June 4, 2004
Zinni Retort Distorted
A May 28 article about General Anthony Zinni’s interview on “60 Minutes” attributes to me comments that are inaccurate and distort my real views and concerns about the recent sharp increase in worldwide antisemitism (“Ex-Mideast Envoy Zinni Charges Neocons Pushed Iraq War To Benefit Israel”).
The Anti-Defamation League reported in 2002 that “for the first time, negative attitudes toward Israel and concern that American Jews have too much influence over U.S. Middle East policy are helping to foster antisemitic beliefs.” I believe that the Bush administration’s failure to build broad international support for American objectives in the region has damaged our moral authority and our capacity to foster democratic values and religious tolerance throughout the world. This “go-it-alone” foreign policy has unjustifiably — but undeniably — affected attitudes toward Jews in America and around the world.
While we abhor these views, the fact that they exist cannot be ignored.
Rep. Nita Lowey
I, too, am apprehensive about the antisemitic hay that can and probably will be made from the recent remarks of General Anthony Zinni and Senator Fritz Hollings. Indeed, those looking for such an opportunity have already found ammunition in noting that several of the neoconservative advisers who pushed for the war in Iraq are Jewish. Nevertheless, it seems to me the Forward missed two vital points that should be made in commenting on this issue (“The Ground Shifts,” May 28).
First, to the extent that those who advocated the invasion of Iraq had Israel in mind, they were pandering not so much to Jewish voters as to the fundamentalist Christians in the Republican base whose theology puts much stock in a militant Israel triumphing over its Arab neighbors. I will pass over in silence here the peculiarity of those Jews and Israelis who willingly ally themselves with a sect that also foresees the eventual damnation of Jews and others who do not accept Christ as their savior.
Second, the charge that the war was pressed forward in the interest of Israel founders on the reality that Israel is no safer now than it was before the invasion of Iraq. On the contrary, a persuasive case can be made that the invasion and the subsequent botched occupation have encouraged terrorism everywhere — and that includes Palestinian terrorism against Israel.
Fears of encouraging antisemitism should not deter those Jews — and I am one of them — who are heart and soul opposed to this war and to the administration that led us into it.
I was astonished to read a May 28 article quoting Dr. Joe Frager as asserting that he has partnered with Sylvia and Carl Freyer and myself to establish “a yeshiva in India to facilitate the full conversion of would-be immigrants in order to bring them to Gaza” (“Right-Wing Initiative Targets Lost Jews”). This is sheer and utter nonsense.
Amishav, the organization that I direct, is dedicated to reaching out to descendants of Jews around the world who wish to return to the Jewish people. We work with the Marranos of Spain and Portugal, as well as the Bnei Menashe of India, who claim descent from a lost tribe of Israel. Our mission is entirely educational and spiritual in nature, and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with internal Israeli political disputes.
In the past decade, we have brought more than 800 Bnei Menashe immigrants to Israel. This was done under both Labor and Likud governments, and with prior coordination with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the Interior Ministry.
Nearly two years ago, Amishav opened a Hebrew Center in India, where more than
350 Bnei Menashe men and women daily study Hebrew, Jewish tradition and culture. Neither Frager nor the Freyers have or had any connection with its establishment or operation, nor have they “partnered” with us in this undertaking, which is entirely Amishav’s own initiative.
Indeed, I condemn any attempt, either by Frager or anyone else, to politicize the issue of outreach to “lost Jews.” The Jewish people have a moral, religious and historical responsibility to embrace our lost brethren and facilitate their return. This is a matter that is and should remain free of a partisan political agenda.
Empire Goods Still Tops
I was greatly dismayed and concerned by the reporting in a May 7 article about our company, Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc. (“Popular Market Chain Pulls Empire Products”).
We at Empire Kosher Poultry strive every day throughout the organization to deliver on the promise of the highest-quality poultry product available anywhere, with extraordinary customer service based on the strictest adherence to the traditions and laws of kashrut.
Being No. 1 in kosher poultry — which we are by far, and have been for many years — brings both responsibility and an inherent set of expectations from our distributors, retailers and customers. But since 1938, when Joseph Katz started this company, we have had a relentless drive to be the best, something we do not take lightly to this very day. We are No. 1 simply because we produce the best tasting, highest quality, healthiest and safest kosher poultry in the world, all while adhering to the strictest laws of kashrut.
That being said, being No. 1 also puts us in a position that makes us a target for all those who strive for our position or feel that others in the industry can fill our shoes. Let me set the record straight: Being the largest kosher poultry producer in the world, with the largest staff of rabbinical supervision (65 in total) and USDA resident inspectors and a quality control team lead by our well-recognized Ph.D. in microbiology, we have the finest level of inspection and safety anywhere. Although I respect our competitors and will compete on our value every day, we are No. 1 for very good reasons.
While we respect the views of our retailing customers and partners like Trader Joe’s, we do not believe that the actions taken by Trader Joe’s West represent anything more than an overreaction to an isolated incident or two. There is not a food manufacturing facility in the world that can deliver perfect product, perfectly packaged 100% of the time. Machines malfunction, people make mistakes and control systems sometimes breakdown, but we — like so many other large food producers — stand behind our products and the quality they represent every day because we know people are dependent on us for the finest quality of kosher poultry available anywhere.
In this case, and always when problems occur, we respond very quickly to test our products and internal procedures to ensure that our levels of quality are uncompromised. Although we believe the action taken by Trader Joe’s West was not warranted and was a result of some isolated incidents — which have not been seen by any of our other large or small retailing partners and customers — we are committed to working with Trader Joe’s West to earn their trust and their business going forward while we continue to fill the shelves of Trader Joe’s Central and Eastern regions.
Rob Van Naarden
CEO and President, Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc.
One More Finkelstein
I would like to note that there are three Norman Finkelsteins currently writing on Jewish subjects: the two you mention in a May 28 article, and me (“Two Finkelsteins Share a Name But Not a Political Perspective”).
My middle initial is M., for Mark, but I haven’t used it in years. I am the author of “The Ritual of New Creation: Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Literature,” and “Not One of Them in Place: Modern Poetry and Jewish-American Identity” (a Koret finalist in 2002), and a number of other books of poetry and literary criticism. I’ve also written a book review and a Torah portion column for the Forward.
I’ve been mistaken for Norman G. quite frequently, since we first were undergrads together at Binghamton University, class of ’75. As far as Israel goes, my political sentiment is probably somewhere between G. and H. And I don’t have a Web site except for my page at the Xavier English department.
Professor of English, Xavier University
Mention Wyman Effort
We are surprised and disappointed at a significant omission from your May 21 article about the recent conference sponsored by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies (“Conference Focuses on U.S. Inaction During the Holocaust”).
A major purpose of the conference was to bring to public attention the efforts by those courageous few in the United States who campaigned for rescue of Jews from the Holocaust. Our parents and grandparents were among those who worked tirelessly for rescue, and at the conference we participated in a panel discussion about their efforts. This panel was the centerpiece of the conference, and the reaction of the standing-room-only audience to the panel was engaged and enthusiastic. Yet the Forward made no mention of this.
Holocaust education typically focuses on the murderers and their victims. The Wyman Institute seeks to highlight an important but often overlooked chapter of Holocaust history: the valiant efforts made by those who promoted rescue. We hope these activists will serve as inspiring role models for the next generation, and we are proud to take part in the Wyman Institute’s vital work.
Rebecca Kook, Beersheva, Israel
David Golinkin, Jerusalem, Israel
William Bingham, Salem, Conn.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, Washington, D.C.
Ellen Adler, New York, N.Y.
Nathan Lewin, Washington, D.C.
Jack Yampolsky, Philadelphia, Pa.
Deborah Newman Fine, Livingston, N.J.