AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION
October 10, 2010
Dear Friends in Germany:
Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of Die Wende. What has been
accomplished in 20 years is just mind boggling. It should make all Germans very
Here in the U.S. we are deeply involved in the upcoming national elections where
it looks as if the Republicans will be taking over at least the House or the Senate
– or both. Unless the total Congress and the President are of the same party, the
last two years of a presidential term are years when nothing too much gets done
in the way of meaningful legislation. The 2012 presidential race begins as soon
as the numbers on Nov. 2nd are counted.
As far as the Jewish community is concerned, the major concern is whether the
Israeli - Palestinian peace process will continue or come to a screeching halt
before it gets anywhere. There is nothing much we can do, nor is there unanimity
of opinion as to what should be done, so we can only wait like the rest of the
world and see what happens.
However, let’s not wait for the news. That is something we can do something
about. So, here goes…
IN THIS EDITION
UNIFICATION: 20th ANNIVERSARY – The view from the U.S.
DIFFERENCES IN PERCEPTION – The peace process and the “freeze”. How
Israelis look at it. PLEASE READ THIS!
A JEWISH STATE? – What it means to different people.
CUFI – Christians United for Israel. Who are they? How important? What’s on
THYSSEN KRUPP – THREE CHEERS – They did the right thing!
RABBI-LESS JUDAISM – A do it yourself congregation.
JEWISH EXODUS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE – Important Jewish advisers
leave. Any up or downside for the Jewish community?
WAGNER: NOT YET – The Israelis are just not ready.
UNIFICATION: 20th ANNIVERSARY
The 20th anniversary of German Unification (or re-unification) went by very quietly
in the U.S. The New York Times ran an article dealing with the differences
between East & West and, of course, it got a passing mention in most of the
media but not much else. In thinking about it, it occurred to me that in the U.S.
one had to be about 35 years old or older to really remember much about the
German Democratic Republic. The “fall of the Wall” with its pictures of people
sitting on top of it, etc. made much of a splash but who remembers the 4 plus 2
negotiations? It almost seems like ancient history. Unified Germany has become
so much of a reality that its divided status seems almost as distant as when there
was a Union and a Confederacy here in the U.S.
Interestingly, my own agency, the American Jewish Committee (from whom I am
partially (mostly?) retired, did remember it and issued a press release on the
subject. It noted, "Unification has not always been an easy, problem-free process
for Germany. For many East Germans, for instance, the transition has had its
share of psychological and professional challenges. For the German economy,
the cost of bringing East Germany up to the West German standard has been
staggering. But there can be no question that unification was right for Germany,
right for Europe, and right for the world. An enlarged, democratic Germany
continues to inspire confidence and has proved the skeptics wrong. At AJC, we
are proud of the position we took in 1990, and we are pleased to add our voice of
congratulations to the Federal Republic of Germany on this auspicious
Indeed, AJC, with its long connection to Germany, even very early, was the first
American Jewish organization to support unification. It was very clear that
moving 17 million people from a dictatorship to a democracy and removing an
anti-Israel country from central Europe was what we here call a “no brainer”.
You can read the entire AJC statement by clicking here.
The NY Times story is available by clicking here.
DIFFERENCES IN PERCEPTION
There are always two sides to every dispute (or else there wouldn’t be a dispute).
The Israel – Palestine dispute is no exception. In this very difficult time we mostly
hear one side – the Israelis refuse to stop building settlements! I wonder if it
occurs to reasonable people that there may be another side to the conflict. Might
it be possible that the Israelis have at least a little right on their side? Could
elements of their reasoning be correct so that “building settlements” is not some
sort of exploitive, empire building action that deserves immediate condemnation?
I came across an article in the JTA which I am going to reprint in full because I
think it explains what most (certainly, not all) Israelis feel about the building
freeze and what should happen eventually in the West Bank, which by the way,
was always referred to as Judea and Samaria until about 40 years ago. In
reading it (I hope you will), please remember that Israel is a genuinely democratic
country. Its government represents the will of the populace. Some may not like
Netanyahu but he is no dictator.
The article was written by Uriel Heilman, JTA’s Managing Editor.
JERUSALEM (JTA) -- In the four weeks since direct Israeli-Palestinian peace
talks resumed, settlement construction has been identified widely as the most
immediate obstacle to the survival of negotiations.
In media accounts about the diplomatic standoff over the issue, Israel’s decision
not to extend its self-imposed 10-month freeze on settlement building has been
portrayed as a slap in the face to the Obama administration, deepening Israel’s
occupation of the West Bank and creating more stumbling blocks to a final peace
accord between Israelis and Palestinians.
This week, world leaders reportedly telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu to urge him to extend the freeze. French President Nicolas Sarkozy
called for an end to settlement building following a meeting in Paris with
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Quartet peacemaking
envoy Tony Blair met with Netanyahu twice over four days. All to no avail.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, say they will wait a week before carrying out the
threat of withdrawing from the peace talks.
"Of course we don't want to end negotiations; we want to continue,” Abbas told
Europe 1 radio, according to Israel’s daily Haaretz. “But if colonization continues,
we will be forced to end them.”
In Israel, the only response is the rumbling of earth-moving equipment headed
for construction sites in the West Bank.
That’s because what is perceived around the world as Israeli stubbornness is
seen much differently in Israel. The differences in outlook cut to the heart not
only of how Israelis view these negotiations but how they view the future border
between Israel and a Palestinian state.
In Jerusalem, it is the Palestinians who are seen as stubborn for sticking to their
insistence that settlement building be halted before coming to the negotiating
table. Never before had such a precondition been imposed on negotiations; in
the past, Israelis and Palestinians talked while both continued to build in their
respective West Bank communities.
Having offered the freeze unilaterally 10 months ago to coax the Palestinians
back to the negotiating table and satisfy U.S. demands for an Israeli good-will
gesture, the Israeli government sees itself as the accommodating party whose
gesture was never reciprocated. Rather, it took the Palestinian nine months to
agree to resume negotiations, leaving virtually no time for substantive progress
before the freeze expired.
Then there are the political considerations: Netanyahu’s right-leaning coalition
partners made clear that extending the freeze was a nonstarter. Perhaps most
important, however, the freeze was seen by many Israelis as unfair.
The vast majority of the 300,000 or so Jews who live in the West Bank are
families living in bedroom communities within easy commuting distance of
Jerusalem or metropolitan Tel Aviv. While some Israelis moved to the
settlements for ideological reasons, for many the motivating factor was
economic: Housing was much cheaper in the West Bank than in Israel proper.
What’s more, for decades the government offered Israelis economic incentives to
settle across the Green Line -- the 1949 armistice line that marked the Jordan-
Israel border until the 1967 Six-Day War.
During the freeze, these Israelis saw themselves as unfairly penalized: Why
were they barred from expanding their homes when their Palestinians neighbors
"Stop making us look like monsters," Yigal Dilmoni, director of the information
office for the Yesha Council, the settlers’ umbrella organization, told JTA in a
The problem, of course, stems from the ambiguous nature of Israel’s presence in
the West Bank.
Most nations view the area as illegally occupied by Israel. The Israeli
government views it as disputed territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.
While Israel annexed some territories captured in that war (eastern Jerusalem
from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria) and withdrew from others either
unilaterally or within a peace deal (the Sinai Peninsula in a deal with Egypt, the
Gaza Strip unilaterally), Israel left the West Bank in legal limbo.
The Palestinians claim the land as the site of their future state.
In Israel, many on the right believe that Israel should not cede an inch, and many
on the left say settlements are a crime and the West Bank should be entirely
Palestinian. But the majority Israeli view is that most of the West Bank will end
up as Palestine while parts of it -- large Jewish settlement blocs adjacent to the
Green Line -- will be annexed to Israel.
In almost all the scenarios, Israel plans to keep the major settlement blocs.
Among them are Gush Etzion, a largely religious cluster of towns with some
55,000 people less than 10 miles from Jerusalem; Maale Adumim, a mixed
religious-secular city of some 35,000 about five miles east of Jerusalem; and
Modiin Illit, a haredi Orthodox city of some 45,000 located less than two miles
inside the West Bank, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
More difficult is Ariel, a city of 18,000 located approximately 13 miles inside the
West Bank. Israel also aims to keep the smaller settlements near the West Bank-
Israel boundary. This plan encompasses the vast majority of the settler
Israeli officials say they have received assurances from U.S. officials that this
would be the case -- most notably in the April 2004 letter by then-President
George W. Bush to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Operating under this assumption, the Israeli government viewed a complete,
open-ended settlement freeze as unreasonable: If the major settlement blocs will
be Israeli, why stop building within them?
After 10 months of an experimental freeze to see what it would elicit from the
Palestinians, their return to the negotiating table was not enough. It was time for
the experiment to end.
I think Heilman points out quite accurately the various feelings that abound in
Israel. Should the feelings of the majority be taken into account by the U.S. and
the other members of the Quartet? Is there something the Palestinians and the
other Arab countries should be doing in a positive vein to convince Israel that it
should go along with another freeze?
In reading this I hope you come to the understanding that in this dispute there
are, indeed, two sides.
I have written previously that I do not believe much will result from the current
negotiations – and then I fervently hoped I was wrong. I’m still hoping!
A JEWISH STATE?
What’s in an explanatory term? Obviously more than almost any Jew in the
United States would even think about. The term in question is “a Jewish state”.
99.9% of American Jews – and, perhaps, all non-Jews if asked whether Israel
was “a Jewish state” would reply, “Of course”. I haven’t done any surveys but my
guess is that in Europe the answer would pretty much be the same. However, in
the Arab world that is not the case.
As Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post points out, “Describing Israel as a
"Jewish state" may seem like standard boilerplate in the United States, often
used in newspaper articles and television programs. But words can carry deep
meanings, especially in Middle East diplomacy.
For the Israeli government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian
recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state" would mean acceptance that the Jews
have existed in the Middle East for thousands of years - and that Palestinian
refugees have no claim to return to property they fled or were forced to flee when
Israel was founded six decades ago.
Palestinians see their "right of return" as a sacred tenet. They regard a "Jewish
state" as a trap, a new demand that did not come up during years of negotiations
in the 1990s or in peace treaties reached with Egypt and Jordan.
…Palestinian and Arab officials contend that labeling Israel a "Jewish state" calls
into question the rights of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who comprise 20
percent of Israel's population.
In a 2009 speech, Abbas heaped scorn on the concept. "What is a 'Jewish
state'? We call it the 'State of Israel.' You can call yourselves whatever you
want," he said. "You can call yourselves whatever you want. But I will not accept
it. . . .You can call yourselves the Zionist Republic, the Hebrew, the National, the
Socialist [Republic], call it whatever you like. I don't care.
Michael B. Oren, the current Israeli ambassador to the United States, says that
the question of a "Jewish state" is "not only important, it is paramount.”
The fact that there is an Arab Republic of Egypt, a Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
and an Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t seem to bother Mr. Abbas. It doesn’t
bother me either. They are what they are.
However, it’s this kind of thing that leads me to have little faith in any sort of
peace process. If Pres. Obama is able to impose an agreement Israel and most
of the world will continue to call it a Jewish state and Palestine will refer to it
otherwise. So it goes in the world of politics.
Is the largest and, perhaps, the most “under the radar” influential organization in
the U.S. supporting Israel organized by American Jews? If you guessed “yes”
you would be wrong. It is actually Christians United for Israel, made up of mostly
evangelical Christians, headed by Rev. John Hagee. Recently, according to JTA,
(CUFI) “garnered more than 130,000 signatures on a petition calling for the
indictment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide.
"Incitement to genocide is a crime under international law,” CUFI founder John
Hagee said the day Ahmadinejad spoke. “Ahmadinejad's statements and threats
constitute a clear pattern of incitement to genocide against Israel. The time has
come for the international community to act to stop this tyrant before he is able to
fulfill his threats."
Hagee is a Texas pastor who has enormous reach through TV (160 stations) and
Radio(50 stations) and is credited with reaching 99 million homes internationally
with his sermons.
In terms of his views on the Middle East he believes, (Wikipedia), “Because the
territory now known as Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank was ruled by the
Ottoman Turks prior to World War I, then controlled by the British, and later
partitioned under United Nations mandate, Hagee argues that the land does not
belong to the Arabs, and that the name "Palestine" (deriving from that of the
ancient Philistines) was imposed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to punish the
Jews for their revolt against the Roman Empire. Hagee maintains there is no
Palestinian language, and no historic Palestinian nation, and that most people
identifying as Palestinians immigrated from other Arab states.
Hagee strongly and vocally supports an American-Israeli pre-emptive military
strike on Iran.”
One would think that Rev. Hagee would be warmly embraced by most American
Jews but that is not the case. His stance on most social-domestic issues is far to
the right of where the majority of liberal leaning American Jews stand. In addition,
he is frequently linked to the most right wing Israeli positions which also are
questioned, again, by the majority of American Jews. Add to this the disquieting
feeling that in the back of Rev. Hagee’s mind is the eventual goal of converting
all Jews to Christianity. However, more Jews today are embracing CUFI as
important because of its friendship toward Israel and because these are very
troubled times for the Jewish State. The increasing feeling is that Israel needs all
the friends it can get at the moment and the concerns about conversion can be
put off for a later (if ever) time.
THYSSEN KRUPP – THREE CHEERS
I doubt seriously that anyone who is Jewish and old enough to remember World
War II and its aftermath, would feel anything but horror when seeing the name
“Krupp”. However, today is a different day. Recently the American Jewish
Committee publicly commended Thyssen Krupp. (Press release) AJC praised
the German steel conglomerate Thyssen Krupp for announcing that it will prohibit
all new business with Iran. A company spokesman said it is acting in support of
German, EU and U.S. trade sanctions against Tehran, which has defied four UN
Security Council resolutions demanding transparency over its nuclear program.
“Thyssen Krupp’s decision to withdraw from Iran is commendable,” said Deidre
Berger, Director of AJC’s Berlin Office. “It demonstrates growing corporate
awareness that it does not pay to do business with Iran as long as it continues to
pursue nuclear weapons and promote terrorism.”
It’s probably not very good for T-K’s business but it certainly is the right thing to
do. So, I add my three cheers!
Since one of the goals of DuBow Digest is to give you some insights into
American Jewish life, I thought I should mention rabbi-less, synagogue-less
Throughout the U.S. a considerable number of Jews meet together in homes
without a rabbi and hold services that are intimate and family oriented.
Incidentally, though I am not a religion expert, I believe that a rabbi is not
necessary in order to hold a religious service. While in the Western world rabbis
serve in the clergy role, there most important function is to teach. Of course,
services should be learning experiences and so their presence is a usually a big
plus. However, if non-rabbi congregation members pledge themselves to learn
and teach those are important factors in the meaning such congregations have
for the individual members.
Natasha Mozgovaya, writing in Haaretz notes, “At present, some 20,000 people
are paying members of independent minyanim (quorums), which makes this a
somewhat negligible phenomenon in light of the estimated five to seven million
Jews in America. But the number of such communities in the country has grown
since they were first established a little over a decade ago.
The independent minyanim are now starting to spread to suburban areas and to
attract more young families with children. The impact of this movement on
American synagogue life is not clear, but its activity is generally welcome,
especially since so many young Jews have distanced themselves from the
greater community in recent years. The independent minyan offers an
alternative, one generally based on a halakhic (traditionally religious) model, for
many who are looking both to get involved in a community and for spiritual
fulfillment. Often, they are well educated Jewishly”.
Ms. Mozgovaya has written quite an extensive article on the subject. If interested,
click here to read it. http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/capital-
JEWISH EXODUS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE
One of the falsehoods that float around is that Jews have undue influence in the
White House because some of Pres. Obama’s closest advisers are Jewish. For
almost the last two years, Rahm Emanuel has been the President’s Chief of Staff
and David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser have had offices practically next door
Recently Emanuel resigned his position to return to Chicago to enter the mayoral
race there and Axelrod is expected to leave shortly to also go back to Chicago to
start up Obama’s 2012 run for re-election.
Interestingly, while both were in office Obama’s popularity in the American
Jewish community declined because of the perception that he is not as dedicated
to Israel as was his predecessor G.W. Bush. His apparent focus on trying to
influence the Muslim world was seen by some as a diminution of a commitment
to Israel. Having Jewish staff didn’t help.
Interestingly, Bush, who did not have many close Jewish advisers, was seen as
“Israel’s best friend” – but, of course, not by all Jews.
In any case, the Emanuel position has been filled by Peter Rouse, a non-Jew
and the Axelrod position is not expected to be filled at all.
Will all this make a big difference in “Jewish influence”? I doubt it as do many
others in the Jewish world. Obama does what he sees best for American
interests and the fact that the guy next door has been Bar Mitzvahed or not I
doubt will make one shekel’s worth of difference.
JTA has done a story on this matter which you can read by clicking here.
WAGNER: NOT YET
Haaretz, and I’m sure many newspapers in Germany, carried the story about
Richard Wagner’s great-granddaughter Katharina Wagner canceling her trip to
Israel where she “had planned to call a press conference on October 13, during
which was to extend an invitation to the Israel Chamber Orchestra to open the
Wagner festival next July. She had planned to precede the announcement of the
invitation with comments from German Chancellor Angela Merkel in honor of the
The ties with the Bayreuth festival were established by the new director of the
Israel Chamber Orchestra, Austrian Jewish conductor Roberto Paternostro, who
is friends with Katharina Wagner.
In an interview with Haaretz, Paternostro explained that the two thought up the
idea in Frankfurt a year ago, as an act of reconciliation between the Wagner
family and Israel.
I can understand Frau Wagner’s reluctance to face demonstrations in Israel
which would only exacerbate the tensions between Germans and Israelis. It’s too
bad all this became public as the mere news itself only heightens negative
emotions on both sides. Elements in Israel are just not up to having Richard
Wagner even talked about. Even 65 years after the end of the war the wounds
are still too painful. However, those of us who are committed to improving the
relationship between Germany and Jews have to just keep working at it. Both
Katharina Wagner and Roberto Paternostro deserve congratulations.
See you again later in the month.
DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be contacted
Both the American and Germany editions are also posted on line at