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Du Bow Digest Germany Edition feb. 29, 2012


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Du Bow Digest Germany Edition feb. 29, 2012

  1. 1. AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION NEWSLETTER dubowdigest@optonline.netGERMANY EDITIONFeb. 29, 2012Dear Friends:I realize that this issue is coming right on the heels of the last one but I am about togo off on a brief vacation and I did not want to leave with nothing to read and thinkabout for an extended period of time.As the winter winds down, life in the U.S. seems little changed. The Republicanprimary election race continues on. The contestants have had 20 televised debates.Can you believe that? They are running out of nasty things to say about oneanother. Serious matters certainly are not front and center. The last cat-fight gotdown to talking about contraception. The fact that more than 90% of women in theU.S. have at one time or another utilized it didn’t seem to make much difference.Fortunately for our poor citizens no more of these spectacles are planned. ThankGod baseball season is about to begin with games daily until October. Presidentialpolitics can take a back seat!There is some interest in the Greek bailout. However, as long as it doesn’t affectAmericans directly they will not be glued to their TV sets to see what happens.Baseball is coming!Germany’s selection of a new President went by with barely a mention in the media.Americans don’t understand countries that have presidents that daily do not battlethe legislators of the opposing party. Incidentally, I for one have always assigned theGerman presidency a great deal of importance. Being that the President is supposedto be the “moral voice” of Germany, to one who is interested in Jewish matters (me)that voice is sometimes critical. The setting of the tone on moral issues (i.e. anti-Semitism, Holocaust, etc.) is terribly important. So I’ll be taking time out frombaseball to see what Pres. Gauck has to say. 1
  2. 2. Enough philosophy! Let’s get on with the news…IN THIS EDITIONGEORGE WASHINGTON & THE JEWS – As I said about Pres. Gauck, presidentsdo set the moral tone for a country. George did it.THE AMERICAN VIEW – How we Americans look at other nations.OBAMA & THE JEWS: AN UPDATE – Where does he stand with the Jewishcommunity? What’s he doing to upgrade?BAPTIZING ANNE FRANK – She’s dead and gone. Who would want to do such athing?MY THOUGHTS (ALMOST) EXACTLY – A columnist talks about Israel. I agree withhim but not quite 100%.GEORGE WASHINGTON & THE JEWSEvery American and, perhaps, many people in Germany know that GeorgeWashington was the first American president. His portrait appears on the $1.00 billand he is generally thought of as “the father of our country”.What most do not know is that he set the tone for Jews living in what was to becomethe United States. Rabbi Micah Peltz, after visiting the Museum of American JewishHistory in Philadelphia, wrote in Haaretz, “As I perused the exhibits, I found myselfmeditating on the famous letter that former U.S. President George Washingtonwrote to the Jewish community of Newport, RI in August 1790. This letter becamewell known for its succinct articulation of religious liberty in the new nation ofAmerica. And, as we mark Presidents’ Day here in the U.S., it is an appropriate timeto reflect on its message.Upon receiving a letter of congratulations from the Jewish community of Newport,the new president responded as follows:“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it were by the indulgence of oneclass of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.For, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry nosanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under itsprotection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasionstheir effectual support…”For 18th century Jewish immigrants from Europe, whose greatest hope was not forfreedom, but “toleration,” this letter signaled a new paradigm. America would not just 2
  3. 3. tolerate its Jews, but it would give them freedom to practice as they wished.Washington articulated a vision of a nation whose founders valued religious libertyfor all people. Of course, this value has not always been achieved, but simplyholding it up as a goal was extremely significant. The first president of the UnitedStates went on to write:“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to meritand enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; - while every one shall sit in safetyunder his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”Here, Washington gets his inspiration from the fourth chapter of the prophet Micah,which is a powerful vision of the day when “the house of the Lord is established,”and all creatures live in peace. As Jon Meacham writes, “The image of every manbeing free from fear, comforted by the shade of his own conscience, is vivid andenduring, and places the ideal and the reality of liberty and mutual understanding atthe heart of the American tradition from the first year of the first presidency.”This allusion to Micah’s vision was in line with the founders’ vision of America as anew promised land. Indeed, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wanted theseal of the United States to depict scenes of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. As Iwalked through the American Jewish History Museum, this image of America as anew promised land stuck with me. Is America a new promised land for the Jews?In asking this, I do not mean to replace Israel as our Jewish homeland. I agree withmy colleague Rabbi Jeff Cymet, who wrote beautifully last week of the need for all ofus Jews living in the Diaspora to remember that we are still in exile. But the fact isthat millions of Jews don’t live in Israel – and most of them who don’t live in Israel dolive in the US. And this vision of religious liberty laid out by Washington was and is amajor factor in this demography.But what was George Washington saying about religious liberty in this letter? At atime when issues of religious liberty come up often – both in America and in Israel –his words can be instructive. Washington lays out a vision of religious liberty thatputs responsibility not just on the government, but on the people as well. Thegovernment may not interfere in religious practice, but at the same time he chargesadherents of religion to “demean themselves as good citizens.” In other words, justas the government should not coerce religion on its people, so too people should notcoerce religion on their government. Religious liberty cuts two ways.We still struggle with defining the boundaries of religious liberty. But, in theseconversations, adherents of religion must not forget Washington’s qualification ofenjoying religious liberty as good citizens. We each have the right to sit safely underour own vine and fig tree, but not everyone needs to like grapes and figs.Understanding this is what helps make us a good citizen – and a good Jew.In thinking about it, it is amazing that a mere letter written when our country was in 3
  4. 4. its infancy would have such a great impact on the lives of Jews and other religiousminorities in the U.S. during the last 222 years. Of course, political leaders at timesin history did not always live up to the template that Pres. Washington laid out forthem. However, the thoughts he expressed continue to be a touchstone for animperfect society that is still trying to improve itself lo these many years later.THE AMERICAN VIEWEvery once in a while I come across a poll of how Americans view others. In terms ofthis newsletter, how our citizens view Israel and Germany are of particular interest.Luckily, in the latest Gallup poll both come out with good scores.Yitzhak Benhorin writing in Y-Net News reports, “A Gallup poll found that Americans arefeeling more favorably toward several of the United States major allies in 2012 than they have inthe past.This years ratings for Canada (96%), Australia (93%), Germany (86%), Japan(83%), and India (75%) are all record highs for those countries in Gallup trends thatstretch back at least a decade.The survey found Great Britain (90%), France (75%), and Israel (71%) rated neartheir all-time highs. Israel was ranked eighth on Gallups list of Americans favoredcountries.Iran is the least well-regarded country measured this year, with 10% of Americansviewing it favorably and 87% unfavorably.Americans favorable ratings of Iran have been consistently low since Gallups firstmeasurement with this question in 1989, mostly registering around 10% but with arange from 5% (in 1989) to 17% (in 2004).According to the poll, only one country this year - China - suffered a real declineamong Americans, with its favorable rating falling from 47% in 2011 to 41%."In a year when America continues to be faced with political and economic foreignpolicy challenges around the world, Americans are feeling warmer than ever towardseveral of the United States long-standing allies, including Canada, Australia,Germany, India, and Japan, while maintaining high views of Great Britain, France,and Israel," Gallups website said. More generally, the survey showed, nearly all of the countries that garner majorityunfavorable ratings are located in the Mideast or in Asian countries outside of thatregion.Egypts rating recovered somewhat to 47%, after slipping to 40% in 2011 from 58%in 2010. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabias rating has increased to 42% from 37% a year 4
  5. 5. ago and is the highest for that country since February 2001, when it was 47%.Surprisingly, Cubas favorable rating rose to a new high of 37%, placing it wellahead of Libya (25%), Iraq (24%), the Palestinian Authority (19%) and Syria (17%).Countries appearing at the bottom of the favorability list include Pakistan (15%),Afghanistan (14%) and North Korea (13%).Germany’s very positive rating is certainly no surprise to me. The democratic, hardworking and liberal (in the classic sense) qualities rank high in the estimate of mostAmericans.The continued high ranking of Israel is, of course, important to American Jews,Israelis and the many Christians in the U.S. that feel a strong connection to theJewish State. Since Israel depends on the U.S. in so many ways a positiverelationship is critical for its security.In summary – good news!OBAMA & THE JEWS: AN UPDATEDuring the last several months I have been reporting on various aspects of therelationship between Pres. Obama and the American Jewish community withemphasis on their involvement in the upcoming presidential election.In 2008 78% of the Jewish vote went to Obama. Since that time the percentage ofJewish support has dropped dramatically with some polls showing that only 55%favor the President. There are articles, opinion columns and blogs too numerous tomention on all sides of the issues and arguments as to how well he will do in 2012.Though the American Jewish community makes up only 2% of the Americanpopulation, the Jews are not geographically spread out. They mass in New York,Florida, California, Illinois and one or two other states. Given the “winner take all”system that we have in each state, the numbers they represent can swing a stateonto the Democratic or Republican side with all electoral votes going to thecandidate who has the most votes. So, their importance at times outweighs theiractual numbers.The Obama people fully recognizing that not only are they losing votes, they are in aposition to lose a great deal in the way of campaign funding. The Jewish communityhistorically has been very generous in supporting the candidates of their choice.S-o-o-o-o, it was announced in The Forward, America’s leading English languageJewish news paper that, “At least seven of the Obama campaigns 35 co-chairs areJewish, including Alan Solow, a leading figure in the organized community. 5
  6. 6. Solow is identified on the list released early Wednesday morning as both a partnerat the DLA Piper law firm and as a past president of the Conference of Presidents ofMajor American Jewish Organizations."My appointment is a reflection of the importance he places on reaching out toAmericans of all types," Solow told JTA from Israel, where he is on a PresidentsConference tour. "The Jewish constituency is an important part of the Americancommunity. It is important in electoral politics and has been a mainstay of theDemocratic Party."Solow said his role will be to make Obamas case to the Jewish community ondomestic and foreign issues; Solow will accompany the president when he speaksat the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference on March4.The speech comes as the White House and the Obama campaign have intensifiedoutreach to the pro-Israel community. The early years of Obamas relationship withIsrael and pro-Israel groups were marked by tensions over his pressure on IsraeliPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlement building, although morerecently there has been close cooperation on defense strategies, particularly onconfronting and isolating Iran.Solow said he would also relay concerns back to the campaign."Its always important for the president to have a good sense of whats going on onbehalf of voters of all different types," he said. "Well advocate for the president, andwe will listen and share that."Other prominent Jews on the list include:* Marc Benioff, the CEO of who has been listed on the Forbes 400richest Americans;* U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), whose mother is a Holocaust survivor andwho identifies himself as of Jewish descent;* Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obamas former chief of staff who acted as aliaison in that post to the Jewish community;* Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), a prominent civil rights liberal who likelywill be tapped to make Obamas case to a Democratic Party constituencydisappointed by Obamas retention of anti-terrorism practices introduced by hispredecessor;* Penny Pritzker, the hotel heiress and Forbes listee who has backed Obama sincethe launch of his political career in the 1990s; 6
  7. 7. * U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who represents a Chicago-area constituencywith a substantial Jewish population and a backer of Obama for nearly a decade.The list represents the campaigns efforts to reflect the Democrats naturalconstituencies, including Hispanic, Asian-American and African-American politicalleaders and celebrities, as well as clergy, military, former Republicans and laborfigures. Many of the co-chairs are from swing states.The meaning of the appointments and the place in which they were announced wasnot lost on anyone. In addition, members of the Obama Administration were flockingto Jewish organizations to make speeches about the Obama policies especially asthey apply to Israel. For instance, JTA reported, “Jack Lew, President Obamas chiefof staff, met with Jewish leaders in New York and fielded questions about U.S.differences with Israel.Lew, who is an Orthodox Jew, met Feb. 17 with a group convened by the New YorkJewish Community Relations Council on his way home for Shabbat.According to meeting participants, he was asked about reports of tensions betweenObama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly over Iran. Lewsaid differences existed but were blown out of proportion by the media.He claimed sanctions were effectively squeezing Iran, and said Israel was sovereignin making decisionsInterestingly, the discussion about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel has,to a large extent, moved away from the Israel – Palestinian issue onto what Israelintends to do regarding Iran’s moves toward developing a nuclear weapon.In early March Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming to Washington to addressAIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). He will be having a privatemeeting with Obama during his stay. I don’t think I have to go into the positions eachhas on the Iran issue. The LA Times printed an article by Paul Richter and Edmundsanders summed it up by saying, “The Obama administration is bluntly warningIsrael about the danger of bombing Irans nuclear facilities, but it is far from clearwhether the allies are truly at odds over a core policy question or orchestrating anelaborate campaign to wring concessions from the Islamic Republic.Both countries say that at least for now, tightening a web of economic sanctionsaround Irans vital oil exports is the best way to pressure Tehran into seriousnegotiations about its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect isaimed at mastering the know-how to build a bomb.But Israel regards a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, and in recent weeksofficials have suggested they may attack its nuclear facilities before the programreaches a point of no return. 7
  8. 8. How the discussions and the eventual positions turn out will not only profoundlyaffect world security but, in addition, will have a lot to say about whether Pres.Obama gets re-elected or not.We’ll keep an eye on it for you.BAPTIZING ANNE FRANKAll religions have antiquated, seemingly strange traditions and (in my opinion)somewhat bizarre religious practices. One of the strangest, to my way of thinking, isperformed by the Mormons. They actually baptize dead people so that they may beadmitted to the church and, I guess, eventually to heaven. I fully understand thesymbolic meaning of being baptized. In Christianity it is vitally important. However,submerging a live person as a stand in for someone already dead seems to miss thevery point of baptism.In the normal world the Mormon practice would not get one iota of publicity – orcomplaint – especially from the dead person who is being posthumously baptized.However, when the Mormons start baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims without evenconsulting anyone about the practice one might expect some criticism from theJewish community. There has been plenty.To make things worse, the Mormons have post life-baptized Anne Frank, aHolocaust icon. Add on top of that the fact that one of the leading Republicancandidates for the U.S. presidency, Mitt Romney, is a Mormon. According to TheSlatest, “Prominent Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wants Mitt Romney to urge theMormon church to abandon its practice of posthumously baptizing Jews, some ofwhom died in concentration camps during World War II.In an interview with the Huffington Post, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Wiesel saidthat Romney "should speak to his own church and say they should stop" thepractice. "I think its scandalous," he continued. "Not only objectionable, itsscandalous."The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints performs the proxy baptisms inorder to "save" ancestors and others who weren’t baptized in life or who werebaptized "without proper authority." Mormons can propose a proxy baptism after aperson has died.The discovery produced outrage within the Jewish community, and negotiationsbetween Mormon and Jewish leaders led to a 1995 agreement whereby the churchwould stop all posthumous baptisms of Jews, except for those who were directancestors of Mormons. After that arrangement fell apart, the two sides brokered 8
  9. 9. another compromise in 2010 that specifically barred proxy baptisms for Holocaustsurvivors.But Wiesel and others say that Mormons have not held up their end of the bargain, aclaim that has been supported by a Salt Lake City researcher who says that sherecently found the name of Wiesel and other Holocaust survivors in the LDSdatabase (despite the fact that the 83-year-old is very much still alive). The Mormonchurch has said that Wiesels name was entered by mistake, according to theAssociated Press.There are dozens and dozens more stories dealing with the issue but I think you getthe idea. Incidentally, the Mormon Church has apologized and said they wouldcease and desist from the practice in the future. Romney has not commented.Frankly, I don’t get upset by these sorts of happenings. After I’ve gone off to theGreat Jewish Meeting in the Sky, I don’t think I’ll care too much one way or the otherif someone says some words over me. I’ll be up there looking down. However, thepractice has engendered a lot of emotion. In doing the research I came across what I consider to be a sensible, and lessemotional, voice on the subject. In an article in Y-Net News, Rabbi Levi Brackman, aBrit who now serves the Foothill communities in the western part of the Denver,Colorado metropolitan area in the U.S. wrote, “As a grandchild of Holocaust victims Iadmit to being completely puzzled why my fellow Jews are so upset about this.From my perspective, as a Jew who obviously does not believe in Mormonism at all,it makes no difference whether the Mormon Church tries to Baptize anyone.One person submerging their friend in a pool of water while dressed in a waterproofsmock and thinking that the person being immersed represents me or any of mydeparted relatives, has no significance for me. If it is consequential to them, let themdo it, I say. It is certainly absurd for a Jew to claim, as Foxman (Ed. Note – He isExec. Director of ADL) has, that such at act is “taking away their Jewishness.”Let it be clear: when a Mormon posthumously Baptizes a Jew it has no impact onthat person’s Jewishness. They, in actuality, become no less Jewish and no moreMormon. They become Mormon in the eyes of Mormons only. Why would we care ifthe Mormon church considers our ancestors to be Mormon simply because one oftheir members used a substitute to posthumously Baptize them?Bravo Rabbi Brackman!MY THOUGHTS (ALMOST) EXACTLYJeffrey Goldberg writing in Bloomberg View penned an article with the title, “WithThese Enemies Israel Needs More Friends”. It quite accurately spells out the 9
  10. 10. situation of Israel and the nature of its worst enemies. In many ways it represents myown way of looking at the Middle East situation – with one exception.Commenting on Prime Minister Netanyahu, he notes, “This prime minister, unlikeseveral previous prime ministers, seems not quite so interested in trying to reach anamicable divorce with the Palestinians.” I don’t think that’s really the case. Actuallythe Netanyahu government has made a proposal only a few weeks ago at a lowlevel “peace conference” meeting in Cairo. Obviously it was a “mini” opening offerwhich, of course, the Palestinian representative rejected. Such is the way ofnegotiating. However, instead of making a “maxi” counter offer the Palestinians saidnegotiations were over and with that they walked away. They have their own “maxi”plan which is to become recognized through the UN, etc. etc. etc. They do not seenegotiations as a strategy. So, with that I take exception to Jeffrey Goldberg’sassertion. I’m not sure what is in P.M. Netanyahu’s heart or mind. However, at leasthe tried. Other than that minor disagreement I think the article is right on target. Itappears in full below.The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, said something that caught my attentionthe other night at an event sponsored by the American Israel Public AffairsCommittee, the pro-Israel lobbying group.He paraphrased a quotation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s: “I ask you to judge meby the enemies I have made,” and then said: “In that same spirit, I would like to sayto all of you tonight: I admire Israel for the enemies it has made.”It was an acute observation, and one made not quite often enough. It is sometimesdifficult, given Israel’s missteps, to remember that it is a democracy whose enemiesare among the world’s most dangerous people.For American Jews, particularly the many who think of themselves as centrist or assomewhat to the left of center, the subject of Israel today provokes a contradictoryand anxiety- producing mass of feelings: pride, discomfort, bewilderment, vexation,frustration, love. The precise mix often depends on the day of the week and on thenews of the day. It has become a bit exhausting, thinking about Israel. (You can onlyimagine, then, what it is like to actually live there.)Gone are the uncomplicated, Leon Uris-scripted days of one- eyed war heroes andYoni Netanyahu’s martyrdom on the tarmac during the raid on Entebbe. BenjaminNetanyahu stirs up knottier and more ambivalent feelings than his late brother everdid. This prime minister, unlike several previous prime ministers, seems not quite sointerested in trying to reach an amicable divorce with the Palestinians. So thecontinued occupation (and, more to the point, settlement) of the West Bank, whichoffends the sensibilities of many American Jews (and most other people), isbecoming Israel’s defining characteristic.How sad it is that a flourishing democracy with a contentious press and an 10
  11. 11. independent judiciary, a haven for inventors and scientists, the only Middle Easterncountry where it’s safe to be gay (and Christian, for that matter) is coming to beknown mainly for its retrograde occupation of the West Bank.It is distressing for so many reasons: moral, political, theological and reputational.And it obscures the underlying cause of the conflict: The inability of many ArabMuslims, and their supporters, to reconcile themselves to the unalterable truth thatthe Jews are from the place that, before it was called Palestine, was called Judeaand Israel.It is also distressing because it muddies what should be clear: Israel’s sins are quiteoften exaggerated, while the sins of its enemies -- and here we return to GovernorChristie’s point -- could not be more heinous.Let us consider Israel’s four principal adversaries of the moment: the IslamicRepublic of Iran, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, and the fundamentalist terrorist groupsHezbollah and Hamas. Few would argue that the Israeli government has notbehaved in counterproductive and sometimes-brutal ways. But anyone whopossesses the basic powers of reason and observation understands that Iran andSyria on their best days don’t match Israel on its worst.Iran is run by a regime whose first, defining act was of mass hostage-taking. It is acountry that has used its children to clear minefields with their feet and that gunsdown others when they protest repression. It is a country that uses rape as aweapon against dissidents. It is a country that, according to the U.S. TreasuryDepartment, funds al-Qaeda.Hamas is an organization that boasts of killing innocent children and regularly killsPalestinians with whom it disagrees, sometimes by throwing them from buildings.Hezbollah, of course, is a proxy of Iran’s regime, its external terror apparatus.Hezbollah has killed Americans and its members have been indicted in theassassination a Lebanese prime minister. It seeks to impose an Islamist regime onLebanon, and it functions as an arms supplier to Assad, who is Saddam Hussein’ssuccessor as the world’s leading butcher.I am not arguing that Israel should be held to the debauched standard of behaviorset by Iran or Syria. (Israel should be held to the standards of a Western democracy,albeit one under threat of missile attack and other, similar unpleasantness.) I’mactually arguing something different: That Israel, like the Jewish people for whom itis a refuge, attracts the hatred of terrible people, people whose terribleness wouldstill be profusely evident even if the Jews or Israel never entered the frame. (Hitlerand Stalin -- and Saddam -- come to mind, of course, as well as the Crusaders, theinquisitors, the pogromists, and I could go on).The hatred of Jews and the Jewish national home by men whom history hasadjudged to be comprehensively evil should suggest a couple of lessons. The 11
  12. 12. possible theological and cosmological lessons I will leave for another day, but thepolitical lessons are more obvious: Good people should take the hatred directed atIsrael by evil people as a sign that, just maybe, Israel’s basic cause is just. Israeland its supporters should understand that the enmity reflects well on their cause andthey should do whatever they can to guarantee that their behavior could neverpossibly be seen as analogous to the behavior of their enemies.**********************************************************************************************************See you again in March. Happy Leap Year Day.DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be contacted byclicking hereBoth the American and Germany editions are posted atwww.dubowdigest.typepad.comClick here to connect 12