Israeli forensic police officers look for evidence and ZAKA volunteers prepare to collect body parts at the scene of a suicide attack which ripped through a bakery in the southern Israeli resort of Eilat, Jan. 29.
By Dina Kraft
TEL AVIV, Jan. 29 (JTA) — Eilat generally has escaped the violence of the six-year Palestinian intifada, but even its remote setting couldn’t forever insulate the Red Sea resort city from the region’s tensions.
A suicide bomber struck Monday morning at a small bakery in the usually serene city, killing three people when he detonated his explosives belt in a residential area.
It was the first suicide bombing in Israel’s southernmost city, built on the edge of the Red Sea with views of Jordan and Egypt.
“It was awful — there was smoke, pieces of flesh all over the place,” Benny Mazgini, 45, who ran to the bakery from a building across the street, told Israel Radio.
The scene was a foreign one in Eilat, whose luxury hotels, restaurants and nightclubs have made it popular with foreign tourists and Israelis.
“It’s without a doubt a terrible incident that the town of Eilat is not accustomed to,” Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi said. “The thought that infiltrators could enter Eilat alive and disrupt the running of the town is very worrying.”
Israeli officials said the bomber was believed to have entered Eilat from Egypt and warned that accomplices might still be at large.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz called Monday for an end to Israel’s policy of restraint against Palestinian terror organizations. Peretz ordered the Israel Defense Forces to prepare to launch operations inside the Gaza Strip and against the infrastructure that enabled the Eilat suicide bomber to cross from Gaza into Israel.
“We will not make any discounts for terror groups, and the cease-fire will not prevent us from targeting them,” Peretz said following a security assessment with senior defense officials, including outgoing IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz.
Despite Peretz’s harsh response, however, defense officials estimated that the IDF would not launch any major operations in response to the Eilat attack, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The suicide bombing came after a relatively long stretch of calm inside Israel, and was the first such successful attack in nine months. Other attempted attacks have been foiled by Israeli security forces.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a Kadima faction meeting that for “a long time, Israel [had] enjoyed the illusion of quiet.” Olmert stressed that in recent months, Israel had prevented numerous terror attacks.
The prime minster extended his condolences to the victims’ families and said that he had spoken with Halevi.
“I believe Eilat will overcome this blow and remain a happy city,” Olmert said.
Eilat promotes itself as a resort city where tourists weary of winter can find comfort in sunny skies, sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving, and jeep and horse trips into the surrounding desert mountains.
Among the most worried in Eilat are those who work in its tourism industry, the basis of the city’s livelihood. Eilat was just beginning to recover from the wave of tourist cancellations that followed Israel’s war with Lebanon last summer, but some fear the attack could again scare off foreigners.
Miri Eisin, Olmert’s spokeswoman to the foreign press, tried to assuage fears.
“In 2006 we prevented many suicide attacks, and we will continue to do so,” Eisin said. “It’s safe to come to Israel, as it was in the past.”
Several Palestinian groups claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Islamic Jihad said the bomber was Mohammed Faisal al-Saqsaq, 21, from Gaza City.
Fatah officials condemned the attack, saying they were against any violence against civilians, even though the Al-Aksa Brigades, Fatah’s terrorist arm, was one of the groups claiming responsibility. Officials from the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Hamas movement, meanwhile, welcomed the bombing and said Israel had brought such attacks upon itself because of its policies in the West Bank and Gaza.
Although peaceful by Israeli standards, the Eilat area has seen at least one other terror attack.
In November 2003, a Jordanian armed with a Kalashnikov rifle crossed the border near Eilat and opened fire on a group of Christian pilgrims from Ecuador, killing one woman and injuring five others. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility at the time.
Israeli media reported that about six months ago, the Cabinet was informed by security officials that Egypt was observing an al-Qaida network operating in the Sinai desert. Several attacks in recent years have targeted Israelis and other foreigners along Sinai’s beaches.
Evan Kotel/Courtesy of Pirchei Shoshanim
Three newly ordained rabbis from Germany, holding certificates, who received their training through the Internet.
By Toby Axelrod
BERLIN (JTA) — Germany has three new rabbis thanks to a virtual yeshiva.
Benzion Dov Kaplan, Donnell Reed and Yitzhak Mendel Wagner received their ordination Jan. 2 from the Jerusalem-based Shulchan Aruch Learning Program of Pirchei Shoshanim. The Orthodox smicha ceremony, which also included several other candidates, took place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
But since Kaplan, Reed and Wagner couldn’t leave Germany to study in Israel, the program enabled them to complete their training via Skype, the Internet telephone service, and other Internet sites, Reed said.
Reed, 41, an American who has lived in Berlin for 18 years, said the program allowed him to study Torah in the morning and evening while continuing to manage his business and spend time with his family. When he had questions, he turned to the Chabad rabbi in Berlin, Yehudah Teichtal.
Wagner, 27, from the city of Krefeld, studies Judaism at the University of Dusseldorf. For years he has been involved in local Jewish life, and now will head the community’s adult education programs.
Kaplan, 30, came to Germany from Ukraine and works as a rabbinical assistant for the Jewish community of Dusseldorf, which has co-sponsored his studies.
Germany has fewer than 30 ordained rabbis, not enough to serve its growing Jewish community. Official membership in the community has quadrupled to about 120,000 with the influx since 1990 of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Unofficially there may be as many as 200,000 Jews in Germany.
In the fall, three rabbis were ordained by the Reform Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, the first rabbinical program to grant ordination in Germany since the Nazis closed down Jewish schools. Teichtal also has seen some of his students become rabbis.
Another institution in Berlin, the Orthodox Yeshivas Beis Zion-Lauder College at the Skoblo Synagogue and Education Center, has some 30 male students, some of whom may pursue ordination, according to Rabbi Josh Spinner, vice president of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. The yeshiva has an ordination program, supported in part by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and currently has two of its students enrolled.
But the recent ordination in Jerusalem is likely the first that depended largely on Internet telephoning. Few of the candidates had seen each other until they met in Israel, Reed said.
According to Reed, the three Germans studied together over Skype and Virtual Yeshiva several times a week for two-and-a-half years.
They plan to continue their Internet studies together, and are hoping to find Russian-speaking men in Germany to join them.
Though it may seem somewhat unorthodox to learn over the Internet, Reed said several noted rabbis have endorsed the idea. Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, once told him that since Jews are urged to learn “while you sit in your home and while you walk on the way,” they ought to take advantage of modern technology to do so, Reed said.
Moshe Milner/GPO/BPH Images
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert flies over northern Israel by helicopter during this summer´s war in Lebanon.
By Leslie Susser
JERUSALEM, Jan. 22 (JTA) — Following the sudden but not unexpected resignation of the Israeli army’s chief of staff, pundits are asking how much longer Ehud Olmert, the country’s beleaguered prime minister, can survive in office.
Under investigation for corruption and with his approval ratings at an all-time low, Olmert is facing increasing public pressure to quit. Things could get even worse for him if the Winograd Commission, which is investigating last summer’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, is critical of his role when it presents preliminary findings at the end of the month.
But Olmert is a tough customer unlikely to resign of his own accord. And the way the Israeli system works, it could be difficult to force him out.
The fact that Lt. Gen Dan Halutz chose to resign clearly marks last summer’s war in Lebanon as a failure. And the fact that he has already gone puts the Winograd spotlight on those up the line — Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Olmert himself.
The Winograd mandate includes asking the big questions: Why did the prime minister decide to go to war so hastily, just hours after the ostensible casus belli, the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah along the border with Lebanon? Why didn’t Olmert pressure the army to launch a major ground strike much earlier in the campaign to stop rocket fire on Israeli civilians? And why didn’t the government do more to move civilians out of the line of fire?
According to Yoel Marcus, the doyen of Israeli political analysts, the perceived failure in the war, the corruption clouds and the absence of clear leadership on peacemaking with the Palestinians or the Syrians has spawned a dark public mood that the Olmert administration will not survive.
“In this grim atmosphere, the public is not going to sit back and allow the chief of staff to take all the blame for the second Lebanon War while the political leaders who initiated and planned it are let off the hook,” Marcus wrote in Ha’aretz. “Maybe there won’t be a Yom Kippur War-style earthquake. But Labor MK Avishai Braverman is right in predicting that the pair of duds known as Olmert and Peretz are living on borrowed time. Sooner or later they will be toppled from government by the Domino effect.”
Although nothing has been proven against Olmert, the accumulation of corruption scandals involving him or close members of his administration has eroded public confidence in the prime minister. Olmert is being investigated on suspicion of rigging a tender for the sale of Bank Leumi, Israel’s second largest bank, when he was finance minister in 2005-06.
Olmert says the changes he made were to maximize state profits from the sale. The prosecution has ordered the police to investigate whether the changes were meant to help his billionaire friends, American S. Daniel Abraham and Australian Frank Lowy — although in the end they did not make a bid.
Olmert also is suspected of giving preference at the Investment Center to clients of a former law partner and of making dozens of political appointments in the Small Business Center when he was minister of industry and trade in 2003-05.
He also has been tainted by suspicions of corruption by association: His close friend, Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, is suspected of involvement in a sick-fund scam, and his longtime secretary, Shula Zaken, is suspected of helping to appoint cronies to the National Tax Authority in return for tax reductions for pals.
Even if Olmert is innocent, critics say he won’t be able to govern because he’ll be too busy trying to clear his name.
Olmert also is under fire for a perceived lack of political leadership. He says he doesn’t have the political power to make major diplomatic moves, but critics say he doesn’t seem to have an agenda for peacemaking with the Palestinians or the Syrians, or any unilateral alternative either.
The resulting loss of public confidence in the prime minister is reflected in recent public opinion polls. A mid-January survey in Ha’aretz gave Olmert an approval rating nationwide of just 14 percent. A few days later the news for the prime minister was even worse: A poll aired on Israel’s Channel 10 TV claimed that 69 percent of Israelis actually wanted Olmert to resign.
Ironically, although Olmert is probably the most unpopular prime minister in Israeli history, he has one of the strongest coalitions based on the support of 78 of the 120 Knesset members.
So how could he be forced out of office? One way would be for a majority of 61 Knesset members to vote for early elections. But since many of them are unlikely to be re-elected, pundits reckon the chances of that happening any time soon are remote.
A more likely move is a vote of “constructive no-confidence” in which 61 Knesset members coalesce around an alternative candidate for prime minister, thereby installing a new national leader without holding new national elections.
Here pundits see two possibilities — a split in Olmert’s Kadima Party in which half the Kadima legislators return to their Likud origins or at least make a pact with Likud, bringing its leader Benjamin Netanyahu to power.
The second constructive no-confidence scenario involves Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and a coup in Kadima in which she replaces Olmert as leader. Polls show Livni with a 51 percent approval rating to Olmert’s 14 percent, and see her as three times more likely than Olmert to win a new election.
Another scenario that could bring down Olmert would be Labor leaving the coalition, but that’s unlikely to happen before Labor elects a new leader in May. If Labor does pull out then, it would leave the Likud in a position to decide whether to join Olmert in Labor’s place or to force new elections.
Most pundits agree that the countdown on Olmert’s government has begun, but they differ on how long it will take before it falls. And despite his obvious weakness, most pundits think Olmert will be able to stumble on for some time yet.
But where Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, was able to ride out a rebellion in the Likud and a string of corruption scandals, most pundits believe that even if he gets by the Winograd Commission, Olmert does not have the political clout in the longer term to emulate his illustrious predecessor.
On Jan. 20, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans will host "Anne Frank: A History for Today," an exhibit developed by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and sponsored in North America by the Anne Frank Center USA.
The exhibition, which will be displayed until March 25, introduces visitors to the history of the two World Wars and the Holocaust from the perspective of Anne Frank and her family. The presentation contrasts personal photographs of the family, many never before seen, with images of historical events to show how the Franks and millions of other innocent people were victimized by the rise of National Socialism and the actions of many individuals.
Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929 and lived there with her parents Otto and Edith and her sister Margot until 1933. Concerned about the Nazi Party's rapid rise to power and the ever-growing persecution of Jewish families and other minorities, Otto determined the family should start a new life in Amsterdam. He established a business there, and life was fairly normal for a few years.
In May, 1940, the German Army invades Holland. Jews were forced to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothing, and conscriptions for "work abroad" began - the first steps toward mass deportations and the death camps. The Frank family along with four other Jews went into hiding in "the Secret Annex" of the building occupied by Otto's company. Miep Gies and three other employees of the company provided supplies and protected their secret.
Anne and her family remained in hiding for more than two years. When they were betrayed and arrested in 1944, they were first taken to Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands and, from there, to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Later that year, Anne and Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in northern Germany, where they died of typhus in March of 1945. Both still teenagers, they lived only seven months after their arrest. The following month, British soldiers liberated Bergen-Belsen. Anne and Margot had been buried in a mass grave.
During her two years in the Secret Annex, Anne's diary was her solace. Miep Gies kept the diary and Anne's other writings and, after the war, gave them to Otto Frank, the only survivor of the eight who had hidden in the Secret Annex. Since it was first published in 1947, Anne's diary has become one of the most powerful memoirs of the Holocaust and one of the most widely read books in the world. It has been translated into more than 67 languages.
The exhibition encourages the visitor to learn more about scapegoating, anti-Semitism, racism, ethnic cleansing and genocide, as well as the positive lessons of tolerance, human rights, democracy and personal responsibility.
The museum is encouraging school groups to see the exhibit and explore the lessons of Anne Frank's life. Student visits include a short introductory film, a docent-guided tour, and a post-tour discussion on contemporary issues of tolerance, to be held in the Frank Walk Student Activity Center.
On Jan. 21, the museum will host a Hidden Children panel of Jewish Holocaust survivors who were hidden during World War II, and sympathizers who helped other Jews hide. The panel will be from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
On Jan. 22, there will be a Teacher Open House at the exhibit, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Scenes from "The Diary of Anne Frank" will be performed by drama students from Lee Road Middle School, on Jan. 27 at 1 and 3 p.m., and March 3 at 1 p.m.
There will be a diary-making workshop on March 11 at 1 p.m., a Lunchbox Lecture on March 21 at noon, and a panel on tolerance on March 25 at 1 p.m.
"Anne Frank: A History for Today" is free with Museum admission and Museum members are admitted free at all times.
The National World War II Museum was dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and recently has been designated by Congress as the country's official National World War II Museum. The Museum illuminates the American experience during the war era and celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who won World War II.
The museum recently completed the first phase of a $300 million expansion that, when complete, will create a six-acre campus of exhibition pavilions, an advanced format 4-D theater, USO venue, and a research and conference center in downtown New Orleans.
Over 40 students attended a Chanukah party at the University of Alabama Hillel. The students, along with the Alabama administration, have been working to increase Jewish enrollment at the university.
The weekend of Jan. 19, Hillel will join with Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and Sigma Delta Tau sorority to offer "26 Hours of the Crimson Tradition" to all interested 11th and 12th grade Jewish high school students.
The event begins Jan. 19 with a campus tour at 3:30 pm. The day continues with a "Meet and Greet" over Shabbat dinner at the Hillel followed by a party at the ZBT House. On Jan. 20, the day begins with a bagel brunch at Hillel, followed by the Alabama vs. Georgia basketball game. After the game, a farewell party will be held at the Hillel House.
Hillel President Yoni Kutler recently stated "these last 3 years at Alabama have been the most fun years of my life, and everybody should come see it for themselves."
Invitations have been sent to students in Alabama and Georgia, and high school students are encouraged to attend as many of the events as they would like. Housing will be arranged for them, and parents of prospective students are invited for the tour and Shabbat dinner at the home of Star and Stan Bloom.
Okaloosa-Walton College in Niceville, Fla., will host two traveling exhibits from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum this month, both dealing with the subject of Righteous Gentiles during the Holocaust.
“Varian Fry, Assignment: Rescue, 1940-1941” and “Oskar Schindler: An Unlikely Hero” will be on display from Jan. 15 to Feb. 25 at the College Arts Center galleries.
An opening lecture is scheduled for Jan. 14 at 1 p.m., in room J328, followed by a reception and preview of the exhibits.
The galleries are open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.
“Varian Fry” chronicles the efforts of Fry to help political and intellectual refugees escape Nazi-controlled Vichy France in 1940 and 1941. An urbane Harvard graduate working as an editor in New York, Fry volunteered for the Emergency Rescue Committee’s project to bring 200 individuals from the French port city of Marseille to safety. Unable to gain cooperation from the French government or the American Consulate in Marseille, Fry established a clandestine operation by which artists, writers, philosophers, and their families — Jews and non-Jews alike — were spirited away to safety.
Fry’s activities angered both the French and the U.S. State Department, but by the time the French expelled him in September 1941, he and his colleagues had managed to save some 2,000 refugees, including Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Arendt, and Andre Breton.
When Fry returned to New York, he recounted his story, but few listened. Fry died unexpectedly in 1967 with the pages of his memoirs scattered about him; the police officer who discovered them dismissed them as an apparent "work of fiction."
Shortly before Fry's death, the French government awarded him the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. It was the only official recognition he received in his lifetime. Not until 1991 did an American institution recognize Fry’s work when the United States Holocaust Memorial Council posthumously awarded him its Eisenhower Liberation Medal.
In 1994, Yad Vashem honored Varian Fry as the first American "Righteous Among the Nations."
Oskar Schindler’s transformation from Nazi war profiteer to protector of Jews is the subject of several documentaries, the best-selling novel “Schindler’s List” by Thomas Keneally, and an Academy award-winning film directed by Steven Spielberg.
An ethnic German living in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, he joined the Nazi party in 1939. In the wake of the German invasion of Poland, Schindler went to Krakow. He assumed responsibility for the operation of two formerly Jewish-owned manufacturers of enamel kitchenware and then established his own enamel works in Zablocie, outside Krakow. Through army contracts and the exploitation of cheap labor from the Krakow ghetto, he amassed a fortune. Dealing on the black market, he lived in high style.
In 1942 and early 1943, the Germans decimated the ghetto’s population of some 20,000 Jews through shootings and deportations. Several thousand Jews who survived the ghetto’s liquidation were taken to Plaszow, a forced labor camp run by the sadistic SS commandant Amon Leopold Goeth. Moved by the cruelties he witnessed, Schindler contrived to transfer his Jewish workers to barracks at his factory.
In late summer 1944, through negotiations and bribes from his war profits, Schindler secured permission from German army and SS officers to move his workers and other endangered Jews to Bruennlitz, near his hometown of Zwittau. Each of these Jews was placed on "Schindler’s List." Schindler and his workforce set up a bogus munitions factory, which sustained them in relative safety until the war ended.
The Jewish Children’s Regional Service announces that all Jewish youth from the 2005 Hurricane Zone are eligible for significant camp scholarship awards for summer 2007.
All youth are eligible for $1,000 awards for 3- to 4-week summer overnight programs, and $500 for 10- to 14-day programs. These awards are available to all Jewish families in the Hurricane Zone and are not based on financial need.
Those families that document financial need and require additional funding are eligible for higher scholarship awards from JCRS.
Jewish youth who live in other parts of the seven-state region served by JCRS are also eligible for need-based awards. In both of its camp scholarship programs, JCRS served over 500 Jewish youth in 2006.
In order to qualify for the $1,000 and $500 awards, there is an application that can be requested from the JCRS office by phone at (504) 828-6334, or toll-free at 1-800-729-5277, or by email at:
campapps AT jcrsnola DOT org
Photo: The Carter Center
President Carter on the grounds of the Carter Center in Atlanta.
By Ben Harris
NEW YORK, JAN. 11 (JTA) — Fourteen Jewish members of the Carter Center’s board of councilors have resigned to protest the former president’s new book blaming Israel for the failure of Middle East peace efforts.
In a letter to President Carter obtained by JTA, the group wrote that the former president had abandoned his role as a peace broker in favor of malicious partisan advocacy, portraying the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “purely one-sided affair” which Israel bears full responsibility for resolving.
The letter also cites a “disturbing” passage from Carter’s book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which appears to call for Palestinians to end acts of terrorism only if Israel abides by its obligations under international law and under the “road map,” a peace plan guided by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. The passage appears to condone violence against Israelis, the signatories said.
“We can no longer support your strident and uncompromising position,” the letter said. “This is not the Carter Center or the Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support.”
The departures had been in the works for weeks as the precise wording of the letter and the exact makeup of the resigning group was hashed out. Among those resigning were a number of prominent members of the Jewish community in Atlanta, where the center is located.
Hours later, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the umbrella organization of Reform rabbis, announced it was canceling a visit to the Carter Center planned to coincide with its March convention in Atlanta.
“We call upon Mr. Carter to better educate himself and his readers as to the true root causes of the Palestinian people’s dire plight, and once again to dedicate his efforts to promoting peace, not prejudice, in the Middle East,” the CCAR said in a statement. “As the rabbinic body of Reform Judaism, the largest denomination of religiously affiliated American Jews, our cancellation of the visit to the Carter Center reflects our continuing commitment to Israel, Zionism, and America’s role in the establishment of a just and lasting peace between the State of Israel and all her Arab neighbors.”
Steve Berman, an Atlanta real-estate developer who was among the 14 that resigned from the Carter Center’s board of councilors, told JTA several weeks ago that the group wanted to bring along some non-Jews from the 200-member board. That effort apparently was unsuccessful.
In an interview Thursday, Berman said that time considerations, as well as a desire not “to be disruptive to the work of the Carter Center,” had limited the group’s expansion.
The Carter Center’s executive director, John Hardman, appeared to downplay the significance of the resignations. In a statement released Thursday, he thanked the board members for their service to the center while noting their limited role in the center’s operations and the relatively small size of the group resigning.
“The Carter Center’s board of councilors is an advisory body of community leaders and businesspeople who are briefed quarterly on the center’s work and serve as emissaries of the center to the greater community,” Hardman said. “They are not engaged in implementing the work of the center and are not a governing board. There are more than 200 members of the board of councilors. The center’s governing board is the board of trustees.”
Hardman did not respond to JTA requests for comment.
Founded in 1982 by the former president and his wife, Rosalynn, the Carter Center promotes conflict resolution, freedom, democracy and global health. The center is situated in a 35-acre Atlanta park that is also home to the Carter Presidential Library and Museum and is two miles from Emory University, with which it has a longstanding partnership.
Funding for the center’s $36 million operating budget comes from a mix of corporate and private philanthropic sources. In addition, a number of prominent Arab donors — including Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Abdulaziz, Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, and the governments of Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — are listed as having contributed more than $1 million.
The mass resignation adds to the firestorm of criticism that has engulfed the center since the publication of Carter’s book. Critics have blasted the book as biased, inaccurate, misleading and missing key historical facts.
Jewish leaders have lashed out at Carter for claiming in recent interviews that powerful American Jews stifle free debate on Israel, a claim they regard as anti-Semitic. Carter met last month with a group of rabbis in Phoenix in an attempt to patch things up, but the rabbis left disappointed.
Many of the recent criticisms were echoed in the resignation letter, which also included refutations of several of Carter’s claims. The letter cited research by the Anti-Defamation League showing that Carter’s comments, in particular his use of the term “apartheid,” has energized white supremacist groups who long have claimed that Israel’s supporters have undue influence over the U.S. government.
The former board members followed the lead of Kenneth Stein, a professor who left his position as a Carter Center fellow in December. Stein, a former executive director of the center who had been associated with Carter for 23 years, wrote in his resignation letter that Carter’s book is “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.”
Days later, an Emory anthropology professor, Melvin Konner, withdrew from an earlier commitment to join a group advising Carter on how to handle the controversy swirling around the book.
In a letter to Hardman, Konner cites the same passage as Berman’s group that seems to imply Carter’s acquiescence to Palestinian terrorism unless Israel makes further concessions.
“It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the road map for peace are accepted by Israel,” Carter’s book states.
“This sentence, simply put, makes President Carter an apologist for terrorists and places my children, along with all Jews everywhere, in greater danger,” Konner wrote.
He also called on the Carter Center to distance itself from its namesake — a man he describes as “one of his heroes” — if it wanted to continue to thrive. But he conceded that the center was unlikely to do so.
Konner said he had been asked to participate in the advisory group after expressing deep misgivings over Carter’s recent statements and seeking clarification from Hardman as to whether the Carter Center endorsed the former president’s views. It’s unclear what response he received.
Hardman has since denied that any advisory group was in the works.
“I think Carter is going to do extensive damage to the center that bears his name, and to the Democratic Party,” Konner told JTA. “And I’m a lifelong Democrat. I hate to see this happening.”
Also Thursday, The Associated Press reported that Carter had agreed to defend his book at Brandeis University, though he will not debate Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, as originally proposed.
Dershowitz said he would attend anyway and would be among the first to raise his hand to question Carter.
Photo courtesy Rabbi Moishe Arye Friedman
Viennese Rabbi Moishe Arye Friedman, fourth from right, receives Iranian Jewish visitors during his December 2006 trip to Iran for a Holocaust denial conference.
By Dinah A. Spritzer
VIENNA, Jan. 9 (JTA) — Three lawsuits have been filed against a Viennese rabbi who attended a Holocaust denial conference in Iran in December.
The suits, filed by the Vienna Jewish community, the Documentation Center of the Austrian Resistance Movement and a Jewish Holocaust victim who has not gone public, accuse Moishe Arye Friedman of Holocaust denial and propagation of Nazi ideology.
Both charges carry large fines and jail time, though the suits’ chances of success are unclear.
“Let me say that there are moments when you have to do something even when it’s not sure when it will be successful,” said Raimund Fastenbauer, general secretary for Jewish affairs for the 7,500-strong Jewish Community of Vienna.
International media were filled with photographs of Friedman, wearing traditional Chasidic garb and long sidelocks, warmly shaking hands with a beaming Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a conference of Holocaust deniers in Tehran.
The images enraged Jews around the world, who argued that the presence of Jews — even from fringe groups like the Neturei Karta or of someone like Friedman, who does not appear to represent any group — allows rabid anti-Zionists and anti-Semites a cover for their ideology.
Most of the speakers at the Iranian Foreign Ministry event, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, argue that Zionists invented or exaggerated the Holocaust, which took 6 million Jewish lives, to justify the creation of the State of Israel.
“I am not a denier of the Holocaust, but I think it is legitimate to cast doubt on some statistics,” The New York Times reported Friedman as saying during the conference.
According to the Times, the Austria Press Agency reported that Friedman calculates the Holocaust death toll as closer to 1 million. He told the BBC during the conference that the Holocaust was used as a “tool of commercial, military and media power.”
Speaking to JTA by phone, Friedman would not elaborate on his participation in the conference.
He did, however, try to drum up interest in his meeting with Iranian Jews, who he said “visited me in Tehran at the guest house of the foreign minister where I was staying. Their situation in Iran is very good. They came to me... and gave their presents to me.”
A Brooklyn native, Friedman grew up in the anti-Zionist Satmar Chasidic community there. The Satmar community, however, issued a statement condemning those who attended the conference.
Nor is Friedman affiliated with the Neturei Karta, an anti-Zionist sect known for its association with groups and individuals devoted to the destruction of Israel, such as the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Ahmadinejad.
Friedman is the self-proclaimed chief rabbi of the “Orthodox anti-Zionist Jewish community in Vienna.” The Austrian press, which has shown a particular relish for documenting Friedman’s outlandish behavior, reported that he has hundreds, even thousands of followers.
But Rabbi Josef Pardes, head of the Mizrachi Orthodox congregation in Vienna, said Friedman “has no followers at all. He is all alone. No Jew in Vienna will have anything to do with him.”
Paul Chaim Eisenberg, Austria’s chief rabbi, said the press indeed likes to write about rabbis who criticize Israel, “but I think now even they understand that he does not represent anyone but himself, maybe at most five other people.
“The whole Orthodox world has disassociated itself from Friedman,” Eisenberg said. “Even those who are against Israel would never dream of attending a conference that denied the Holocaust.”
Fastenbauer said the community board would meet soon and it was likely that Friedman would be “thrown out of the Jewish community.” He also said that since the conference, some fervently Orthodox Jews have spit in Friedman’s face in the street and that police had to be called in. No further details were available.
Contradictions arise between Friedman and the organized Jewish community on even basic details. Although Friedman calls himself a rabbi and is often referred to as such in the press, many Jewish authorities say he was not ordained.
Friedman moved to Vienna some 10 years ago from Antwerp, his wife’s hometown. He fell into a dispute with the Viennese Jewish community over his effort to control a synagogue, and four years of court battles followed.
The tiny synagogue operated under the auspices of the Vienna Jewish Community, an umbrella group recognized and funded by the government. Fastenbauer said Friedman had been invited to lead the congregation, but he “tried to take control of the synagogue. He said everything there, including the Torah scrolls, belonged to him.”
The result, according to Fastenbauer, was that the synagogue members ousted Friedman but were so tired of the dispute, they stopped going there.
“He is alone there now,” Fastenbauer said.
Friedman, however, told JTA that he had been victorious in his court cases involving the “Zionist community of Vienna.” He added that the synagogue had been founded in order to be independent from the official community.
“We pray for the peaceful destruction of Israel,” he added.
For the trial he obtained free legal aid from Evald Stadler, an Austrian ombudsman, defender of a priest who accused Jews of ritual murder and former adviser to far-right politician Joerg Haider and his Freedom Party. Haider is a vocal critic of the Viennese Jewish community, particularly its Holocaust restitution efforts and the money it receives from the government.
Friedman’s name has been linked in the Austrian press with extremist Austrian politicians such as Andreas Molzer, a member of the European Parliament who hung the Palestinian flag outside his home during Israel’s war with Hezbollah last summer.
Stadler and John Gudenus were guests at the bar mitzvah of Friedman’s son in 2005. Gudenus, a former member of the Austrian Parliament, has publicly questioned the existence of gas chambers during the Holocaust.
“Friedman is a fig leaf for anti-Semites who can say they have a Jewish ally,” said an Israeli diplomat who asked not to be named. “He was wearing a kaffiyeh when he went to hug Arafat in Paris,” the diplomat said, referring to Friedman’s visit to Arafat in the hospital before the Palestinian Authority president died.
In May, Friedman met with Hamas member and P.A. Cabinet Minister Atef Adwan in Stockholm, attempting to strengthen ties between the terrorist group and anti-Zionist Jews.
Friedman told JTA that he and his followers were planning an explanation of the Tehran conference.
Hannah Lessing, general secretary of the Austrian National Fund for Victims of Nazism, said she hopes prosecutors “take a serious look at charging Friedman for denying the Holocaust.”
“When some non-Jews see Friedman embracing Ahmadinejad, what are they thinking?” Lessing said. “They are laughing. It’s disgusting.”
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