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April 23, 2004

Reports on Genocide Will Engender Action

The Forward published an eye-opening and crucially important article and an accompanying editorial in the April 16 issue about the ethnic cleansing campaigns in Rwanda 10 years ago and the one currently going on in Darfur, Sudan today (“Groups Question Own Inaction on African Killings”; “Genocide and Conscience”). We commend the Forward for bringing what threatens to be today’s worst humanitarian crisis to the fore and we hope that the Jewish community is stirred into action as it was during the crisis in Bosnia.

We agree that the Jewish voice has been too silent in response to these tragedies; however we are terribly disappointed that even though the Forward spoke to me about the American Jewish World Service response, we were not mentioned in the piece. Such an omission is a slap in the face to the American Jews who did respond to the Rwanda genocide by supporting our efforts.

The American Jewish World Service sent more than $130,000 worth of humanitarian assistance to Rwanda and is currently raising funds for emergency relief for the 1 million displaced people of Darfur in western Sudan. In addition, through our advocacy efforts we have joined a coalition of international relief organizations that has been instrumental in motivating the American government to negotiate a cease fire in Sudan and allow humanitarian organizations to provide relief.

There are many reasons that the Jewish and American response to these crises has been slow in coming. Not the least of them are the speed with which the ethnic cleansing campaigns are being conducted under the cover of civil war and the fact that journalists and humanitarian organizations have been denied access. We believe that as the American people, and particularly the Jewish community, hear about the gruesome ethnic cleansing of black African farmers by Arab militias in Darfur, they will respond.

Then our voices will unite once more, “never again.”

Ruth Messinger


American Jewish World Service

New York, N.Y.

Nitpicking on President Misses Historic Stance

The April 16 editorial about President Bush’s press conference on counterterrorism makes me think that I must have watched a different press conference than the Forward (“Bush and the Terrorists”). I thought that the president handled the questioners, who obviously had a political agenda, very well. The editorialist’s criticisms of the president show a 20-20 hindsight.

What was lacking in the editorial was the failure to thank Bush for being the first major non-Israeli government official to recognize that Israel was not required to return to its indefensible 1967 boundaries, to recognize that Yasser Arafat is a terrorist, and to support Prime Minister Sharon’s decision to leave Gaza, even if it means expanding Israel proper into the West Bank.

Sandor Shuch

Phoenix, Ariz.

Sarcastic Report Masks Campus Show’s Success

I was saddened to read the April 9 feature article commenting on Hillel of Georgia’s Campus SuperStar event (“‘Campus SuperStar’ Sexes Up College Life With Song”). It amazes me how anyone could be so negative — and not manage to find one positive quote — about an evening that was magical and a program that is transformative.

Why would the Forward denigrate the “celebrity” of the judges, which included Steve Koonin, CEO of TNT and TBS, and Grammy award-winning music executives from Nashville? Not impressive enough for him? The contestants and audience seemed pretty stoked by their participation.

And that “cheesy” set was a real Coca-Cola Red Room (donated by Coke), the first of its kind to appear anywhere other than on “American Idol.” How cool is that?

Many students partnered with community volunteers to stage SuperStar, one of the truly creative, ambitious, multicultural outreach and fundraising programs ever to be launched by a Hillel. The semi-final on my campus attracted 700 people — a great boost to our image — and proceeds from SuperStar has already helped fund a $14,000 Israel awareness program.

So: What was the point in being sarcastic about what should be a model program for the entire country?

Missy Ball

UGA Hillel Student President

University of Georgia

Athens, Ga.

Nothing Heroic About Sharon’s Gaza Bluff

Although he is surely entitled to choose anyone he likes, Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s choice of Prime Minister Sharon as his hero “at this moment” seems a bit dubious. Better, as someone who describes himself as a dove, that he had chosen one of the Palestinian or Israeli negotiators of the Geneva Understandings or other peace proposals as his hero — or all of them, for that matter — for they have quite literally risked their lives for peace. Sharon himself has given the Geneva group credit for inspiring his proposal to withdraw from Gaza.

But it clearly requires a leap of faith to anticipate that most of the tents of settlement are about to be folded by the man who pitched them. Most commentators interpret Sharon’s putative withdrawal from Gaza as a way of hardening Israel’s claim and commitment to its settlements on the West Bank. That was the thinly veiled meaning of the letters exchanged between the Israeli leader and President Bush. And that was the explicit interpretation with which Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other hard-line Likudniks gave approval to the prime minister’s plans: extending the security fence eastward right into the heart of the West Bank to encompass Ariel and Emmanuel, thereby securing enmity and conflict into the indefinite future.

Sharon’s tactical moves are in service to a strategic goal that Yoffie has rightly opposed: Israeli settlements deep in the heart of Palestinian territory. Soon enough, if Sharon has his way, his self-fulfilling prophecy will be complete. There will be no Palestinian prime minister — whose position was demanded by Israel and the United States — with whom to negotiate; no moderate Palestinian voices who are ready to contend, not just with the treacherous Yasser Arafat, but with the bloody executioners of Hamas as well. There will be no heroes — Palestinian or Israeli — left to do what is right.

Charney Bromberg

Executive Director

Meretz USA

New York, N.Y.

Significance of Shoah Lost in Book Review

Although I have not read Zosia Goldberg’s memoir, “Running Through Fire: How I Survived the Holocaust,” — and perhaps won’t read it, for such accounts rouse many painful memories in me — I felt compelled to comment on Paul Auster’s introduction to the book, as reprinted in the April 16 issue (“A Female Odysseus Tells Her Story”).

I did not suffer as much under the German/Austrian Nazis as Goldberg, but I spent nearly a year in Vienna under Nazi persecution as a young boy and endured enough to feel that my voice may count for a little bit too. Let me add that although the Nazis destroyed the life of my family and robbed us of everything, I have never broad-brushed all German individuals, even of those times, as necessarily evil. As early as my service in the British army in World War II, for which I volunteered, I treated German prisoners of war decently and without prejudice — as hard as that was for me at the time.

Auster writes that Goldberg’s account “contradicts nearly everything we have been told about German conduct during the war,” and that (therefore) “the stark black-and-white picture we have drawn of the Holocaust dissolves into a muddled terrifying gray.” He arrives at this conclusion by comparing two occurrences, namely isolated incidents of good conduct of some German individuals that mostly carried little risk (and sometimes did) with isolated incidents of bad conduct of some Jewish individuals, as if the two events belonged to the same domain of meaning.

In doing so, Auster forgets the real significance of the history of the Holocaust, which apparently needs to be restated again and again: Among the German/Austrian population, there were vast numbers of people who actively carried out the murder of Jews and millions of others.

This greased the wheels of the most organized and single-minded mass murder of any population, putting Jews under incredible pressures that required at times super-human bravery and endurance to just go on “living.”

Many of us did show character and dignity under conditions hard to imagine for anyone who had not witnessed them. I can assert this of my own family, as narrated in my three-hour long testimony videotaped by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in December 1990.

Auster’s comments saddened me. They show how easy it is for even the well-intentioned to fail to comprehend the essence of what really took place.

Henry Schmelzer.

Somerset, N.J.

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