By Bruce S. Ticker
PHILADELPHIA–Gilad Shalit. Those two words are missing from a lengthy letter signed by Rep. Bob Filner of San Diego and 53 other members of Congress asking President Obama to work to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
An oversight? Are they unaware of recent Middle East history? Is Gilad Shalit forgotten?
Gilad Shalit is a sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces who, at this writing, is being held hostage 44 months after his kidnapping. Shalit was captured by Arab terrorists who raided an IDF base on June 25, 2006, and placed him in captivity, presumably in Gaza.
Latest status is a breakdown in third-party talks between Israel and Hamas. A Hamas leader said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would trade Shalit for hundreds of Arab prisoners so long as some are deported. The deportation clause was a deal-breaker for Hamas, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The seizure and ongoing detention of an Israeli soldier is a brazen act of war. Israel has every right to attack Gaza for that reason alone, as it did twice. To the contrary, Israel has been permitting a limited amount of humanitarian supplies into Gaza, but has otherwise imposed a blockade on movement in or out of Gaza because of Shalit’s detention, Hamas’ rocket attacks, its stated objective of destroying Israel and fear that Hamas will seize building materials for its war machine.
The Jan. 21 congressional letter asks Obama to seek ways of ending the blockade to allow movement of people in and out of Gaza and provide access to food, water, medicine, fuel and sanitation supplies. J Street and other American Jewish organizations subsequently added their support to this initiative.
Two congressional signers, Jim Himes of southwestern Connecticut and Joe Sestak of the Philadelphia suburbs, told Jewish newspapers in their areas that removal of the blockade will show Gazans the value of diplomacy and relieve their stress to curtail the impulse for violence.
Not a word on Shalit, his family or any soldier who could wind up being caged in Gaza or southern Lebanon on any given day. Nothing about Shalit in the letter or in their interviews.
These members of Congress insulted every Jew and advocate for Israel in their districts in neglecting to take Shalit’s plight into consideration. Their letter has already been condemned for a variety of legitimate reasons, but the most immediate concern must be for Shalit’s detention. He is a human being, too, and he has spent some of the best 44 months of his life in isolation and captivity. He is now 22 years old. The thugs captured him when he was 19.
Shalit’s crime was to defend his country in a conflict that the Israeli people never wanted.
Some congressional signers represent districts with a strong Jewish presence. Loretta Sanchez’s Orange County district encompasses a large Jewish stronghold; Himes’ district in Fairfield County covers Greenwich, Norwalk, Westport, Fairfield, Bridgeport and Stamford, where Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman lives; Sestak, Haverford, Radnor, Newtown and Marple in Delaware County; and Bill Pascrell, Livingston and West Orange in Essex County, New Jersey.
Sestak was singled out by Republicans for attacks because he is campaigning for the Senate in Pennsylvania, in a challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. All the signatories are Democrats; as a matter of public disclosure, this writer is a registered Democrat.
Rep. Yvette Clark, whose Brooklyn district covers Crown Heights, Park Slope and Kensington, retracted her signature after meeting with local Jewish leaders on Feb. 1, according to Jewish media in New York. Who will be wise enough to follow her lead?
The objective of these members of Congress – to better the lives of the Gazans – is commendable, but most people who follow the conflict would fully expect Hamas to exploit these conditions for their own ends.
The least these signatories can do is revise the letter to factor in Shalit’s situation. They could ask for both Shalit’s release and the lifting of the blockade. What’s more, the end of the blockade would be conditioned on the sergeant’s return to his home and family.
Shalit, his family, Israel and the American Jews represented by these members of Congress deserve that much consideration.
Bruce S. Ticker is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia. He can be reached at Bticker@comcast.net.
PRESS RELEASE (WJC)–Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired senior officer in the British Army, has said that international media were being exploited by “dark forces” who wanted to harm Israel. Kemp, who was a commander in Afghanistan, told a dinner hosted by the Zionist Federation in London that some international criticism of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was motivated by anti-Semitism.
Kemp said the advice he received from the Israeli armed forces on how to tackle Afghan suicide bombers had been invaluable, and had formed the basis of official army guidelines used by soldiers on the ground there. He added that despite similarities between the IDF and UK forces, British soldiers did not have to deal with the same amount of criticism from the international community.
“When we go into battle we do not get the same knee-jerk, almost Pavlovian response from many, many elements of the international media and international groups, humanitarian groups and other international groups such as the United Nations which should know better… of utter automatic condemnation. We don’t have to put up with that.”
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress
PRESS RELEASE (WJC)–A makeshift explosive device was thrown at the main synagogue in downtown Cairo on Sunday morning. No one was hurt and no damage was caused to the building. Police said they were still looking for the suspect. According to Egyptian police, a man walked into the hotel opposite the synagogue and threw a suitcase from the window on the fourth floor, where the hotel reception was located. The suitcase caught fire, but the flames were swiftly put out. Police said the device was made out of four jars of fuel, each connected to a glass bottle containing sulfuric acid. The suitcase also contained clothes, matches, a lighter and some cotton wool.
Security is normally tight around the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue, which is located in a busy Cairo thoroughfare and protected by a gate and barriers on the pavement. A judicial source told the news agency AFP that a witness who was staying at the hotel had told the prosecutor investigating the attack that the man who threw the suitcase containing the explosive device out of the hotel window appeared to be in his 40s.
Cairo has seen similar bombings in recent years, including a 2009 blast in a bazaar that killed a French tourist and a firebomb against a Coptic church.
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress
PRESS RELEASE (WJC)–Citing “sources with knowledge of Mossad”, the British newspaper ‘The Sunday Times’ reports that in early January Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally authorized the killing of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai by a 11-member hit squad of the Mossad. The agents reportedly used fake diplomatic passports to enter the United Arab Emirates.
The foreign ministers of the European Union member states were expected to issue a statement later on Monday condemning the assassination and the use of false European passports, but the statement is unlikely to mention Israel. However, the ‘Jerusalem Post cites an unnamed senior EU official as saying: “The passport controversy obviously will be harmful for the way Israel is treated by the EU.”
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said the use of fake passports in the killing of the Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel room on 19 January was an issue of concern for all EU member states. “We are extremely concerned that a passport, which is a very rigorous and legal document, can be used in a different manner and for a different purpose,” he told reporters in Brussels. “We will discuss it, and I hope we will issue a statement expressing our concern.” Moratinos added that he would ask his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman about the affair on the sidelines of the EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday.
Dubai police last week said the assassins of the Hamas leader had used forged British, Irish, French and German passports and had been sent by Israel. The Israeli government has declined to confirm or deny this claim. Israel’s Deputy Israel Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said on Saturday that he foresaw no crisis in Israel’s relations with Europe over the use of foreign passports, as Israel had nothing to do with it.
According to Hamas’ own statements, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was responsible for supplying militants in the Gaza Strip with arms.
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress
February 22— Benjamin Anthony, an Israeli soldier, will be speaking at Hebrew High located at Congregation Beth Israel at 7:45 pm. This young man is worth being heard, giving as he does his lively testimonial about how the war was fought in Gaza last year. He is impressive. His website is www.oursoldiersspeak.org if you wish to look it up first. (Please call CBI at 858-535-1111 first to make sure that the event is taking place since it is not listed on their calendar.)
February 23– Mitchell Bard will be at SDSU (sponsored by the SDSU Jewish Studies Program) at 3:00 pm. The event will take place in Hepner Hall (see here for a map: https://sunspot.sdsu.edu/map/display.cgi?new_loc_id=1001 ). The same day at 6:30 pm, he will give a lecture at Congregation Beth El entitled “The Obama Mideast Policy: a Bridge to Peace or Nowhere?”
February 28–at Congregation Beth Am from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, James Carroll, the famous Catholic priest turned writer and film maker (remember “Constantine’s Sword”?), will be lecturing on “Zionism after the Holocaust: a Christian problem, a Christian solution” (see below). Mmm… A provocative and promising title at the same time. Thanks to Bonnie Diamond for alerting us about this unique event.
March 1–Prof. Chanan Naveh, Schusterman/Lipinsky Visiting Israeli professor for the Jewish Studies Program at SDSU, will give a lecture on “New Media and the New Middle East: the Palestinian-Israeli Web War”. That is an angle that is rarely explored. I can vouch for Prof. Naveh’s balance and objectivity since I have the pleasure of auditing the course he is giving this semester at SDSU on “Arab-Israeli Relations in the Middle East Conflict”. The location will be Congregation Beth El, at 6:30 pm.
March 3–J.J. Surbeck, Executive Director of T.E.A.M. (Training and Education About the Middle East) will be giving again his presentation on the Gaza War at Temple Solel at 7:00 pm. In light of the string of smears and fabrications popularized by the Goldstone Report, you may find what will be said about it of interest.
March 5 & 6–Robots from high school teams around the area will compete at the San Diego Sports Arena, March 5 & 6, including a marvelous contraption that was co-built by Benjamin Brin. (See http://www.usfirst.org/ to learn about the First robotics league.) Admission is free.
March 8–Prof. Chanan Naveh again will give another fascinating perspective (also at Congregation Beth El, 6:30 pm) on “The Israeli Media and Israeli Foreign Policy Decision-Making”.
Finally (for now), a double clarification regarding the much anticipated Jacob Goldberg annual series of three lectures which will be taking place on April 12, 13, and 14. This year, for the first time and thanks to the support of the Leichtag Foundation, Prof. Goldberg will be giving his lectures twice each day: at noon at Temple Solel in Encinitas, and at 7:30 pm at the JCC as usual. Regardless of the location you choose, the tickets must be obtained from the JCC (it can be done on line).
By Abraham H. Foxman
Today it seems that films about the Holocaust and events surrounding it abound. Almost with a bizarre regularity they reach the big screen in twos or threes. They are made by major Hollywood studios and independents; they feature known and unknown actors. Most attempt to dramatize “true” events. It is hard to imagine there was a time when it was not so.
For many years after the end of World War II and the truth became known about the Final Solution it was a subject most filmmakers avoided. The horrors of the Holocaust were still too raw; the images seen in newsreels not yet ready to be placed on the big screen. Several Holocaust films that were made and had a profound impact, including The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971), told their stories through words rather than images of the horror.
As the number of survivors and witnesses dwindled and we moved farther away from the Holocaust one filmmaker conceived of how to have an audience understand the history through dramatization. The filmmaker was Steven Spielberg; the film was Schindler’s List, winner of seven Academy Awards, seen by millions and used as a teaching tool since it appeared in 1993.
After Spielberg’s incredible portrayal of the horrors of the Holocaust one might have thought that the subject was exhausted for filmmakers. How else could they produce an account of the Holocaust in a way that had not been done before, through a story to which new and younger audiences could relate?
Could humor be used for such a serious and sacred subject? As a Holocaust survivor, I thought not. That was until I screened Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful. Never done before and knowing he could be subject to great criticism, Benigni co-wrote, directed and acted in a film employing humor and pathos to tell the story of an ordinary Italian Jew and his family sent to a Nazi death camp. Humor and the Holocaust – an oxymoron in terms! Yet Benigni made it work. The film was seen around the word and received the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1998.
Fast forward more than a decade and 70 years after Hitler began getting his Final Solution into operation. Putting a new twist on the Holocaust genre for a new time and a new audience was none other than the renowned filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. While he opens his Inglourious Basterds with a scene repeated untold times during the Holocaust – a Jewish family hidden by a Christian family is discovered by a Nazi commandant and executed – the film morphs into an allegory about good and evil and the no-holds-barred efforts to defeat the evil personified by Hitler, his henchmen and his Nazi regime.
Employing drama, comedy and romance with the quintessential Quentin Tarantino touch, the film is entertaining, yet thought-provoking. Hopefully the millions who see it will understand the horrors of the Holocaust and echo my view of “if only it were true!” Like its predecessors Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful, Inglourious Basterds should be recognized with an Academy Award.
Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.” This op-ed originally appeared as a blog on the Huffington Post. It is accessible on the League’s Web site at the following link: http://www.adl.org/ADL_Opinions/Holocaust/20100218-Huffington+Post.htm