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World Jewish Congress wants EU monitor at Athens trial

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

ATHENS (WJC)–As three Greek human rights activists are going on trial for speaking out against judges who acquitted a notorious anti-Semite and extreme-right politician in Greece, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) has called on the president of the European Parliament to send an official envoy to watch this trial in Athens.

The WJC criticized the Greek judiciary for acquitting the self-declared anti-Semite Konstantinos Plevris last year and for now trying to silence the critics of this decision. WJC Vice President and Deputy Secretary-General Maram Stern stated: “We must not allow that people who speak out against bigots such as Mr. Plevris are being prosecuted whilst the hate mongers themselves are being acquitted by the courts.”

In a letter to Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament, Stern called the trial “a perversion of justice” and “an assault on fundamental European values.” He voiced suspicion that parts of the Greek judiciary were not inclined to defend fundamental European values, but consciously acted against them. Read more…

Book details how Allies fooled Hitler about invasion

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre. Bloomsbury,  2010, 402 pages.
By David Strom

David Strom

SAN DIEGO — Two young British brothers fought against the Nazis during WWII. Both, Ewen and Ivor, worked for intelligence agencies. One served in the British secret service while the other, it was reported, may have been a spy for the Soviet Union. Ivor had two main passions. One was his strong belief in the values of Soviet Communism. His other major attraction was table tennis, a new “sport/hobby” that he worked hard at promoting. Ewen worked to defeat the Nazis through his British intelligence work. His courageous work as a spy was instrumental in shortening the European war.
 
On January 26, 1943 Glyndwr Michael was found dead. He presumably died from drinking rat poison. No one seemed to notice or care about his death. There were no inquiries made about the cause or circumstances of his dying. No one in his family came forward to claim his body. He was a forgotten human being-until the British intelligence learned of his death.
 
Two British spy agents, Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu, had been hatching a plan to foil the Nazi war machine. The game plan, which was initially conceived by Cholmondeley, was unique and highly ingenious. It was put into operation mainly through the office of Ewen and the M16-British Intelligence. The two men worked closely together to get the plan approved by the spy agency and the British government. Prime Minister Churchill even gave the plan his blessing. 
 
Montagu and Cholmondeley were the principal leaders in the plot to drop a body, supposed that of an ill-fated spy, near the coast of southern Spain in April of 1943. These two worked in cramped quarters with nine or ten others, both men and women. All of them played a role in outwitting the Nazis. Getting a body to drop into the coastal waters off Spain was no easy task. What family would donate a loved one to be used as a decoy and floated into enemy or neutral territory without a proper burial? The dead man had relatives and yet, no one in the government tried to locate them or inform the family of the death of Glyndwr Michael. The use of the body and taking it out of the country was illegal according to British law. With the help of an undertaker, with the intelligence agency skirting the intent of the law pertaining to transportation of a corpse out of the country, M16 was able to carry out this very risky war-time adventure.
 
With corpse “in hand,” Cholmondeley and Montagu’s plan moved forward. They created a fictitious person. They gave that person a name-William Martin as well as a made-up family, including a fiancé-Pam. They created a backdrop of an historically grounded human being born into royalty and wealth which gave credibility to their fictional spy.
 
Montagu delighted in his creation of William Martin of the Royal Marines. In Montagu’s small cramped space, the war office assigned a very beautiful and single Jean Leslie. She became the poster child for Pam, William Martin’s fiancé. Jean, single and beautiful, and Ewen, a lonely married man whose wife and family were in the United States at the time, became “involved.” The two took on the created personalities of their fictionalized spy and his lover in their real life adventure to deceive the Nazis. (When the body of William Martin was placed in the cold water off of Spain, the real life adventures of Ewen and Jean came to an end.)
 
Early in April 30, 1943, a young American Navy captain took the frozen corpse from its container and dropped it into the water about 1600 yards off the city of Huelva on the Atlantic coast of southern Spain. Not long afterwards a fisherman retrieved the body, took it ashore and called the local Spanish authorities.
 
Attached to the badly decomposed British-uniformed body were love letters from Pam, a locked briefcase, and important messages to high-ranking personnel about the pending Allied invasion of Europe. All of this material was surveyed and inspected by Spanish authorities and then quickly given over to the Abwehr (Nazi military intelligence) in Madrid. The Abwehr examined the letters and learned that the allied forces that were massing in North Africa were preparing to attack Sardinia and the Greek Peloponnesus. According to the letter found on the corpse, Sicily was to be used as a decoy for the planned landing area. Finally, after the Nazi secret service was done copying the information, the material was handed over to the British consulate. The British hoped the Nazis took seriously what was in the notes taken from the corpse of William Martin. They needed to divert the attention of the Nazi military from the intended landing in Sicily;
 
The British consul quickly arranged a proper burial service & buried William Martin’s body, even placing a headstone to deter anyone from digging up and examining the body, yet again.
 
Of course, the Abwehr sent all of the made-up espionage and battle strategies information to Berlin, believing it to be important to the outcome of the war. There, the German general staff discussed the plausibility of the information. Some accepted it as legitimate while others were more skeptical. But the key actor in this drama and the most important in the decision-making equation was Hitler. He believed the doctored information discovered on the dead British officer that washed upon the Spanish coastal waters. That was enough.

Hitler quickly gave the order to dispatch a military division. General Rommel and the Nazi troops were dispatched to reinforce the Greek peninsula against an attack that never materialized. At the time that Hitler ordered the troops to Greece, his armies had suffered major defeats in North Africa and Stalingrad. They were currently fighting a major battle with the Soviets and might have won an important victory against Soviets, but the diverted division to Greece, against his generals’ recommendations, may have cost the Nazis an important victory that could have, possibly, stopped the Soviet Armies advances into western Europe.  
 
The allies invaded Sicily and opened a second front against the Nazis in Europe. The ingenious plan of Cholmondeley and Montagu had worked. They saved thousands of lives and, possibly, shortened the war. All of this is refreshingly told by Ben Macintyre in Operation Mincemeat: The True Story That Changed the Course of World War II. This spy story was made into the monetarily successful movie The Man Who Never Was.
 
It wasn’t until 1997 that the British government finally changed the cemetery tombstone in Huelva, Spain and added this sentence to its base: “Glyndwr Michael, served as Major William Martin, RM.”

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Strom is professor emeritus of education at San Diego State University

Jerusalem tourism waxes and wanes with international politics

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–More than two million overseas visitors arrived in Jerusalem during a recent year. The attractions are well maintained places linked to individuals and events featured in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and a functioning Old City enclosed by walls built in ancient times and last reconstructed in the 16th century. The Old City offers sites and shopping for tourists, and four distinctive neighborhoods that are the homes of 30,000 Jews, Muslims, Armenians and other Christians. Only a short ride away is Bethlehem, equally compelling for those wanting to see the roots of Christianity. Jericho is not much further in another direction. It offers winter visitors a chance to dine comfortably in an outdoor restaurant, while ten miles away in Jerusalem it may be raining and close to freezing.
While the numbers coming to Jerusalem are impressive, and often a nuisance to locals having to cope with crowds and traffic, the city ranks lower than 50 others in the numbers of tourists it attracts. London, New York, Bangkok, Paris, and Rome attract from three to seven times the number of international tourists as Jerusalem. Dublin, Amsterdam, and Prague get twice as many, while even Kiev and Bucharest, plus resorts near Bangkok attract 50 percent more international visitors than Jerusalem.

Jerusalem may have more of a mystic pull than these other places. The “Jerusalem syndrome” is a documented condition whereby some visitors believe themselves to be biblical characters. Jewish and Christian sufferers act as David, Jesus, or some other figure associated with their faith. I am not aware of visitors to London and Paris thinking that they are Henry VIII, Napoleon, or any of the other figures associated with local history.
Why does Jerusalem rank only #51 on a sophisticated ranking of international tourism? 
Distance has something to do with it. Visitors to Western Europe can avail themselves of numerous attractive destinations as part of the same trip from home. There are decent beaches and other features in Tel Aviv and Netanya, but they attract only 60 and 10 percent of the overseas visitors as Jerusalem. Tiberias is on the Sea of Galilee and close to sites important to Christians, but draws only 25 percent of the number of visitors to Jerusalem. 
 
There are other sites in countries close to Jerusalem, notably Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, but the borders of the Middle East are not as easy to cross as those of Western Europe. For some years now Israeli security personnel have not allowed Israeli Jews to visit Bethlehem or Jericho without special permits, and others have to pass through barriers and inspections meant to protect us.

Politics and tension are more likely to figure in a decision to visit Jerusalem than other cities. The number of overseas tourists to Israel dropped from 2.4 million in 2000, which was mostly prior to the onset of the latest intifada, to a bit over one million in 2003, which was one of the bloodiest years. Numbers increased to 1.9 million by 2005 when the violence had diminished significantly. No other country included in the regions of Europe and the Mediterranean surveyed by the United Nations tourist agency showed comparable variations in the same period. Even on a mundane issue like this, the U.N. is unable to consider Israel part of the Middle East region, which includes all of the countries bordering it and Palestine.

Jerusalem has drawn more tourists that some well-known sites in Europe. It does better than Florence and Venice, and is pretty much tied with Athens. Why less than Kiev and Bucharest? There are mysteries in the world of tourism that may boil down to nothing more than current fashion or a lack of precision in the numbers.

Tourist flows change with politics and economics. Thirty years ago there was virtually no direct travel between Israel, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Now Russian visitors are in second place behind those from the United States; there are sizable numbers from Ukraine and Poland. Thousands come each year from India, Korea, Japan, China, and Nigeria. Indonesia and Morocco receive Israelis and send visitors to Israel, even though there are no formal diplomatic relations. There are even a few hundred visitors annually from Malaysia and Iran, whose officials are usually among our most intense critics .

My latest Jerusalem experience may be part of a multicultural gesture to attract overseas visitors, or it may reflect nothing more than the lack of experience or attention by the person responsible. While I usually pay no attention to the music piped into the exercise room at the university gym, this morning I became alert to something familiar. It was Silent Night, in the English version I was required to sing many years ago at the Highland School. But only in December. Never in July.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Greece and Israel to upgrade their relations

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (WJC)–Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in Jerusalem. Both leaders agreed a tightening of relations between the two Mediterranean nations. The visit came at a time of crisis in the once-warm relationship between Israel and Greece’s arch-rival Turkey.

“At the end of the meeting they agreed to a major upgrade of relations between Israel and Greece on a range of bilateral issues,” said Netanyahu’s office, adding that Papandreou had invited Netanyahu to visit Athens.

Papandreou, who made the first visit of a Greek prime minister to Israel in 30 years, also met with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. Netanyahu asked the Greek leader to urge Abbas to begin direct peace talks with Israel.

In an interview with the Israeli newspaper ‘Haaretz’, Papandreou – who is the leader of the Socialist Party PASOK – said his country could help mediate peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors. Asked if Greece would offer to mediate between Israel and Syria, Papandreou said: “My father [a former prime minister] and I traditionally had close relations with many Arab leaders in the area. Yes, we could help. We won’t impose ourselves, but yes, we could help. It’s in our interest and the interest of the Middle East.”

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Gaza-bound Libyan ship docks at Egyptian port after deal

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)–A deal struck between Israel and Egypt has reportedly enabled a Libyan ship carrying aid for Gaza to change course and dock peacefully at the Egyptian port of El-Arish. An Arab newspaper in London reports that in return, Israel has agreed to let the Gadhafi Foundation begin a US$ 50 million project to rebuild damaged buildings in Gaza, together with the United Nations.

On Thursday, the Amalthea docked at El-Arish after Israel’s navy had stopped it from reaching the Gaza Strip territory. Since Hamas rose to power there, Israel maintains a sea blockade to prevent weapons smuggling.

The director of the port of El-Arish, Gamal Abdel Maqsoud, said the ship would unload its cargo and hand it over to the Red Crescent for delivery to Gaza by land. Israeli ships stopped the aid vessel from reaching Gaza.

The Gadhafi Foundation, headed by a son of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gadhafi, said the ship had left Greece on Saturday carrying 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, another Gaza-bound aid convoy left the Jordanian capital Amman on Tuesday, heading to the Red Sea port city of Aqaba. Around 150 activists traveled with the convoy, which includes 25 trucks laden with basic humanitarian aid including food and medicine, as well as an ambulance donated by Jordan Medical Association members, according to Jordanian officials.

The convoy is set to travel by boat from Aqaba to the Egyptian port of Nuweibeh and then enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

Gaza-bound Libyan ship diverted to Egyptian port after Israeli interception

July 14, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)–Authorities in Egypt have approved a request by the captain of a Gaza-bound Libyan ship to dock at the port of El-Arish in Egypt after failing to break Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, it was reported on Wednesday. The ship’s engine broke 130 miles from al-Arish port which is ready to receive it later on the day, the Chinese news agency ‘Xinhua’ reported.

The vessel has 21 persons on board and is reportedly carrying 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid. On Tuesday, organizers said Israeli navy forces had intercepted the ship, ordering it to head to the Egyptian port.

The Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, headed by the son of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, said in a press release later that the ship was steadily heading to its intended destination despite repeated Israeli warnings. The IDF stressed that it was continuing to shadow the ship’s movement, in order to ensure that it does not divert to the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, officials at Athens International Airport said an Israel-bound flight was delayed after protesters blocked check-in counters at the airport. Members of a Communist-backed labor union say they blocked five counters of the national airline El Al for two hours to protest against the Israeli blockade of Gaza and its treatment of the Palestinians. The protest ended without incident.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

African American describes her journey into Orthodox Judaism

June 23, 2010 1 comment

The Journey to the Land of My Soul by Ahuvah Gray. Duelkus Press, 2010, 251pages.

By David Strom

David Strom

SAN DIEGO — Ahuvah Gray is an African American woman who converted to Judaism, Orthodox Judaism. She did not convert to Judaism to marry someone Jewish as some do today. No, she became Jewish in her own words, to be completed; to be made whole.
    
|Delores (Ahuvah) Gray was born in Chicago. She was the granddaughter of sharecroppers from Mississippi. Her grandparents were deeply religious Christians, well known in the community. Her paternal grandparents lived in a town where the “entire municipality, hospitals, schools, police and fire apartments, town hall, houses of worship, and businesses were all owned and operated by Blacks.”

        
Ahuvah experienced great love and respect in the Gray home. More importantly, she “was always in awe of my Grandparents’ spirituality.” Her grandmother’s main teaching to her children and grandchildren “…was about obedience to God. Her close relationship with Him grew and flourished, nourished by her prayers and complete trust in her Creator.”

Ahuvah started college but did not graduate. She went off to the world of work. Ahuvah traveled as a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. Eventually she trained other flight attendants and headed a divisional office for the airline. As Ahuvah grew older she maintained her spirituality and love of prayer. She became dedicated to her place of worship, King David House of Worship in Chicago. Ahuvah was spiritually inquisitive. When she wanted to clarify or verify her Christian beliefs and ideologies, she would go to the “Tanach as an authoritative cross-reference.”

She understood that Christianity grew out of Judaism. She wanted to know how her “spiritual ancestors prayed, how they worshiped, and how they lived.”

A friend of Ahuvah knew that she was seeking more. She introduced Ahuvah to the spiritual leader, Dr. Charles C. Queen, of the Strait-Way Church. He taught the Jewish Bible in Hebrew. This captivated Ahuvah and seemed to satisfy her spiritual longings. Studying Hebrew and celebrating a Passover Seder with Pastor Queen and his congregation drew Ahuvah closer to Judaism.
  
After retiring from her Continental Airline position, Ahuvah opened a travel agency targeting African-American travelers who wanted to travel to Egypt, Israel and Greece. The first time Ahuvah voyaged to Israel, she felt at home. Within her heart she felt at peace and contented. Ahuvah felt spiritually closer to God there than anywhere else she had lived!

Over the next few years Ahuvah traveled 14 times to Israel. She led tours during Passover, meeting people, and getting a feeling for the land and its people. Eventually, after serving as a Christian minister for thirteen years, Ahuvah felt the need to become a Jew. Many who worked with her and were friends with her wondered what took her so long. They knew that her life force had been heading in this direction for many years, even though she had not made a definitive decision to convert.
 
The difficult decision to become a Jew was made easier by her family when her mother and father accepted her pronouncement as the will of God. They were happy that she had found a place where she could be spiritually at peace. Her siblings also supported her choice.

        
In May of 1993, Ahuvah went to Shavuot service in the United States. Shavuot celebrates the receiving of the Ten Commandments and Torah at Sinai. Ahuvah told her friend, “I was at Sinai when the Law was given.” She now understood her “…identification with the Law of Moses and the Jewish people…the missing link.” She understood finally the feeling of peace she felt that first time at Sinai.

Prayer and fasting have been an important part of Ahuvah’s life. Living among the “Black Hatters” in Jerusalem has helped her understand her Judaism more deeply.  Her many friends invited her to Shabbat cholent meals at celebrations where the entire religious community had warmly accepted this devoted African-American Orthodox Jewish woman into their hearts.

The Journey to the Land of My Soul is Ahuvah Gray’s description of her spiritual journey from Christianity to Judaism via Chicago to Los Angeles and finally, reaching its final destination in the holy city of Jerusalem. Because of its uniqueness, her story is worth reading. A fault can be found in the book in that it is too long and repetitious. Paring the story down by a half would help make this a more readable book by giving the reader the essence of the story without so much detail. However, the essence of Ahuvah Gray’s story of her journey into Judaism is worthwhile and enlightening to readers as to the beliefs, practices and sense of community that attract a convert to the Jewish faith.
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Strom is professor emeritus of education at San Diego State University