Lost Music of the Holocaust


The music and poems composed in the concentration camps enabled Jews to assert their humanity even as it was forcibly stripped away.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Holocaust, Holocaust memorial, Holocaust survivors, Jewish art, Jewish music, Theodicy


Why Doesn’t the U.S. Recognize Israeli Sovereignty over West Jerusalem?


In a recently decided case, the Supreme Court ruled that a Jerusalem-born U.S. citizen’s passport could not indicate “Israel” as his birthplace. Avi Bell notes that the citizen in question was born in west Jerusalem—that is, in the part of the city under Israeli control since 1948:

The Obama administration has explained that refusing to recognize Israeli sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem is necessary to avoid interference with the “peace process.” Jerusalem, says the White House, must be dealt with solely in negotiations between the parties. But this justification falls apart upon the slightest examination.

The current PLO territorial demands, repeated often and in every forum imaginable, are for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and “east Jerusalem.” No senior PLO figure has demanded in recent years that Israel also withdraw from “west Jerusalem.” . . .

The U.S. position on Jerusalem also contradicts the Obama White House’s own . . . stance on the peace process. The White House has endorsed a Palestinian demand that the 1948-1967 ceasefire line that separated sovereign Israeli territory from the Jordanian-occupied West Bank and “east Jerusalem” should serve as the presumptive border of a new Palestinian state in all negotiations. . . . But when it comes to Israel and Jerusalem, says the White House, the ceasefire line should be forgotten and presumptive Israeli sovereignty should be erased.

Historically, the U.S. position on Jerusalem developed without any connection to the Israel-PLO peace negotiations that began in 1993. The U.S. never recognized Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, even in 1948, when Israel’s war of independence left parts of Jerusalem in Israeli hands. . . . As time has passed, U.S. hostility on Jerusalem has remained constant, while the excuses for the hostility have changed.

Read more at Jewish Week

More about: Israel & Zionism, Jerusalem, Peace Process, Supreme Court, US-Israel relations

America Fiddles While Syria Burns


A report on the Syrian civil war notes that, among the combatants, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has led the way in slaughtering civilians and committing war crimes. Yet, writes Frederic Hof, the Obama administration has been indifferent to Syrians’ plight—most likely out of deference to Iran:

Even though nuclear talks are important, one wonders if Tehran’s facilitation of Assad-regime criminality arises at all in official U.S.-Iranian exchanges. Has there been a systematic diplomatic campaign aimed at persuading Tehran and Moscow to oblige their client to respect pertinent United Nations Security Council resolutions? Is Iran being asked to force its client to stop barrel-bombing and lift starvation sieges? The news media’s lack of curiosity is itself curious.

For years now, various commentators have called on the Obama administration to impose a no-fly zone to prevent the mass murder of Syrian civilians by the Assad regime, whose sense of impunity permits it to resume chemical attacks on its own citizens. The administration has readily deployed talking points about why a no-fly zone is problematic, why anti-aircraft weaponry presents proliferation problems, and so forth. [But] those who mention specific methodologies are not trying to be tactically prescriptive. They want instead to persuade the president of the United States to give a damn about suffering, terrified human beings. They want him to throw sand into the gears of Assad’s murder machine. They are not obsessed with this or that methodology.

The indelible stain that can mark the Obama legacy forever on this issue is nothing compared to the terror and suffering that can be mitigated if the president elects to try. . . . The Iranians can negotiate while facilitating mass murder. No doubt, they can do so if the greatest power on earth pushes back a bit. President Obama should act now to protect Syrian civilians.

Read more at Atlantic Council

More about: Barack Obama, Bashar al-Assad, Iran nuclear program, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy


An Egyptian TV Show Depicts Jews in a Surprisingly Positive—but Sanitized—Light


Egyptian television is currently airing a mini-series, set in 1948, about a Jewish family in Cairo. The show depicts Jews (but not Israel) in a surprisingly positive light, even if it papers over Egyptian anti-Semitism and, in general, exhibits little concern for historical accuracy. Steven A. Cook comments on the series’ significance:

Jews played important roles in Egyptian commerce, culture, and politics in the first half of the 20th century. [The show’s writers and producers] want to leverage a sanitized version of this history to make claims about Egyptian society—especially its once, and future, religious tolerance and inclusivity. . . . [U]nlike some . . . mini-series from the recent past that were notable for their anti-Semitic themes, Jews are portrayed sympathetically as authentic Egyptians, and as victims of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The profound national trauma of post-uprising Egypt has some Egyptians looking back to a time when the country was not locked in an all-consuming struggle with its violence, Jacobin-like discourse, pervasive repression, and widespread distrust. Under these difficult circumstances, Jews are a perfect device through which Egyptians can create a tolerant past if only to give the audience some faint hope of a more just, open, and less prejudiced future. . . .

For this then, everyone should welcome the new interest among some Egyptians in Egypt’s Jews. Yet that is not enough. In order to build that socially just, tolerant, and more representative society that Egyptians want, they will actually have to grapple with and revise a history that only has a vague resemblance to what they have been telling themselves about their Jewish brothers and sisters.

Read more at From the Potomac to the Euphrates

More about: Arab anti-Semitism, Egypt, History & Ideas, Mizrahi Jewry, Muslim-Jewish relations

Jonathan Sacks Tackles Religious Violence


Daniel Johnson reviews a book on terrorism and religious fundamentalism by the former chief rabbi of Britain:

[Jonathan Sacks] deploys all his exegetical subtlety on the foundational texts of Abrahamic monotheism in the Hebrew Bible, especially the book of Genesis, to show us how figures such as Ishmael and Esau, ancient archetypes of divine rejection, are in fact the opposite. All faiths have “hard texts” that are too dangerous to read literally, Sacks suggests, but Judaism, Christianity, and Islam at least share a biblical basis for mutual toleration.

The thrust of Sacks’s book is all the more powerful because he eschews the wishful thinking that bedevils both sides of the secular/religious conflict. He makes no attempt to play down the pathology of terrorism and war inspired by the anger of those, especially Muslims, who “are determined to defeat the world by means of the word.” Now freed from the obligations of office, he can speak frankly about the betrayal by the secular West of its Judeo-Christian values, the moral relativism that fails to defend freedom, and the “altruistic evil” of radical, politicized religion.

The failure of the secular West to provide identity and meaning combines with the brute facts of demography to produce hydra-headed movements that defy even the smartest weapons and the most intelligent intelligence. After centuries of secularization, we are witnessing the return of religion with a vengeance. The answer to the Islamists who love death more than life cannot be solely military; it has to be theological, too.

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Fundamentalism, Islamism, Jonathan Sacks, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Terrorism

Is Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Beyond Repair?


The Israeli chief rabbinate has backed down from its effort to force Shlomo Riskin—a popular Modern Orthodox rabbi—into retirement as retaliation for his dissenting views on certain key issues. Elli Fischer argues that the most desirable outcome would be for Riskin and his congregants to reject the chief rabbinate altogether:

Part of the larger religion-state issue in Israel is that most citizens, even those calling for the “abolition” of the chief rabbinate, have a hard time envisioning what life would look like without it. The centralization of religious services in Israel was a key part of David Ben-Gurion’s particular brand of statism and his desire to replace community consciousness with state consciousness. Though this state consciousness . . . has begun to fail, Israelis have not yet relearned how to build religious communities. They have become dependent on the state to allocate land and funds for synagogues, . . . to fund and staff burial societies, and to dictate what foods are and are not kosher. Abolishing the chief rabbinate would create a vacuum of instability, temporarily at least. It is hard to predict the long-term ramifications of such instability. . . .

The chief rabbinate and the Ministry of Religious Services are obviously well-funded, but they draw their real authority from the people. If people stopped caring whether the chief rabbinate thinks they are Jewish or married, or whether it deems a particular product kosher, it would become a paper tiger.

Read more at Mida

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Modern Orthodoxy, Religion and politics