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September 19, 2003

Lithuanians Celebrate Common Litvak History

The government of Lithuania takes exception to the tone of the September 5 “Letter From Vilnius” and the perception it gives Forward readers on the relationship between Lithuanian Jews and non-Jews (“A Litvak-less Birthday Bash”).

The Lithuanian and Jewish peoples have much in common. Our history is marked by a constant fight for survival. During the long and dark decades of occupation, the singing of patriotic songs was a symbol of legitimate resistance by freedom-seeking Lithuanian people.

It is not, as the Forward characterizes it, “nationalistic/peasant nonsense.” This tradition is sacred for Lithuanians, Russians, Belorussians, Poles, Karaites, Tartars and Jews alike — all ethnic communities living together in Lithuania. The words used in the article are an insult to the hundreds of thousand of Lithuanian citizens, including Jews, who sacrificed their lives at the altar of freedom. Furthermore, in November Unesco will consider the “Tradition and symbolism of song and dance celebration process in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania” for the world body’s “Second Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

The official festivities were open to all the participants around the world who could meet the criteria and conditions set by the organizers. Every choir or dance group that took the time to fill out an application was more than welcome to participate in the program. Moreover, one of the festival’s cornerstone events was the musical “Velnio nuotaka” — by a Litvak, Viaceslav Ganelin. Ganelin was a special guest during the event and his talented work was seen by 40,000 spectators. The Forward’s negative implication that Litvaks were wanted in the festival is simply unfair.

To the Forward’s rhetorical question, “What’s a Jewish tourist to do” in Vilnius, I would respond with an invitation to visit my country next week. On the somber occasion of Lithuanian National Holocaust Memorial Day on September 22 and 23, the chairman of the Israeli Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, will visit Lithuania. Together, Lithuanians and Jews will stand together to remember this tragic day in Lithuanian history.

Actually, Jewish tourists have plenty to do year round in Lithuania: visiting Jewish historical sites, synagogues, museums and communities, as well as a Jewish school and a Jewish quarter currently being reconstructed.

I strongly believe in the values and understanding shared between our nations, and in our friendship and beneficial relations, which should not and will not be shaken either by the dark pages of history or by a distorted picture of reality.

In the name of all Lithuanian people, I invite you to the next festival.

Vygaudas Usackas

Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to the United States and Mexico

Washington, D.C.

Understanding Saudis Possible from Abroad

I almost never comment on critical reviews of my books. However, I have chosen to make an exception in the case of David Long’s September 5 discussion of my book “The Two Faces of Islam” (“Whither Saudi Arabia”).

Long suggests that my knowledge of Arab sociology, and particularly the nature of Wahhabism and Saudi society, are imperfect because — although I show familiarity with Balkan and Ottoman Islam — “little understanding of Saudi behavior can be gained from experience among non-Arabian Muslim populations.”

To begin with, for more than 35 years I have studied Islamic civilization, which extends from quasi-Arab Morocco to absolutely non-Arab Malaysia, and from Slavic Bosnia-Hercegovina to Black South Africa. Further, my book was written in collaboration with, and fact-checked by, dissident Saudi subjects whose identities could not be acknowledged because to do so would threaten their physical security. My book is currently circulating in Saudi Arabia, and not one Saudi reader has suggested anything inaccurate or insufficient about it. Indeed, I have received praise from Saudi subjects for this book that would make any author blush with satisfaction, and I continue to receive such encomia daily.

Stripped to its essentials, Long has engaged in the gambit of arguing that because he served as an American diplomat on Saudi soil, and I have not had the questionable pleasure of visiting the kingdom, he knows better the nature of Wahhabism than do I. In my view, this is identical to the argument made in the 1930s that Stalinists and fellow-travelers, who were allowed to travel in the former Soviet Union, were better analysts of Communism than critics writing from outside Soviet soil.

However, George Orwell, as I point out in my book, never spoke a word of Russian and never set foot in the former Soviet Union; he learned about Stalinism in the streets of Barcelona, as I learned about Wahhabism in the streets of Sarajevo. When studying expansionist ideologies, it is generally more useful to examine their activities in the peripheries they try to penetrate than in their headquarters.

Long has also adopted the deliberate deceit of ignoring that a journalist such as myself, with a “Zionist” family name and a history, since 1992, of writing for the Forward, would have little or no opportunity to visit the Saudi kingdom. Nevertheless, the question remains: What, other than Wahhabism, explains why 15 of the 19 mass murderers of September 11 were Saudis?

Stephen Schwartz

Washington, D.C.

Focus on Companies In Malpractice Reform

The East Village Mamele’s remembrances of Elizabeth Seton’s warm, caring support for pregnant women and new moms are heartwarming (“Farewell to a Mom’s Haven,” September 12). She then discloses that it is closing because it could no longer afford malpractice insurance.

The Mamele tells us “it’s clear we need major malpractice insurance reform.” But she does not make clear what she means by such reform. If she means that insurance rates need to be strictly regulated and that insurance companies should become subject to anti-trust laws along with every other industry in the country, with the exception of major league baseball, then I am in full agreement.

If, on the other hand, she is suggesting that medical and hospital malpractice victims and their families have their rights to compensation for their damages and losses artificially capped by legislatures, then this malpractice lawyer is in total disagreement.

Weiss Ratings, one of the prominent insurance industry’s ratings companies, reported on June 2 that during the last 10 years, malpractice insurance premiums increased more in states that cap damage awards than they did in the majority of states that do not have caps on damages. Among other things, Weiss Ratings recommends that “regulators must review and revise their parameters for approving rate increases,” that “the medical profession must assume more responsibility for policing itself,” and that “consumers must not relinquish their right to sue for non-economic damages until the medical profession and/or state and federal governments provide more adequate supervision and regulation.”

There is an old saying, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” Don’t throw out legal rights of innocent malpractice victims and their families to try to reduce insurance rates when the real problem to be solved is regulating insurance companies so that their rates conform with reality, as well as implementing strict risk management to avoid injuries and deaths from malpractice.

Jack Olender

Washington, D.C.

Candidates: Support Israel and Intervene

The debate between Democratic candidates over America’s Middle East policy and our country’s relationship with Israel juxtaposes two principles that are complementary rather than contradictory (“Lieberman and Dean Spar Over Support for Israel,” September 12). Support for Israel and serving as an intermediary in the Arab-Israeli conflict go hand in hand. This is the logic that guides the Bush administration’s policy of simultaneous strong support for Israel on the one hand, and diplomatic initiatives like the road map to Middle East peace on the other. It is the logic that has guided past administrations as well.

Democratic candidates have all articulated the importance of our country’s support for Israel and of serving as an intermediary in the Arab-Israeli conflict in the past. The greatest contribution they could make to the campaign, and to American foreign policy, would be to encourage the administration to remain true to these principles.

Debra Wasserman

Executive Director

Israel Policy Forum

New York, N.Y.

American Nationalism

As a child of Holocaust survivors, who am I to argue with opinion writer Dr. Marek Edelman, who lived through the whole Nazi nightmare and possessed the courage to stand up against it (“Memorial for German Expulsion ‘Victims’ Makes Mockery of Shoah,” September 12)?

However, I cannot help but feel that his fixation on Germany as a threat is misplaced. Has he not been following the endless barrage of assaults on civil liberties that the Bush administration has been mounting? Considering the strength of Germany’s democracy, and their bold refusal this year to involve themselves in an unjust and unjustifiable war, I feel it is the United States that he needs to be worrying about.

To borrow Edelman’s words, I believe that despite the efforts of many good Americans, nationalism is still a force today in the United States. Americans must cling to the principles of democracy, to the ideals of human rights. They must fight every manifestation of nationalism, every attempt toward an ethnically — and religiously — uniform state.

Mark Klempner

Monteverde, Costa Rica

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