Jerusalem Post article on this here.] Michel has given up the fight. He has been waging it far long than is necessary.

One could say: "Who cares what the Mormons do? What difference does it make?" In normal circumstances that might make sense but if it were my relatives who were killed because they were Jews I would be livid to learn that someone had ex post facto converted them to antoher religion.

When is someone in the Mormon chruch going to figure out how religiously insensitive this is. It is a blackeye for the church. Have they no shame? Haven't these people suffered enough already?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obama's Victory: Excellent perspective on the European reaction

Andrei Markovits of the University of Michigan has an excellent piece on the European reaction to Obama's election in the Huffington Post.

He points out that the Europeans are busy congratulating themselves because Obama is more like them than like America.

They are using their pious happiness over his election to hide their own racism and racial inequity. In what European country would an Obama ever have a chance of being elected head of state???

Friday, November 7, 2008

The McPalin Legacy: hate, divisiveness, and exaggerated fears

I am sure many people heard John McCain's conciliatory words on Tuesday night. They were gracious, uplifting, unifying, and all that the McCain many people were attracted to in 2000 represented. Bravo to him.

But that one speech does not wipe out two months of divisive rhetoric, especially about the socialism we must fear from an Obama presidency.

Today's NY Times reports on an surge in gun sales. Many people have been convinced that Obama will take away their guns. Here's what one gun dealer said:

“He wants to take our guns from us and create a socialist society policed by his own police force,” added Mr. Pruett, a former radio personality, of President-elect Barack Obama.
On the day before the election I heard another person proclaim that he would not vote for Obama because he is too close to communism.

As I have said often on this blog, there were many legitimate reasons for some people to oppose Obama. But the fact that he is a socialist or communist leaning is NOT one of them.

This is a legacy of John McCain and his sidekick, Sarah Palin's rhetoric.

Jewish tradition teaches: hachamim hizaharu b'devreichem, wise people be careful with your words. Well I would not call politicians necessarily wise but I think the verse is really directed at people who are leaders, i.e. people to whom others look up to....

This is part of their legacy. They and we will have to live with it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dutch Megaship Named after Nazi: Someone was asleep at the Helm

How did the Dutch government let this happen? Haaretz reports that a mega ship will be named after the prominent Nazi industrialist and Waffen-SS officer Pieter Schelte.

It's offensive to the Dutch, much less to lots of other people, particularly to those who were persecuted and murdered by the Third Reich.

Seems that his son
Edward Heerema, who is the president of the offshore giant which is building the mega ship, Allseas made the decision.

Shouldn't someone have caught on sooner.

And has the son no sense of decency?

Ironically all he has done is call lots of attention to his father's misdeeds.

The investigative journalist Ton Biesemaat, who exposed the affair, said he found this "characteristic of the passivity and moral decline in Dutch society," and of a "desire to forget" inconvenient truths about Dutch collaboration with the Nazis in WWII.

As I have often said, while the deniers are very dangerous, those who simply want to ignore inconvenient history are far more dangerous.....

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss: Open Racism in the Closing Days

I did not think I would be blogging any more about politics before election day. But I just read something that made me fume. That's putting it mildly.

Saxby Chambliss, who "represents" Georgia in the US Senate, told his supporters according to, regarding the tightening race he faces, that in the early voting "the other folks are voting."

The "other folks" are, of course, African Americans. This is disgusting and its scary.

Here's what he told the NYTimes:
"There has always been a rush to the polls by African-Americans early," he said at the square in Covington, a quick stop on a bus tour as the campaign entered its final week. He predicted the crowds of early voters would motivate Republicans to turn out. "It has also got our side energized, they see what is happening," he said.