June 11, 2010

Specter’s Legacy Sits In Judgment

The end of Arlen Specter’s career as a U.S. senator should be hailed by Jews as well as by all Americans (“End of Specter Era Brings New Race for Jewish Vote,” May 28).


Because of his key role in driving the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Specter’s aggressive savaging of credible witnesses opposing Thomas was a travesty and resulted in what has been a staunch opponent of civil rights sitting on the bench.

Allied with the other conservative members of the high court, Thomas has adversely affected the lives of all of us. It is for this that Specter should be remembered!

Oberammergau Still Needs Some Work

It is unfortunate that A.J. Goldmann’s “Letter from Oberammergau” leaves the reader with three inaccurate impressions: that the work of reforming the Oberammergau Passion Play is complete; that, in the words of the play’s deputy director, Otto Huber, the conversation regarding the play is akin to a “dialogue between a policeman and a criminal;” and that criticism of the play is emanating solely from Jews (“New Kind of Passion in an ‘Alpine Jerusalem,’” June 4).

First, it is true that the 2010 edition of the play is unprecedented in its positive portrayal of Jesus as one who was born, lived, taught and died as a Jew. But the play continues to raise the specter of deicide and collective guilt for the Jews in the death of Jesus, a charge dismissed by the 1965 Second Vatican Council.

Second, the American Jewish Committee, together with its partner, Germany Close Up, recently brought 15 young American Jews in their 20s and 30s to Germany for 10 days of inter-religious dialogue with young Catholic and Protestant Germans in Berlin, Munich and Oberammergau. Our three days in Oberammergau included viewing the play and ongoing conversations with Christian Stückl, the play’s director. It was not a “dialogue between a policeman and a criminal,” but rather a relationship between partners in learning and probing. We constructively criticized with respect and collegiality.

Finally, Christian scholars have joined Jewish scholars in both praising the advances of the 2010 edition as well as pointing out serious problems with this year’s rendition. Oberammergau is not an issue for Jews alone. Leading Catholic and Protestant academics contributed their criticisms to a report from the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations.

Fortunately, many Jews and Christians perceive Oberammergau as a sensitive frontline in Christian-Jewish relations worthy of our collective attention.

Nazi Analogies Mar Goldstone Debate

Altogether too many commentators in the public sphere, with axes to grind on either the right or the left, have recently resorted to likening their adversaries to Nazis. A few current examples appear in the Forward’s May 21 article “ Israelis Condemn Goldstone’s Role In South Africa During Apartheid.”

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said that Richard Goldstone’s explanations of his actions as a South African judge during apartheid “are the same explanations we heard in Nazi Germany after World War II.” Similarly, famed attorney Alan Dershowitz said: “That’s what Mengele said, too. ‘We just followed the law.’”

Such gratuitous ascriptions of Nazi-like behavior are reprehensible, because they serve to dilute and even normalize the unparalleled enormity of Hitler’s evil-doing. Moreover, people like Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor, should know that reckless use of inapt analogies only casts doubt on the arguments and the credibility of those who proffer them. Controversial as Judge Goldstone has become in the wake of his September 2009 Gaza report, he is most certainly no Josef Mengele, and suggesting otherwise disserves both civil discourse and the search for truth.

Reasonable people may differ on the propriety of Richard Goldstone’s report on Israeli actions in Gaza. But for Jews to liken him to Nazi criminals is offensive.

Particularly outrageous is Alan Dershowitz’s reference to Mengele in condemning Goldstone. Dershowitz has diminished his credibility as a responsible commentator on Jewish affairs.

Happy Birthday to Abraham Cahan!

Regarding your May 28 special section in honor of the 150th birthday of Abraham Cahan: Bravo!

This is just one of the reasons why I subscribe to Forward. Thanks for the history lessons!

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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June 11, 2010

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