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Anne Frank Is Palestine’s Child, Too July 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Palestine.
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Anne Frank in a kuffiyeh by BDS Amsterdam
OpEdNews Op Eds 7/14/2013 at 13:43:43
by Vacy Vlazna
The graffiti image of Anne Frank wearing a kuffiyeh by the Netherlands artist known as “T’ has long drawn indignation and controversy, though its original intention was related to the fashionable wearing of a kuffiyeh. Recently, BDS Amsterdam’s use of the image has rekindled the controversy. Haaretz’s Bradley Bursten complained, “No, those who are affected most directly by the Anne Frank image–and most deeply hurt– are Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”
Personally, I think it is these same persons who, through the empathy brought by suffering, should understand the moral symbiosis of the image and its tragic significance today.
Anne Frank is of course the Jewish teenager who spent two years with her family hidden in a building in Amsterdam, and then was betrayed and deported to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp, where she died. She has since become a beloved icon in the dreams of children, past and present, who have been annihilated by violence.
The Anne Frank Foundation states that “Through her diary, Anne Frank has become a worldwide symbol representing all victims of racism, anti-Semitism and fascism. The foremost message contained in her diary sets out to combat all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.”
Today, virulent racism and antisemitism is victimizing another Semitic people, the Palestinians.
In her diary, Anne fearfully wrote: “All Jews must be out of the German-occupied territories before 1 July. The province of Utrecht will be cleansed of Jews [as if they were cockroaches] between 1 April and 1 May.”
Palestinians are also vilified with the racial slur “cockroach.”  In 1983, Israeli Rafael Eitan, who served as Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and later as Knesset member and government minister, announced: “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged roaches in a bottle.” And Israeli peace activist, Professor Nurid Peled-Elhanan, who has made a thorough analysis of Zionist education resources, tells us: “When images of Arabs do figure, they are often negatively depicted as less human or subhuman, subservient, deviant, criminal and evil…. [Palestinians] are seen as cockroaches, vermins, creatures who should be stamped out.”

The Suffering of Palestinian Children Is Not Unlike Anne Frank’s

In the context here of youthful suffering, let us consider the similarities between the Nazi victimising, traumatising and slaughtering of Anne Frank to the victimising, traumatising, mutilating and slaughtering of the teenagers and children of Gaza. The children of Gaza have also been trapped, or, as Anne may have put it, “chained in one spot, without any rights” for seven years in the largest concentration camp in the world.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip number 1,763,387, of whom 43% are under 14 years of age and the median age is 18.1. The population has been in a state of humanitarian crisis since the 2006 illegal Israeli blockade took control of all of Gaza’s borders in collaboration with Egypt.
Following the horrific Israeli 2009/10 war on Gaza’s defenseless population, Iman Aoun, director of the Ramallah Astar Theatre, produced “The Gaza-Mono-Logues,” based on  moving stories of thirty-one teenagers impounded in the Gaza ghetto. As one character, Fateema, 14, laconically observes, “Gaza’s fish ran away…but the people were not able to.”
In her diary, Anne Frank asks:

“Who has inflicted this upon us? Who had made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?”
But, just as the world was silent during Anne’s holocaust and bewilderment, so too, was it silent during the massive bombardment on defenseless Gazan families (ironically, because they are not Jewish). Few took notice of Israel’s arsenal of Depleted Uranium, Dense Inert Metal Explosives, White Phosphorous, Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel Tank Rounds, Fuel Air Explosives, Anti-Door Short-Range Anti-Armor Weapons, Spike Multi-Purpose Anti-Armor Missiles, GBU-28s, Bunker Buster Bombs, GBU-39s, GPS Guided Munitions, M433 40mm-High Explosives, Dual-Purpose (HEDP) Cartridges, M889A1 81 mm High Explosive Cartridges, M107 155 mm High Explosive Artillery Rounds, M141 83 mm Bunker Defeating Munitions, M930 120 mm Illuminating Cartridges fired  by F16s, Helicopters, UAVs (or Drones), Armored Tanks, Caterpillar Armored D9 Bulldozers, Naval War Ships, and IOF Forces, including Max Brenner’s Proud Golani and Givati Brigades, plus the invasion of M889A1 and M107 Tanks specifically designed to spray some 2,000 pieces of shrapnel and to breach walls….
Instead, the world silently allowed the slaughter of 1400 Gazans, including 320 children and their dreams….
Sujoud, 15, declares, “They took our land and threw us out of our homes…. And because we are defending ourselves, all this happens to us. There’s no water…no electricity…no phones…no petrol…. What are we to the world, aren’t we human?”
Silence reigned again during the Israeli Operation Pillar of Cloud in November of last year, which killed 105 Gazans as well as the dreams of 30 children.
Anne Frank, trapped in the Secret Annexe in the Netherlands, was terrorized by the noise of war. She wrote:
“I still haven’t got over my fear of planes and shooting, and I crawl into Father’s bed nearly every night for comfort. I know it sounds childish, but wait till it happens to you! The ack-ack guns make so much noise you can’t hear your own voice.
Reem, 14, shared this terror in Gaza. “Yesterday I was sitting in school and heard the sounds of planes. I got really scared, I wanted to run away from school. I felt I was going to die because I remembered the war. The scenes of war won’t leave my mind.”
Unconscionably, this anguish of Gaza’s children is purposely exacerbated by Israel, which regularly and mercilessly bludgeons Gazans with a series of sonic booms, mainly at night. Sounding like massive explosions, the booms can cause miscarriages and heart attacks, as well as trauma, loss of hearing, breathing difficulties, and bed-wetting in children.
Anne Frank, for her part, described second-hand the devastation from the bombardments on her city, and more intimately the effect they had on herself:
“North Amsterdam was very heavily bombed on Sunday. There was apparently a great deal of destruction. Entire streets are in ruins, and it will take a while for them to dig out all the bodies. So far there have been two hundred dead and countless wounded; the hospitals are bursting at the seams. We’ve been told of children searching forlornly in the smouldering ruins for their dead parents. It still makes me shiver to think of the dull, distant drone that signified the approaching destruction.”
Ahmad, 14, shares first-hand his traumatic experience in Gaza:

“In the Shifa hospital I saw a sight I will never forget. Hundreds of corpses, one on top of the other. Their flesh…their blood, and their bones all melting on each other. You wouldn’t know the woman from the man or even the child. Piles of flesh on the beds, and lots of people screaming and crying, not knowing where their kids are, their men or their women.

“That night, I came home from hospital and was awake until morning from fear. I thought it would only be that night that I couldn’t sleep, but till today I see them in front of me and I can’t sleep.”
Anne dreaded the Gestapo roundup of civilians:

“Mr Dussel has told us much about the outside world we’ve missed for so long. He had sad news. Countless friends and acquaintances have been taken off to a dreadful fate. Night after night, green and grey military vehicles cruise the streets.”

 

Today, the roundups dreaded by Anne Frank find new forms in the West Bank of Palestine. There, Israel systematically ramps up the state of anxiety and fear with night-time raids and violent home invasions. Arrests of children and adults occur mainly at night, when the whole family is suddenly awakened and their home invaded by armed soldiers shouting and ransacking the family’s possessions. This leads to the kidnapping of the family member, or members, targeted, leaving the family distraught and their lives devastated. Reuters reported that, according to UNICEF, “approximately 700 Palestinian children, between the ages of 12 and 17, are kidnapped, detained and interrogated by the Israeli army, the Police and security agents in the West Bank every year, and are subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in direct violation of the Convention on the Right of the Child, and the Convention against Torture.”

 

In both the West Bank and Gaza, the effect of unending oppression has become tragic for Palestinian children. The respected Gaza journalist Mohammed Omer points out in “For Gaza’s Children the Trauma Never Ends”:

 

“The Nazi persecution and World War II in Europe, which lasted from 1933 to 1945, affected an entire generation of children. By contrast, Israel’s dispossession and occupation of Palestine has lasted some six decades–and counting. Generations of Palestinian children have been affected physically, psychologically and materially.”

 

For Anne Frank, the experience of Nazi oppression had the effect of making her former life seem surrealistic. She wrote:

 

“When I think back to my life in 1942, it all seems so unreal. The Anne Frank who enjoyed that heavenly existence was completely different from the one who has grown wise within these walls.”
Khalil, 13, for whom the Israeli violence is ongoing, has had a similar experience. “Excuse me,” he says somewhat sarcastically, “but the war has wiped blank all my beautiful memories. The front half of my house was damaged, so that I am transferred to a life-situation that I never dreamed I would be experiencing.” [IMEMC 23-1-11]
Anne Frank recalls that, “After May, 1940, the good times were few and far between: first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees.”

Anne then lists the humiliations Jews were subject to under the Nazi’s apartheid regime. Interestingly, her experience can easily be reworded, as follows, to reflect the Palestinian experience:

“After May, 1940, the good times were few and far between: first there was the never-ending arrival of the Jews, then the capitulation of the British and then the Israeli war and Nakba, which is when the trouble started for the indigenous Palestinians.

“Freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Palestinian apartheid decrees that violate international law:

–Palestinians live under military law, while Israelis live under civil law.
–Identity cards only for Palestinians.
–Segregation between Jewish and Palestinian communities.
–Jews-only roads and transport.
–Movement restrictions for Palestinians.
–Unequal access to land and property.
–Forcible eviction and home demolitions for Palestinians.
–Palestinians forbidden the right of return, while Jews anywhere in the
world have the right to live in Israel.
–Deportation of Palestinian prisoners.
–Palestinians are forbidden from living with Israeli Arab spouses.
–Separate and unequal education systems.
–Forced resettlement of Bedouins.”

In addition, Adalah reports that “In the four short months since the current Knesset came to power, MKs have proposed as many as 29 new discriminatory bills that attack the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the OPT.”

All Children Have Dreams, and the Right to Make Them Real

Even though for Anne “t he approaching danger [was] being pulled tighter and tighter,” and she felt “like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage,” we Palestinian young people share with her that confounding universal metamorphosis of the human teenager into a young adult overflowing with the same heartfelt reflections, confessions, emotional struggles, lamentations, loves, fears, hates, and hopes.

The tragic poignancy of her life was that a globally ignored unfettered evil cut short her life, aspirations and spiritual generosity. This was her potential, which all young people have, along with the natural right to try to make it real:
“If God lets me live, I’ll achieve more than Mother ever did, I’ll make my voice heard, I’ll go out into the world and work for mankind! I now know that courage and happiness are needed first! Yours, Anne M. Frank.
Like Anne, Reem, 14, has the spiritual generosity and energy leaders and most people lack. “The thing that upsets me and makes me cry,” he says, are children’s tears–all children in the world regardless of their nationality, religion or color. When I grow up I want to be a pediatrician, and that’s the hope that gives me a big push in life.”
When viewed in the context of the sorrows, hopes and aspirations of Gazan children trapped in the dark cages of Zionist oppression, the image of Anne Frank wearing a kuffiyeh, the badge of Palestinian resistance, manifests an aura of grace and makes profound sense.
Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

 

The Second Holocaust Was Averted at Brooklyn College BDS Forum February 8, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Posted by Tikkun Daily at 7:43 am
February 8, 2013

Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By David Harris-Gershon

Last night, Brooklyn College hosted a forum on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a non-violent initiative targeting Israel’s suppression of basic political rights for Palestinians, particularly those occupied in the West Bank.

In the weeks preceding the forum, Brooklyn College was under intense pressure to cancel the event, pressure spearheaded by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who curiously chose to argue against the concept of academic freedom by claiming the forum would be a “propaganda hate orgy” and should not be allowed.

New York City Council members soon followed, threatening to cut off funding to the college if the event proceeded, with Assemblyman Alan Maisel stating, “We’re talking about the potential for a Second Holocaust here.

Thankfully, champions of academic freedom stepped in to push back against such bombastic claims, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who bluntly told the City Council:

“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

Eventually, political pressure against the event relented and it went on as planned, an event at which UC Berkley professor Judith Butler eloquently explained the BDS movement:

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is, in fact, a non-violent movement; it seeks to use established legal means to achieve its goals; and it is, interestingly enough, the largest Palestinian civic movement at this time. That means that the largest Palestinian civic movement is a non-violent one that justifies its actions through recourse to international law. Further, I want to underscore that this is also a movement whose stated core principles include the opposition to every form of racism, including both state-sponsored racism and anti-Semitism.

Butler also explored and, ultimately, expertly rejected accusations that the BDS movement was inherently anti-Semitic:

But still, it is left to us to ask, why would a non-violent movement to achieve basic political rights for Palestinians be understood as anti-Semitic? Surely, there is nothing about the basic rights themselves that constitute a problem. They include equal rights of citizenship for current inhabitants; the end to the occupation, and the rights of unlawfully displaced persons to return to their lands and gain restitution for their losses…why would a collective struggle to use economic and cultural forms of power to compel the enforcement of international laws be considered anti-Semitic? It would be odd to say that they are anti-Semitic to honor internationally recognized rights to equality, to be free of occupation and to have unlawfully appropriated land and property restored. I know that this last principle makes many people uneasy, but there are several ways of conceptualizing how the right of return might be exercised lawfully such that it does not entail further dispossession.

[...]

If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered to be anti-Semitic, if any number of internationals who have joined thus struggle from various parts of the world are also considered anti-Semitic and if Palestinians seeking rights of political self-determination are so accused as well, then it would appear that no oppositional move that can take place without risking the accusation of anti-Semitism. That accusation becomes a way of discrediting a bid for self-determination, at which point we have to ask what political purpose the radical mis-use of that accusation has assumed in the stifling of a movement for political self-determination.

Omar Barghouti, founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, spoke in more populist tones, but was clear in reiterating that the BDS movement rejects all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism, and is focused on one thing: ending the dehumanization of Palestinians and delivering to them dignity, basic human rights and political self-determination.

In the end, the event was peaceful, cordial and level-headed. A far cry from the small group of protesters outside who yelled that the next slaughter of the Jews was beginning at Brooklyn College.

Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

Buchanan: ‘White America’ Died Last Night November 16, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Racism.
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Roger’s note: my dear friend Liz who passed this on to me first thought it must be an Andy Borowitz parody (apparently not).  I responded to her that such views coming from someone who has been taken seriously by the mainstream media and who held a responsible position under a US president (and was at one time considered a serious Republican presidential nominee himself), is an indication of how far large segments of the country — including established media — have regressed into good old apple pie American racism.  I always strive to never blame the victim, so I would not attack the countless millions who voted for Romney, but the forces behind him and the nut case billionaires are not to be discounted simply because they lost this election.  Also keep in mind, that Obama reacts to the ultra right pressures, and his policies, mostly foreign but also much of domestic, are really Republican inspired.

Nov. 07, 2012, The Daily Current

Conservative political pundit Pat Buchanan stoked controversy today by claiming that Barack Obama’s reelection has ‘killed White America’.

The paleoconservative nativist is no stranger to racial controversy, having previously been accused of writing books with racist and anti-semitic undertones.

But the former Nixon advisor was more explicit on the G. Gordon Liddy Show this morning. When asked for his reaction to Obama’s victory, Buchanan replied brazenly:

“White America died last night. Obama’s reelection killed it. Our 200 plus year history as a Western nation is over. We’re a Socialist Latin American country now. Venezuela without the oil.”

Stunned by his clear racisim, Liddy tried to walk his guest back from the ledge:

“With what you just said right there…You seem to imply that white people are better than other people. That’s not really what you’re saying is it?”

“Of course that’s what I’m saying,” Buchanan replied “Isn’t it obvious? Anything worth doing on this Earth was done first by white people.”

“Who landed on the moon? White people. Who climbed Mount Everest? White people. Who invented the transistor? White people. Who invented paper? White people. Who discovered algebra? White people.”

“And don’t give me all this nonsense about Martin Luther King and civil rights and all that. Who do you think freed the slaves? Abraham Lincoln. A white guy!”

Carte Blanche

“But we’re not led by Lincoln anymore, we’re led by an affirmative-action mulatto who can’t physically understand how great America once was.”

“I cried last night G. I cried for hours. It’s over for all of us. The great White nation will never survive another 4 years of Obama’s leadership”

Liddy tried to reason with Buchanan, reminding him that he shares similar positions with the President on Afghanistan, Iraq, and relations with Russia:

“Of course I agree with half of what he does,” Buchanan answered, “He’s half white! That’s not the half I’m worried about.”

Buchanan served as a speechwriter in the Nixon White House. He was fired as an MSNBC analyst this year following the publication of a book many considered to be racist.

 

No real refuge in Canada for some refugees June 15, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Human Rights, Immigration.
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PHILIP BERGER, BERNIE FARBER AND CLAYTON RUBY

The Globe and Mail Friday, Jun. 15 2012, 2:00 AM EDT

As Canadian Jews, we grew up hearing stories about how our families came to this country as refugees. We also heard about the relatives who never arrived because of the Canadian government’s closed-door policy for Jews. Historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper’s book None is Too Many told of this sad and ultimately deadly policy.

 

In the early 1900s, Jews fled persecution in European countries where anti-Semitism was rampant. They were not alone; the Roma and Sinti people were caught in the same web of hate.

When Hitler’s forces overran Europe, it was the Jewish and Roma communities that were singled out for annihilation. And with the rest of the world engaged in either compliance or apathy, the Nazi plan almost succeeded.

Bearing the scars of the Holocaust, most Jews fled Europe to countries like Canada, which finally opened its doors with a new immigration policy.

However, the Roma mostly stayed behind, and there has been an enormous escalation of discrimination and bigotry against them, especially in Hungary. And with resurgence of neo-Nazism in parts of Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, Roma face violent attacks. Many have tried to flee to Canada, where doors have once again become hard to pry open.

Most recently, with the passage of refugee and immigration Bill C-31, alongside suggested cuts to refugees’ health care, the federal government is creating what it calls “designated countries,” or DCOs, that it considers “safe.”

Refugees from DCOs will now have only a short time to prepare for their hearings, and will effectively lose their right of appeal. Additionally, refugees will have no access to primary or emergency health care, even in the case of pregnancy or heart attack.

While refugee claimants from DCOs are singled out for particularly alarming treatment under the new federal rules, the changes will harm all those claiming refugee status. Claimants will lose access to life-saving drugs, such as insulin, and to preventive care. Physicians across the country warn that these changes will result in severe illness and death.

While DCOs have yet to be named, Hungary will assuredly be on the list. If these policy changes come into effect, Roma refugee claimants will lose access to health care on June 30. We are also likely to see many more deportations of Roma back to Hungary.

Judaism teaches the concept of “ tikkun olam,” an exhortation to repair the world. If passed, Bill C-31 would be antithetical to these values. It is our hope that as Canadians hear more about the dangers of this legislation, they too will not stand by as refugees lose basic health care and persecuted groups or individuals are sent back to face violence in their home countries.

Today, we go on record as Jews and descendants of immigrants to say that we oppose cuts to refugee health care and the designation of so-called “safe” countries. Denying other human beings health care and a haven based on their country of origin is simply wrong. As Jews and human rights activists, we know well that countries deemed safe for the majority can be deadly for some minorities.

Pressure must continue. It’s never too late to ask for changes or amendments to the regulations. Ironically, we also understand that, were our families to arrive today under the federal government’s new rules, they would be denied health care, and, ultimately, citizenship. Returning to the retrograde policies that inspired “None is Too Many” must be rejected.

Fidel to Ahmadinejad: ‘Stop Slandering the Jews’ September 10, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Iran, Latin America.
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Sep 7 2010, 12:06 PM ET

(This is Part I of a report on my recent visit to Havana. I hope to post Part II tomorrow. And I also hope to be publishing a more comprehensive article about this subject in a forthcoming print edition of The Atlantic.)

A couple of weeks ago, while I was on vacation, my cell phone rang; it was Jorge Bolanos, the head of the Cuban Interest Section (we of course don’t have diplomatic relations with Cuba) in Washington. “I have a message for you from Fidel,” he said. This made me sit up straight. “He has read your Atlantic article about Iran and Israel. He invites you to Havana on Sunday to discuss the article.” I am always eager, of course, to interact with readers of The Atlantic, so I called a friend at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig, who is a preeminent expert on Cuba and Latin America: “Road trip,” I said.


MORE ON Fidel Castro: 
Jeffrey Goldberg: Castro: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”


I quickly departed the People’s Republic of Martha’s Vineyard for Fidel’s more tropical socialist island paradise. Despite the self-defeating American ban on travel to Cuba, both Julia and I, as journalists and researchers, qualified for a State Department exemption. The charter flight from Miami was bursting with Cuban-Americans carrying flat-screen televisions and computers for their technologically-bereft families. Fifty minutes after take-off, we arrived at the mostly-empty Jose Marti International Airport. Fidel’s people met us on the tarmac (despite giving up his formal role as commandante en jefe after falling ill several years ago, Fidel still has many people). We were soon deposited at a “protocol house” in a government compound whose architecture reminded me of the gated communities of Boca Raton. The only other guest in this vast enclosure was the president of Guinea-Bissau.
 
I was aware that Castro had become preoccupied with the threat of a military confrontation in the Middle East between Iran and the U.S. (and Israel, the country he calls its Middle East “gendarme”). Since emerging from his medically induced, four-year purdah early this summer (various gastrointestinal maladies had combined to nearly kill him), the 84-year-old Castro has spoken mainly about the catastrophic threat of what he sees as an inevitable war.
 
I was curious to know why he saw conflict as unavoidable, and I wondered, of course, if personal experience – the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 that nearly caused the annihilation of most of humanity – informed his belief that a conflict between America and Iran would escalate into nuclear war.  I was even more curious, however, to get a glimpse of the great man. Few people had seen him since he fell ill in 2006, and the state of his health has been a subject of much speculation. There were questions, too, about the role he plays now in governing Cuba; he formally handed off power to his younger brother, Raul, two years ago, but it was not clear how many strings Fidel still pulled.

The morning after our arrival in Havana, Julia and I were driven to a nearby convention center, and escorted upstairs, to a large and spare office. A frail and aged Fidel stood to greet us. He was wearing a red shirt, sweatpants, and black New Balance sneakers. The room was crowded with officials and family: His wife, Dalia, and son Antonio, as well as an Interior Ministry general, a translator, a doctor and several bodyguards, all of whom appeared to have been recruited from the Cuban national wrestling team. Two of these bodyguards held Castro at the elbow.
 
We shook hands, and he greeted Julia warmly; they have known each other for more than twenty years. Fidel lowered himself gently into his seat, and we began a conversation that would continue, in fits and starts, for three days. His body may be frail, but his mind is acute, his energy level is high, and not only that: the late-stage Fidel Castro turns out to possess something of a self-deprecating sense of humor. When I asked him, over lunch, to answer what I’ve come to think of as the Christopher Hitchens question – has your illness caused you to change your mind about the existence of God? – he answered, “Sorry, I’m still a dialectical materialist.” (This is funnier if you are, like me, an ex-self-defined socialist.) At another point, he showed us a series of recent photographs taken of him, one of which portrayed him with a fierce expression. “This was how my face looked when I was angry with Khruschev,” he said. 

Castro opened our initial meeting by telling me that he read the recent Atlantic article carefully, and that it confirmed his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran. This interpretation was not surprising, of course: Castro is the grandfather of global anti-Americanism, and he has been a severe critic of Israel. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he said, was simple: Israel will only have security if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the rest of the world’s nuclear powers will only have security if they, too, give up their weapons. Global and simultaneous nuclear disarmament is, of course, a worthy goal, but it is not, in the short term, realistic. 

Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

 
He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. “I remember when I was a boy – a long time ago – when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside,” he said, “and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.’ God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.’ They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?”

He went on, “Well, I didn’t know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a ‘Jew,’ and so for me the Jews were those birds.  These birds had big noses. I don’t even know why they were called that. That’s what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was.”

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.

Castro went on to analyze the conflict between Israel and Iran. He said he understood Iranian fears of Israeli-American aggression and he added that, in his view, American sanctions and Israeli threats will not dissuade the Iranian leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons. “This problem is not going to get resolved, because the Iranians are not going to back down in the face of threats. That’s my opinion,” he said. He then noted that, unlike Cuba, Iran is a “profoundly religious country,” and he said that religious leaders are less apt to compromise. He noted that even secular Cuba has resisted various American demands over the past 50 years.
 
We returned repeatedly in this first conversation to Castro’s fear that a confrontation between the West and Iran could escalate into a nuclear conflict. “The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated,” he said. “Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war.” I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. “That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense,” Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, “At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?” He answered: “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.”

I was surprised to hear Castro express such doubts about his own behavior in the missile crisis – and I was, I admit, also surprised to hear him express such sympathy for Jews, and for Israel’s right to exist (which he endorsed unequivocally). 

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro’s invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. “Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him,” she said. “Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he’s really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn’t expect to have. And he’s revisiting history, and revisiting his own history.”

There is a great deal more to report from this conversation, and from subsequent conversations, which I will do in posts to follow. But I will begin the next post on this subject by describing one of the stranger days I have experienced, a day which began with a simple question from Fidel: “Would you like to go to the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

Koffler Centre persecutes Jewish artist May 10, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Canada, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion.
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Sunday, May 10, 2009

http://canadian-firebrand.blogspot.com

On May 8, the Koffler Centre for the Arts issued a press release announcing that they are “disassociating themselves” from an art exhibition by Toronto artist Reena Katz which is being installed at Kensington Market later this month. They are rejecting Katz not for the content of her work but because of her personal political beliefs, namely “Reena Katz’s public support for and association with Israel Apartheid Week.” This is nothing less than blacklisting and the Koffler Centre should be ashamed of itself, particularly when one considers not only the number of Jewish artists and performers who suffered due to McCarthyist blacklisting in the 1950s but also the generations of Jews, in the arts as well as in the professions and various trades, who were denied employment not because of the quality or content of their work but because of their personal beliefs.

According to the Koffler Centre’s press release “As a Jewish cultural institution, an agency of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the Koffler Centre of the Arts will not associate with an artist who publicly advocates the extinction of Israel as a Jewish state. The Koffler considers the existence and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state to be one of its core values.” Katz replies in an article in today’s Toronto Star saying, “I have said that I’m an anti-Zionist Jew. So they are conflating the state of Israel with Zionism. I’m speaking to an ideology when I speak about Zionism. They’re speaking about a Jewish state.”

Partisans of the UJA, CJC and B’nai Brith like pretend that Jewish critics of Israel are either assimilated Jews who reject their heritage and only speak out against Zionism so they can gain acceptance from the non-Jewish left or are, worse, apostates, the fact is that opposition to Zionism within the Jewish community is as old and as established as Zionism itself and that the most adamant of Zionism’s Jewish opponents base their opposition on religious grounds. Others do so based on Jewish philisophical traditions of humanitarianism and universalism.

Reena Katz is one of the most Jewish people I’ve met. Her work is infused with Jewish sensibilities and themes. She is not only a visual and sonic artist but a musician who fronted the Klemzer band Promegranate for a number of years. She describes her upcoming exhibit as a(n) homage to my Jewish roots and the Jewish roots of Kensington Market.” The Koffler Centre recognized this as well. According to their now removed write up of the event (still available online thank’s to Google’s cache feature):

each hand as they are called reflects on Toronto’s Kensington Market as the vibrant site of multiple public cultural histories, layered with personal stories and fragmented by the movement of time. Katz approaches the culture of the Market through the lens of her own memory and experience of Kensington, coming out as a young, politically engaged, queer woman. Taking the ephemeral nature of experience in urban space to heart, through a series of solo and collaborative performances, temporary installations, community projects and public posters, Katz works with the notion of transition and movement. each hand as they are called captures the spirit of the Market on any given day, filled with passing but memorable vignettes.

Roaming, live vocal performances insert an experimental soundtrack of assimilation, anachronism and hybridity into the urban landscape of the Market. Based on the jazz-fusion music of Yiddish speaking sister duos from the 60s, Katz’s haunting compositions are a combination of popular music, Yiddish classics and jazz, composed backwards for female duets. The resulting absurdist vocals create a hybrid language of calls and beckoning within the Market streetscape.

A community-based component of the project involves Katz working with residents from the Terraces at Baycrest and grade eight students from Ryerson Community Public School. Together, their working process will highlight Kensington as the important meeting point of Jewish and Chinese culture through the game of Mah Jongg, a game originating in East Asian communities which migrated and was popularized with North American Jewish women during the 1920s. The project culminates in a public day of inter-generational Mah Jongg in the Market’s Bellevue Park on June 7 (rain date: June 14).

In addition, Katz performs solo against the backdrop of Kensington Market’s tense relationship to urban development. At odd and unexpected hours, she will be seen working on temporary structures, building and deconstructing scaffolding in previously undisclosed locations. Katz’s scaffold performances gesture to the incredible labour history of the area, positioning the act of construction as obstruction and to memory itself as construct.

While each of Katz’s performative and social gestures are ephemeral, each hand as they are called will have a constant presence in the market through a series of interrelated street posters, designed by Katz in collaboration with award winning designer and artist Cecilia Berkovic. The posters provide additional context for the project while inserting a distinct visual presence amongst the eclectic mix of band-posters, announcements about lost pets, and other posted ephemera populating the Market.

Reena Katz isn’t being blacklisted because her views on Israel somehow make her anti-Semitic (they don’t), she’s being blacklisted because she is too Jewish for the Koffler Centre and the United Jewish Appeal.

To complain about this outrage email the following people: lstarr@kofflerarts.org, ceckert@kofflerarts.org, thewer@kofflerarts.org, tliederman@kofflerarts.org, ishohat@kofflerarts.org, etauben@kofflerarts.org,

This is what Reena has to say on the matter:

Dear friends, family, comrades and colleagues;

Most of you know that I’ve been working on a site-specific commission for the Koffler Gallery in Kensington Market, set to open on May 20th. Kim Simon is an independent curator, who found me and proposed my work to the Koffler last year. She has been my main creative (and now political) ally in the process.

Today, at 9am Kim and I were informed by Lori Starr (Koffler executive director) and Mona Philip (Koffler curator) that the Koffler is disassociating from the exhibition: removing their name and URL’s from any further outreach materials, exhibition posters and press.

Why?
Their Board of Directors, along with their major funder – The UJA of Greater Toronto – has decided that they “will not associate with an artist who publicly advocates the extinction of Israel as a Jewish state”.

In our meeting with Lori and Mona this morning, it was made clear that their decision is based on my involvement specifically with Israeli Apartheid Week. Lori was explicit that it isn’t me they object to, but the public statements I’ve made on behalf of specific organizations. Seeing this as a moment of potential change, I proposed a meeting with their Board, in which I would explain the true mandate of Israeli Apartheid Week, CAIA, and the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation – now known as Women in Solidarity with Palestine.

Why now?
A year ago, Kim asked Mona directly if Koffler would have a problem showing my work considering my solidarity with Palestine. Mona was clear that since the project didn’t deal with the issue, Koffler would stand behind it. Indeed, after a year of having access to my website, CV, Facebook page and any Google search results, it wasn’t until this week that they chose to look at my Facebook page, and found a link to Israel Apartheid Week.

What the?
This weekend, I am working with Kim Simon, the independent curator on the project to respond to Koffler’s press release (click on it to link there) with our own press release in response. It’s evident they are acting out of fear. Fear of critique of Israel from within the Jewish community, fear of the repercussions of standing by an artist who is affiliated with justice for Palestinians.

Nu, so, what now?
They have offered to continue the project’s $20,000 funding – without attaching to it institutionally in any way. An interesting proposal indeed. The project is quite extensive, and involves youth from Ryerson Community Public School, Seniors from Baycrest Centre, The Element Choir, solo vocalists and a number of stores, homes and cultural institutions in Kensington Market. Of course, I don’t want to cancel the project but feel very uncertain at this time of how I want to proceed with it. Kim and I are putting thought to this, and plan to have a decision on Sunday. I am interested in taking this up politically, and strategizing around the best way to do that.

Until then, I would greatly appreciate your support in sending the Koffler messages. This is clearly an attempt by a mainstream Jewish institutions to stifle dissent within our community, and the art world in general. Please cc me on anything you send. Also, talk about it to anyone you know – especially arts organizations and their members. I’ll be in touch soon with our press release.

With love and justice,
Reena

And here is an excellent letter from activist Henry Lowi:

To: lstarr@kofflerarts.org
Subject: Reena Katz unfairly targetted by Koffler Centre
Date: Sat, 9 May 2009 22:28:12 +0000

Lori Starr,

Executive Director, Koffler Centre of the Arts

Dear Ms Starr:

I read your announcement about the Reena Katz exhibition.[i]

I have known Reena Katz since she was a teacher in a Jewish Sunday School. I consulted her many years ago about violin lessons for my daughter. She referred us to the best violin teacher in Toronto.

I am well aware of Reena’s activism in solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine. I know that Reena is motivated by an acute consciousness of the history of Jewish suffering and persecution (and culture!), and a commitment that “Never Again!”, to anyone, anywhere.

Despite the Koffler mandate, [ii] you are taking sides in a political issue. Your position is symptomatic of a kind of panic that is overtaking pro-Zionist organizations. Your panic is based on the painful awareness that you have placed yourselves on the side of injustice and oppression, an uncomfortable position for a Jew to inhabit.

The atrocity committed recently by the State of Israel against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has drawn the attention of the whole world. It is well documented. [iii] It has been compared to the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa.[iv] The whole world has seen how the Palestinians — virtually unarmed, isolated, and poorly led — are being systematically massacred by a well-armed military power that enjoys unlimited military, political and economic support.[v] Strong feelings of solidarity have been aroused.

You are untouched by those feelings of solidarity.

Most Jewish community organizations remained silent in the face of the atrocities and the ongoing blockade of Gaza. Unfortunately for you, all decent people, all lovers of humanity noticed the silence of the Jewish organizations. Fortunately, all also noticed that Jewish dissidents — Righteous Jews, upholders of our traditions of struggle against injustice — spoke out.[vi][vi(b)]

Reena Katz is one of those Jewish dissidents.

The Jewish community is split. The split will deepen. On one side, you will find those who uphold the values of solidarity, decency, culture, and human rights. On the other side will be the supporters of murder, racism, and apartheid. All will have to choose their side,

You have chosen your side.

By dissociating yourselves from Reena Katz’s artistic work, for political reasons, you are engaging in a form of cultural boycott. As you know, progressive Palestinian grassroots popular organizations have called for a boycott of Israeli cultural and academic institutions.[vii] Peace-seeking Israelis support the boycott.[viii][viii(b)] Solidarity-minded Canadians, like author Naomi Klein, support the boycott.[ix] Faced with the boycott, Zionist apologists howl about “singling out Israelis because they are Israelis”, “anti-Semitism”, and the like.[x] They lie.

The Zionists lie, but they are in a panic. Fewer and fewer people are impressed by Zionist lies. More and more are impressed by the inevitable parallels between Israel’s genocidal conduct and the conduct of other oppressive regimes.

Solidarity with Palestine will grow, while disdain for Zionism and its supporters will grow.

You are singling out Reena Katz because she is a decent human being who speaks out against the oppression of fellow human beings. You have done so very publicly, making it very clear where you stand, and with whom you stand.

Reena Katz’s Israeli and Palestinian comrades pay a heavy price for their activism.[xi],[xii],[xiii],[xiv] They know that justice is on their side. They will win. Palestine will be free. Arts and culture will flourish. Jews and Arabs will live together, in peace, as equals.

Regards,

Henry Lowi

And go see the show at Kensington Market beginning May 20!

Israel, apartheid, anti-Semites March 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Racism.
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From Friday’s Globe and Mail

What is the sound of one side condemning? It’s the media rendering of Israel Apartheid Week, now under way. B’nai Brith ran full-page newspaper ads asking universities to “prevent” it and the attendant “anti-Semitism on campus.” There were no ads from organizers, so we didn’t hear them being anti-Semitic in their own words – or denying the charge.

Here’s the Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno: “That detestable, despicable annual campus hate-fest … Jew-bashing cloaked in self-righteousness … students who don’t recognize racism when they’re spewing it.”

I don’t know if she meant to be ironic, spewing hate at the spewers. But I’ve talked with friends, Jewish and non, about these claims. They’re disturbed, they don’t want to witness the rise of a new horror. Here’s my take.

Cabinet minister Jason Kenney calls Israel Apartheid Week “a systematic effort to delegitimize the democratic homeland of the Jewish people” by linking it to racism, a line virtually mouthed by Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff. That is way too cute. Any “settler state,” such as Canada, which took someone else’s land, can be seen as illegitimate. But it’s an abstract point. “Apartheid” became widely used in this context only when Israel began building what came to be called an apartheid wall, looming over Palestinians, sequestering more land, cutting them off from each other.

The usage grew as Israel expanded settlements, built Israeli-only roads and set up checkpoints so Palestinians would at best be left with “Bantustans,” such as those that apartheid South Africa offered blacks, rather than a true state of their own. A small but real Palestinian state would be accepted by almost everyone. The Arab League has offered peace in return for Israel just leaving the West Bank. Even Hamas has a (nuanced) position on living with Israel. You can look it up.

What of the “new anti-Semitism” that Jason Kenney says is “based on the notion that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland”? Well, who are these new anti-Semites? I never see names or quotations. Canada has always had anti-Semites, but they’ve felt no need to hide their hate behind a screen of anti-Israel criticism. Think of David Ahenakew. A cartoon banned from hallways at the University of Ottawa showed a helicopter marked Israel rocketing a kid in Gaza holding a teddy bear. It’s crude, but that’s cartooning. There’s no anti-Semitism in it. A front-page National Post cartoon showing CUPE Ontario’s Sid Ryan offering David Ahenakew a job was far more scurrilous. No one can say Sid Ryan embraces anti-Semites, though he criticizes Israel strongly. Opposition to Israel seems well delineated from anti-Semitism to me.

Most of the specifics come down to shouts at protests. As in: “Cries of ‘Die, Jew’ and ‘Get the hell off campus’ were heard.” The Canadian Jewish Congress’s Bernie Farber says he’s “never” seen it this bad “on the streets of Toronto and university campuses.” Well, I spend lots of time on streets in Toronto and it doesn’t look like Kristallnacht to me. But wait, that’s glib. It’s these images that scare my friends: They evoke Nazi Germany. I know that.

But Nazi Germany wasn’t about name-calling and group hate. Those will persist, perhaps always. The Holocaust occurred largely because anti-Semitism was historically rooted and respectable there: religiously, socially, intellectually, politically. Writers and politicians were proudly anti-Semitic. Here, anti-Semitism is unacceptable in all those ways. This whole debate proves it. We should be glad for that, and keep it in perspective.

Why does perspective matter? Because Israel is now a state among nations and must be held to account, not absolved for fear of igniting a new Holocaust. Israel Apartheid Week should be gauged on its critique of its subject, not anathematized due to shadows and terrors from another time.

Jews Agree with Holocaust-Denying Bishop, We Can’t Believe the Holocaust Happened Either January 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Humor, Race, Religion.
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www.huffingtonpost.com, Posted January 30, 2009

Elayne Boosler

A decision this past Saturday by Pope Benedict XVI to reinstate four bishops has sparked controversy in the Catholic Church and beyond.

One of the clergymen, Bishop Richard Williamson, is a Holocaust denier. Last week, he spoke to Swedish television.

BISHOP RICHARD WILLIAMSON: I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler. I believe there were no gas chambers.

 

 

Well Bishop Williamson, no one ever said the Jews were “deliberately” gassed by Hitler. Everyone knows it was a terrible accident. That is why it is important to check your smoke detectors at least twice a year. Dude! We know that six million Jews died (along with millions of others), because the Nazis kept meticulous records (and would never have found humor in Dilbert). Okay, benefit of the doubt, I’ll give you ten thousand heart attacks, a quarter million pneumonia due to the thin pajamas, a half mil for starvation, and maybe a mil being worked to death. That still undeniably leaves almost five million Jews being killed in camps. What’s your theory? Bug zappers?

I think it’s great that a bishop (or pawn) in the Catholic church, reinstated by no less than the Pope (deliberately reinstated), questions historical evidence instead of being a blind follower. Bravo! Despite living witnesses, both victims and liberators, despite actual film footage of the gas chambers, ovens, and corpses, despite a trillion books written by historians, victims, and eye witnesses, despite world trials in Nuremburg, despite admissions by Nazis themselves, despite Shelley Winters winning an Oscar for The Diary of Anne Frank, Bishop Williamson denies this happened. What would it take to convince you? Maybe we could check Germany’s gas bill from 1939-45. There had to have been a spike. I wish you could have seen how few relatives were left to show up at our seders in Brooklyn when I was a child. Hey, maybe I could show you the actual photographs my father took and brought back from his two years in army hell, which culminated in his unit helping liberate Buchenvald. Remember, that was before Photoshop.

Say, why don’t you go visit Auschwitz now? You can see the ovens, and Disney swears they had nothing to do with developing the attraction after the fact.

The bishop finds no “historical evidence” to prove the Holocaust happened, yet despite no film footage, living witnesses, or verifiable first hand accounts, Bishop Williamson has no trouble believing that god had a son on earth by immaculate conception, who could raise the dead, and then returned from the dead as well. So what does this say about the nature of belief? It says that Bishop Williamson hates the Jews. But hey, this Pope spreads a big tent, like the circus, so welcome back.

You know the joke about how we thought Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction because we had the receipt? Well it’s kinda like that. We know the Holocaust happened, because the Pope at the time made the deal with Hitler to let it happen. Hey, here’s a good joke for the Pope to open with the next time he appears at Yankee Stadium: “Forget the Holocaust, I can’t believe the Red Sox winning the World Series happened!!” You’re welcome.

Jewish council in Germany breaks ties with Vatican January 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion.
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Reuters, International Herald Tribune
Published: January 29, 2009

BERLIN:

The Central Council of Jews in Germany is breaking off contact with the Roman Catholic Church because of Pope Benedict XVI’s rehabilitation of a bishop who has denied the scale of the Holocaust, its president said Thursday.

Last weekend, the pope lifted the excommunication of four traditional Catholic bishops, including the British-born Richard Williamson, who has made statements denying the full extent of the Holocaust of European Jews.

Williamson said in an interview with Swedish television a week ago that he believed that there were no gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the six million widely accepted by historians.

“Under these conditions, there will certainly be no talks between myself and the church for the time being – I stress the words ‘for the time being,”‘ Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Council of Jews, said in the Rheinische Post newspaper. “I would like an outcry in the church against such actions from the pope.”

The Central Council of Jews confirmed her quotes.

In Italy, a priest who is a regional leader of the same traditionalist group Williamson belongs to, made headlines Thursday by telling a local newspaper “gas chambers existed at least for disinfecting” inmates but he was not sure they were used to kill them.

The priest, Floriano Abrahamowicz, defended Williamson and said that while it was “impossible for a Christian to be an anti-Semite,” the whole Williamson affair was part of a “very powerful campaign against the Vatican.”

He told La Tribuna newspaper in the northeastern city of Treviso that Williamson had been “imprudent to get into technical matters” about whether people had died by gassing or not.

Addressing the uproar over the rehabilitation of Williamson in his weekly audience with the public on Wednesday Benedict said he “renewed with love” his “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jews, whom he called “our brothers of the first covenant.”

He said he had repeatedly visited Auschwitz, the site of the “brutal massacre of millions of Jews, innocent victims of blind racial and religious hatred” and said the Holocaust “should be a warning for everyone against forgetting, denying or diminishing its significance.”

But tensions remained after Israel’s highest religious body sent a letter to the Vatican asking to postpone an annual meeting and voicing “sorrow and pain” at the pope’s decision to welcome the bishop back into the fold.

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