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Second time around

April 21, 2010 1 comment

By David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO–I am asked once in a while as to why I am motivated to travel to obscure, lesser known corners of the world to conduct and record music fitting the same description. Reminiscing about two trips I took fifteen years ago, my answer could be, “How many people you and I know who live in our part of the world, would have the opportunity to visit a Slovak castle to hear a recital featuring a bass clarinetist from Central Florida, playing Chopin?” This is one of the innumerable off-beat and unique experiences which are part of a life of a traveling performer. The splashes of life one gets to observe, the conversations, foods, and places, are simply indescribably varied, amusing, touching, and rich in color and human insights.

In my first visit to Kosice, Slovakia, I conducted recording sessions of three concertos of two pianos and orchestra. The second time, my work with the Slovak State Philharmonic was devoted to the music of a single composer, Nicolas Flagello. In seven recording sessions of three hours each, we recorded two piano concertos, a violin fantasy, and two overtures of this composer. The solo artists who joined me in Kosice were pianist Tatjana Rankovich, and the award-winning violinist Elmar Oliviera. The results were very satisfying, and the commercial recordings that followed have been favorably reviewed.

What made the second trip different than the first is that I was walking into known elements: The orchestra, the musicians, management, hall, and technical crew. We all knew each other, and the work proceeded smoothly. I knew exactly how well these musicians could play, and they did not disappoint.

Other influencing factors which may not be important in the larger picture, but contribute significantly to a good experience, are the logistics involved. Flights, customs, currency, hotel, food, basic words and phrases in the local language, weather, and location of the orchestra hall, all come into play. It makes life a lot easier and structured, allowing more time to creativity.

The Philharmonic Hall in Kosice, a magnificent building, was originally a synagogue. It was converted into a concert venue around the time of World War II, when there were practically no Jews left in the city. I was, however, treated to a Kosher restaurant that apparently, never closed; it was richly decorated with Hebraic artwork and phrases, including a very prominent Magen David.

With all the host musicians and staff, it is natural that in the second time around, one is greeted with more smiles, attention, and warmth. The Kosice musicians are by nature very kind and responsive, but in my encore visit, they were even friendlier. This being the fifth Eastern European with which I had worked up to that time, certain patterns became apparent. In general, orchestral musicians are a jaded, suspicious bunch; they are frequently facing tyrannical, egotistic conductors who care little of their condition. Obviously, any new face on the podium is looked upon with caution and doubt. As I wrote in recent columns, there are many conductors who are charlatans, impostors, and egomaniacs, big and small, harassing and many times insulting musicians everywhere, with little or no mercy, courtesy, or sensitivity. This may be even truer in former Soviet controlled republics, where a sweatshop atmosphere prevailed for orchestral musicians. They were routinely humiliated, badly paid, and although appreciated by the popular culture and propaganda, were no more than a tool to glorify the system, the conductors, and the soloists.

A familiar, friendly guest artist, who is a known entity, is obviously more welcome. This attitude reflects directly in the music they produce; it is far more vivid, technically better, and the results come quicker.

Another fascinating aspect to my Eastern European conducting and recording visits is to see the non-musical evolution of the cultures. It is impossible to fully describe the progress I have witnessed, starting with the Communist times, the liberation of these countries, and where they are today, to say nothing of fifteen years ago. Think of so many daily routines, services, and conveniences which we take for granted in the West; most of them did not exist until a few years ago in what we called the Eastern Bloc. It is sufficient to say that I have seen phenomenal advancements in maters such as credit cards, banks, hotels, taxis, airports, food, telephone calls, room service, menus, religious freedom, and political freedom of expression, consumer products, and tourist information.

In one memorable visit to a sheet music store, I purchased about 40 pounds (in weight, not money) of conductors’ orchestral scores for the local rate of exchange which converted to only two U.S. dollars! This same haul would cost, probably thousands of dollars in Western Europe or the U.S. Both the store clerks and I parted ways with a smile.

The American influence, for better or worse, is everywhere. You can not escape our pop culture, soft drinks, rock music, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and so on.

The country of Czchekoslovakia freed itself from the Soviet Union in 1991. Two years later, however, it decided to split again, into the Czech and Slovak Republics. This was a peaceful divorce, albeit a purely political one; the top leaders decided this, not the people themselves. As a result, not a single person whom I asked if this separation was beneficial to both groups spoke positively about it. (I talked to both Slovaks and Czechs). Every Slovak with whom I conversed had good things to say about the neighbor Czechs, but expressed that the separation was simply unnecessary.

*Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and a guest conductor of professional orchestras around the world.

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U.S. focus needed on problems at its borders

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Ira Sharkansky

By Ira Sharkansky 

JERUSALEM–Numbers are not everything in the assessment of public policies, but they can at least justify questions about the efforts officials are making in X as opposed to Y.

The X in this case is the dispute between Israel and the Arabs. The Y is greater violence close to the Mexican border with the United States. 
Currently we are seeing another concerted effort to deal with Israel and its neighbors. President Barack Obama made it the subject of a major speech in Cairo, as well as several meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, trips to the area by special emissaries, and frequent high profile comments by the President, Secretaries of State and Defense, the National Security Advisor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other ranking generals. Some have gone so far as to say that the lack of resolution is a key interest of the United States; that it threatens American troops active elsewhere; and that it gets in the way of American efforts to deal with terrorism.
No doubt that both Israelis and Palestinians would profit from a resolution of their dispute. Yet the prevailing view that seems most persuasive, and has penetrated the comments of President Obama, is that neither Israeli nor Palestinian authorities are prepared to make essential concessions. Better for both is the status quo than dealing with the numerous issues that have resisted efforts by foreign powers or the parties themselves for a century or more.
The deaths of Palestinians and Israelis during the latest flare up of violence are not the only measure of the dispute’s importance, but they  help to gauge it in comparison to other problems. 
According to the Israeli human rights organization Btselem, the period from the onset of intifada al-Aqsa in late September, 2000 to the end of 2008 saw 4,907 Palestinian deaths attributed to Israeli security forces or Israeli civilians; 593 Palestinians killed by other Palestinians; and 1,062 Israelis killed by Palestinians. All told, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been responsible for 6,562 deaths in recent years.
It is something of a stretch to link this conflict to important American interests. The deaths occurred about one-third of the world away from American shores, and the most persistent claims of its impact on the United States and other great powers come from Muslim countries that have their own reasons for seeing Israel as the source of all their problems.
Much closer to the United States, arguably more directly linked to it, as well as being more costly in human lives is what The Washington Post headlined as a “drug war . . . near (the) Texas border.”

“More than 22,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since . . . December 2006 . . . powerful and warring crime syndicates have now launched a campaign of terror . . . abducting journalists, beheading police officers and assaulting military garrisons.”

Comparing the drama of conflict in the Holy Land to chaos in Mexico is the stuff of apples and oranges. Every dispute is unique. But the differentials in numbers cause me to wonder. 
Since I am writing from Jerusalem, it may only appear to me that the White House is spending more effort on a relatively small conflict far from the United States than on a larger conflict right along its border. Moreover, the nearer conflict is integrally associated with  Americans.
I am aware of Israeli and American rhetoric about a special relationship. I also know something about the history involving the Untied States and Mexico, as well as the current American appetites for narcotics, and for low-wage, low-skilled workers. The Washington Post claims that 22,000 deaths are due to drugs meant for the American market. Presumably other deaths come from human traffic to the United States, including competition between the gangs that do some of the work.  
It would be quite a show if President Obama decided to send his troops south of the border, like Presidents Polk and Wilson before him. Yet some of his advisers would impose a solution on Israel and Palestine. He has also increased American activity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. 
Rather than trying to untangle the arguments for what the United States is doing–or should be doing–in one place or another, let me throw up my hands and ask for help. 
Some of you may be wiser than me, or at least better informed about what is closer to your home than mine. This old professor needs your guidance.  

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Survivors and politicians commemorate liberation of Nazi concentration camps

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

 

(WJC)–In Germany, ceremonies were held on Sunday to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen. In April 1945, Allied troops entered the camps and freed the inmates of the camps. Sachsenhausen, close to the German capital Berlin, was one of the first Nazi concentration camps.

Around 100 survivors of the Ravensbrück women’s camp attended the remembrance ceremony there. Education Minister Annette Schavan, who replaced Chancellor Angela Merkel, told them “your history will remain an eternal warning to us”.

At the Bergen-Belsen memorial, near Hannover, German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said the camp had been “hell on earth.” He also expressed his admiration that so many survivors had made the long journey to the former campsite to take part in the commemorations. Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, laid a wreath at the Bergen-Belsen memorial (picture). In her speech, she recalled the horrors of the camps, but also thanked staff at the memorial for their efforts and their dedication to preserving the memory.

Due to the current closure of European airports, the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, was unable to participate in the Bergen-Belsen commemoration. However, his keynote speech (below) was read out at the event. In it, Lauder warned of a new rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and said sites such as Bergen-Belsen had to be preserved for future generations.

Address by Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen

I thank the organizers for hosting this very important event.

In a few decades – when the last survivors are no longer among us – historical sites, memorials, museums, films, photos, books and other documents will be all that is left.

Our youngsters won’t be able to listen to immediate eyewitness accounts, to survivors who can personally show them around here and tell them what they were made to suffer.

Our direct link with that the past will soon be broken, and this means we have to double our efforts in keeping the memory alive.

But are we really prepared for that?

Are we ready to take over the relay baton from the generation that lived through World War II and make sure memorials such as this are still being held when the eyewitnesses are no more?

Teaching History in classrooms in very important, but it cannot replace visits to sites such as this.

It was here where Anne Frank and her sister Margot died, after having survived Auschwitz. The two girls were just two of an estimated 18,000 prisoners who died here in March 1945, weeks before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

The Diary of Anne Frank has conveyed the lessons of the Holocaust to millions of young people in such a way no school, no conference and no speech ever could.

It is important that we find more such means to keep the memory alive for younger generations.

At Bergen-Belsen the Nazis also held tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners of war. Almost 20,000 of them died, most of them during the winter 1941/42. They were not given shelter, they died from starvation, disease or the cold weather.

In April 1943, Bergen-Belsen became a concentration camp where Jews and subsequently inmates of various groups and from a great many countries where imprisoned.

It was the place where those who had miraculously survived the death camps in Auschwitz and elsewhere and thousands of kilometers of death marches were meant by the Nazis to die in agony.

In the history of the World Jewish Congress, Bergen-Belsen has had a special meaning, too.

These Jewish survivors in the Displaced Persons Camp of Bergen-Belsen wanted to elect their own leaders.

After the oppression of the previous decades they wanted to determine their own fate, not have it imposed on them.

Most of them wanted to go to Palestine, to build the Jewish homeland there.

After the Shoah, the Jewish people finally wanted to be free!

Josef Rosensaft became the head of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone of Germany, with its headquarter here in Belsen. His son, Menachem Rosensaft, is a friend of mine.

Menachem told me how his mother, Dr. Ada Bimko, who immediately after the liberation had headed a team of doctors and nurses from among the survivors to help care for the critically ill inmates, met his father Josef in the DP Camp.

Under the leadership of Josef Rosensaft the Central Committee of Liberated Jews lobbied the British to allow emigration of Jewish DPs to Israel, and it became a member of the World Jewish Congress.

In 1948, a DP delegation from Belsen and the British Zone took part in the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Montreux, Switzerland.

They raised the plight of the 200,000 Displaced Jews that were stranded in DP camps across Germany and who had to live in dismal conditions.

The World Jewish Congress campaigned tirelessly for these DPs to be treated well, for their rights to be safeguarded, and above all for them to be allowed to go to live in Israel.

In a resolution adopted in Montreux, the World Jewish Congress called the establishment of the “Jewish State of Israel…an unshakable reality” and declared that as the majority of Jewish DPs desired to go there, they “should be given the opportunity of doing so, in order to rehabilitate themselves in security, dignity and peace.”

In 1952, my predecessor, then World Jewish Congress President Nahum Goldmann, was here for the inauguration of the Bergen-Belsen Memorial, together with German President Theodor Heuss, who gave a remarkable speech.

Standing where we stand today, Nahum Goldmann said the following, and I quote it in German:

“Vom Standpunkt des deutschen Volkes und der Menschheit gesehen, ist der Sinn dieses tragischen Kapitels, dem diese Feier gewidmet ist, der einer unvergänglichen Warnung…Wenn diese Millionen Opfer mit ihrem Tode etwas nicht für das jüdische Volk, sondern für die Menschheit getan haben sollen, dann wäre es diese unvergessliche und grausige Warnung, die ihr Tod für alle Völker enthält. Nichts wäre fürchterlicher, als wenn unsere heutige Generation diese Lehre und Warnung vergessen sollte.“

In 1960, Goldmann  was again in Bergen-Belsen, together with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, to paid homage to the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

In his memoirs, Goldmann recalls that this event was organized following a string of anti-Semitic in Germany, including the daubing of swastikas on synagogues.

In his speech, the 84-year-old Chancellor Adenauer – who once had himself been a concentration camp prisoner of the Nazis – said that Jews had a right to live here in safety and security, and that all those who threatened them would be punished.

Since 1948, when Israel was established as a Jewish state, and since 1960, when Adenauer and Goldmann came here, many things have turned to the better:

Germany made great strides to pay compensation to the Nazi victims, to build a democratic, open society, to commemorate the Holocaust, World War II and the other tragic events between 1933 and 1945, to fight anti-Semitism, revisionism, xenophobia and racism, and also – albeit with less success – to prosecute those that committed those crimes against Humanity.

Europe became united, the Iron Curtain fell and democracy and the rule of law returned to the entire continent.

Millions of Jews have since settled in Israel and built one of the most successful new states of our times.

Israel is a powerhouse in high tech, agriculture, business and entrepreneurship; a democratic, free nation in a region where that is still not the norm.

And yet…

Six decades after its foundation, Israel is still being attacked. Its raison d’être, its right to exist as a Jewish state, is still questioned, even by intellectuals of the political Left. It has become fashionable in some circles to liken Israel’s defensive actions to those of the Nazis against the Jews.

It seems to become fashionable here in Europe and elsewhere in the world to hold Israel to much higher standards than any other country in the Middle East.

Anti-Semitism is also still alive and kicking, everywhere – even here in Europe where the Holocaust happened. Jewish cemeteries and other sites are still daubed with swastikas, synagogues need police protection, and even the Holocaust is sometimes questioned in its extent, or denied outright.

While the political leaders of this country – above all Chancellor Merkel and the main political parties – are unshakable in their commitment to fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism, it is lifting its ugly head again, even more so in other European countries.

Just last week, a report came out which said that violent anti-Semitic incidents increased by 102 percent in 2009 over the 2008 figures, in the wake of the war in Gaza.

Just last Sunday, an extremist, anti-Semitic and racist party won 16 percent of all votes in Hungary, the homeland of my parents. These people publicly say that they want to “cleanse” the Hungarian nation from “vermin”, and with that they mean the Jews and the Gypsies.

Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, openly calls for Israel’s destruction, and his regime is pushing to have nuclear weapons as soon as possible.

Words and actions of these extremists are strangely reminiscent of the period whose end we are commemorating today.

The ugly specter of anti-Semitism and racism is raising its head again in Europe.

Sixty-five years ago, it was defeated by the brave men and women who stood up to the Nazi tyranny. Millions paid the ultimate prize and were killed.

We, the generations that did not have to live through these horrors, should be eternally grateful that Hitler did not succeed.

We owe it to all those who fought the war against Nazi Germany and were killed, to all those who were murdered because the Nazis declared them enemies of the state, and to all those who after the war rebuilt their destroyed countries that we honor the solemn pledge Konrad Adenauer gave here in 1960:

“Never must the events that happened during the Nazi rule be allowed to happen again anywhere in the world.”

Words won’t be enough. We need strong leadership, courage, and a moral compass to accomplish that.

Trying to appease those who incite to hate and violence will not work.

Each and every one of us has to confront evil wherever it emerges.

And one final point: Bergen-Belsen will always be an important place where we will remember the tragedy of the Shoah and of World War II – the mass slaughter of innocent people.

We pledge to you, the survivors and the liberators, that the World Jewish Congress will always fight to preserve important sites such as Bergen-Belsen or Auschwitz for future generations. 

We have an obligation to ensure that it will never be forgotten how the world sank into the abyss.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

Interview with WJC President Ronald S. Lauder on Holocaust commemoration

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

The following interview with the World Jewish Congress President was published in ‘Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung’, Germany, on 17 April 2010.

Mr. Lauder, you will come to Hannover to commemorate the  liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer survivors that can tell about the Nazi era. How is it possible to preserve the memory? Which forms of commemoration are needed in the future?

It is true, in a few years, memorials, museums, films, photos, books and other documents will be all that is left. In the future, young people won’t be able to listen to eyewitnesses like we have done, nor will they be shown former concentration camp sites by the survivors themselves. Our direct link with that the past will soon be broken, and this means we have to redouble our efforts in keeping the memory of the Shoah alive.

How can that be done?

I think we need to find ways to reach the young emotionally. For example, the suffering of Anne Frank, who died in Bergen-Belsen, and her diary is probably something a young person can relate to. The second crucial point is: We must preserve the sites of the Nazi horror – like Bergen-Belsen – for future generations. This needs financial resources, but we must not spare the effort. It is only when you visit a former concentration camp that you begin to grasp the horror of that time. No history book can replace that. The documentation center and memorial at Bergen-Belsen is therefore very important.

During your time as US ambassador in Vienna, you defended the travel ban imposed against then Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who was under fire for his behavior during the Nazi regime. How in your view is Germany coming to terms with its past nowadays?

There has always been a marked difference between Germany and Austria in terms of living up to the Nazi past, though it has to be said that after Waldheim’s presidency, the Austrians have made some efforts to discuss their own role during World War II. In recent years, Germany has been exemplary in discussing its Nazi past. It has drawn the lessons, assumed responsibility for the survivors, and above all: it has openly embraced the Jews. My worries are more about the future. Sixty-five years after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen there is still anti-Semitism, even among young people. We need more research into why that is so, and we need immediate and effective responses. The lesson learnt from the past should be that anti-Semitism and racism is not tolerable, in whichever form it manifests itself.

Through immigration from the former Soviet Union, Germany’s Jewish community is growing faster than any other in Europe. How do you look to the future of Jewish life in the country of the Holocaust?

We do indeed witness a Jewish renaissance here that nobody could even have dreamt of in the wake of the Nazi horrors. Look around: almost every month, a new synagogue is inaugurated somewhere in Germany. Previously defunct communities are revitalized. I believe the Central Council of Jews, under the leadership of Charlotte Knobloch, is doing an excellent job regarding the integration of the new community members. In my view, German Jewry has a bright future, but it needs support and encouragement from the non-Jewish majority, and it needs to find ways to better fight anti-Semitism. We still have an alarming level of hatred against the Jews, and in some regions it is even growing. Why do synagogues in Germany need police protection?

Currently we see probably the last trials against Nazi criminals like John Demjanjuk. Is it a good idea to put such old men on trial?

We welcome that Germany is still trying to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. There cannot be impunity for mass murder, for crimes against humanity. There are other frail, old-age people – the Holocaust survivors – who have been traumatized all their life because of concentration camp guards like Demjanjuk, and who are still waiting for Justice to be done.  For survivors, it is important that courts officially recognize the horrible crimes that were committed. Almost every trial shows that the perpetrators often do not feel any kind of remorse or guilt. Sometimes, they don’t even acknowledge any responsibility for their actions, like Demjanjuk. So there is really no reason to feel sorry for the perpetrators.

In the Jewish world there has been a debate for some time about Jewish identity. Do you think it is a danger that remembrance of the Shoah could eventually become a more important part of Jewish identity than common cultural or religious roots?

No, I don’t think so. Through the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation I have been very much involved in numerous projects to rekindle Jewish cultural and religious life in central and eastern Europe. This is about education, Jewish learning, and passing Jewish traditions to the younger generation. In many countries, we are seeing a Jewish revival.  The Shoah was a singular event which will always be an essential part of our collective memory, as will be the bitter anti-Semitic resentment that was reserved for us Jews over the last 2,000 years. But Jewish culture is so strong, diverse and backed-up by a positive outlook that we shouldn’t be worried.

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Preceding provided by W0rld Jewish Congress.

Elie Wiesel: Question of Jerusalem should be above politics

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)–The Holocaust survivor and Novel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel has published a full page advertisement in the ‘Washington Post’ and the ‘Wall Street Journal’ in which he says that Jerusalem should serve as a symbol of faith and hope, and not of sorrow and bitterness. Wiesel wrote: “Jerusalem is the heart of our heart and the soul of our soul.”

“For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics,” he added. “It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture – and not a single time in the Koran…The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem.”

In the ad, entitled “For Jerusalem”, Wiesel wrote that Jews, Christians and Muslims were able to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem and that only under Israeli sovereignty had freedom of worship for all religions been assured in the city.

“The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate, but about memory,” the renowned writer argued, adding that Old City of Jerusalem would still be Arab if Jordan had not joined Egypt and Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Earlier last week, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder also published an open letter in the ‘Wall Street Journal’ and the ‘Washington Post’, addressed to US President Barack Obama, in which he calls on him to reverse the “dramatic deterioration” in American’s relations with Israel.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

Interview – Ronald S. Lauder: “Israel has been strongly neglected”

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)—The following interview with World Jewish Congress President Interview – Ronald S. Lauder: “Israel has been strongly neglected”was published by the German news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ on 19 April 2010.
SPIEGEL: You have accused US President Barack Obama of having allowed a “dramatic deterioration” of relations with Israel. What do you mean?

Lauder: The Obama administration is blaming Israel for the stalling peace process, but it is in fact the Palestinians which are opposed to negotiations. Obama’s criticism of Israel is disproportionate.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t the Israeli government also to blame? After all, it announced the plan to expand a settlement in the eastern part of Jerusalem during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit.

Lauder: That was bad timing. But the Israeli government has made extraordinary concessions: it has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state, a moratorium on settlement building, and it has removed over a hundred roadblocks in the West Bank.

SPIEGEL: And yet, that lip service to a two-state solution was only paid following pressure by Obama. As a close friend of Prime Minister Netanyahu, aren’t you biased?

Lauder: On this, I don’t represent my friend, but Jews world-wide. I would have written the same letter if someone else were prime minister in Jerusalem. Over his attempts to engage the Muslim world Obama has strongly neglected the relationship with Israel.

SPIEGEL: At least he has said that a solution to the Middle East conflict was in the “national security interest” of the US.

Lauder: His main concern should be Iran. The regime in Tehran is threatening Israel and the entire Western world with its plans to build a nuclear bomb. That is why Obama should end his feud with Israel.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

Obama sends special message on Israel’s Independence Day

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Israeli Independence 1948

(WJC)–On Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, US President Barack Obama said that the relationship between Israel and America “will only be strengthened in the months and years to come.” In a special statement he declared: “On the 62nd anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, I join the American people in congratulating the government and people of Israel on this celebration of their independence. To this day we continue to share a strong, unbreakable bond of friendship between our two nations, anchored by the United States’ enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”

The president added: “Minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, realizing the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland, the United States became the first country to recognize Israel.” Obama also said his administration would continue to work toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I look forward to continuing our efforts with Israel to achieve comprehensive peace and security in the region, including a two-state solution, and to working together to counter the forces that threaten Israel, the United States, and the world,” he stated, adding: “On this day, we once again honor the extraordinary achievements of the people of Israel, and their deep and abiding friendship with the American people. I offer my best wishes to President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the people of Israel as they celebrate this happy occasion.”

Meanwhile, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak sent a letter to President Shimon Peres in which he calls for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Other world leaders including England’s Queen Elizabeth II, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, German President Horst Köhler, Dutch Queen Beatrix, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and leaders of Slovakia and Kazakhstan also sent greetings to Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The State of Israel was founded in May 1948 when David Ben Gurion and other leaders made the declaration of independence in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (see picture).

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Preceding provided by world Jewish Congress