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When the conductor is, er, mis-conducted

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO–I wrote in a recent column about a personal family trip. But, as part of my musical career, I have had the privilege and pleasure to visit interesting places, countries in a state of social transition and major political and economic changes. Some of these places were most pleasant, and provided a reasonable amount of creature comforts. Others made me homesick almost instantly.

But in every instance, it was a revealing, educational experience. I saw places that most tourists will never visit, and had the opportunity to talk to many people whose voices had been suppressed for decades; some, for their entire lives. The stories were fascinating. At times, I witnessed history taking place, as was the case in countries where the Soviets were about to depart, or had recently left.

Just saying the word “Israel”, for my musical visits there, can bring to memory dozens of unusual and memorable encounters.

These travels have been for conducting live concerts and recording sessions, lecturing, attending specific musical happenings, auditioning musicians, visiting music schools, or judging in international music competitions.

These were experiences that were priceless, and in most cases, very positive. This, however, I can not say for the travels to and from my musical destinations. No one is exempt from horror travel stories.

Once in a while, after telling someone of an upcoming trip, I am told (you have heard this line many times yourselves!), “Oh, how glamorous! Can I come along and carry your suitcases?”  Don’t even think about it.

Take, for instance, a trip that took me to Trapani, in Sicily, in 1999 to be part of an international jury for the city’s annual Chamber Music Competition. Trapani is a fishing town in West Sicily, and East of Palermo. The eight days in Trapani were terrific. Nothing but good things. After all, how can you beat hearing lots of chamber music every day, hobnobbing with brilliant and distinguished musical minds, and eating Italian and Sicilian food?

But, let me tell you of my return trip on Sunday, November 28, 1999. Due to short lead times and details given to me a few weeks before, my trajectory to return home included no less than four flights, all in the same day. It later turned out to be five flights. I awakened from the Trapani hotel at 4:00 a.m., after a late night of the closing ceremonies, and was on my way to the Palermo airport by private taxi an hour later. This car ride takes about an hour. On our way there, we ran into a violent thunderstorm. When we reached the Palermo airport, I discovered that there was no power in the building, due to the storm. They were operating with emergency lights, which were illuminating only a little more than eight modest Hannukah candles.

Even though Alitalia had several flights leaving at 7:00 a.m., there was only one window open to register all the passengers, and what seemed like a thousand people, not forming any discernible cues or lines, were pushing to present their tickets and luggage all at the same time, to a single, distraught employee. Chaos personified, and of course, everything in Sicilian, which is not quite Italian.

You can imagine my frustration those forty minutes after my plane was supposed to depart; I was still cueing in line, with no one around for me to plead my case. I ran to the gate to find it totally empty, only to find out that my plane not only had not departed, but had not yet arrived from Rome.

We finally departed from Rome. Upon landing, I had to call on my limited athletic skills to again run to the next gate. No time for breakfast, but I made it.

Landing in Paris’ Orly airport can be real fun. One is led through interminable shuttles, corridors, and security and passport checkpoints, all through connecting terminals, while being pushed and shoved by a million other harassed passengers. I believe that the terminal where I was must have been a quarter of a mile long. While standing by gate # 2, it was indicated that my gate was to be # 33 for my New York flight. But hurry! Your flight has finished boarding, and they are about to close the doors. Again, I desperately ran to gate 33, only to find out that due to gate changes, my plane was parked at gate # 3, where I was a few breathless minutes before. Run again. When boarding, I was advised by an attendant that due to my inexcusable tardiness, there would be no meal for me, since a final count was already taken. I took my seat for the eight hour flight, sweaty, but relieved. Somehow, I did receive a meal.

Upon landing at JFK in New York, I found out that my suitcases did not make the connection, but I was informed of this after waiting for 40 minutes at baggage claim. Fill out a missing luggage report, and board the airport shuttle to the American Airlines terminal for my flight to San Diego. The shuttle took 45 minutes to take me there (after all, this was the Thanksgiving weekend), and as you might have expected it, my connections luck finally ran out, and I totally missed my flight to San Diego.

Hoping not to lose a night and stay in New Your without my suitcases, I insisted in some form of alternate route home. For this, I was put on a “waiting list”, which is only a notch or two above the handling of cattle. I called home to notify my wife of the situation. There was a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth. I was given the last seat available, in the very rear, with practically the engine on my lap.

In Dallas, another marathon walk in a short time, another waiting list, and the tension of uncertainty. I was given a seat for my flight to San Diego, next to a very drunk and troubled woman. After over 24 hours from hotel in Sicily to landing at Lindbergh Field, I arrived late, hungry, exhausted, and happy to be home. My suitcases, after being subjected to a magical mystery tour of their own, arrived three days later. I have given you only the main highlights of that day; there were other incidents and encounters.

Now, we know that this harrowing experience is not typical of every trip; but potentially, any of these mishaps can happen, and many times do. Do you still want to carry my suitcases?

*
Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra in San Diego and has guest conducted numerous professional orchestras around the world.

Commentary:Ground Zero mosque controversy confronts political correctness

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The issue of the New York City mosque near ground zero has awakened discussion of that big gorilla in the American living room. Despite all the platitudes slung back and forth about religious freedom and the separation of church and state, and the assertion that the problem of terror is not Islam, the gorilla will not go away.

Americans who write to me are strongly disinclined to see the reality, but they are already in the forefront of the battle in behalf of western civilization. It may not be mentionable in polite society, but a religious survey will not turn up many Christians or Jews among the enemy fighters killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, or still kept prisoner in Guantanamo.

The Soviet Union spent great amounts of blood and treasure dealing with Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan, just over the border of its own Muslim republics. It encountered not the cooperation of the United States, but the active opposition of American arms and money. The result may have advanced the end of the Cold War and entered the books as an American victory, but what was left behind turned against the United States. The Russians are still hurting in the Caucasus and elsewhere. Like others, they are disinclined to say that the problem is Islam, per se.. The New York Times reports the latest chapter in this story.

Dissembling may be necessary when dealing with an issue as explosive as religion. Christians and Jews can become feisty when public figures attack values held dear like homosexuality, abortion, Christmas trees, Easter eggs, Chanukah, or ritual slaughter, but they are nothing like sword waving and suicide belt wearing Muslims.

Scholars can find hateful doctrines in all the monotheistic religions, but those of Judaism and Christianity are historic relics. There are rogue rabbis who write about the conditions when it is proper to overlook the suffering of goyim, and priests who insist that the Jews really were the killers of Christ, but they are far from typical. Aggressive elements of Islam may not be statistically dominant among the faithful, but they are loud, arguably ascendant, and in control of fighters, governments, and armies in enough places to be more than a nuisance.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, prominent among the promoters of Cordoba House, has compiled a thick file of endorsements and doubts. Ambiguous comments about Hamas and American responsibility for violent Islamic anti-Americanism leave some wondering about his moderation, and the kinds of lessons that will be taught in the mosque and classrooms that he wants to build.

Dealing with Islam, or any other aggressive religious group is not simple in a society that prides itself on openness, tolerance, and moderation.

Israel suffers the disadvantage of being in the midst of a Muslim region, and having attracted the enmity of jihadists and their friends. It also has the advantage of long experience, and a willingness to invest heavily in intelligence gathering and defense. Critics speak out in embarrassment and anger about what their government does, but supporters are more numerous than doubters.

Israeli authorities know what is said in the mosques after Friday prayers. They pressure clerics who go over the line of what is acceptable. The police assemble in their thousands when the word is that something might happen. They announce that young men will not be allowed to enter the Old City, and put an observation blimp overhead. One of the most excitable clerics has been questioned about his incitement, arrested, tried, banished from Jerusalem, and imprisoned. An even more excitable cleric, based in Gaza, was sent to his Paradise by the IDF.

It is easier for Americans and Western Europeans to deal with rogue religious movements far from home, while telling their citizens that the issue is not Islam. There may be no better way of dealing with this problem while denying that it exists.

Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the stork also serve noble purposes.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

The Jews Down Under~News of the Jews of Australia and New Zealand

August 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Garry Fabian

By Garry Fabian

New Zealand Jewish Community goes to court

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, 10 August– The following announcement was released by the  New Zealand Jewish Community:

As we informed the community last week, we filed  legal proceedings against the Minister of
Agriculture, seeking a restoration of the right  to practise shechitain New Zealand.  We are  pleased to report that an interim agreement has
now been reached with the Minister, which will  enable the continued practice of shechita in the  period up to trial (which is likely to take place during 2011).

Court orders were made by consent in the  Wellington High Court this morning, giving legal effect to that agreement. Every effort is being
made to get chicken and local lamb”back on the table”as soon as possible.

The community would like to acknowledge the  tremendous contribution the legal team at Russell McVeagh have made in putting together our
case to achieve this positive outcome in such a short period.

The memorandum was signed by Jewish community leaders Garth Cohen, Michael Stiassny and Geoff Levy.

*
Church resolution reveals failure of interfaith

MELBOURNE, 13 August -The National Council of  Churches of Australia’s resolution encouraging a  boycott of Israel is absolutely indefensible, and  makes a mockery of both mutual tolerance and  “interfaith” dialogue. It is abundantly clear in  the case of Israel, as in countless instances in Jewish history, an exception has been made of Jews.

If the churches were fair  about their  human rights concerns they would have boycotted  Sudan, Saudi Arabia and so many other Islamic
countries for their real human rights abuses and  treatment and discrimination of non-Muslim minorities.

No mainstream church group has ever openly sided  with Jews, publicly criticising Iran’s President  Amadinajad over his promotion of Holocaust denial and anti Semitic rhetoric or criticising Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism. There are so many other examples of the church’s hypocrisy in singling out the Jewish state as their ‘pet’ cause. Even some Christians who have seen the NCAA statement find it incomprehensible that it
does not mention Palestinian/Hamas discrimination of Christians in Gaza.

Jewish interfaith advocates should start  insisting on some reciprocity and public support for the Jewish narrative in the Israel/
Palestinian, Arab Muslim conflict otherwise they are wasting their time

*

Contemporary Antisemitism: What We Can Do

Contemporary antisemitism turns Israel into a collective Jew among the nations, demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state. Irwin Cotler
defines its expression in the genocidal antisemitism of Ahmadinejad’s Iran; the political antisemitism  that denies Jews the right to national selfdetermination; the racialised antisemitism that defines Zionism as racism; the legalized antisemitism that makes a mockery of the UN Human  Rights procedures, and the “new protocols of the elders of Zion”, which blames Israel for  everything from 9/11 to swine flu.

But, Cotler argues, we can act. We have  opportunities through Holocaust memory and education, through pressuring for the implementation of the  legal procedures of the Genocide Convention,
through reforming the UN, through government  initiatives and through working to reframe the narrative that blames Israel and Jews for all
Middle East conflict and ignores human rights abuses in other parts of the world..

The Hon. Professor Irwin Cotler MP is an eminent  human rights lawyer and Canadian statesman. A former Canadian Attorney-General and sitting  member of the Canadian Parliament, he has been outspoken on issues of human rights in the  former Soviet Union, South Africa and Rwanda.

The ADC was honoured to host him recently as our ADC Gandel Orator. This special report is an edited transcript of his Oration.

*
Australian Foreign Minister charts positive Israel course

CANBERRA,  13 August – The diplomatic relationship  between Australia and Israel has resumed on its normal course, less than three months after Stephen Smith expelled an Israeli diplomat from Canberra.

And despite a frosty few months, the two  countries – which both share a desire to see Iran’s nuclear weapons program halted immediately
– never ceased to share intelligence on the rogue state.

In a wide-ranging interview during a campaign  stop in Melbourne, Smith spoke about the resumption of that relationship. He made no
pledges about the foreign policy direction a  future Gillard government would take, but spoke in depth about some of the decisions made over the past almost three years.

“I am now very confident that things are now back to business as usual,” he said of the diplomatic ties between Australia and Israel.

“Often when you have a difficult issue that you’ve got to manage, your capacity to manage that and then to move reasonably quickly off it,
reflects the strength of the relationship.

“Yes it was a difficult time and I obviously  thought very carefully about all of the issues and came to the decision that, as I said
publicly, we could not turn a blind eye to what had occurred.

“I’m very confident now that in terms of agency-to-agency relationship,
government-to-government, nation-to-nation, it is business as usual.”

He added that at no time during the diplomatic impasse, did the two countries stop cooperating to quash the rogue Iranian regime.

“One area [of the Australia-Israel relationship] we did not want to see disturbed was the ongoing cooperation and exchange of information on Iran,” he said.

Asked whether he thought the forthcoming direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians means that the time for peace is right, Smith showed some trademark diplomacy.

“I think your attitude has got to be that it is always right,” he said. “You always have to try and take the opportunity and often when things
appear to be at their worst is often a time when you can move forward.”

“We’re very supportive of President [Barack] Obama’s efforts, we’re very supportive of  Ambassador [George] Mitchell’s efforts and we
make the point to all of the players in the Middle East that it is absolutely essential that we get long-term enduring peace.

“The issues are complex, complicated and there are strong views respectively on both sides, but we can’t give up because solving these Middle East issues is very important to peace and security, peace and stability throughout the entire world,” he said.

*
Jewish Music Festival hits Sydney

SYDNEY, 16 August – SHIR Madness, Sydney’s first  large-scale Jewish music festival, brought Bondi Beach to life with more than 40 performers from Australia and around the world, eclectic food stalls, kids activities and an art exhibition centred around Bondi Pavilion on Sunday, August 15.

The festival is the brainchild of Gary Holzman, who has dreamed of staging a music festival for many years.

“I’ve always felt there would be somebody better  equipped to put it on than myself, but as it never eventuated, I finally decided to do
something about it,” says Holzman, who is the festival director.

The festival will feature four stages, with musical styles covering klezmer, choral, Latino, Chassidic, Israeli, jazz, cabaret, folk, blues, pop, rock, funk, reggae and rap.

Among the local performers are Deborah Conway, Monsieur Camem­bert, The Mark Ginsburg Band,  Alana Bruce, Joanna Weinberg, the Emanuel choirs and the Sydney Jewish Choral Society.

Leading the line-up of international performers are Israeli singer Ido Lederman, Alex Jacobowitz from New York and the Jew Brothers Band from New Zealand.

Lederman began his music career as lead singer of Israeli rock band Amstaf, and was bass player for the reggae group Hatikvah 6. He will also perform in Melbourne on August 21.

Holzman says: “It’s just going to be an amazing atmosphere and an absolute smorgasbord – what I would call a ‘mixed salad’ of musical delight.

“People should come to appreciate the amazing variety of musical talent within the Jewish community, both from Sydney and from other places as well.

“With the incredible variety of music on offer, a food court full of tempting delights, market stalls, kids entertainment and an exhibition of
Jewish art, this is going to be a fantastic festival for the whole family to come and enjoy.”

Holzman hopes the festival will be an annual event.

“We certainly want to make sure that it’s not going to be a one-off, but will become a highlight of the Sydney cultural calendar.”

One of the international performers from upstate New York is  Jacobowitz, a master of the marimba who has plied his trade across the world, most notably in Germany. An Orthodox Jew, he focuses
on the traditional klezmer music of his ancestors.

“My music is spiritual, natural, totally  unexpected and riveting,” he says. “It brings European music, African sound and Jewish geist together.”

Jacobowitz says his Jewish identity is an integral part of his music.

“Judaism is my spirit, and my spirit energises and breathes life into my music. Whether I’m playing Bach, flamenco or klezmer, my music is 100 per cent kosher.”

Jacobowitz is thrilled to be in Australia and taking part in Shir Madness.

“To be part of the first Jewish music festival in Sydney makes me proud and humble at the same time, and I hope that the music finds a special echo there.”

For AJN Ghetto Blasterz competition winner Shannon Gaitz, Shir Madness is the highlight of her fledgling music career so far.

“I’m extremely excited, especially to be able to get my name and my songs out there,” says Gaitz, 17, from Bondi, who describes her music as country pop.

“It’s very honest – it’s all based on personal experience and very emotional.”
Gaitz is grabbing the opportunity to perform at Shir Madness with both hands.

“It’s just a huge opportunity of being able to get performance experience, especially with my original songs, and I’m going to be playing with
Philip Foxman, he’s my mentor and that’s also a really big honour.”

Gaitz will also spend a day recording tracks at  the Green Sound Music studios in Sydney’s Castle Cove as part of her prize.Sydney band The Naked Parade has been causing quite a stir with its  infectious brand of alternative pop-rock.

Singer Talya Rabinovitz explains with a laugh: “We’ve been told that we are the love child of Jeff Buckley and No Doubt if they went travelling
though Eastern Europe and South America.”

“We definitely have a Middle Eastern vibe to our music, with the violin, melodies and the drumbeats.”

Rabinovitz is excited to be performing at Shir Madness.

“It just looks like an amazing music festival,” she says. “This will be a different age group for us as well –

I know that a lot of my family like my aunts and uncles are coming and they don’t usually come to our gigs. I’m excited to see their reaction and put on a show.”

Local singer Natan Kuchar has spent the past four years plying his trade in the United States.

Kuchar has performed solo at Carnegie Hall, but the humble performer speaks more enthusiastically about his recent album release at a small Surry Hills venue in Sydney.

“It made me feel like people really dig what I have and were really interested in me,” he says. “It was a really great confidence booster and it
helped propel me to apply for Shir Madness.”

Kuchar describes his music as “a really raw sound, merging pop music and soul music.”

“I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from people like Stevie Wonder and Regina Spektor for their  melodies and for their storytelling within their music,” he says.

“I really love to subtly add melodies from synagogue services or from High Holy Days or just lyrics that are found in certain religious texts
that help to support some other kind of contemporary story that I’m trying to tell in my songs.”

*
Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

Commentary: Sara Netanyahu steps up for immigrant children

August 15, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Sara Netanyahu is not one of the most well regarded first ladies of the world. She is known for yelling and throwing things at the household help. She has been the target of civil actions for not paying what is required, and–along with her husband–the subject of police inquiries for fiddling with government funds.

Mrs. Netanyahu has most recently come to attention for writing a letter to Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister with direct responsibility for dealing with illegal immigrants.

“I turn to you as the mother of two sons and as a psychologist . . . I ask from the bottom of my heart that you use your authority to allow a vast majority of the remaining 400 children to remain in Israel. This issue is very close to my heart.”

Yishai is the Knesset leader of the SHAS party of Sephardi ultra-Orthodox, who often speaks out on matters of maintaining the ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service and other issues important to his community. He led the faction against allowing any of the immigrant children to remain in Israel, emphasizing the threat to the society of individuals who are not Jews according to religious law.

For the large number of Israelis who are not fans of either Sara or SHAS, this might be an event to celebrate.

However, many of those Israelis are lining up in behalf of the immigrant children. Joining them are leading media personalities, and Aliza, the politically correct wife of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

No doubt the kids are here illegally. The government has voted to expel about one-third of some 1,200 children who do not meet criteria of being in Israel for a minimum of years, fluent in Hebrew, and attending Israeli schools. But I am not certain that the government will actually go through with this decision.

It is not only that implementation is not a strong element of Israel’s public administration. Those kids are tugging at a lot of heart strings.

The issue of illegal immigration is no less complex here than in other countries of  Europe and North America where there is work that the locals do not want to do. Housewives complain about the problems of finding and keeping decent help who have legal status. There are a couple of hundred thousand workers here legally to work in construction, agriculture, and the care of the infirm. There are thousands of others who have overstayed their permits, come over the border with Egypt, or entered informally from the West Bank. As elsewhere, there are ugly stories of individuals having to pay bribes in order to obtain work permits, being housed in substandard facilities, or denied proper wages.

Also in the headlines is a gun battle involving Africans coming through the Sinai, who rebelled against the Bedouin smugglers who demanded more money as they approached the Israeli border. Several Africans and Bedouins were killed in that fray, and other Africans died in an incident when Egyptian soldiers opened fire when they refused to surrender.

Other news is that illegal Africans are moving out of a Tel Aviv neighborhood and settling in a lower-priced area of Bnei Brak. That is a low-income, largely ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv. What will emerge from that social combine will be interesting to observe. Already the locals are demanding a greater police presence in their community.

There is nothing new in all of this. The Book of Joshua describes the Gibeonites, whose presence among the Israelites was not entirely kosher, but who were allowed to stay and “be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community.” (Joshua 9:21). (Gibeon, or El Jib, is a Palestinian village alongside Route 443, a few miles west of Jerusalem. Its residents may have to find a way through the barriers in order to get work in Israel, but I would not bet against them.)

When a million immigrants came from the former Soviet Union during the late 1980s onward, they had a major impact on the economy. There were some among them who fit the Gibeon profile as “woodcutters and water carriers,” but for the most part they came as physicians, engineers, scientists, and musicians. They and their children are higher than average in income, education and other social indicators.
More than one hundred thousand Ethiopians are mostly at the bottom of the economy, but there are not enough of them to fill the demand. They do not have the skills of Palestinian or Chinese construction workers, and the rights and social programs of Jewish immigrants may allow them to avoid the least desirable opportunities in the labor market.

Sara’s letter may cause her husband to squirm out of the firm posture about illegal immigrants he articulated a week ago, and lead other Israelis to elevate their feelings toward her, at least for a while. The fate of those 400 children is currently at the top of the emotional agenda. That issue will pass in one way or another, but the larger story of which it is a part will not go away.

Unless someone out there can tell us about a large and untapped pool of poor Jews.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of politcal science at Hebrew University

Open letter to Fareed Zakaria concerning the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’

August 14, 2010 3 comments

Isaac Yetiv

Dear Mr Zakaria:

 
As an assiduous viewer of your Sunday TV show  (CNN/GPS), which I have always enjoyed for your judicious commentaries, the choice of your experts, and your well-prepared and deeply-probing questions, I have earned the right to express my disappointment.

The case in point is your position on the  controversial decision to build a mosque on Ground Zero in New York (your program of Sunday 8 Aug. 2010.)  I believe that your support for building the mosque was a knee-jerk reaction to ADL’s strong opposition to it, and that if you dig deeper, you might revise your opinion.  ( Already, in your interview with Anderson Cooper a few days later, you seemed less sanguine; I even detected some regretful tone) . The following analysis will hopefully help:

 
First, unless I missed something, you deliberately talk about “a center:” I didn’t hear you say the word “mosque.”  This is, of course, disingenuous and misleading. A “center” without a “mosque” is a less loaded proposition, and would have aroused less resistance and outrage.
 
Second, you call Imam Raouf a “moderate” or “a Bin Laden nightmare” while conveniently occulting from your discourse his own pronouncements such as ” America was the accessory to the crime of 9/11 ”  or “Bin Laden is made in the U.S.” and that he, Rauf,  would like “a Sharia-compliant America” (where , as you know, an adulteress is stoned and an apostate is HALAL to be killed etc.) He also  could not bring himself to admit that Hamas is a terrorist organization (“I am not a politician,”he said, “and terrorism is a complicated problem.”) There are also rumors I can’t ascertain that he has indirect links with terrorist organizations and that his father was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
Besides, even if all that is not true, there is no guarantee that he will not be “used” as Imam for a short time, and then replaced with a more radical Islamist  (the type of Al-Awlaki who was Imam in a mosque in Virginia frequented by two of the 19 hijackers of 9/11) who  will use the mosque as a hotbed for radical  Islamists, a center of recruitment, and as a MADRASA  to inculcate the Wahabi extremist religious ideology that has produced 9/11 and other violent eruptions elsewhere, notably in the Muslim world and with mainly Muslim victims.

Rauf refused to say where the money (100 millions !!) will come from. A foreign country? a sponsor of terrorism? the terrorists themselves? It is clear that those who will finance the project will dictate its content and its programs. Recent events clearly demonstrate that an “investment” of such magnitude can only come  from a few oil-rich theocracies that have produced nine-eleven and other terrorist calamities. Is that scenario not plausible?  Do you want to take that risk?

 
The fact that Imam Raouf was (or is being ) sent to the Middle-East by the State Department to “explain” to the Muslims that we, Americans, are nice people, and we love them etc…was used by the proponents to prove that he is, as you said, a “moderate.”
This initiative was already tried by the Bush State Department with Karen Hughes, at great cost, and failed lamentably. It only shows once more the naivete and gross ineptitude of the Arabists who dominate the Agency and who still “don’t get it.” Would that the love of the radical Islamists could be acquired with some logical explanation ! Instead, the fear is that Imam Rauf will enjoy a junket at American taxpayer expense which he will use as a fundraiser for his projected mosque from those same oil-rich potentates.
 
Third, this is absolutely not a case of freedom of religion or first amendment rights, as it was demagogued by the politicians, including ,most recently, the president,after a few weeks of reflection and hesitation . (A better case of violation of the first amendment can be made with what was recently discovered, namely that our taxpayer money has been spent –by Bush and Obama–to build and refurbish mosques in Egypt, Tanzania, and Iraq,  maybe elsewhere too. So much for the separation of church (!) and state .) But not in this case: America is a free country and we cherish all freedoms. There is no “establishment of religion” or preventing “the exercise therof.” There are more than a hundred mosques in New York only, about 3,000 in the US. (How many churches and synagogues in Saudi Arabia? Syria?Jordan?)        
                                                                                                                                                It is a case of what I would call ” zoning for reasons of security, sensitivity to the feelings of the victims of 9/11, common decency,and domestic peace.” The onus of proof is on the proponents of building the  mosque precisely at that point and not a few miles away.
 
Many experts believe that a 15-story-100 million dollar mosque (at odds with the beautiful tenet of Islam which is modesty) ,towering above other religions’ houses of worship in the heart of New York ,or even elsewhere, and funded by the most extremist ideologues of the Wahabi doctrine of Islam, is a high-security risk. They ,of course, rely on past performance. A former CIA operative and expert on terrorism sees it as “a magnet for militants,” a training ground for future agents of mischief, and a center for proselytizing.
 
But security is not the only concern for the opponents. Their cry of outrage is fueled by the arrogant insensitivity to the feelings of the families of the victims of 9/11 (including Muslims) and of the majority of Americans (recent poll shows 69 % opposed against 28 % approving.) This project is also fomenting confrontation and threatening domestic peace.
There seems to be an awakening of the masses, as opposed to the lethargy of the leaders, in other places, too. In Temecula, California. in Wisconsin, in Tennessee, we see the same opposition to building mosques, and in Germany, the authorities have just closed a mosque in Hamburg which was frequented by Mohammed Atta and his acolytes.
Many real moderate Muslims spoke out against the project which they see as an unnecessary provocation. One of them, a prominent woman, president of an Islamic organization, Raheel Raza, explained at length on TV why she opposed the project. Another Muslim woman, originally from Iran, Neda Belurchi, published an article in which she lamented the loss of her dear mother as a passenger in one of the planes destroyed  in nine-eleven. She called the proposed mosque “a symbol of victory for militant Islam.”
 
So why, one might ask, the insistence on building the mosque precisely at ground zero? Why did they reject a compromise solution by the Governor of New York who offered them another area that will not stir the enormous controversy? You, Fareed,  may be more familiar with a  view of Islam, that of South East Asia, which is very different from the Middle-East interpretation and implementation . The latter  is stricter and more fundamentalist and ideologist, especially the Wahabi kind. As you surely know, in the study of conflict resolution, we distinguish between “conflicts of interest,” readily amenable to compromise solutions acceptable to both sides, and “conflicts of ideology” that brook no compromise, especially if the ideology is of the religious kind and involves the “word of God,” or if one side demands the destruction of the other “before it can negotiate” as in the case of Hamas and Hizballah toward Israel.
 
Those who want to build the mosque at ground zero, and their financiers in the Middle-East, want to make a point: that a mammoth shrine of Islam towering above all other minuscule houses of worship of other faiths, in the heart of New York, in the heart of America,
with the mellifluous stentorian voice of the MUEZZIN resonating far away and calling the flock to prayers five times a day, with Allahu Akbar exclamations full of symbolism, is a vivid proof of  victory of fundamentalist and militant Islam (just as Belurchi said.)
This act of triumphalism is in keeping with medieval war and lore . It was the norm for the victors (not only Muslims) to erect their own house of worship on the ruins of their defeated enemies’ shrines. We can see many examples in Spain , or in Turkey such as the Hagia Sofia mosque in Istanbul which was a Byzantine church in Constantinople, or the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem built on the Jewish Temple Mount.

The 9/11 atrocities were seen by the perpetrators and their sponsors (to be sure, a minority, to be distinguished from real moderate Muslims, and certainly from Islam as a respectable religion no less than the others)

as a “victory.” They danced in the streets to celebrate it. For them, what better way to triumph than enshrine the place with the projected mammoth mosque?
Historically, triumphalism uses symbolism to enhance its effect: the selected title to the project, “The Cordoba initiative,” was intended as a reminder of the “Golden Age” in Muslim Spain where different religions lived in peace and harmony (which is true), but in the 11 th century,the Almohades invasion changed all that with its persecutions of Jews and Christians of whom many fled for their life (the most famous were the scholars Maimonides and Averroes.) It was reported , whether true or false, that the organizers of the project planned to inaugurate the mosque …on September 11 of next year “as an act of commemoration for the souls of the victims,” but many see that,if true, as adding insult to injury. A Muslim lady said on TV: “that is sticking it in your face.”
 
One may ask: ” If it is so bad, why have the mayor of New York and some elected officials, all Jews, thrown their hats in the arena  on the side of the promoters? The answer is simple: it is political correctness run amok. The Muslim ladies quoted above called them “bleeding-heart liberal elites.”

I dare to go farther: as an avowed foe of political correctness of any kind– I believe it is our collective enemy number one because it obscures the truth, and afflicts us with willful blindness, and the truth, for me, remains the supreme criterion for any judgment– I say with sadness that the Jewish leaders on the Left, in general, suffer from the Jewish disease of what I call “universalitis.” They can’t take their own side in a dispute, the others are always right. They speak in the abstract, on what should be rather than what is.  To parody a popular adage, they don’t see the log in the eye of the others but they see the straw in their eye.

They indulge in self-deluding pieties on liberty, rights, constitution, and they defend those who reject them violently. In the words of Lenin in another context (speaking of the Communists in the West) they are “useful idiots.” To the point that they even brave the 69 % and growing opponents among their constituents. I believe they will not be re-elected.

I also believe the mosque will not be built on ground zero. As for Obama, safely protected by those Jewish politicians, he has an uncanny ability to do things against the majority of the people’s wishes. And he, too, will pay politically.

 
Conclusion: As documented above, I do not see the controversy as “religious,” akin to the “disputations” in Spain and France during the Inquisition. It is not a matter of theology, on which religion is right. I see it as matter of security even more than sensitivity to the sufferers. Can you, or anyone of the defenders, declare with some degree of certitude, that a mosque of this magnitude in America does not present any danger to our security?  If not, it is irresponsible to let it happen. We should use common sense: “when in doubt, abstain !”  Use caution, be prudent.

Maybe we should prohibit all religions, for the sake of fairness, to limit their houses of worship to no more than  2-3 floors. We should “respect and suspect” everyone,and not endanger the security of all because of political correctness. And if it is difficult to decide, I suggest to use “Le Pari” (the Wager) of Blaise Pascal. He wrote :” Let us wager that God exists. If we are right, we gain eternity; if we are wrong, what did we lose, a few pleasures or sacrifices, nothing.”

  
Applied here, it will be: ” If we build such a mosque, we expose ourselves to a potential huge danger but if we don’t, we avoid such catastrophe even if  we will annoy some group by limiting their “rights.” For me, the choice is clear.
I hope you reconsider your position, and you will have the courage to proclaim it. Thank you for your attention.
Prof. Isaac Yetiv
La Jolla, CA

Commentary: Inappropriate for U.S. State Department to send Muslim cleric to Arab countries

August 11, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The State Department has confirmed that Feisal Abdul Rauf – who wants to be the imam of a mosque at Ground Zero – is taking a State Department funded trip to the Middle East to foster “greater understanding” about Islam and Muslim communities in the United States.

“He is a distinguished Muslim cleric,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program, and it is to foster a greater understanding about the region around the world among Muslim-majority communities.” Rauf is reportedly going to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.
 
What a load of hooey.
 
We know a lot of rabbis, some ministers and a few priests. We would be appalled to have the government of the United States, which by law favors no religion, sending a rabbi to Israel – or the former Soviet Union or France or Argentina, where there are communities of Jews – to talk about how Jews live in the United States. Having a priest travel to the Vatican, Honduras, Ireland or the Philippines to describe the lives of American Catholics would be outrageous. Likewise, ministers to Sweden.
 
What business is it of the American government to send a Muslim to Muslim-majority countries to talk about Islam? How offensive is it to think that the American government is using American tax dollars to fly a non-government person around the world to promote the activities and lifestyle of a particular religion? Better to send a non-Muslim American government official to talk about American religious freedom, cultural diversity and the virtues of the secular, democratic state. 
 
To the speculation that Rauf will engage in fund raising for the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, Mr. Crowley said, “That would not be something he could do as part of our program,” he said. 
 
We’re so relieved. And we’re so sure he will do only as the American government desires.
 
But Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 family member told The New York Post, “‘We know he has a fund-raising association with Saudi Arabia,’ … noting that the Saudis have contributed money to underwrite programs by the American Society for Muslim Advancement, a not-for-profit that Abdul Rauf runs with his wife and that is one of the sponsors of the Ground Zero mosque. ‘He’s going to the well, and how can they say they do or don’t know what he’s doing?'”
 
To be entirely clear, JINSA believes Ground Zero is a battlefield cemetery – the site of a battle for the liberal democratic state. We oppose the building of a Muslim sectarian monument there because regardless of what its supporters say, it will be widely understood in the Muslim world as a battlefield monument in the name of Islam. 
 
Does the State Department really think Rauf (who said in English that the United States bears responsibility for 9-11) will tell the Saudis, Bahrainis and Qataris that he is building a monument to cultural understanding, interfaith relations and peace in New York because America is a good, safe and decent place for Muslims as long as they understand the secular, democratic nature of the United States? And that he doesn’t want their money because Americans will fund the mosque?
 
And how will the State Department know?

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

U.S. judge sides with Chabad in demand that Russia return a Jewish library

August 5, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal judge has issued a ruling against the Russian government for its refusal to return a library of historic books and documents to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The documents seized by the Nazis were transferred by the Soviet Red Army as war booty to the Russian State Military Archive.

In an order filed on 30 July and published on Wednesday, Justice Royce Lamberth told the Russian government to surrender to the US Embassy in Moscow, or to representatives of Chabad, the complete collection of religious books, manuscripts, documents and things that comprise the collection, and further ordered the defendants to assist and authorize the transfer of the collection and to provide whatever security and authorization is needed to insure prompt and safe transportation of the collection to a destination of the plaintiff’s choosing.

“This victory is a triumph for justice for the Jewish people and others who abhor the Nazi and Soviet exploitation of victims of genocide, and the unlawful and immoral suppression of religious faith by the current Russian government,” said Seth Gerber, one of the lawyers representing Chabad. 

Last year, lawyers for the Russian government argued that judges had no authority to tell the country how to handle the sacred Jewish documents. Under the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a sovereign nation is not immune to lawsuits in cases where property is taken in violation of international law. Lamberth found that the religious group had established its claim to the material.

According to court papers reciting the history behind the case, during the 1990s Russian President Boris Yeltsin gave an explicit assurance to then-US President George H.W. Bush’s emissary, Secretary of State James Baker, that the Russian government would return the library of religious books and manuscripts to Chabad-Lubavitch.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress