Newsdesk February 20, 2004

Published February 20, 2004, issue of February 20, 2004.
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Romanian Pol Apologizes

A Romanian presidential candidate with a history of antisemitic and Holocaust-denial statements has offered an apology for his past, pledging to organize a pilgrimage to Auschwitz as part of his repentance.

“I am asking for forgiveness from all Jews,” wrote Corneliu Vadim Tudor, head of the Greater Romania Party, in an open letter to Israeli public-relations consultant Eyal Arad. “I’ve changed,” Tudor wrote.

But the letter to Arad — the head of an advertising firm in Israel who ran the two campaigns of Prime Minister Sharon and is being courted to run Tudor’s campaign — is seen by some as a disingenuous attempt to give the Romanian politician more political credibility.

The head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, rejected Tudor’s letter, citing “the ongoing efforts by his associates to deny Holocaust crimes in Romania and besmirch the Jewish people.” Zuroff quoted from Tudor’s paper, Romania Mare, which published an article just last month claiming that Jews murdered by members of the fascist Romanian Iron Guard in January 1941 were in fact Romanian nationalists murdered by Jews.

In his letter, Tudor asked forgiveness for denying hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed during World War II in Romania, and for his “terrible words” against Jewish leaders, including the late chief rabbi of Romania, Mozes Rosen, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a native of Romania.

“I am asking God and the people I have hurt for forgiveness,” he wrote. “I repent now and forever, and I promise I will never repeat it again.”

Frank House Fights Back

Officials at the Anne Frank House are fighting back against claims that the museum is guilty of antisemitism and comparing Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to Adolf Hitler.

At issue is a current exhibit that challenges people to weigh the importance of protecting freedom of speech against the need to outlaw racist and discriminatory behavior. As part of the display, visitors are shown a video clip of demonstrators carrying anti-Jewish posters that feature the Sharon-Hitler comparison, and then asked to ponder whether limits should be placed on what protesters are permitted to say.

The inclusion of the video clip has been condemned by several Israeli politicians, including President Moshe Katsav and Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky. They spoke out after an Israeli couple complained about the exhibit to the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot.

“When at the home of Anne Frank, one of the archetypal symbols of the tragedy of the Jewish people, Hitler, is compared to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it is not a debate on freedom of expression,” said Sharansky, according to press reports. “It is showing contempt for the memory of the 6 million who were murdered in the Holocaust.”

But museum officials maintain the criticism is unfair, arguing that a key purpose of the exhibit was to help inform people about modern-day examples of antisemitism.

“It was most unfortunate that this Israeli couple did not understand the essence and intention of the exhibition,” said Patricia Bosboom, spokeswoman for the Anne Frank Foundation. “There has been an unfortunate misunderstanding. We received a lot of reactions from Israelis since the public outrage there erupted recently. But we responded to all of them, explaining to them what the exhibition is really about. We hope people understand our exhibition serves as a means to make people think. We did not include the pictures to make a political statement about Israel.”

Foxman Presses Vatican

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, wants the Vatican to take a stand on Mel Gibson’s controversial film on Jesus.

In a meeting with Vatican officials Tuesday, Foxman urged Vatican officials to tell bishops around the world to inform Catholics that the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” is Gibson’s interpretation of the Gospels, and not a factual record. The movie is slated to open in the United States on February 25. Foxman stopped in Rome en route to Brussels, where European Commission President Romano Prodi will host an international seminar on antisemitism and minorities in Europe that begins Thursday.

Meanwhile, Mel Gibson denied that he is antisemitic and insisted his new movie does not blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion. Gibson, in an interview with Diane Sawyer on the ABC News show “Primetime Special Edition,” which aired Monday night, said the film echoes his belief that “we all” are responsible for the death of Jesus. “To be antisemitic is a sin,” he told Sawyer. “To be antisemitic is to be un-Christian, and I’m not.”

Some Jewish leaders have warned the movie will fuel anti-Jewish attitudes because it asserts the Jews pushed the Romans to kill Jesus. Gibson denied that, saying the movie is “not about pointing the fingers.”

Aronson To Sell Division

Famed publisher Jason Aronson Inc. is set to sell its Judaica arm to Rowman & Littlefield, a Maryland-based press, sources said. While some of Aronson’s authors have been informed of the impending sale, several bookstores contacted by the Forward did not know of the development.

A representative of Aronson would not comment on the situation, citing the impending nature of the sale.

Aronson’s Web page is currently down, and their domain name, JudaicaLibrary.com, is currently for sale at a price of nearly $1,700.

Aronson has long been a major player on the Judaica scene, selling books ranging from lifecycle guides to philosophical treatises. Founded in the 1960s, it primarily published books on psychology until the mid-1980s. One of its first big coups was the publication of the paperback edition of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “God in Search of Man” in 1987.

For several weeks, booksellers have been unable to get in contact with the publishing house and have not received shipments. The Yeshiva University student-run Seforim Sale, perhaps the largest annual Jewish-book event in the United States, did not receive a shipment this year from Aronson, which publishes many books by current and former Y.U. professors.

A number of Aronson authors have already begun taking their future works to other publishing houses, though many expect that their previous works still in print will be handled by Rowman & Littlefield.

Rowman & Littlefield publisher Jonathan Sisk did not return a request for comment at press time.

Split Over ‘Passion’ Spoof

Heeb magazine and its publicist parted ways over an upcoming satire about a Mel Gibson movie on Jesus. Celebrity publicist Susan Blond said that she was insulted by a photo spread about the movie “The Passion of the Christ” in the February 25 issue of Heeb magazine.

Blond, who recently adopted an Orthodox lifestyle, said she dropped the Heeb account because of pictures depicting Jesus wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, as a loin cloth, and of the Virgin Mary with pierced nipples. “I couldn’t live with myself,” she said.

Joshua Neuman, Heeb’s editor-in-chief, called Blond’s descriptions of the photos “inaccurate,” saying that the feature, “Back Off, Braveheart,” tackles “a really important issue that many young Jews in America today are talking about.”

Birthright Funds Restored

A new matching grant will allow Birthright Israel to more than double enrollment for its summer programs.

Organizers of the free trip to Israel for young adults who never have been on a peer tour to the Jewish state notified trip providers Sunday that they had secured funding for more than 8,200 spots for its summer programs. Due to funding problems, Birthright had planned to accept only 3,500 people, all but 500 of whom would come from North America. The Avi Chai Foundation announced it would provide Birthright with a “challenge grant” of $7 million, which they expect will be matched by philanthropists.

In a statement, the foundation said it decided to give the grant in response to the cutback in funding for the program by the Israeli government, which reduced its funding for Birthright to a token amount for 2004 due to budget constraints.

Funding Deal in Works

A handful of Jewish communal federation leaders are working on a deal on one of the most contentious issues surrounding United Jewish Communities.

Now they have to sell it to the rest of the federation system.

In a February 9 meeting at LaGuardia Airport in New York, federation executives and presidents from Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and New York hammered out a plan to fund overseas needs. The deal comes after a two-year evaluation by UJC’s Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee, or ONAD, and a bout of politicking that led to an initial decision in December.

The new plan takes pressure off local federations to raise additional funds, preserves their autonomy in funding decisions and appears to benefit the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, one of two primary agencies working overseas that receive funds from the UJC federation umbrella system.

Fence Rally Planned

Dutch politicians are concerned over plans to bring a bombed-out Israeli bus to hearings on Israel’s West Bank security barrier. Zaka, the Israeli organization that collects victims’ body parts after terrorist attacks, is bringing the bus to The Hague for the International Court of Justice’s February 23 hearing on the fence.

International groups on both sides of the issue are planning to come to The Hague on the day of the hearing, and the Dutch organization Christians for Israel is organizing a “silent march” that day to support Israel. “I think it is sick to make a bus where innocent people were killed the subject of a legal dispute,” a city council member at The Hague said.

France, ADL Make Up

France is taking “significant measures” to protect its Jews, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL commended French President Jacques Chirac in a letter on Tuesday for his government’s “efforts to protect France’s Jewish community and its actions to combat the increased anti-Semitism that has spread in France in the past few years.” The letter ends the recent heated exchange between the ADL and Chirac about the organization’s allegations that France was not doing enough to stem a wave of anti-Jewish attacks.

Activists Lobby Congress

Jewish-Arab coexistence activists from the Middle East brought refreshing news to Capitol Hill last week.

While the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians escalates, claiming more and more lives and dominating media reports from the region, the activists said, thousands of Jews and Arabs get together every day to promote coexistence and tolerance. More than 120 Israeli organizations engage in Jewish-Arab dialogue and reconciliation, the activists said.

“The number of people working on living together has never been higher,” said Ami Nahshon, president of the Abraham Fund, which runs a database on organized coexistence activities in Israel.

The Abraham fund was one of 14 groups that lobbied Congress for funding last week. Coexistence activists visited offices of key legislators and congressional aides and held a mini-conference on Capitol Hill to showcase their organizations’ achievements.

The groups are competing for support from a small, new fund of $8 million that Congress approved late last month to encourage coexistence and reconciliation programs worldwide.






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