Category Archive: Human Rights

Minimizing the Holocaust at the “New Yorker”

In a brief review of the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy’s recent The Genius of Judaism, an unnamed author at the New Yorker points to the “real contradiction” between Lévy’s insistence that the Holocaust was a “crime without parallel” and his objection to the recent fad of “competitive victimhood.” James Kirchick assails the shoddy and “sinister” thinking behind this comment:

The New Yorker has it backwards. The competition for victimhood wasn’t started by Jews but in reaction to them. The issue is not minimizing other historical tragedies in relation to the Holocaust but minimizing the Holocaust in relation to other historical tragedies. This is not just the realm of Holocaust deniers, but increasingly of progressives who, whether through conscious malice or sheer naiveté, speak of the Holocaust (when they’re not speaking of “holocausts”) as but one unfortunate episode among many, not a world-historical crime that singled out Jews first and foremost. . . .

If those like the New Yorker’s anonymous book critic believe that Lévy is engaging in unseemly “competitive victimhood” simply by claiming that the Holocaust, in both nature and degree, was worse than any other crime in human history, that’s because [the critic] falsely interprets such claims as entries into a victim competition—when, in fact, it is those challenging the singularity of the Holocaust who are responsible for creating this obscene contest. . . .

The review’s sinister element comes in its accusation that Jews like Lévy are responsible for corrupting the commemoration of history and not, say, the Muslim propagandists who frequently invoke the Holocaust to equate Israelis with Nazis or the British student activists who voted against recognizing Holocaust Remembrance Day because doing so “prioritizes some lives over others.” As the British sociologist David Hirsch observes, “When people get competitive about the Holocaust, they do it by accusing the Jews of being competitive.” Not even in talking about something so grave as the Holocaust can the Jews avoid being pushy, it seems.

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NY commuters clean Nazi graffiti off subway car with hand sanitizer

nyc-subway(JTA) — Commuters on a New York City subway used hand sanitizer to clean away swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti drawn in permanent marker on the train’s maps, advertisements and windows.

The Manhattan subway riders discovered the graffiti on Saturday night.

“The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do,” one of the commuters, Gregory Locke, wrote in a post on Facebook. “One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work.”

Locke’s post continued: “I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purell. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.”

“Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017,” he wrote.

At least one of the messages said “Jews belong in the oven,” according to the New York Daily News.

Locke disputed one of his fellow travelers, who said while they were cleaning, “I guess this is Trump’s America.”

He responded in his post: “No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.”

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Jewish aide wrote White House Holocaust statement — report

Politico says Boris Epshteyn, a former Russian refugee who lost family to the Nazis, penned release that failed to mention Jews

Boris_Epshteyn-e1485850395557A Jewish aide reportedly wrote US President Donald Trump’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day which was widely condemned for failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism.

Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president, wrote the speech, a source told Politico on Monday.

In the speech Trump vowed to combat the forces of evil, and called on listeners to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world,” but failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism. The omission was condemned by Jewish organizations across the spectrum, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Democratic Virginia Senator Tim Kaine called it Holocaust denial.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the speech on Monday, saying “the statement was written with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors.” He also called protests over the omissions “pathetic” and “nitpicking.”

Earlier this month, Epshteyn was asked by The Daily Beast about anti-Semites supporting the Trump administration. He answered, “I’ve had family who died in the Holocaust.”

Formerly a New York-based investment banker and finance attorney, Epshteyn worked as a communications aide for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, focusing his efforts on the Arizona senator’s running mate, then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Epshteyn was born in Russia and emigrated to the US in 1993, aged 11, as a refugee along with his family. In a 2013 US News article Epshteyn thanked Senator Frank Lautenberg for easing “the restriction on refugee states and thereby allowed for tens of thousands of Jews like me from the former USSR to come to America.”

Epshteyn has been criticized for his business ties with Russia and for claiming on CNN that Russia did not seize Crimea.

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When Jewish immigrants were detained, and Jews took to the streets

Immigrants at Ellis Island(JTA) — When Jews joined the protests around the country this weekend against President Trump’s executive order on immigration, they were largely doing so on behalf of Muslim refugees and migrants who found themselves in a legal limbo and barred from entering the United States.

But nearly 100 years ago Jewish protesters gathered to demand the release of fellow Jews, who were caught up in a legal drama eerily similar to the one that has played out in airports and courts since Friday.

On Nov. 15, 1923, 2,000 Jews rallied at the Lower Manhattan headquarters of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to protest the detention of 3,000 of their relatives at Ellis Island.

They appealed directly to President Calvin Coolidge, a Republican, presumably asking him to ease the strict moratorium on immigration that had been put in place in 1921 under the “Emergency Quota Act” aund re-upped the following year. Anti-immigrant groups had long argued that immigrants from poorer and “backward” regions of southern and eastern Europe were a drain on American resources and brought with them radical ideas like anarchism, communism and socialism. Some labor unions, too, joined the anti-immigrant spirit, arguing that cheap labor would depress wages.

Like Muslim travelers detained at U.S. airports this week or left in limbo in transit countries as a result of Trump’s executive order, Jewish and other immigrants often set sail unaware of changes in the immigration law, or aboard ships whose unscrupulous operators didn’t inform them that there were strict quotas already in place.

According to the JTA story on the 1923 protest — which appeared the next day — leaders of the demonstration “urged that a large delegation be sent to Washington to request that the detained immigrants be admitted. They are planning a protest mass meeting if the Government deports their relatives.”

JTA also printed an appeal that was to be sent to Coolidge, urging the release of the immigrants:

On behalf of the immigrants, blood relatives of citizens and declarants, facing deportation because of the exhaustion of quotas, I appeal to your well-known exemplification of American sense of justice to admit them to this country.

These unfortunates who have given up their all to be reborn to the ideals of liberty and freedom are the innocent victims of circumstances over which they had no control. Humanitarianism prompts the plea for their admission.

On Dec. 3, JTA reported that Secretary of Labor James J. Davis approved the deportation of hundreds of the detained immigrants to Canada. Others were sent to Cherbourg, France, “whence they are returnable to the countries from where they embarked for the United States.” By 1924, with the passage of the fiercely nativist Johnson-Reed Immigration Act, immigration from outside of Western Europe slowed to a trickle.

A month after the protest outside HIAS headquarters, Rabbi Nathan Krass of New York’s Temple Emanu-El gave a fiery sermon, quoted in JTA, railing against the anti-immigrant fervor of the day. “Imagine what would have happened if a committee of Indian immigration officers had stood on Plymouth Rock, and, after admitting ten Pilgrim Fathers, had said, ‘Your quota is full. The rest of you go back to England,’” said Krass. “Yet we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. An American means any one who is born in America, or who, hailing from other lands, takes out citizenship papers and swears allegiance to the Constitution. This recent attempt to delimit Americans on the basis of religion or race is an outrageous insult to the intelligence of people of this land and treachery to the ideals of the founders of this Republic.”

HIAS, meanwhile, continues to assist immigrants, processing more than 4,000 refugee asylum applications annually – most of them for non-Jews, and many of them impacted by last week’s executive order.

(Hat tip to Adam Soclof)

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ZOA, Jewish Republicans join criticism of Trump’s Holocaust remembrance statement

(JTA) — The Zionist Organization of America expressed its “chagrin and deep pain” that a statement by the Trump administration marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day did not mention the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

Also Sunday, the Republican Jewish Coalition offered similar criticism the same day.

In a news release Sunday evening, Morton Klein, national president of the ZOA, praised President Donald Trump as a “great friend and supporter” of Israel and the Jewish people. Nevertheless, he wrote, “especially as a child of Holocaust survivors, I and ZOA are compelled to express our chagrin and deep pain at President Trump, in his Holocaust Remembrance Day Message, omitting any mention of anti-Semitism and the six million Jews who were targeted and murdered by the German Nazi regime and others.”

In his first statement about the Holocaust as president, Trump on Friday spoke of “the victims, survivors, [and] heroes of the Holocaust,” but did not mention the Jews or anti-Semitism, which had been customary in statements by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, criticized the statement on Friday, saying the omission was “puzzling and troubling.”

Last year, the ZOA was one of the groups critical of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day similarly failed to mention Jews.

The Republican Jewish Coalition said Sunday in its statement: “As supporters of President Trump, we know that he holds in his heart the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust, and is committed not just to their memory, but ensuring it never happens again,” RJC spokesman Fred Brown said in its statement.

“The lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission,” he continued. “History unambiguously shows the purpose of the Nazi’s final solution was the extermination of the Jews of Europe. We hope, going forward, he conveys those feelings when speaking about the Holocaust.”

Responding to criticism from the ADL and others, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday morning on NBC that “there was no harm or ill will or offense intended” by leaving Jews and anti-Semitism out of the statement, adding that the White House “certainly will never forget the Jewish people that suffered in World War II.”

The ZOA has been perhaps the most vocal supporter among Jewish advocacy groups of the Trump administration in its early days, issuing statements praising Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; his stated intention to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and Friday’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days and suspending the admission of all refugees for 120 days.

Recounting his own history as the son of Holocaust survivors, Klein quoted a blistering criticism of the White House by John Podhoretz, a former Reagan White House aide, who wrote in Commentary on Saturday that to universalize the Holocaust “is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.”

Klein added: “ZOA hopes that President Trump will direct his staff and COS Reince Priebus to immediately rectify this painful omission.”

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The Trump Administration’s Holocaust without Jews

To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day last Friday, the White House issued a statement that made no mention of Jews. Initially willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt, John Podhoretz chalked up the omission to “ignorance and sloppiness”—until one of President Trump’s representatives defended it:

The decision not to mention the Jews was deliberate, [the White House spokeswoman Hope] Hicks said, a way of demonstrating the inclusive approach of the Trump administration: “Despite what the media report, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered; . . . it was our honor to issue a statement in remembrance of this important day.”

The Nazis killed an astonishing number of people in monstrous ways and targeted certain groups—Gypsies, the mentally challenged, and open homosexuals, among others. But the Final Solution was aimed solely at the Jews. The Holocaust was about the Jews. There is no “proud” way to offer a remembrance of the Holocaust that does not reflect that simple, awful, world-historical fact. To universalize it to “all those who suffered” is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.

Given Hicks’s abominable statement, one cannot simply write this off. For there is a body of opinion in this country, and in certain precincts of the Trump coalition, [whose proponents] have long made it clear they are tired of what they consider a self-centered Jewish claim to being the great victims of the Nazis. . . . [T]he Hope Hicks statement does not arrive without precedent. It is, rather, the culmination of something: the culmination of decades of ill feeling that seems to center on the idea that the Jews have somehow made unfair “use” of the Holocaust and that it should not “belong” to them. Someone in that nascent White House thought it was time to reflect that view through the omission of the specifically Jewish quality of the Holocaust.

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In Trump’s push for ‘America First,’ troubling echoes of anti-Semitic chapter

The president’s rallying cry recalls the 1940s America First Committee, which saw known bigots such as Charles Lindbergh blame the Jews for US involvement in WWII

America-FirstBOSTON — Donald Trump stood on the red and blue draped steps of the US Capitol to give his inauguration address as the 45th President of the United States and declared, “From this day forward it’s going to be only America first.” He then paused and repeated with deliberation those last two words: “America First.”

Cheers rippled through the crowd below.

But the pithy slogan Trump has embraced to define his new foreign policy also served as the rallying cry in what is now considered a dark chapter in American history, when an isolationist movement of the same name blamed American Jews for conspiring to pressure the government to join World War II against the interests of America.

“The concept of standing up for American rights is a legitimate concept, but the words themselves have historical relevance because of what happened in the 1930s and 1940s,” said Kenneth Jacobson, the deputy national director of the Anti-defamation League. Jacobson has been with the ADL for 45 years and serves as something of its resident historian.

“The new president has every right to consider the direction of American policy but it’s better not to use this phrase,” said Jacobson. “Unfortunately, the emotional connections are there.”

The ADL went on record last spring when Trump first brought up the term to remind Americans, most of whom have no living memory of the term or movement, why there is a visceral reaction against it.

The isolationism embraced by some Americans following World War I that helped birth the America First Committee was not unique in American history. Opposition to American involvement in overseas conflict dates to the colonial era and continues to the present day.

Founded by a group of Yale University students in the fall of 1940, the America First Committee arose as the country was steeped in intense dispute over whether to join the British in fighting Nazi Germany. By then Germany had already rolled its way over Poland and into Western Europe including France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and persecution of the Jews had begun with some already being arrested and shipped to concentration camps.

At the time the movement arose, it tapped into the unhappiness many Americans felt about the United States’ entry into World War I.

Professor James Kloppenberg, a professor of American history at Harvard University an author of the recent “Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought,” said that with this discontent came, “a great deal of animosity towards those who were considered to have been war profiteers. And as has been true since the Middle Ages, Jews became targets for their associations with banking and loans.”

What began as an anti-war profiteering movement, he said, “morphed into alliances that were pretty ugly between the Nazi movement and anti-war sentiment.”

Meanwhile, the America First Committee gained in membership and popularity, especially in the Midwest.

As Susan Dunn, a professor of humanities at Williams College and author of “1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler — The Election Amid the Storm” noted in an essay published by CNN, among America First’s executive committee members were initially two powerful men and known anti-Semites — Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, and Avery Brundage.

Ford was responsible for printing and distributing half a million copies of the anti-Semitic propaganda text “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

As chairman of the US Olympic Committee, Brundage prevented two Jews on the 1936 US Olympic team from running in the finals of the 400-meter relay race in Berlin.

Brundage and Ford were later removed from the committee as the movement tried to distance itself from charges of anti-Semitism.

But cementing America First Committee’s anti-Semitic association for the ages was Charles Lindbergh, a member of the executive committee who was prized as the dashing American pilot-turned-national hero, celebrated for making the first solo Transatlantic flight.

Lindbergh had become enamored with Nazi Germany during visits in the late 1930s, even briefly planning to move there. He lobbied the US government to remain neutral, arguing that Germany’s victory in Europe was inevitable.

On September 11, 1941, he made a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, that revealed the extent of his anti-Semitism.

“The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration,” he said. Lindbergh continued that “Instead of agitating for war, Jews in this country should be opposing it in every way, for they will be the first to feel its consequences. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”

His comments were widely condemned. Just three months later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the debate over whether or not to enter the war was over.

Laurel Leff, a professor with a joint appointment in Journalism and Jewish Studies at Northeastern University has written about this period in her book, “Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper.”

“To embrace this movement,” she said of Trump’s embrace of the America First slogan, “is either ahistorical or, more frighteningly, is picking up on anti-Semitic sentiment.”

Whether intentional or not, the new president’s continued use of this slogan — and what it represents — remains to be seen.

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US Jews see ‘tragic irony’ in refugee ban on Holocaust Remembrance Day

ADL chief invokes doomed passengers of MS St. Louis, says he will roll out plan to combat policy ‘in the coming days’

Protestors Rally At Boston's Logan Airport Against Muslim Immigration BanWASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from entering the United States left much of the American Jewish community horrified — particularly as the announcement came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The order — titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” — immediately suspends all refugee resettlement from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days and forbids those from war-ravaged Syria from entering the country indefinitely.

The Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt vowed in a statement Thursday to “relentlessly fight this policy,” noting “our history and heritage compel us to take a stand.” The ADL, a Jewish civil rights group, monitors and combats anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry across the globe.

But that was before it was announced, when rumors were circulating that Trump would soon fulfill his controversial campaign pledge, which started as a “Muslim ban” and then morphed into a proposal to halt immigration from territories, particularly in the Middle East, where terror groups have a foothold.

On Saturday, Greenblatt, who was not shy to speak out against Trump during the election, noted with revulsion that the presidential executive order was signed on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, likening it to passengers of the MS St. Louis, a German ship filled with 937 Jewish refugees, who were denied entry into the United States, as well as Cuba and Canada, in 1939.

“It’s impossible to ignore, whether intentional or not, the tragic irony in executing the kind of order that kept Jews out of America, like those who perished on the St. Louis and countless others, on the day when we remember the unspeakable tragedy that befell European Jewry and the Jewish people,” he told The Times of Israel.

“The tragic irony of this order being executed on the same day is, at best striking, and sad to see,” he added. “[It is] a policy that is in direct contravention to our core values as a country and all that we’ve learned in the years since the Shoah.”

On Twitter, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Union of Reform Judaism, compared the order to the Dred Scott court decision upholding slavery in the antebellum South and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The American Jewish Committee also spoke out swiftly against the order, calling it “both unjust and unwarranted” in a Friday statement.

Trump, said the organization’s CEO David Harris, is justified in wanting to assure a secure border that properly vets those who enter the country. But such blanket action is beyond the pale, he indicated.

“Blanket suspensions of visas and refugee admission would suggest guilt by association – targeted primarily at Muslims fleeing violence and oppression,” he said. “AJC regards such actions, contrary to international perceptions of a compassionate America and reinforcing anti-Muslim stereotypes, as both unjust and unwarranted.”

Trump’s executive action includes a provision that allows the US to admit refugees on a case-by-case basis during the freeze, as the government will process requests from people claiming religious persecution, but only if the religion of any such individuals is a minority religion in the respective country.

Greenblatt found that disturbing.

“It’s impossible not to see this as a broad brush that paints all Muslims from these countries with the same regard,” he said. “All of us are struggling to make sense of a policy that is at odds with the values of our country.”

The ADL, he explained, is preparing a course of action to combat that policy of the Trump administration and will be rolling out its plan this week.

“We’ll be clarifying that in the coming days,” he said.

B’nai B’rith International also voiced its objections, saying it was “deeply concerned” by the “drastic” plan.

“While we acknowledge the very real threat posed by terrorists who aim to exploit our nation’s humanitarian instincts, a more nuanced and balanced approach to helping those seeking a safe harbor is clearly preferable, and more in keeping with America’s values, than the sweeping ban being imposed by the administration,” B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin said in a joint statement.

“Our country has a great, though sometimes imperfect, tradition of welcoming those fleeing oppression, persecution and unending civil wars,” they said.

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