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Hand grenade explodes 100 meters from Ahmadinejad car in Hamedan

August 4, 2010 Leave a comment

HAMADAN (WJC)–Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly escaped an assassination attempt in the western Iranian city of Hamadan. Several people were wounded in the blast, said media reports. The Arab news channel ‘al-Arabiya’ said the Iranian presidency had confirmed that Ahmadinejad “escaped an assassination attempt as his procession was targeted by a bomb.” The conservative Iranian website ‘Khabaronline.ir’ said:  “This morning, a hand grenade exploded next to a vehicle carrying reporters accompanying the president in Hamedan. Ahmadinejad’s car was 100 meters away and he was not hurt.”

In his speech, which was broadcast on state television, the hard-line Iranian leader did not mention the attack. He claimed that Iran did not care about the latest US sanctions but warned countries against joining them. On Tuesday, the Treasury Department in Washington had named 21 firms and banned Americans from engaging in business with them. Thirteen of the companies are based in Europe – nine in Germany, two in Belarus, and one each in Luxembourg and Italy.

“You can make resolutions and sanctions against us as much as you want until you get fed up. As far as the Iranian nation is concerned, we do not care at all and will never beg four your goods,” Ahmadinejad told the crowd in Hamadan. The president said all the sanctions in the last four years just made the country more self-sufficient and improved its technological output. He warned all countries against joining the sanctions, saying that they would be excluded from further business with Iran and “be wiped out from Iranian markets.”

Meanwhile, Japan also imposed sanctions against Iran, in line with the recent UN resolution. The government in Tokyo said it planned to announce additional punitive measures later this month.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

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Music of hope and resistance featured at Melbourne concert

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Joseph Toltz

MELBOURNE,  26 July – A special performance of the music of  the Theresienstadt Ghetto (Terezin) was presented in Melbourne on Sunday, July 25.

Terezin, a small garrison town built in 1780 by Emperor Franz-Josef II, lies peacefully among
meadows and gardens, 38 miles northwest of Prague. To us, its German name is well known:
Theresienstadt, one of the most infamous Nazi ghettos, a place where 148,000 people lived.
Eighty-eight thousand passed through on their way to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death and labour camps, while 33,000 died of disease and malnutrition in the camp. On May 8, 1945, the Soviet army liberated 17,247 people on the verge of starvation.

Terezín was the holding camp for Bohemian and Moravian Jews ­ proud, sophisticated communities who had existed in the Czech lands for more than 800 years, embracing full emancipation under the enlightened rule of President Tomás Masaryk’s First Czechoslovak Republic. Joining the Czech Jews in Terezín were 57,000 ‘privileged’ German and Austrian Jews ­ the elderly, decorated war veterans, prominent Jewish intellectuals, community leaders and famous musicians.

In time, Jews from Holland, Luxembourg and Denmark arrived to add to the mix. The intensity of artistic ability that came to Terezín was harnessed by the inmates, for the inmates,
through the organisation of ‘leisure time activities’ ­ music, theatre, cabaret, sports,
art classes, lectures by academic experts. The cream of Central European intellectual life,
those who could not escape the Nazi talons did not sit idly by in this ghetto ­ they created,
formed and breathed life into the most unique and amazing creations.

On July 25, I directed and performed in a concert presented by the Jewish Museum of
Australia that was inspired by the cultural life of Terezín; it complemented the museum’s current exhibition “Theresienstadt: Drawn from the Inside,” a series of intimate artworks by Paul Schwarz and Leo Lowit bequeathed to the museum in 1980 by Regina Schwarz. What made the concert unique was that it was not just a presentation of the music created in Terezín, but it provided a diverse journey into the musical lives of survivors, discussing the importance of music to maintaining hope, providing distraction and entertainment,
offering an opportunity for spiritual resistance, as well as providing an outlet for processing
what was happening to them at the time.

For the past four years, my doctoral dissertation has involved interviewing survivors of the
Holocaust about musical experiences in ghettos and camps. My journey began 12 years ago, with survivors of Terezín, who discussed the place of Brundibár ­ a children’s opera composed by Hans Krasa, a Czech Jew ­ in their hearts and minds. They referred me to other survivors ­ from soloists from the children’s opera all the way to the two most esteemed pianists in the camp, the 96-year-old Edith Steiner-Kraus (in Jerusalem) and the 104-year-old Alice Herz-Sommer. Two years after our interview, Alice is still playing piano three hours a day, living independently in London. Over the course of four years, 25 Terezín survivors spoke to me of their incredible journeys in music in those years of hardship and trial, and their observations coloured our concert.

SO what was music in Terezín? It was an entire world of creativity, from the Jazz of Coco
Schumann and the Ghetto Swingers, to everyday pub songs and work songs. The first musical revues in 1941 were directed by the choral conductor Rafael Schächter and the Czech cabaret artist, Karel Svenk; in time they were joined by German cabaret artists such as Kurt Gerron (co-star in the 1920s with Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel), Willi Rosen and others who had escaped Berlin to Holland in 1938  ­ sadly, not far enough away from Germany. Our concert featured some of these cabaret and jazz works.

There were four orchestras, including a famous Terezín string orchestra conducted by Karel An erl. An erl survived Auschwitz and other camps, and following liberation, rose to become
conductor of the Czech Philharmonic until his escape to Toronto in 1968. The concert featured a recorded performance by An erl’s orchestra, filmed as part of the 1944 propaganda
film made by the Czech Aktualita company.

Music became an essential part of children’s pedagogy through the opera Brundibár, the musical play Brou ci (the Fireflies) and participation in the children’s choirs. Adults also formed choirs ­ all male, all female and mixed. Such choirs were devoted to Zionist or Socialist songs,
others sang Yiddish lider (many of the residents singing the language of their grandparents for
the first time) or Jewish liturgical works, and the larger choirs undertook the great oratorios
of the repertoire. At our concert, the King David School Chamber Choir presented excerpts of some of this choral repertoire, including a small section of Brundibár.

There were hundreds of chamber music recitals, from baroque and rococo repertoire, all the way to completely new music composed and performed in the ghetto by students of Janá ek and Schönberg, and former members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Concert­ge­bouw (a concert hall in Amsterdam) and other orchestras. The
brightest stars of new Czech composition ­ Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, Hans Krása and Viktor Ullmann ­ all were featured in our concert, performed by Anne Gilby, Eidit Golder and the A La Corda Quartet.

Music was not enough to help one survive though. If you were lucky enough to be in demand, then you could avoid resettlement (i.e. transport to Auschwitz), but by September 1944 this protection had evaporated and the vast majority of Terezín’s musicians were deported and murdered in the months of September and October.

In my discussions with survivors from Terezín here, in the UK, in Israel and the USA, I have
learnt one very important fact: music was an aspect that preserved the humanity for many
living in the appalling, conditions of the ghetto. Even if you weren’t a performer, music
provided an outlet, be it escape, hope, anger, and helped you process and adapt to the
conditions. It played a vital role for some in keeping their humanity alive, and it was the
preservation of that humanity that they carried throughout such terrible times, clinging to it, in order to remain sane.

Our concert was not just some missing link, providing the continuity in Jewish artistry and creativity in middle Europe. Nor was it a dry academic exercise, presenting an odd set of compositions that survived beyond all probability. Instead, it brought back to life the
humanity that existed in Terezín, against all odds. A humanity that we rarely think of when
considering life in the camps and ghettos, but a humanity that must have existed in order for our parents and grandparents, our uncles, aunts and cousins to have survived, to be able to build new lives and contribute so much of their own, rich musical culture to a place 12,000 miles away from the land of their birth.

This concert brought back to life the voices of the composers of Terezín. For the first time
in Australia, the Terezín polka sounded, forgotten by all except those interned in the camp, but notated by the sister of the composer who migrated to Tasmania after the war. The heritage of Czech Jewry lives in our Australian musical experience. Rudolf Pekarek, one-time
conductor of the Prague Radio Orchestra migrated to Australia with his wife after the war and
became the first conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and later the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Coco Schumann moved to Melbourne in 1950, where for four years he played successfully with Leo Rosner and his Gypsy Band. Karel An erl toured the Czech Philharmonic to Australia in the 1970s, to great acclaim. Hundreds of Czech survivors made their home in Australia, ordinary people who brought with them a love and devotion to music and the arts. This concert was dedicated to them and their memory and
also as a legacy to those who died, whose music carries a unique voice for future generations to hear.

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Joseph Toltz is a professional singer and academic.

EU court: No tariff breaks for West Bank goods

February 27, 2010 Leave a comment

PRESS RELEASE (WJC)–The European Union’s high court has ruled that Israeli goods produced in the West Bank cannot receive EU tariff breaks.

The decision handed down Thursday by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice drew a legal distinction between Israel and areas located over the Green Line, according to the French news agency AFP.

The case before the court dealt with the German company Brita, which wanted to import drink makers and syrups from Soda-Club, which is based in the West Bank near Jerusalem. A German court had refused to extend EU trade privileges to the goods.

The EU court upheld the German court decision.

The ruling said that “Products originating in the West Bank do not fall within the territorial scope of the European Community-Israel agreement and do not therefore qualify for preferential treatment under that agreement.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has not yet commented on the ruling.

American Wealth and International Affairs

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky
 
JERUSALEM–Money, money everywhere, but not enough. That’s the message from the massive deficit already apparent and projected for the United States. It comes from too many wars, too many tax cuts, too many entitlement programs, and too much exploitation by highly paid capitalists who forced the government into unprecedented bail-outs. Who’s to blame is problematic. Any quest for responsibility will produce a political dog fight that worsens the chances of getting cooperation to deal with it.

A newspaper headline captures the strategic threat, “Huge Deficits May Alter U.S. Politics and Global Power.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/us/politics/02deficit.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

At stake is the war on terror, health reform, tax and spending leverages to increase employment, along with prosaic domestic programs that are suffering on account of financial problems among states and localities. There is also a prospect of Chinese influence on American policy due to government bonds they have acquired from selling consumer and industrial goods to Americans, Europeans and others. The same changes in international commerce have also brought about the closing of factories throughout countries where shopping is a favored pastime.

It is too early to write finish to the power of North America and Europe. The Chinese cannot unload their bonds without reducing their value, and hurting themselves along with the United States. America and Europe are wealthy, and may be wise enough to avoid disaster. Yet signs of trouble include the interruption of medical evacuations from Haiti to the United States due to arguments as to which institutions would pay for treatment, and the president’s comments that the country could not afford an endless war in Afghanistan, a country his experts warned was unrepairable.

The dismay over deficits may be more important for the prospect of health reform than the loss of a Massachusetts Senate seat. The country with the best medical facilities in the world may continue to have them unavailable to much of its population. Large numbers will get only emergency treatment in public hospitals, and others who think they have paid for decent care will suffer the stinginess of insurance companies.

While avoiding the temptation of indicating which president or which bloc of Congress has contributed what portion to the deficit, it is useful to identify some traits of the United States that contribute to its problem.

The financial problems of the United States (national, state, and local governments) suffer from taxes that are lower than those of other western democracies, as well as from the costs of its overseas commitments. Americans concerned to deal with their deficits should not focus on their domestic programs, which generally are less generous than those of other democracies.

Wealth may be the single most important factor responsible for American prominence in international conflicts. Resources per capita in the United States are lower than in Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, and Sweden, suggesting that the average individual in those countries is better off than the average American. However, the American population is larger, and the overall wealth of the United States is greater than those countries. This gives the American government leverage not possessed by others. Military power derives from the total wealth of the United States, as well as its being the greatest surviving western power at the end of World War II, and then one of the two major players in the Cold War.

Being the lone superpower left standing in 1990 invited endless appeals for assistance, and made the United States the most attractive target for those whose targets are capitalism, individualism, the rich, and the non-Muslim. The World Trade Center fell as a result of the second attack on the icon of all that was viewed to be evil. The Gulf War of 1991 was a prelude to major military investments, largely American, in the area from Iraq eastward and southward. Iran’s animosity to the United States dates from intense opposition to the friends of the Shah and the hostage taking of 1979-81. It does not seem to be diminishing under the Obama effort at engagement.

The prominence of the United States, as opposed to that of Britain, France, Germany, or Russia in international politics is not only a product of wealth and military power. The structure of American government also has made its contribution to the role the country has chosen for itself. The separation of power, and the competition between Congress and the presidency adds to the heroic defense of national values not so apparent in the parliamentary regimes of Europe. The unity between executive and legislature may facilitate the willingness to accommodate hostile forces, most apparent in going along with Muslim and Third World demands in the United Nations, or abstaining alongside American nays.

Somewhere in the American mix is the power of the Jewish lobby. One must be careful of exaggerating. It is far from dominant. Insofar as Israel is often a target of Muslim and other Third World countries, however, Jewish influence in Congress and the White House is among the factors responsible for United States vetoes in the Security Council, and votes against resolutions in the General Assembly and other UN organs where European governments are generally not as outspoken.

While on the subject of Jews, it is appropriate to continue with the advantages of a country that is beleaguered, but also small and limited in its responsibilities. Israel devotes three or four times the percentage of its resources to security as the United States, and has suffered perhaps 10 times the casualties on a proportional basis since World War II, but it has advantages that the American giant can envy. While American troops fight from bases on every continent but Australia and Antartica, Israel’s military operations are restricted to a couple of hundred miles from the center of its country, plus the occasional operation further afield. The cultures and languages of America’s  enemies are beyond the ken of its intelligence capabilities, while Israel has operated throughout its history with agents in places not so foreign to those who direct and analyze the gathering of intelligence. Israel can get credit for the quick dispatch of a few well trained people, with appropriate equipment to Haiti and other disaster areas. The United States starts slower, but does the heavy lifting of prolonged care and the refurbishing of infrastructure. Israel’s airport and national airline led the world in security, but they deal with a smaller number of flights than those at a sizable American or European airport, and need not bother with inflated demands to treat every passenger as posing the same risk. Israeli security personnel pay less attention to aged Jews than to young Arabs.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University