February 2004 Archives

An unpleasant reminder

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This is an excerpt from a speech last month by Walid Jumblatt, a Druze member of the Lebanese Parliament, as translated by MEMRI. In it, he glorifies the suicidal homicidal terrorist attack of alleged adulteress Reem Al-Riyashi at the Erez checkpoint and points to some distinctions that he believes shouldn't be made.

. . . It is an act of belief and it is the correct path, because the fall of one Jew, whether soldier or civilian, is a great accomplishment in times of decline, subservience, and submissiveness, as a way to undermine the plan to 'Jewify' all of Palestine.

"I say 'Jew' and I apologize to the Lebanese intellectuals, or at least some of them, who welcomed the Geneva initiative, applauded it, and considered it an historical solution to the Middle East conflict. They play word games [and differentiate] between Jew and Israeli, between Right and Left, and between doves and hawks. Some of them may have forgotten, or pretend that they have forgotten, that basically Israel was the product of the Zionist Left starting with Weizmann, Ben-Gurion, and Peres through Yossi Beilin. Have they forgotten that the Labor Party went to war in 1967 and since then began to settle Jews in the West Bank? Even the separation wall today is the brainchild of the Labor Party during Barak's time . . ..

"Reem Al-Riyashi is the last roadblock. What is it that she and other [women] are seeking or demanding? A few weapons, explosives, or anti-tank missiles, [and to be able to pass] through Jordan, Rafiah, Lebanon, Syria, or any other possible doorway in order to prevent the 'Jewification' plan, or at least to delay it, while the [weapon] depots of the Arab armies are full to the brim…"

It speaks for itself.

And so it begins

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Well, this is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping not to see as part of the 'Passion' backlash. I've read (or skimmed) dozens of harsh critiques of the film in the past few days by Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, aetheists and people who are somewhere in between, as well as by Jews. But it doesn't matter. Three Jewish bloggers "mocked" Mel's movie and now this blogger will find it "difficult in the extreme to be a supporter of Jewish causes and of Israel." Ok, Chuck. Sorry you can't de-link me, too, but you never linked me in the first place. I'm really hurt, by the way.

I trust there will be more of this. There's a poster over at LGF calling himself "Austin" who's been making somewhat similar statements. As some people predicted, the film is sparking debate of a frank and honest and sometimes even brutal nature that's usually kept in better check. There will be folks on both sides who'll find it too hard to take. The old adage applies -- if you can't take the heat . . ..

Hey, I'm all for civility and consideration of people's feelings, but when one side takes off the gloves, the other side can be expected to do the same. Hopefully, no one is trying to draw blood, but some are obviously ready to stop pussyfooting around issues that they feel have smoldered for too long. The problem is, some nasty stuff is sure to leak out in the process, and once it's out there, it's out there. So I suspect that this particular "dialogue" might not turn out as well in practice as it sounded in theory.

Wise words from Ocean Guy, over a week ago:

The film is also likely to do much good for a great many, Christians and non-Christians. But we shouldn’t be too comfortable with the good it does if, as has happened, those who criticize the film are going to be accused of attacking Christianity. When zealous people are put on the defensive, and they perceive they are defending their faith, ugly things can happen.


Ain't that the truth. Something to keep in mind as the debate continues.

Terumah

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This week's Torah portion, Terumah, is, from a dramatic standpoint, utterly boring. Filled with excruciatingly minute detail on the exact materials, accessories and techniques to be used in the construction and decoration of the Tabernacle, it's really an eerily intricate and beautiful account.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats' hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you--the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings--so shall you make it.

They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold--overlay it inside and out--and make upon it a gold molding round about. Cast four gold rings for it, to be attached to its four feet, two rings on one of its side walls and two on the other. Make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold; then insert the poles into the rings on the side walls of the ark, for carrying the ark. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: they shall not be removed from it. And deposit in the Ark [the tablets of] the Pact which I will give you.

Details. No drama, no passion. An excellent way to end this week.

Shabbat Shalom

Time flies

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Happy belated blogiversary to Ideofact (his second -- my, but we're all getting old)! It's one of the blogs that helps keep me sane.

An Israeli take

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This editorial in yesterday's Jerusalem Post reflects yet another perspective on 'The Passion.' One that's very sober and disconcerting but nevertheless uplifting. For those who don't have access to the JPost for whatever reason, I've included the full text in the extended entry.

Feb. 26, 2004
The passions

Readers outside Israel may be surprised to learn that The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's new film about the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, has inspired some curiosity, but little outrage, among Israelis.

Next to Sunday's Jerusalem bus bombing, or proceedings at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, a movie that might or might not have an anti-Semitic coloration just doesn't arouse this country's passions.

No matter what's behind us ...

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... we're all with you, Dean, on this one.

You'll beat it. You can, and you will. With a lot of help, a lot of hope and a lot of courage. You can, and you will.

Now this is service

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Here's a cool press release from the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

NEW EMAIL/FAX SERVICE FOR MESSAGES TO BE PLACED IN THE WESTERN WALL

NEW YORK, Feb. 18, 2004 - Anyone who wants to send a note to be placed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, can now do so, thanks to a new service recently launched by Bezeq, Israel's telephone company. All you need to do is send your request by email to kotel@onemail.bezeq.com and your request will reach Bezeq's Onemail service. Twice a week, Bezeq employees will take the messages and place them between the stones of the Western Wall.

The Western Wall is the outermost wall from the Second Temple, which stood for over 400 years in Jerusalem. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire approximately 2000 years ago. Jews from all over the world come to pray at the Western Wall. It is customary to place notes containing personal requests and prayers between the stones.

Bezeq's email service is designed to assist those who cannot physically visit the Wall but wish to place their personal note among its stones. Bezeq also offers a popular fax service to the Western Wall, which receives more than 200 faxes per week, from all over the world. Most of these faxes are from the United States, Israel, and Europe.

With the inauguration of the Bezeq offered Onemail service, it was decided that email would be added to the fax service at the Western Wall, on the assumption that there are more computers and email addresses than fax machines, especially in private homes, where the greatest demand for this service lies. You can fax your requests to the Western Wall by dialing 011-972-2-561-2222.

For further information, contact Ronn Torossian at 212-999-5585, or via email at ronn@5wpr.com.

Of course, if you can, it's much more rewarding to go and put a message in the Wall yourself.

Opening day

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Ocean Guy tipped me off to this amazing interview with James Carroll — Boston Globe columnist, National Book Award-winning author, and former chaplain to Boston University's Catholic community. It's got me rethinking a number of things that have been percolating through my mind for the past weeks, throughout the Holocaust uniqueness discussion and the intensifying 'Passion' controversy. It's also got me rethinking the first part of this post, because Carroll seems to be making many of the same points as Patterson, albeit in a more thoughtful way and without the PETA baggage. And he made them all long before 'The Passion' was much more than a twinkle in Mel's eye.

Among the many essays and articles out there on the net purporting to defend Mel Gibson, his movie and Christianity in general against claims of inherent antisemitism, there are some that have gone a long way toward convincing me that "interfaith dialogue" between Jews and Christians is a hopeless cause. Why? Because they bring to the fore some fundamental and basically irreconcilable contradictions between these two faiths that are too often deliberately ignored. Whereas Judaism sees Christianity as flowing from an errant interpretation of Judaism's own Scripture, Christianity sees Judaism as a willful refusal to accept the one and only true culmination of that same Scripture. How can there be any kind of honest reconciliation between such views? And is it possible to even discuss it without getting into this kind of stuff again?

But here's a little of what Jim Carroll had to say:

In western Christianity we have a sense of Jesus' intimacy with God, which completely blocks our capacity to imagine him as a religious Jew. We're taught that Jesus doesn't need religion. Jesus has instant access to the divine. What that does is efficiently remove him from the Jewish culture that he was entirely a part of. He was a phylactery-wearing davening Jew, an image that was unthinkable to us. Why would he pray? If he read the scriptures it was only to elucidate them for other people. It wasn't that he needed to encounter the God of the Bible, because he was instantly in communion with God. Well, that theology is one of the pillars of Christian anti-Judaism, because if our starting point is that Jesus was not religiously a Jew, then it's easy quickly to go to the next step, which is that Jesus was opposed to Jews.

That's the beginning of this long narrative. If the enemies of Jesus are the Jewish people, then in 1941, '42, and '43, don't ask me as a Christian to be concerned about the Jewish people. Even if I'm not a conspirator in the genocide, I don't have to be concerned about it because we know that Jesus is the enemy of these people.

Yes, we're back to this again. Carroll has nailed yet another of those odious and politically incorrect distinctions between Hitler's attempted annihilation of the Jews and his rabid and despicable attacks on other groups. But Carroll goes still further.

That's when I began to think about Jesus at Auschwitz and recognize that had he been there bodily, he would have been killed just as one of the anonymous mass of Jews— for being a Jew. And what was his offense? Well, the cross, the symbol of the accusation of deicide, was his offense. As a Jew, he killed Jesus. That's what he would have been put to death for. That's when I saw that the cross is central to this problem. It is shocking how for generation after generation after generation, the cross, which I began by revering, has been the emblem of this evil. The inquisitor holding up the cross, Captain Dreyfus being condemned in a courtroom and having to stand and stare at the cross.

That's some pretty heavy stuff. I keep reading this interview and trying to absorb what's going on there and realizing I'm hearing something quite different here. Carroll has a lot to say that begins to suggest an approach to interfaith dialogue that doesn't feel quite so much like a meeting between matter and anti-matter. I want to hear more.

Now, in the two days I've been mulling over this post, I see (via Robert's comment over at Kesher Talk) that Jim Carroll has come out with a review of Mel's movie. And it isn't complementary. Why doesn't that surprise me?

"THE PASSION of The Christ" by Mel Gibson is an obscene movie. It will incite contempt for Jews. It is a blasphemous insult to the memory of Jesus Christ. It is an icon of religious violence. Like many others, I anticipated the Gibson film warily, especially because an uncritical rendition of problematic Gospel texts which unfairly blame "the Jews" for the death of Jesus threatened to resuscitate the old "Christ-killer" myth.

Do read the rest. And Judith has posted excerpts from a number of other reviews here.


Update: Blogger Moe Freedman has a first-hand review of his own, here.

The Hague, the fence

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Statement by Daniel Taub, Director, General Law Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Press Conference of Israeli Delegation
The Hague, 23 February 2004

The suicide bomber who blew up the number 14 bus in Jerusalem yesterday, murdering 8 people, and wounding more than 50, was a member of Yasser Arafat's own Al Aksa martyrs brigade.

Could anything be more shameful than recruiting, inciting, and paying the murderer of 8 children - students, parents, the brother-in-law of Israel's commercial attache here in the Hague? Could anything be more shameful than that?

And the answer is yes, there is something more shameful: To do all this and then come to the city of The Hague, to ask the United Nation's Court of Justice to censure the victims of terror for trying to defend themselves. To come to the 'Palace of Peace', to the 'Court of Justice', on the very morning that the victims are being buried and mourned, murdered by Arafat's own henchman, to attack Israel for building a fence which might have saved their lives.

That is why Israel is not in the Court today. Because along with the states of the Quartet, with the host state Holland, and with the bulk of the democratic world which has urged the Court not to hear the case, we know that ultimately this issue, like all the other tough issues between us and the Palestinians, will have to be resolved through compromise and negotiation. It certainly won't be resolved by sending one-sided questions to the Court that seek to put those defending themselves from terrorism on trial, but not the terrorists. And when we see the list of states that have chosen to play along - those champions of human rights: Sudan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia - itself building a massive fence to stop infiltration from Yemen, we know we were right to stay away.

We did not want to build this fence. It's ugly, it's expensive - even though its temporary, and it causes genuine hardship to many Palestinians which we must take every measure to ease. That's why we did not build it for over two and half years of Palestinian violence, why we waited while 935 Israelis were killed. Until we could wait no longer. Until March 2002, a month in which 37 terrorist attacks in 31 days murdered 137 people, including the Passover night massacre. We could wait no longer because the fence works. Not a single suicide bomber has succeeded in crossing the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. In those areas of the West Bank where it has been constructed, the fence has already brought down suicide attacks by some 30%. We recently caught two suicide bombers on their way to blow up a High School in the north of Israel, only because of the fence. The simple truth is that the fence is saving lives.

But it has a humanitarian impact. In the Palestinian presentation before the Court there were so many factual distortions that, tragically, they disguised the fact that there is genuine hardship caused by the fence. And it's our responsibility to do everything we can to ease this - even if it means creating over 40 agricultural gates, building underpasses to connect Palestinian areas, running buses to help the 61 kids who are separated from their schools, replanting tens of thousands of olive trees, and building new infrastructure for the Palestinians where this can't be included in the fence, like the kidney dialysis center we have just built at Mukassat hospital. But in our concern for the quality of life of the Palestinians, we cannot forget the right to life of Israelis. The fence, and the hardship it causes, is reversible. Lives lost to terrorism are not.

The aim of the fence is simply that; to save lives. In fact it is to slow down the terrorists by up to 15 minutes, to enable the defence forces to stop them. And a fence along the Green Line, which runs through villages and valleys with high ground on either side, would simply not do that. Which is why the fence diverts at points on both sides of the Green Line.

There's more. While the palestinians and their partners in crime continue to try their best to obfuscate the true nature, purpose and cause of the fence through clever use of sound bites, a bit of light occasionally does shine through. Read the whole thing.

Driving them nuts

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It seems that Counterpunch* has its twinkies in a huge wad over this essay by John Kerry in which he (gasp!) acknowledges Israel's right to exist and (hang on) even to defend itself. This perfidy, according to the microbrains at Counterpunch, constitutes an "unfettered pledge of fealty to Israel" and demonstrates irrefutably that "there's scarcely a dime's worth of difference between the major political candidates of both parties on the life-and-death issues of our time." Uh huh.

I was allowed to fly an air force jet from the Ovda Airbase. It was then that Israeli insecurity about narrow borders became very real to me. In a matter of minutes, I came close to violating the airspace of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. From that moment on, I felt as Israelis do: The promise of peace must be secure before the Promised Land is secure on a thin margin of land.

[ . . . ]

In this difficult time we must again reaffirm we are enlisted for the duration - and reaffirm our belief that the cause of Israel must be the cause of America - and the cause of people of conscience everywhere.

Read the whole thing. It sounds good. But we hear a lot of this kind of stuff in election years. Remember this?

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an address Monday to a group dedicated to maintaining close, cordial relations between the United States and Israel, Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush said Monday his administration would pull up U.S. diplomatic stakes in Tel Aviv and establish a new embassy in Jerusalem.

Speaking Monday afternoon, the Texas governor said should he be elected president, he would shift U.S. diplomatic operations in Israel to Jerusalem -- or, "the city Israel has chosen as its capital." His declaration was met by a round of applause.

Right. None of it worth the virtual paper it's printed on.

(*Found via IsraelInsider -- I don't ordinarily spend much time at Counterpunch)

Coming full circle

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Here's yet another take (it's astounding how many there seem to be) on the 'Passion' thing. This one adopts a pseudo-scholarly historical and theologically insensitive approach in generally blaming (I think) the codifiers of the New Testament for deliberately instigating antisemitism through the ages. Does that mean he's got it all wrong? Not necessarily, but he paints with an awfully broad and careless, even inflamatory, brush. Kind of makes you wonder . . .

And then there's this: Charles Patterson, the author, also penned this piece of work, which served as the foundation for PETA's utterly offensive "Holocaust on your plate," campaign last year about this time. So now we sort of know where this guy is coming from. It's hard to tell whether Patterson ultimately elects to assign primary blame for the Holocaust to the Gospels, Paul or the "unethical treatment of animals." Do we really care?

But not during the trial

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Seven killed, 62 wounded. So far. Many were students. More details are here. And here.


Read this sentence carefully.

Channel One Arab Affairs correspondent Oded Granot reported that internal Palestinian dialogue over the past few days between the PA, Hamas and Islamic Jihad indicates that the PA had asked the terror groups not to carry out attacks during the Hague fence trial.

"Asked," as in "pretty please?" And, of course, only during the trial (which begins tomorrow).

Is there anyone still prepared to claim with a straight face that the PA isn't actively engaged in the terrorist enterprise, let alone that they're making any effort whatsoever to fight it?

Not my favorite day

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Yeah, well, it really wasn't all that bad until I got on the (express) train home and discovered my wallet was missing. Now, a few hours and a lot of backtracking later, I've recovered it with all contents intact, so I should be counting my blessings. I guess the masterful post I was rushing home to put up will just have to wait for next week. Or whenever.

In the meantime, go read this really interesting account by Ocean Guy of his evening with Paula Fredriksen and some of his own commentary on the 'Passion' controversy.

Shabbat Shalom.

Not my rabbi

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Imshin points to this article by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, one of many popping up lately that suggest Jews are to blame for bringing antisemitism down on our own heads by criticizing Mel's movie. As she says, it's a "different perspective."

It's hard to express how strongly I disagree with Lapin. But then, I disagree with him about most things. Daniel Lapin is such a strong supporter of "tradition" that he thinks Roy Moore's Ten Commandments belonged in the Alabama State Judicial Building rotunda. He doesn't believe that the U.S. Constitution requires a separation of church and state. So he also supports a Constitutional amendment permitting school prayer. And he's so virulently opposed to gay marriage that he's content to work hand-in-hand with Islamist terrorist supporters in the fight to pass a Constitutional amendment banning it, as well. In fact, Lapin's views on many things are in 180 degree opposition to the overwhelming majority views of the American Jewish community.

A different perspective is always good. Fortunately, Lapin's remains (as least in the Jewish community) limited to one of many minority fringes.

'Passion' on the net

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In case you hadn't noticed, Mel Gibson's soon-to-be-released movie, "The Passion," has its very own "unofficial" website. Please check it out, but remember that in spite of the fact that the site is (appropriately) one big long promotional propaganda piece on behalf of the film as well as (no comment) a blatant solicitation for financial support, Mr. Gibson bears no responsibility for and hasn't endorsed any statement made on the site. How convenient.

Unlike Meryl, I'm probably not going to see this flim. Why? First of all, because I generally don't patronize movies that contain "scenes of graphic violence," whether or not the promoters believe that the violence "serves a purpose." Second, the sleazy promotional campaign itself has turned me off more than I can say and, well, lacking other recourse, I'll vote with my wallet. And third, to be totally honest, I'm just really not all that interested in viewing yet another interpretation of this particular subject matter. I realize it's of crucial importance to many millions of people and I respect that. I'm just not one of them.

So shouldn't I just shut up about it? No, because while I'm not that interested in the film itself, I am interested in the message it's likely to send and the potential for harm it's likely to do. I don't need to see the film to get a handle on that. I can just watch the headlines. Hopefully, there won't be any. But I can be forgiven, perhaps, for being concerned when the (unofficial) website explains that the movie is in no way antisemitic, while managing to include this material in its very brief summary of "the story:"

However, Jesus also had many enemies in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin, a governing senate composed of the leading Jewish priests and Pharisees, conspired to put Jesus to death.

With the aid of Judas Iscariot, a member of Jesus' own inner circle, the Sanhedrin succeeded in arresting Jesus, handing him over to the Roman secular authorities on unsubstantiated charges of treason against Rome.

Yes, I know. "The views and opinions expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Icon Productions or Mel Gibson." It's just the fans. And, anyway, as the Pope didn't say, "It is as it was."

Like I said, check it out for yourself. You may come away with an entirely different impression. But be sure not to miss the FAQ link to a live interview where Gibson, himself, expressly credits his primary inspiration for the movie to this book. That makes it kind of hard to argue that the antisemitic ravings of Anne Catherine Emmerich were only incidental to the film's message.

Now, I know that some claim "there is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic in the visions set forth in [Emmerich's] book." I not-so-respectfully beg to differ. Luckily, the text is on the web. Here are a very few excerpts:

I saw the empire of Hell divided against itself; Satan desired the crime of the Jews, and earnestly longed for the death of Jesus, the Converter of souls, the holy Teacher, the Just Man, who was so abhorrent to him; . . .

[ . . . ]

The Blessed Virgin left the court, and went up to the fireplace in the vestibule, where a certain number of persons were still standing. When she reached the spot where Jesus had said that he was the Son of God, and the wicked Jews cried out, ‘He is guilty of death,’ she again fainted, and John and the holy women carried her away, in appearance more like a corpse than a living person.

[ . . . ]

THE Jews, having quite exhausted their barbarity, shut Jesus up in a little vaulted prison, the remains of which subsist to this day.

[ . . . ]

. . . but the sight of his sufferings, far from exciting a feeling of compassion in the hard hearted Jews, simply filled them with disgust, and increased their rage. Pity was, indeed, a feeling unknown in their cruel breasts.

[ . . . ]

Satan was by his side in a hideous form, whispering in his ear, to endeavour to drive him to despair, all the curses which the prophets had hurled upon this valley, where the Jews formerly sacrificed their children to idols.

And there's more. Lots more. But there's "absolutely nothing antisemitic" there? It's that kind of denial and hypocrisy that has characterized far too much of the "Passion" defenders' discourse in recent months. For another example, I refer you to this harangue, wherein the author claims:

It seems that a group of nascent detractors, who were posing as scholars, hobnobbed on the Internet and reviewed a confidential script of Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion.”

Press reports then appeared that were critical of the unfinished and unseen movie. News stories that emerged also gave the impression that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was somehow involved in the mess. Was the whole thing true?

No, says a statement by the USCCB. The group had to apologize, clarify and distance itself from the gang of cynics.

For the real story, which puts the lie to almost every word of the above (and then some), see this article by Paula Fredriksen, one of the respected biblical scholars who participated in the group against which those accusations were directed.

I just hope that any rancor aroused by the film itself will pale beside what's been flung around already. Otherwise, we're in for a bumpy ride.

Mazal tov Phyllis and Del!

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Longtime lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin, 83, were hurriedly issued a license and were married just before noon by [San Francisco] City Assessor Mabel Teng in a closed-door civil ceremony at City Hall, mayor's spokesman Peter Ragone said. The two have been a couple for 51 years.

Now, that's what I call a stable relationship. Something to be celebrated. Not discouraged and denigrated.

Shabbat Shalom.

A bizarre story

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I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. It's good news. I think.

Romanian nationalist plans pilgrimage to Auschwitz

By Reuters

BUCHAREST - Romania's extreme nationalist party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said on Friday he will lead a pilgrimage to the Auschwitz death camp to express his remorse for long denying a Holocaust took place in his home country.

The leader of the Greater Romania party, long known for his anti-Semitic views, said he begged for forgiveness for denying hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed during World War Two in Romania and for his "terrible words" against Jewish leaders.

"I am asking God and the people I have hurt for forgiveness," the presidential hopeful said in an open letter.

"I repent now and forever and I promise I will never repeat it again."

Vadim Tudor has seen his party's popularity rise, especially in rural Romania where people are increasingly dissatisfied with persistent poverty and corruption, ahead of national elections on November 28 when he is running for president.

Critics say his new-found love of Jews is nothing more than a ploy to lure moderate voters but he insists he has had a true change of heart by reading the Bible.

And it gets even stranger from there. If nothing else, the story implies that Holocaust denial is not a vote-winner in Romania.

Shockingly wrong

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That's the best description I can think of for this travesty of journalism by John Ward Anderson that appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post. Had this article appeared on the editorial page of the Arab News or the Jordan Times, it wouldn't have surprised me. But as a "special report" in a major American newspaper? For shame!

There's too much wrong with this diatribe to tackle in one post. I'll focus on just a few isolated paragraphs here and trust others will take care of the rest. Otherwise, perhaps I'll be back.

We start with the title: Israel Hems In a Sacred City: Encircling of Jerusalem Complicates Prospects for Peace. Not just "a" sacred city, bub, "our" sacred city. Our capital, the physical center of our religion and our heritage, our one and only kibla (to borrow a phrase). Jerusalem may have plenty of sites sacred to other religions, but it's not the center of any save one: Judaism. Always has been, and always will be, even if (God forbid) it is someday ripped from our cold, dead hands.

That dispensed with, need I point out, yet again, that Israel is hemming nothing in, but trying, desparately, to hem terrorists out? Excuse her. She simply wants to put an end to the horrific mass murders of her citizens, after having tried diplomacy, negotiations, concessions, military force, more concessions, on and on for decades. I know. It's too much to ask. But there you have it.

As for complicating prospects for peace, well, yes, it's the fence that's doing that. Suicide bombers, armed attacks on children in their beds, the random abduction and murder of innocent civilians, which the fence is designed to reduce, if not prevent, don't complicate the prospects for peace. But the barrier itself does. Get it?

So much for the title. It's straight downhill from there.

Projects to cut off access to Jerusalem to Palestinians living in the West Bank, which borders the city on three sides, have accelerated since the start of the current Palestinian uprising in September 2000. Today, Jewish settlements outside the city have been integrated with the urban core, redrawing the map of Jerusalem and complicating any negotiations over its future and the future of West Bank settlements, Israeli and Palestinian experts say.

We've heard all this before. It's simply a pack of lies. The only palestinians that Israel is trying to cut off from access to Jerusalem are those who are coming with explosives strapped to their bodies or knives, guns and grenades in their backpacks. And while Anderson does, in fact, manage to dredge up a few Israelis to quote in support of his premise, those Israelis are, without exception, members of the lunatic left fringe (e.g., Jeff Halper), without accoutability or credibility in the general population.

The web of projects includes 13 settlements to the north of the city that are being linked with each other and with Jerusalem by access roads that act as physical barriers to Palestinian communities. To the east, Israel has approved expansion of the West Bank's largest settlement, Maleh Adumim, to absorb a swath of Palestinian land between the community and East Jerusalem. To the south, access and bypass roads and Jewish settlements have carved Palestinian lands into a checkerboard.

Once upon a time, there were no "bypass roads" in Israel. No "physical barriers" were necessary. Then, suddenly, "stones" began to rain down on cars with Jews in them in certain areas, smashing windshields and heads. Rifle shots began ringing out from roadside bushes, aimed at passenger vehicles and schoolbuses. Hence, it was necessary to construct roads that "bypassed" the Arab villages that constituted the source of and shelter for the perpetrators of these attacks. Roads with barriers to access by those with murder and mayhem in mind. The roads were expensive and building them was disruptive, but for life to go on, they were necessary. It's a shame, I agree.

As for the notorious incursions into palestinian land, I encourage you to drive from central Jerusalem out past Ma'aleh Adumim (on the relatively safe, newly constructed "bypass road") some day. It's a beautiful trip through mountainous, rocky desert. Much of the area is littered with itinerant Bedouin camps, with tin roofs and goats and camels lounging about. In spring, when there's enough rain, the round, dun-colored hills almost vibrate with the colors of tiny wildflowers amidst a lovely green fuzz of tentative (and short-lived) grass. In short, it's largely a wilderness and has been for a long, long time. Take a look at the WaPo's own maps. They don't make a very good case.

And then we have a bit of historic revisionism. Always kosher if it helps to prove your point.

During the Camp David peace talks in 2000, Ehud Barak, Sharon's predecessor, appeared to accept a U.S. proposal that would have given Palestinians control over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but the negotiations collapsed. Angered at his concessions, several partners in Barak's government bolted, and the coalition fell apart. In the subsequent elections, Barak was trounced by Sharon, one of the chief architects of Israel's settlement expansion, who often asserts that an undivided Jerusalem is Israel's eternal capital.

An incredible, blatant distortion of history that's just too recent to be excused as either a mistake or sloppy research. The facts: 1) Barak didn't "appear" to accept the U.S. proposal. He did accept it. In fact, he had a hand in designing it. And he promptly went home to try to sell it, where he (understandably) ran into a few snags. 2) The partners in Barak's coalition didn't "bolt," though they threatened to. Barak himself pre-empted them, by calling for early elections. But all of that wasn't until the end of November. So, 3) the disintegration of the coalition wasn't as a result of anger at his concessions (which were made in July). Rather, it was as a result of the consequence of those concessions, combined with the subsequent "collapse" (note the impartial, passive voice here -- it's not as if Arafat just walked out or anything) of the negotiations. (By the way, let's take a look at who some of people slamming those concessions were.)

The consequence in question, of course, was the terror war launched against Israel in September, 2000. But even then, it took a few months of more concessions and Barak's ever-diminishing "red lines," to bring the crisis to a head. We had Sharm. We had Taba. More Israeli concessions and no let-up whatsoever of the terror war. It was only then, in February, that Barak was "trounced" in the elections by Sharon. As he should have been.

From this snippet alone, the downright dishonesty of this article should be readily apparent.

CAMERA has more on it, here. I'm done, for now.

At it again

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Tom Friedman is really a trip. And slipping rapidly further down the rabbit hole.

In today's Op Ed, he clumsily tries to recompose the fantasy world he portrayed in this now-infamous essay, using a different style sheet -- with a little ooops tossed in at the end.

My Feb. 5 column erred in saying Ariel Sharon had released no Palestinian prisoners to Mahmoud Abbas. He did. It was just too limited a release to have any impact. See above.

Uh huh. I wonder who flashed him the heads-up on that one. Maybe Tom's been reading Solomon.


Hey, either Friedman is incredibly naive, or he thinks his readers are incredibly stupid. My guess is, it's a Big Boy Combo.


Update: The question of who turned on the lights for Friedman re: the prisoner release is answered. In an email update on the matter today, CAMERA notes:

CAMERA, along with many other organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America, have called on the New York Times to apologize or write an editor's note for irresponsibly allowing Tom Friedman to make assertions in his February 5 column that were anti-Semitic in effect, even if fanning the flames of bigotry wasn't the writer's intent. Additionally, CAMERA and others pointed out that Friedman was factually inaccurate in claiming that Sharon had not released Palestinian prisoners while Mahmoud Abbas was Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. The New York Times responded that Friedman would address the concerns in his next column.

CAMERA calls Friedman's "correction" inadequate. To say the least.

Sharon Loses His Way

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Wise words yesterday from Daniel Pipes. He says the "settlements" aren't the problem. He also says:

. . . But when Palestinian Arabs finally undergo a change of heart, when they accept Israel's existence and renounce the use of force against it, all sorts of positive developments can take place to sweep aside today's seemingly intractable issues.

And to the question, "How will we know when that change of heart takes place," my reply is: When Jews living in Hebron (on the West Bank) have no more need for security than Arabs living in Nazareth (in Israel).


Until that happy day arrives, the issue of Jews living in the territories is perhaps the least significant one facing strategists and would-be diplomats. Instead of focusing on this political triviality, they should devise ways to induce the Palestinian Arabs to accept the existence of a sovereign Jewish state called Israel. Until that happens, no other initiatives will do any good.

I wonder if Tom Friedman can hear that.

Free Choudhury

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Meryl brought it up a few weeks ago. But, for some reason, this story doesn't seem to be getting nearly enough attention.

Since his arrest on November 29, 2003, Bangladeshi journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, has been hauled before the court more than half a dozen times. Each time, the result was the same. Choudhury was returned to prison for "interrogation," with no formal charges launched against him.

This week, Choudhury's supporters fully expected him to be released, but on January 15, 2004, the presiding magistrate ruled otherwise, sending him back to prison, even while admitting his only offense was a minor one, whose accused are normally granted bail. Why this interruption of Bangladesh justice; why Choudhury? The answer involves his nation's Islamic Fundamentalists, Middle Eastern politics, and Jewish-Muslim relations.

Choudhury's "crime" is that he was publicly promoting better relations between Muslims and Jews, and closer ties between his country and Israel. To make matters worse, he was on his way to Israel to participate in a writers' conference sponsored by the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace (IFLAC).

IFLAC is an Israeli NGO dedicated to promoting world peace through art, culture and literature, and Choudhury was recently named head of its Bangladeshi branch. So, obviously, in the minds of the Bangladesh government, he must be an Israeli spy. He's now been formally charged with "sedition," only because a formal charge was required to hold him any longer. There are reports that he's being abused in prison and that members of his family have recently been attacked and harassed.

I'm not a real believer in the efficacy of online petitions, but if you are, there's one on behalf of Choudhury here.

Fifth column

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Shin Bet cracks Israeli-Arab terror cell funded by Hizbullah

Police and the Shin Bet uncovered a terror infrastructure involving Israeli Arabs from the village of Reine near Nazareth that was funded and assisted by the Hizbullah.


Two cell members, brothers from the village, who are members of the Balad political party, were arrested in the early stages in setting up the cell, thus thwarting their plans to launch suicide bomb attacks against Israel.

There are those who say that "the threat from Israel's population of Arab citizens is not great." And those who disagree.

As time passes, I'm moving further and further into the latter category. Ever since the October 2000 Israeli Arab riots, my former faith in Israel's ability to preserve the loyalty of her Arab citizens has been on increasingly shaky ground. There's plenty of blame to go around, but however we got here, the situation is obviously getting worse.

New Year of the trees

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The almond trees are white, The sun is shining bright
Singing birds from every dome, Tell us Tu B'shvat had come
Tu B'shvat has come, The holiday of trees
Tu B'shvat has come, The holiday of trees

shkedia in bloom.bmp
Photo by Shulamit Levin -- An almond tree (shkedia) in bloom in Israel

Tu B'shvat begins tonight at sundown. There are so many interesting discussions of this holiday on the web. Here's one with a little more historical (and mystical) background:

Tu BiShevat (literally "the 15th of Shevat") is referred to in the Talmud as "the New Year for the Trees." During the Temple days, Tu BiShevat was something like an ancient tax, or tithe day with revenues set aside for maintaining the Temple, and for the poor. Any fruit that ripened before the 15th of Shevat was tithed as the last year's crop, anything that ripened after the 15th counted as the next year's crop. After the Temple was destroyed, the tithing system remained intact for some time both in Israel and in the Diaspora. The monies raised at that time went to Torah scholars.

In the sixteenth century, the mystics of Sefat became interested in Tu BiShevat as an occasion to celebrate nature. They created a Tu BiShevat Seder, which is modeled on the Passover seder, and involves drinking four cups of wine and consuming up to fifteen different fruits. The mystics believed that by reciting blessings over these fruits before they ate them, they helped release and return to HaShem the holy-sparks that dwell within them.

In the late nineteenth century, the growing Jewish settlements in Palestine found planting trees to be a crucial part of restoring the land. From that time until today, Jews all over the world collect money for planting trees in Israel.

And here's a real bah humbug one (pardon the expression), an oldie but nasty from Steven Plaut.

Almost everything that most people "know" about Tu B'Shvat is totally wrong and completely false. Tu B'Shvat, the 15th day of the month of Shvat in the Jewish calendar, has been deconstructed in recent years and converted into a holiday of ecology and environmentalist political agitprop.

It is waved about by the Tikkun Olam Pagans as a political banner to demand that all Jews support the Green political agenda. The wacko pagan "Eco-Judaism" movement, including its Tikkun dervishes, has made it their holiest of all holidays, a day to hug bushes and worship tree spirits and nature. And Jewish assimilationist liberals in the United States use it as theological ammunition to disarm anyone criticizing environmentalist fanatics.

Oy. Let's lighten up just a little, shall we? The day means different things to different people. Today's eco-Jews have no more "deconstructed" Tu B'shvat than the sixteenth century Kabbalists did when they initiated the Tu B'shvat Seder. Take what you want and leave the rest. It's all in the mix. And it's a nice, feel-good holiday.

Last year's thoughts and links on Tu B'shvat are here.

Shabbat Shalom.

Chag sameach.

Uniqueness update

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Meryl has more, here and here. And Judith Weiss blew me away with her update to this post, which elaborates eloquently on the uniqueness theme.

Updated update: Solomon is staying on top of this, with more comments and links to additional points of view. Jumping to Conclusions hits an especially strong note and Volokh Conspiracy member David Bernstein has also reentered the discussion.

The comments on many of these posts are also informative.

For those who want to follow this further, I've reprinted 'below' one of the better essays I've found on the subject, which responds to many of the points raised by the 'no uniqueness' camp. The full text, complete with substantive footnotes, can be found here.

Responses

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Sasha has responded and further clarified his position on moral uniqueness. It's clear that we have a major, major difference of opinion here. Okay. Now what?

I've been in this ring before, too many times. I'm reluctant to prolong a debate that will, under no circumstances, go anywhere but bad. There are links to lots of books in my previous post. Many years ago, in connection with an undergraduate thesis on the subject, I had to read all of those, and several dozen more. I've kept them around. In fact, I'm looking at them on my bookshelf as I type.

Perhaps it takes the sheer weight of volumes upon volumes to bring this notion home. Perhaps it takes dozens of hours spent sitting quietly and listening to people who were there, who lived through it, but just barely. Perhaps it takes the willingness to part with cherished views of the way the world works. I just don't know.

What I do know is that statistics, legal arguments and analogies don't work. And I know this, as well: as long as well-intentioned people refuse to accept the notion that there was something unique about the Holocaust (no, once again, the term really does not refer collectively to the 11 million "dead people" who were all victims of the Nazi genocide campaign), it will happen again. Whether it happens to Jews or to some other race or religion or unanticipated group, it will happen again. Because in order to prevent it, we need to understand what it was that happened, how and why it was permitted to happen. And if we insist on trying to turn it into "just another" mass murder of innocent people, we won't be able to do that. We won't see the writing on the wall and we won't do anything to stop it until it's far too late. Again.

What we will be able to do is dilute the meaning of what happened to the extent that every time someone feels oppressed, they'll find it acceptable to say it's "another Holocaust," to make casual analogies to "death camps," to say that whatever side they're up against is "just like the Nazis." But I forgot. We're already there. (That's the other palestinian connection, Sasha.)

But there is this one other thing. It wasn't only six million people that were murdered in the Holocaust. It was a way of life. It was an entire civilization. Yes, some European Jews survived. But European Jewry, their communities, their customs, their educational systems, their language, even, did not. This wasn't a byproduct, it was part of the plan, cleanly executed. What's harder to understand is that there was even a systematic effort to wipe out the very memory of these people, the fact that they had ever lived. A friend of mine sent me a very interesting article yesterday about John Kerry's Jewish roots. Since I was already thinking along these lines, this stuck out:

Stibor told Gundacker that on June 20, 2002 he had received an unusual inquiry--a letter in English from a certain "Samuel C" which carried the seal of a high-ranking Washington, D.C. official. The mysterious letter noted that John Kerry was a candidate for president (though the senator had yet to publicly announce his intention to run) and inquired about a man named "Fritz Cohn." [Kerry's grandfather] Stibor knew he couldn't be of assistance; the [Czech] archives had stopped processing foreign requests several years earlier. In any case, the war and local antisemitism had left little evidence of a former Jewish presence in the region. "The Germans didn't want any trace of the Jews left," Stibor says, "even after so many of them were taken away. So many of the records were simply destroyed."

It's been pointed out to me that some Jews use the Holocaust as a club to beat other people into submission, to get their own way, to get a pass. That may be. I've never known anyone like that, but it's a despicable and cynical manipulation that shouldn't be countenanced. I don't know a single Holocaust survivor or family member of Holocaust victims who wouldn't trade his "specialness" in a nanosecond for it all never to have happened.

I don't care about being "unique." I don't want to be "special." I just want to live in a world where nothing like this will happen to anyone, ever again. So I'll continue to say what I think needs to be said toward that end. How to do this while respecting the thoughtful opinions of others who differ, well, that's always a challenge with such an emotional and monumental issue. I'm working on it.

Simmering

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What does it mean to say that you're "not into the moral uniqueness of the Holocaust?"

I keep reading this simple declaration, made a few days ago by Sasha Volokh, a blogger I generally respect, and my level of frustration only increases. I've probably let it simmer too long already.

I try to think of a single interpretation of that statement that I can wrap my mind around and make sense of. Was it intended to be a trivialization of the Holocaust? Or of the author's feelings about the Holocaust? Or simply a carelessly phrased lament that other atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and others seem to be trivialized by the overwhelming attention paid to the Holocaust?

I'd have been inclined to assume the latter if not for the fact that Sasha finds himself in agreement with this very offensive statement by Clayton Cramer (link with extreme reluctance):

Some people try to see the Holocaust as special; unfortunately, there was nothing terribly special about it. It was larger and better organized than the Armenian genocide; it was specific to an ethnic group, unlike the atrocities in the Soviet Union, Red China, and Cambodia. It has received far more attention than similarly monstrous atrocities throughout history, perhaps because Jews in the U.S. have been in especially influential positions in the publishing and media business. This doesn't mean the Holocaust is unimportant, and I don't begrudge the efforts to make sure that we never forget. It does mean that the lesser known atrocities of the 20th century need more popular attention.

I've included the entire quote because I wouldn't want to be accused of taking Mr. Cramer out of context. Like others who make similar statements while loudly proclaiming their utter lack of antisemitic intent, Cramer surrounds his assertions of disproportionate Jewish control of the media with assurances that he stands firmly opposed to genocide as a matter of general principle. Well, good for him.

There are various forms of Holocaust denial. The most elementary, on both a psychological and an intellectual level, is the refusal to acknowledge that the event happened at all. It's also the easiest to refute, and so most of the civilized world (and I use that term narrowly) either ignores it or dismisses it out of hand.

There are other variants, though. One of them claims that the Jews themselves (ourselves) were secretly behind the atrocity. Another asserts that the numbers have deliberately been exaggerated for political purposes. Yet another was raised by David Bernstein in the post to which Sasha was responding, i.e., the reduction of the Holocaust to a "political persecution of Jews, some scattered killings, . . . a cruel thing that happened." Trivialization.

But one of the most subtle and insidious forms of Holocaust denial is the transmutation of the word "Holocaust" into a non-specific, generalized term that simply refers to the program of mass-murder perpetrated by Hitler's regime during the Second World War, of which Jews were only a part, albeit a substantial part. Sounds good. Sounds fair, non-partisan. Sounds like alternate reality.

There have been volumes, libraries, in fact, written about this subject. There's a reason why the Holocaust, the Holocaust, the systematic murder of over six million Jewish people in a fully acknowledged and unequivocal attempt to rid the entire world of every last Jew, every last piece of every last Jew, every last memory of every last Jew . . . there's a damn good reason why that event has spawned a whole genre of literature, of analysis, of theological and philosophical speculation, of arguments and counter-arguments, by Jews and non-Jews alike, in a futile attempt to find the answer to one not-so-simple question. How could it happen?

Not unique? Not special? Only if you deny the essence of the event, the reality of the event, can you possibly reach that conclusion.


I'd suggest some required reading. But the short list would be longer than this entire post. Elie Wiesel, try starting there. Raul Hilberg, Lucy Dawidowicz, Nora Levin, Gerald Reitlinger, Léon Poliakov, Chaim Kaplan, Emil Fackenheim, Richard Rubenstein, Eliezer Berkovits. Read Primo Levi, who tried, against the odds, to rail against the dilution of the specific and unique lessons of the Holocaust while fully acknowledging the horror and shame of other atrocities.

Or read this twenty-year-old review of Roy and Alice Eckardt's book "Long Night's Journey Into Day: Life and Faith After the Holocaust." I haven't read the book. But it's a study of the implications of the Holocaust from a Christian perspective. And I found this part of the review particularly apt:

Understanding the Holocaust as Christian event, however, does not reduce the Holocaust as a uniquely Jewish event. In their chapter entitled "Singularity," they discuss the moral uniqueness of the Holocaust and how, within this uniqueness, the Jewish experience was "uniquely unique." How so? It is undeniable that the Final Solution (die Endlösung) formed the critical core of the Holocaust. The Final Solution was not an attempt to destroy some or even many Jews. Rather, it was an act of violence fueled by a fury aimed at the obliteration of the Jewish people as such. Non-Jews had options. But Jews seeking escape via conversion or even by swearing fealty to Hitler ultimately met the same fate as any other Jew. The Nuremberg Laws insured that. But how can the authors affirm the Holocaust as "uniquely unique" vis-a-vis the Jews without denigrating other acts of genocide?

They decry any attempt to subject different forms and cases of human suffering to "competitive criteria." They state that "human suffering is not a quantitative matter subject to some form of objective measurement, but is instead a qualitative condition to be apprehended in existential terms, through the faculty of sympathy." So they call for an approach to the Holocaust which uses a dialectic of continuity (the Holocaust and the solidarity of all human beings in suffering) and discontinuity (the "uniquely unique" experience of the Jews in the Holocaust). They contend that only by employing such a dialectic can we avoid the obscenity of addressing Holocaust survivors by reminding them, for example, of the horrors of the Vietnamese, or the equal obscenity of reminding the Vietnamese sufferers about Auschwitz. Rather, the dialectic of continuity/discontinuity allows the one remembrance to feed the other remembrances. It is their hope that by keeping this dialectic in mind, readers will not construe their stress upon the moral singularity of the Holocaust and its "uniquely unique" Jewish aspect as an "implicit insensitivity to non-Holocaust sufferers." Readers of this volume will find no cause to accuse the authors of insensitivity.

Readers of this blog know that I'm opposed to political correctness in all its forms. But there's a difference between being politically incorrect and historically inaccurate. There's a difference between being insensitive and being hateful. And it doesn't surprise me in the least that this discussion, complete with all-too-predictable references to Jewish control of the media, has evolved out of the controversy over Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion." There will be more to come.

Solomon, on whose blog I first noticed the comments referenced above, sensibly declined to go here. Fools rush in, they say. Some things, you can let pass, others not. For me, this was a not. I hope I've been able to clarify why.


Update: In response to Solomon, Sasha explains what he meant by "moral uniqueness." I still disagree with both the tone and the content of his original statement, but least I now understand where he's coming from. I also disagree that Clayton Cramer isn't "saying what you think he's saying." We've been through this before. It doesn't need to be rehashed again here.

To reiterate, this isn't a debate about who suffered more or which atrocity scores higher (or lower) on some scale of horror. And, please -- it has nothing to do with which act of genocide was more "important." I don't even begin to understand how to think in such terms. To quote again from the book review cited above,

". . . human suffering is not a quantitative matter subject to some form of objective measurement, but is instead a qualitative condition to be apprehended in existential terms, . . ."

Actually, the uniqueness isn't in quantity or quality but in the very nature of the event, considered as a whole. I may try to tackle this in more detail in a subsequent post.

Further update: Meryl has already tackled it, here.

Latrines

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Meryl links to this bit of underpublicized information about Arab respect for Jewish holy sites:

On the Mount of Olives, the Jordanian Arabs removed 38,000 tombstones from the ancient cemetery and used them as paving stones for roads and as construction material in Jordanian Army camps, including use as latrines. When the area was recaptured by Israel in 1967, graves were found open with the bones scattered. Parts of the cemetery were converted into parking lots, a filling station, and an asphalt road was built to cut through it. The Intercontinental Hotel was built at the top of the cemetery. Sadar Khalil, appointed by the Jordanian government as the official caretaker of the cemetery, built his home on the grounds using the stones robbed from graves. In 1967, the press published extensive photos documenting that Jewish gravestones were found in Jordanian Army camps, such as El Azariya, as well as in Palestinian walkways, steps, bathrooms, and pavement.

Some of those stones were brought back to the Mount of Olives by the Israelis after the Six Day War. I have a photo of one of the latrines. I took it on my first visit to Israel, back in the summer of 1972. Before that trip, I frankly hadn't been paying much attention to what was going on in the Middle East. I was a fairly blank slate.

That latrine changed my life. At that moment, standing in the desecrated remains of an ancient Jewish cemetery, I realized exactly what it was that Israel was up against. When I got back to the States, I showed that picture around. I made a special point of bringing it to my "friends" at a local leftist, pro-palestinian, anti-Israel "underground" newsletter that I worked on at the time. As ridiculous as it sounds now, I really did expect it to change their minds. I was, of course, not so politely shown the door.

Trust me. I did not let it hit me on the way out.

Yad Vashem on N. Korea

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Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, located on Har Hazikaron (Mount of Remembrance) in Jerusalem.

Yad Vashem Reacts to Gas Chambers in North Korea

In Letter to UN Secretary-General, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev Calls for Investigation of Political Genocide

(February 3, 2004) Yad Vashem is appalled by reports of North Korea’s use of gas chambers to murder and perform medical experiments on political dissidents and their families. Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev has sent an urgent letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in which he calls for a full investigation of this insidious abuse of human rights. The issue is all the more severe due to North Korea’s status as a member of the UN. The internment, torture, and murder of North Korean political dissenters and their families was recently reported by the BBC.

In his letter, Shalev states with alarm that only six decades after the utilization of gas chambers to exterminate European Jewry, North Korea has apparently employed them against thousands of its own citizens. “The lives of untold thousands of North Koreans are in danger because their totalitarian government perceives them as a threat”, Shalev writes. “Although the rationale, scale, and context are vastly different, the chilling image of the murderers coolly watching their victims’ death agonies is all too reminiscent of Nazi barbarism.”

There's more. (Click on "Press Releases")

(link courtesy of IMRA)

Again

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It's one of those rare days when I actually have to be somewhere. So I don't have time to give this proper attention. But Segacs has pointed to this horror story coming out of North Korea. Concentration camps. Death camps. Gas chambers. The story is leaking out slowly. Here. And here.

As Segacs says, we "grew up on the words 'Never Again' with respect to the Nazi regime. And while North Korea is hardly the only case of the "Again" happening while the world stands idly by, it's a comparatively unreported one."

Please read it. Please talk about it. More later.

Now this is weird

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So I'm getting ready to put up a nasty post about the Superbowl Levitra commercials -- a subject I figured was pretty unlikely to attract the attention of anyone else, right?

Wrong!

Anyway, my gripe is slightly different than Meryl's, though I completely agree with her on hers. I just think it's really, really dumb (not to mention offensive) for a drug company to do a major diss on baseball, especially on a day when a good chunk of the sports fans watching are a) mostly interested in the commercials, b) mostly interested in an excuse to party or c) mostly don't have a lot else to do. In other words, many of the SB viewers (e.g., moi) are not hard-core football fans who'd relish any old cheap shot at a sport that tends to leave a little less blood on the field.

Besides, I'd take a good right fielder over a quarterback in the "real man" department any day of the week. As long as he doesn't chew this stuff, that is.

The (almost) forgotten ones

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Imshin points out that an eleventh victim of Thursday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem has been discovered. Eleven murdered, not ten. Her name was Manbara Valdi Tzadik, she was a foreign worker from Ethiopia, and she seems to have been in Israeli illegally. But that's not what I want to focus on right now.

As of Sunday, 23 people wounded in Thursday's suicide bombing on Egged bus No. 19 in Jerusalem were still hospitalized in the capital, 10 of them in serious condition, Israel Radio reported.

What about those 23 people, and especially the 10 in "serious condition?" What about the more than 40 wounded in last March's bus bombing in Haifa? Or the 50 plus wounded when "Snow White" detonated herself at the Maxim Restaurant in October? There were dozens of wounded in the terrorist attack on the number 2 bus in Jerusalem last August. And on and on.

In yesterday's Washington Post, there was a devastating article about the living victims of suicide bombers. It's a stark reminder, again, that death tolls don't tell nearly the whole tale.

Counting is a chore for Alona, reading is impossible, and she can manage only slowly to write her name. Two years ago, Alona and a friend were at Tel Aviv's popular seaside Dolphinarium discotheque when a Palestinian wearing explosives and copper ball bearings blew himself up outside, killing 21 people, mostly teenagers, and wounding 100 others.

Alona was among the most critically injured. When five ball bearings smashed into her head and face, her left eye was shattered, the teeth on the left side of her mouth were knocked out and the left side of her brain was torn away, leaving her paralyzed on the right side and mentally impaired for good.

The blond-haired, blue-eyed girl, who once thought of becoming a model, now has a plastic prosthetic and a mop of curls that artfully cover the missing part of her head.

No statistic can prepare us for these stories. It's sometimes hard to remember that once the dead are buried and the funerals are over, the pain and suffering of the wounded and their families has only just begun.

Adi is a beautiful girl with light hair and olive skin. The only evidence of the severity of her wounds is that she walks with a crutch.

Seated on the living room couch, she pulls off her thick-soled sneakers and rolls up the legs of her khaki trousers to show what is left of her mangled legs. Both are riddled with wounds from ankle to hip -- huge craters, small holes, discolored black.

Her right foot stays in one position; the ankle was filled with screws. In all, 100 pieces of metal sliced through her body, mostly screws and bolts. Some of her wounds became infected by rat poison packed in the bomb, doctors told her.

Adi has endured 26 operations, and she will have more. She was hospitalized for half a year and in a wheelchair for one year. There are still seven or eight bolts in her body.

"The doctors said I'll be able to walk and run," she said, "but it will take time."

One heartbreaking story after another. These are only a few of many.

In a bed at a rehabilitation center outside Tel Aviv, American-born Steve Averbach, 37, counts the sum total of his progress since a suicide bomber on Jerusalem's No. 6 bus shattered his world eight months ago.

He can wiggle his toes a little, and he can flex his left foot. He can move his left thumb and index finger. There is a little movement in his left elbow, and there's some sensation in the hand. That is all, but that is progress for a man who was told he would likely never move his limbs again, after a ball bearing from the bomber's explosive vest hit his spinal cord and lodged in the back of his neck.

The article also discusses the impact on the victims' families. Caring for the more critically wounded can and does become a full-time job for many parents, siblings, spouses and children. The horrible wave continues to spread outward, exploding more lives, hopes and dreams. But, then, that's the whole idea of terrorism and the consuming goal of the terrorists. Not "liberation," not "equality," not "self-determination." Just ruin, pain and fear, murder, mayhem and wanton destruction.

Read the whole thing.

One year

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One year since we lost them, our seven brave explorers who perished in a blaze of furious, terrible fire.

U.S. Air Force Col. Rick Husband, 07/12/57 - 02/01/03

U.S. Navy Cmdr. William McCool, 09/23/61 - 02/01/03

U.S. Navy Capt. David Brown, 04/16/56 - 02/01/03

Kalpana Chawla, Ph.D., 07/01/61 - 02/01/03

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, 12/25/59 - 02/01/03

Laurel Clark, M.D., 03/10/61 - 02/01/03

Israeli Air Force Col. Ilan Ramon, 06/20/54 - 02/01/03

We remember them. We mourn them. We honor them.

We hopefully continue to follow their lead, their passion, their dream.

A year ago, we lost seven explorers. The crew of Columbia -- Rick, Willie, Mike, Dave, K.C., Laurel and Ilan -- were dedicated to exploration. They went into space understanding both the inherent risks and the enormous potential benefits, and enthusiastically carried out their mission. The STS-107 crew embodied a calling that is deeply rooted in the human soul -- the desire to climb to the top of the mountain, to travel beyond the horizon, and to comprehend and appreciate the whole of our universe. As we reflect on their achievements and their courage, we must honor their dedication and their humanity, and begin once again to look forward, onward and upward.

-- Jim Lovell

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