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March 9, 2007

Applaud Gov’t Defense Of Religious Freedom

A March 2 article on the recent speech by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was a disservice to the excellent work the Justice Department is doing in the defense of religious freedom (“Speech by Attorney General Sparks Church-State Furor”).

The important news coming out of Gonzales’s speech was the unveiling of a 40-page report on the Justice Department’s efforts over the past six years to proactively combat religious discrimination in this country in an unprecedented manner, as well as the launching of a new “First Freedom” initiative and Web site to further such efforts. Yet the Forward chose to highlight the fact that some organizations in the Christian and Jewish communities — though not all in those communities — were upset that the attorney general delivered his speech before a conservative Christian audience.

The Forward not only failed to mention that some in our community, including the Orthodox Union, lauded the address and didn’t much mind the venue, but also failed to note that American Arab and Muslim groups were very pleased that the attorney general spoke of their communities’ rights specifically before an Evangelical Christian crowd. One must wonder where the logic of the critics will take us in the Jewish community; what will we say if the secretary of state delivers an address to a Jewish organizational meeting on the topic of Middle East diplomacy? Is that inappropriate because she did not stand before a jointly Jewish and Arab audience?

The venue and audience before which a national policymaker makes a speech is noteworthy, but hardly the whole story.

Nathan Diament
Director of Public Policy
Orthodox Union
Washington, D.C.



Too Glib on Six-Day War

To judge by his impassioned plea for the liberation of his fellow Palestinians, opinion writer Afif Safieh is a gentleman and a scholar — and I mean that in the complimentary sense the terms originally conveyed, before they were reduced to empty cliches following years of careless misuse describing men who were neither (“We Palestinians Will Honor Our Word,” February 16). His sensitive sympathy to the Palestinians’ plight under Israeli governance is shared by thousands of Israelis, as well as many American Jews, myself included.

However, I am afraid he lost me when he wrote, “A territory that was occupied in 1967 in less than six days can also be evacuated in six days.” That glib description of the Six-Day War glosses over the fact that it was provoked by Egypt’s mass concentration of armed forces on the Sinai Peninsula, along with similar threats by Jordan and Syria.

It was as a result of military victory in the Six-Day War that Israel occupied Gaza as a buffer zone, in an attempt to safeguard its borders from future attacks. As we have since seen, attacks against Israel have continued even after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. What assurance, other than Safieh’s word, does Israel have that the future state of Palestine will not do the same?

Norm Gottlieb
Los Angeles, Calif.



Recall Goldhagen

In her January 12 review of Michael Verhoeven’s movie “The Unknown Soldier,” arts writer Noga Tarnopolsky gives deserved credit to the traveling exhibit “Wehrmachtsausstellung,” which served as the framework for Verhoeven’s movie, for helping to unseat the myth that the members of the Wehrmacht were not willing perpetrators of the Holocaust (“Total Recall”).

But she errs in writing that the exhibit was the first to publicly discredit the myths that only the SS carried out the mass murders and that others were coerced to help. Both myths, used to absolve ordinary Germans in and out of uniform from their participation in Jew-hunts and citizen police battalions, had already been conclusively disproved by Daniel Johah Goldhagen in his scholarly 634-page bestseller “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” published in 1996.

Goldhagen endured a lot flak for his effort, but the book, which is illustrated and is supported by 126 pages of citations, convinced a lot of people, including Germans.

Paul Kronick
Haverford, Pa.



Douse ‘Firebomb’ Logic

I read with depressing consternation Jack Fischel’s February 23 review of Jörg Friedrich’s book “The Fire: The Bombing Of Germany, 1940-1945” (“German Book Redefines ‘Victimhood,’ Problematically”).

The theme is a periodically recurrent leitmotif spawned by the German national malaise for its role in the crafting and execution of the Holocaust. The author’s apparent attempt to draw a moral equivalency between the Holocaust and the massive firebombing of Hamburg and Dresden suffers from absurdly brittle logic.

The British air raids were primarily intended to cripple Nazi Germany’s industrial capability. No doubt they also served as an act of self-defense and retaliation for the formidable devastation of the London Blitz. Surely, Winston Churchill was not so single-minded as to incur the lasting wrath of the German people at the cost of losing a useful Teutonic bulwark in his anticipated postwar confrontation with the Soviet Union.

The deplorable loss of life in the Hamburg and Dresden raids pales against the monstrosity of meticulously drawing up lists of millions of innocent people to be systematically exterminated.

Marcel Binstock
Tulsa, Okla.

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