Archive for April 2009

Controversy over Hassidic Rabbis’ Behavior During the Holocaust

April 20, 2009

A number of Hassidic rabbis escaped from Europe during the Holocaust via escape routes organized by the Zionists. Yitzhak Hershkowitz has written a doctoral thesis which tells the story of these rabbis and the reaction of European Jewry to their escape. At the time there were other rabbis who felt that those who had escaped – including the Satmer and Belz rabbis –  had abandoned their flock in its time of need in order to save their own skins. This claim is still made today and emphasizes the irony of the use of Zionist escape channels by rabbis who were ardent anti-Zionists. Others defend the actions of the rabbis, claiming that by the time the rabbis left most of their Hassidim had been murdered and that it was important for the morale of the Hassidim that they knew their rebbe had been saved.

Hershkowitz says this was not a political issue between religious and non-religious but rather an ethical and halakhic argument within the religious Jewish community which touched on the controversy surrounding Zionist ideology.


BBC’s Middle East Coverage

April 19, 2009

In response to a complaint filed by CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), the BBC has checked into its coverage of the Middle East conflict. Its report found that there was slight impartiality and some minor inaccuracies in the reporting.

Melanie Phillips writes in The Spectator that although the criticisms were muted and ignored a lot of the bias against Israel in BBC’s reporting, the reaction of “Israel-bashers” was extreme. Philips says the reason for this is the recognition that this is just the beginning. If BBC admits to some bias now, it is paving the way for reports of more bias down the road. BBC can no longer claim that perceived bias is a result of the political views of those who are complaining.

Phillips is right that this is just the first step for BBC. The BBC has shown courage in investigating the complaints properly and showing willingness to admit its mistakes. No one expects that tomorrow morning the entire Middle East desk will be replaced by more “objective” staff, but some small changes here and there could really make a difference. For people who are not living the Middle East conflict, the only way to get news about is through the major media sources around the world. Public opinion is strongly influenced by networks such as the BBC. Maybe this report will teach people to take the news with a grain of salt. Educated people should know that the media can be slanted and that a true picture of events can only be formed by getting information from as many sources as possible.

Who’s Going to the UN Racism Meeting?

April 19, 2009

An agreement has been reached for a text which represents the mission of the UN conference on racism which will take place next week. The text makes no mention of Israel, Zionism or the Middle East conflict.

Israel is not attending the conference because of fears that the meeting will turn into an Israel-bashing platform. The EU and the US have been waiting to see the final text and have not made a decision yet. The president of Iran has already RSVP’d and is scheduled to speak on – get this – Holocaust Remembrance Day. Wonder what he will say?

UPDATE: The UK has decided to attend the conference although the US, Israel, Italy, Canada, Australia, and Holland are boycotting it. The European Union of Jewish Students is sending three Jewish students to the conference.

UPDATE: Reactions to Ahmadinejad’s speech at the conference on Monday can be read in The Jerusalem Post.

The Hadassah Convoy

April 16, 2009

Alex Grobman at Israel National News has written a description of the massacre that occurred on Apr. 13, 1948, when a medical  convoy was attacked by Arabs.

An excerpt:

The attack, which lasted seven hours, began at 9:30 a.m. and took place less than 600 feet from the British military post. The British watched from the sidelines. Jewish appeals for help were ignored until mid-afternoon. But by then the Jews had either been burned alive in buses or shot. There were 28 survivors, only eight had no injuries.


April 14, 2009

According to This Day… In Jewish History, today is the anniversary of the mass suicide at Masada. Masada was the last stronghold of the rebellion against the Romans. When Masada fell in 70 CE, Jewish resistance ended. Archaeologists discovered 11 potsherds at Masada,each inscribed with a different name. These were apparently the lots which were used to determine the order in which the men killed their families and themselves.

The Ben Yair Lot from Masada, apparently belonging to Eleazar ben Ya’ir, leader of Masada’s defenders.

The Ben Yair Lot from Masada, apparently belonging to Eleazar ben Ya’ir, leader of Masada’s defenders.

For more information about Masada, start with The Last Days and Hours at Masada, Ehud Netzer, BAR 17:06, Nov/Dec 1991. See also ‘Ben Yair’ Lot from Masada, 70 CE for a full list of sources relating to Masada on the COJS website.

Did Christians Invent Zionism?

April 13, 2009

David Klinghoffer of Beliefnet says that modern Zionism was conceptualized by Christians while Jews were still waiting for the Messiah to return them to the Land of Israel.

Gil Student replies to Klinghoffer in a comment, reminding him that the students of Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (also known as the Vilna Gaon) were proponents of immigration to Israel and expected the Messiah to come sooner rather than later.

Klinghoffer responds in a separate post saying that even if the students of Rabbi Elijah can be considered Zionists, certain Christian intellectuals predated them. He quotes Michael Oren in Power, Faith, and Fantasy:

Reviving Jewish statehood was neither new nor unique to American Protestantism. Evocations of the idea can be found in Sir Henry Finch’s 1621 treatise, The World’s Great Restauration, or, The Calling of the Jews, as well as in the poems of John Milton and the philosophy of John Locke. En route to the New World, the Puritans took the concept with them to Holland, where they petitioned the Dutch government to “transport Izraell’s sons and daughters…to the Land promised their forefathers…for an everlasting Inheritance.”

The disagreement between Klinghoffer and Student seems to hinge entirely on the idea that Zionism was invented in modern times and that the connection between the Jews and the Land of Israel was of a passive nature until that point. It may be more correct to view Zionism as an evolving process which began in biblical times and developed over the years. During the long exile from Israel, Jews prayed for return and even occasionally moved to the Land of Israel but the conditions under which they lived in Christian and Arab lands did not allow them to take any practical steps toward establishing a state. When the Jewish situation improved and political changes took place which allowed the dream to become closer to reality, Jews took full advantage. Even then, it was a long process until the dream was fulfilled.

But Zionism is not some modern invention dreamed up by some Christian theologian or philosopher.

Passover in the Acre Prison

April 10, 2009

The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies has received an unpublished article by Lorna Lindsley in which she describes a visit to the Acre prison on Passover 1946, posing as a member of the Jabotinsky family. Lindsley was a human rights activist and went to the prison in order to expose British mistreatment of Jews in the British Mandate.

Happy Passover to all those celebrating!