October 17, 2003

Published October 17, 2003, issue of October 17, 2003.
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New Republic: Editorial Bias Charge ‘Absurd’

Author Stephen Schwartz’s insinuation in an October 10 article that a New Republic panel discussion sponsored by Saudi Arabia was designed to be pro-Saudi is absurd, as anyone who attended it would know (“New Republic Cancels an Invite to Foe of Saudis”).

Neither the Saudis nor any other advertiser is allowed to prejudice the ideological tone of the events they sponsor, and two of the five participants in our October 2 panel, Lawrence Kaplan and Patrick Clawson, are strong critics of the Saudi government, as evinced by their remarks that day. I would encourage the Forward’s readers to view the Web-cast of the event at www.tnr.com and decide for themselves whether The New Republic slanted the panel to flatter its client.

Worse than Schwartz’s accusation of bias at this specific event, however, is Clawson’s assertion that Saudi sponsorship may have corrupted The New Republic’s editorial stance. The New Republic’s critical position toward Riyadh is well known and cannot be influenced by Saudi money. The Saudis are no different than any other advertiser in The New Republic: Their business does not affect editorial content.

Nor is their business something The New Republic tries to hide; the article’s suggestion that we obscured the Saudi government’s role in the panel is patently false. The New Republic, as a matter of policy, always clearly identifies the sponsors of its events, and the October 2 panel was no different. The invitations to all speakers indicated that the Saudi government was sponsoring the panel. At the event itself, The New Republic’s publisher announced the Saudis’ sponsorship in her opening remarks, and signs in the room indicated Saudi Arabia’s role in the discussion. The Web site The New Republic created after the event to post a video of the panel features a large icon indicating that the panel was “Sponsored by: The People of Saudi Arabia.”

Skeptics worried about The New Republic’s editorial independence need only read the magazine.

Peter Beinart

Editor

The New Republic

Washington, D.C.

Pope Shouldn’t Desert His Faithful Followers

In Judaism, once a leader of a group or congregation is selected, they remain in that position until the day of their death. Hence, we have the term “rabbi emeritus.” Chasidic Jews have “rebbes,” spiritual leaders who remain in their positions until their passing.

Pope John Paul II should follow these rules as well (“Pope John Paul II’s More Friendly, More Foreign Vatican,” October 10).

Whilst he isn’t the leader of a Jewish group, he is the spiritual leader of another religious group, and leaders do not desert their followers. What a great symbol the pope has been for interreligious tolerance. If not to travel the world preaching and praying with his followers, the pope must remain in his position as a symbol of great religious tolerance, until the day of his death, for all the world to see.

Daniel Bonner

8th Grader

Solomon Schechter Academy of Dallas

Dallas, Texas

Dershowitz Responds To Finkelstein Charge

Professor Norman Finkelstein and journalist Alexander Cockburn have leveled a preposterous and unfounded charge of plagiarism against me because they do not like the fact that my book “The Case for Israel” is having an impact on public opinion, especially on university campuses (“Dershowitz Rebuts Critics’ Plagiarism Charges,” October 3).

Why have they leveled this patently false charge? Because they are afraid to debate me on the merits of my book. Finkelstein has leveled similar charges of “plagiarism,” “fraud,” “hoax,” “hucksterism,” “slipshod scholarship,” “blackmail” and “profiteering” against some of the world’s most distinguished professors and writers, including Stuart Eizenstadt, Burt Neuborne, Gerald Feldman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Richard Overy, Abba Eban, Yehuda Bauer, Daniel Goldhagen and others. Goldhagen himself has demonstrated that Finkelstein “fabricated” charges against him and that “he has no credibility” (Frankfurter Rundschau, August 18, 1987, cited on www.goldhagen.com).

Finkelstein has called Elie Wiesel, whose lifelong devotion to peace and reconciliation earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, a “clown” (Irish Times, July 1, 2003). He accused Wiesel of lying because Wiesel said that when he was 18 years old, “I read ‘The Critique of Pure Reason’ in Yiddish.” Here is Finkelstein’s “gotcha” accusation: “‘The Critique of Pure Reason’ was never translated into Yiddish” (The Guardian, July 12, 2000). A fairly unambiguous charge. The only problem is that “The Critique of Pure Reason” was translated into Yiddish and published in Warsaw in 1929. The Harvard Library has a copy and Wiesel did read it. I have seen no apology from Finkelstein.

Cockburn’s hit list includes the late Irving Howe, the late Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone and Vermont Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders. According to The Nation columnist Eric Alterman, “Cockburn has been called an anti-Semite with some regularity.” He gets accused of Jew-hating “almost as often as he is call a ‘Stalinist,’ which seems to me about right.”

I am proud of “The Case for Israel,” and will not further dignify false and empty charges leveled by serial fabricators like Finkelstein and Cockburn.

Alan Dershowitz

Cambridge, Mass.

Jackson-Vanik Relevant For Ensuring Freedom

My longtime colleague Tankred Golempolsky, a consummate expert on antisemitism in Russia, should be commended for promoting the removal or “graduation” of Russia from the historic Jackson-Vanik Amendment (“Release Russian Jewry from Jackson-Vanik,” September 19). In Congressional testimony and in meetings with Russian and American leaders, NCSJ has expressed the organized American Jewish community’s support for graduation — but not for repeal, since Jackson-Vanik technically remains American law even as individual countries are removed from its scope.

Far from being “amoral,” Jackson-Vanik’s enduring statement of the American commitment to human rights and religious freedom underpins the American bilateral relationship with Russia. It is only because Jackson-Vanik remains relevant that we have endorsed Russia’s graduation. Due to the tireless work of Russian Jews like Golempolsky and countless Americans, the revival of Russian Jewry is proceeding in leaps and bounds — largely because American and Russian leaders have embraced the Jackson-Vanik message, not in spite of it.

Mark Levin

Executive Director

NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia

Washington, D.C.

U.S. Writers in Israel No Monolithic Mass

In her September 26 review of the Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature, Janet Burstein laments the fact that several of its essays offer something called “the Israeli critical perspective,” which, among other things, “considers our language inauthentic and our culture deviant” (“Israeli Critics Comment — Problematically — on American Jewish Fiction”).

As editors of the volume and authors of two of those essays, we take issue with Burstein’s indictment. First of all, there is no “Israeli critical perspective.” The five (out of 14) contributors who live in Israel are as divergent from each other as they are from the contributors who live in America — and as the American contributors are from each other. We are accused of seeing in American Jewish literature what we want to see. By the same logic, Burstein sees in our essays what she wants to see.

Had she read the essays closely, she would have realized that they do not share a monolithic view of American Jewish writing. Burstein claims she knows that critical perspectives are “shaped by gender, culture and countless personal choices,” but with regard to “Israelis” she reduces the count to one. Is there an “American” critical perspective? By charging us with a collective identity that presumably explains the essence of our intellectual positions, Burstein betrays her ignorance of the multifarious academic world in Israel and her refusal to contend seriously with the ideas each of us individually expresses.

Moreover, by singling out the “Israeli” contributors and homogenizing them into one perspective, Burstein not only belittles the contributors who live in the United States, but also does to those of us who live in Israel precisely what the Cambridge Companion refuses to do to American Jewish writing and to its critics — to reduce them to one voice and to one ideology.

Living in Israel has no doubt changed each of us, in both overt and subtle ways, but it has hardly turned us into outsiders — if terms such as “insider” and “outsider” are meaningful anymore in cultural discourse. Cultures don’t stop at borders. American Jews do not stop being American Jews when they make aliya. (Just ask any real Israeli, if you can find one.)

We make our way in Hebrew — some of us more fluently, some less — but we continue to speak and write in English. We read American books and periodicals, The New York Review of Books and the Forward. We dress in American clothes, enjoy American movies and listen to American music (along with everyone else in the world — but that’s another argument). And if some of us are at times deliberately provocative, we are certainly no more so than, say, Abraham Cahan or Philip Roth — neither of whom is Israeli.

Burstein writes that American Jews may have become a “troubling puzzle” to Jews who have made other choices. In fact, the “troubling puzzle” is why an American Jewish critic feels the need to represent her relation to Israeli critics as a polarity and to see her colleagues in Israel as a nameless mass who all think alike.

Hana Wirth-Nesher

Tel Aviv, Israel

Michael Kramer

Jerusalem, Israel

B’nai Brith Still Strong On Advocacy in Canada

I am concerned that there may be a misconception as to what will be the future role for B’nai Brith Canada (“Mega-donors Bid for Control of Canadian Bodies,” September 19).

Therefore, it must be clearly understood that B’nai Brith Canada is fully positioned to conduct its national programs combating antisemitism and promoting pro-Israel advocacy. With a national network of professionals, including a government relations office in Ottawa, The Jewish Tribune (the largest Anglo-Jewish publication in the country), the Institute for International Affairs, the League for Human Rights, a Canada-Israel Public Affairs Quebec Region operation, a campus desk and a highly respected cadre of volunteer and professional experts, B’nai Brith will shoulder the responsibility for representing the grassroots constituents of Canadian Jewry.

Ours will be a voice of reason, but an activist voice that will resonate in the halls of government. We intend to ensure that the feelings of the average Jew in Canada are fully expressed not only behind closed doors but in the public domain.

Frank Dimant

Executive Vice President

B’nai Brith Canada

Toronto, Ontario

Hezbollah Terror Belies Silence on Syria Border

One presumes that the editorialist’s intention in arguing that the Syrian border has been the quietest in the region was to deliver a backhanded slap to Prime Minister Sharon for attacking Islamic Jihad forces inside Syria (“The Lessons of Yom Kippur,” October 10).

The Israeli-Syrian border has been quiet only because the border consists entirely of the Golan Heights, which, thanks to Israeli victories in 1967 and 1973, Israel stands astride and will likely continue to do so for a long time to come. The Israeli-Lebanese border, on the other hand, has been the hottest and the most violent mainly due to none other than Syria, which has pursued a proxy war of attrition against Israel using first the Palestine Liberation Organization and then Hezbollah in order to force Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights and to perpetuate its brutal and illegal occupation of Lebanon — an occupation that the Forward, in a reprehensible display of hypocrisy, cannot even bring itself to acknowledge, let alone protest.

This is not even to mention Syria’s longstanding support for various Palestinian terrorist groups. Perhaps you might have noted these facts for the benefit of your readers before taking your cheap shots.

Benjamin Kerstein

Beersheva, Israel

Miramax and the ADL

An October 3 article suggests something untoward about my decision to support two movies distributed by Miramax (“Movie Mogul Makes Debut as a Macher”). In fact, when Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein asked us to look at “Life Is Beautiful” because the Cannes Film Festival apparently would not accept the film, I understood that a serious issue was at stake: Could a film that used comedy be accepted in dealing with the Holocaust?

As a survivor and one who has dealt with Holocaust-related issues for years, this was important. Upon seeing the film, I concluded that Roberto Benigni had made a powerful, sensitive film in which the comedy deepened the tragedy, rather than trivializing it.

Several years later, I commented positively about “Chocolat” because it too dealt with an issue of concern to the Anti-Defamation League: how to treat the other with sensitivity and compassion.

Film can be a vehicle for learning, as in the case of these two, or of negative teaching, as in the case of Mel Gibson’s upcoming “The Passion.” Both are instances where the ADL believed it was important to speak out.

Abraham Foxman

National Director

Anti-Defamation League

New York, N.Y.






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