Tag Archives: israel

Wisconsin rep. urges Trump to reconsider nominee for ambassador to Israel

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., issued this statement in response to President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to nominate David Friedman for ambassador to Israel:

The ambassador to Israel plays a vital role in every administration. Before taking on the position, both James Cunningham and Daniel Shapiro shared a combined 35 years of foreign policy experience.

In contrast, David Friedman, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for the position, was his bankruptcy lawyer and lacks any foreign policy experience.

From his blind support for settlements in the West Bank and flagrant opposition to a two-state solution to his unconscionable and frighteningly causal use of Holocaust imagery to vilify progressive American Jews, Mr. Friedman lacks the experience and temperament necessary to serve as our nation’s ambassador to Israel.

Now, more than ever, we need to work together with our partners abroad and at home to ensure the protection and survival of the Jewish State.

I urge the president-elect to reconsider this appointment and instead focus on a qualified candidate who can work with all sides to stabilize the region.

Pro-Palestinian campaign divides Jewish community

As Jewish college students headed home to celebrate Passover with their families on April 21, there was one topic on many of their minds with the potential to disrupt the joyous mood around their Seder tables: the BDS movement.

BDS stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions — against Israel. It’s a growing movement on college campuses, where students are stepping up protests of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians, as well as the nation’s continued occupation of land that BDS supporters say belongs to Palestinians.

BDS as proxy

The BDS movement — although focused primarily on human rights — has become a proxy for disagreements over a much wider and longer-standing set of issues. As such, the movement has pitted Jews against Jews, pro-Israelis versus anti-Israelis, and pro-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supporters versus Netanyahu critics. It’s also created rifts in the progressive movement, which attracts Jewish followers because of the faith’s culture of tolerance and identification with the underdog.

Reform Judaism — the largest branch of Judaism — was the first major religious denomination to support same-sex marriage, and Israel is the only nation in the Middle East that recognizes same-sex marriages. It also is the most progressive nation in the region by far. Arab countries stone adulterers to death, throw gays off skyscrapers to their deaths and some do not allow women to drive or even show their faces.

Given the human rights abuses of other countries in the region, a lot of Jews believe Israel is singled out due to anti-Semitism, and they’re blaming the BDS movement for anti-Semitic incidents on campuses. While the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks and fights anti-Semitic hate crimes, said it hasn’t seen a dramatic rise in such crimes on campuses, a spokesman said, “The BDS movement does fuel anti-Semitism. We have some serious concerns about BDS.”

He noted that anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States routinely exceed anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said part of the problem she has with BDS is that “when we talk about Israel being grounded on injustice, we’re applying different standards to Israel than every other nation.”

The University of California-Davis held a hearing last month to consider divesting university holdings from companies that do business with Israel. After the meeting, the school’s Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi had its house defaced with swastikas. Fraternity leaders said they believed they had been targeted over their support for Israel. However, the coalition of student groups that supported divestment condemned the vandalism.

Fighting anti-Semitism on campus

The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a report last year titled “Anti-Semitism on Campus: A clear–and-present danger.” The report called the growing rate of anti-Semitism on campuses “alarming” and “getting worse.” It referenced “grim examples of Jewish students being blocked from participation in student government and being harassed.”

Last month, the University of California’s Board of Regents became the first to adopt a “Principles Against Intolerance” policy in response to a series of high-profile anti-Semitic incidents — including swastikas found on Jewish fraternities and the attempted exclusion of a student government candidate because of her Jewish faith.

The document, which took months to prepare due to the charged political environment, states, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”

But to many Jews, especially older ones, anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic. “The well-being of Israel is really a critical part of what it means to be a Jew today,” said Rabbi Mendel Matusof, director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at UW-Madison.

The reality is that living in peace in the Middle East is impossible in these times, said Matusof. As WiG was preparing this story, the terrorist bombing of a bus in Jerusalem injured 21 people, two of them critically. And, the same day, an Israeli military court charged a soldier with manslaughter after he was caught on video by an Israeli human rights group fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker.

“Israel doesn’t live in a friendly neighborhood,” Matusof said.

“What frustrates me now is the way we talk about Israel these days in America,” Kahn said. “We eliminate complexity. The problem is that real life is more complex than these really simple reductive narratives that people are drawing. They’re drawing cartoon characters. There’s good on one side and bad on the other. I would challenge people to find a place in their heart to care about Palestinians and Israeli Jews at the same time.”

While Kahn doesn’t believe the BDS movement is inherently anti-Semitic, she believes it’s “a magnet for people who hold Jews in great disdain.”

Jews against Israel

Most Jews, especially older ones, want a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. But many who support the BDS movement, including members of groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace, want Jews to abdicate their control of Israel. They reject the notion of Zionism, which guarantees a Jewish state in perpetuity.

“Anti-Zionism, non-Zionism is more common in Jewish history than Zionism,” said Rachel Ida Buff, faculty adviser to a recently formed JVP chapter on the UW-Milwaukee campus.

JVP is a pro-Palestinian campus group whose supporters believe the conditions that led to the creation of a Jewish state no longer exist and do not justify what JVP national media coordinator Naomi Dann called a situation that “privileges Jews at the expense of Palestinian lives.”

“The impact of Zionism … has been wide-scale displacement, dispossession of millions of Palestinians and nearly 50 years of a brutal military occupation,” Dann wrote to WiG in an email. She said her group values the fundamental equality of all people and cannot support Zionism because it devalues Palestinian lives.”

“This is a generational issue that I think is reaching the fever pitch that it is because the Zionists are beginning to be scared of it,” Buff said.

Buff said there’s a kind of McCarthyism in the Jewish community that stigmatizes and disavows Jews who speak out against Israeli military and social atrocities, as she does.

She said she’s stepped on the equivalent of a “third rail.” But she said she will not be silenced for her beliefs.

“It is up to me to decide what my government does with its tax dollars,” she said. “Stop arming the occupation. The Zionists are being played by Netanyahu. American Jews are a little bit mistaken if they think the State Department is supportive of Jews. Israel is on the brink of (becoming) a pariah state. American geopolitical involvement is not going to make the world safe for Jews.”

Progressive roots

The BDS movement in the United States is emerging “from the heart of the American left,” according to Cary Nelson, a retired English professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He’s co-editor of the book, The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel.

BDS is the current cause célèbre of the left, and its presence can be seen at rallies and protests for virtually every grievance on the progressive agenda. Advocates for Palestinians have linked divestment to social justice movements against racism, militarization, globalization and other issues that are important to many college students.

Campus divestment advocates often come to student government hearings with the backing of student associations for blacks, South Asians, Mexican-Americans, gays and others. Last year, anti-Israeli protesters unraveled a sign several yards long behind speakers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park. The rally was intended to draw attention to the April 14, 2014, police shooting of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black man.

The BDS sign was by far the largest at the rally. Jody Hirsh, a world-renown Jewish educator and WiG contributor who attended the rally, left because of it.

“I went to the rally because I really feel (police shootings) are an American problem that needs to be dealt with and the first thing I saw was a sign that said, “Milwaukee, Ferguson, Palestine. Resistance to occupation is heroism,’” he said.

“I was so upset, because it’s not the same thing at all,” he continued. “I felt that this very important American issue was hijacked by something different and I felt that I couldn’t participate in the rally.”

Nevertheless, the BDS movement is growing on the backs of other issues.

“Drawing these connections cross-struggle has been huge for our movement,” said Tory Smith, a 2012 Earlham College graduate and member of National Students for Justice in Palestine.

UW students’ experience

While BDS activism is taking a toll on Jewish life on some campuses, that’s not happening on campuses in Wisconsin, multiple sources told WiG.

At UW-Madison, which reportedly has the nation’s eighth largest number of Jewish students — a statistic that Matusof questions — BDS is a very visible movement. Nonetheless, Jewish life on campus is thriving.

UW-Madison offers a major in Jewish Studies and it has a number of active Jewish organizations, including fraternities and sororities.

UW-Milwaukee has a small Jewish population of around 200, said Marc Cohen, interim executive director of Hillel Milwaukee. Hillel International supports Jewish life on campuses throughout the world. Cohen described Hillel in Milwaukee as a kind of “Switzerland,” where pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians can talk freely and openly in a neutral, non-threatening environment.

Hilary Miller, a Milwaukeean enrolled in Jewish Studies at UW-Madison, contrasts the Wisconsin experience with that at other schools. She has attended conferences at UC-Berkeley and UC-Irvine, and she’s felt the tension on those campuses. There, she said, some people in the BDS movement are “absolutely using this as a wedge against Jews. … Sometimes it reminds me of what I’ve studied about anti-Jewish propaganda in Nazi Germany.”

Indeed, critics of Israel often complain that Jews have all the power, money and influence in the region. The re-emergence of what sounds similar to the myth of Jewish wealth and secret control of society frightens older Jews, because it echoes Nazi propaganda.

But Miller said she’s encountered nothing like that sort of extremism at UW-Madison, which she described as a very comfortable environment for Jews. In fact, she’s highly engaged in Jewish activities.

Miller founded the independent group Student Alliance for Israel, which she said is apolitical and promotes understanding of Israel’s traditions and culture. She attends pro-Palestinian events and rallies because she “wants to understand the other side,” she said.

Miller identifies politically with progressives, but she feels almost apologetic at times in progressive circles about her involvement in Jewish activities. She knows Jewish students who are afraid to put such involvements on their resumes out of fear it might affect their job prospects, she said.

And, based on what she witnessed in California, she’s afraid the situation on campus could deteriorate if BDS becomes a stronger force at UW–Madison.

Ongoing internal conflict

There will always be Jews who say that precisely because of their history of persecution, Israel should be more compassionate.

But Jews such as Matusof and Kahn are alarmed “that the Jewish community is not seen anymore as a minority deserving of the same sensitivities that the progressive community really holds strong,” Matusof said. “Jews in America,” he added, “are seen as a white privileged class, while we still are a minority and there still is discrimination.”

At any rate, analyzing and arguing are essential elements in Jewish theology and culture. There’s an old joke that goes, “If you ask 10 Jews for advice, you’ll get 11 opinions.”

The number is probably higher.

Democratic senators feud with Obama over decision on Israel boycotts

Territory currently occupied by Israel.
Territory currently occupied by Israel.

Senate Democrats have opened a rare public feud with President Barack Obama over a congressional effort to discourage America’s trading partners from targeting Israel with politically motivated boycotts and sanctions.

Minority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats voiced their objections to Obama’s decision not to implement provisions in a trade law that instructs U.S. negotiators to protect Israel from being punished economically for its treatment of Palestinians.

House Speaker Paul Ryan also criticized Obama and said Congress would use its power of oversight to ensure the provisions are enforced.

“Only this administration would try not to enforce a trade enforcement law,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

Specifically, the provision instructs U.S. negotiators to resist other countries’ actions that support the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement, known as BDS. The senators said the movement tracks with growing anti-Semitism around the world.
Obama is opposed to the boycott movement and has pledged to fight it “as long as I am president.”

But his administration took issue with part of the bill that it said conflates Israel with “Israeli-controlled territories.” That’s a reference to the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war but the Palestinians demand for part of their future state.

The U.S. considers Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank to be illegitimate, and the White House said the language lumping Israel and the Palestinian territories together contradicts U.S. policy toward the settlements.

In a signing statement Obama issued, he said he intended to interpret the newly signed law “in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy.”

But the senators said the White House has mischaracterized the provisions as making a U.S. policy statement about Israeli settlements. “This simply is not the case,” they said. The provisions are aimed at countering “commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” according to the senators.

Reid was joined in the statement on by Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Israeli scholars face growing discrimination due to boycott movement

Israeli anthropologist Dan Rabinowitz is a leader in his field, heading a prestigious school of environmental studies at Tel Aviv University, authoring dozens of publications and holding visiting teaching positions over the years at leading North American universities.

But the British-educated Rabinowitz fears that his younger counterparts may not enjoy the same professional opportunities for a very personal reason: They are Israeli.

As a global boycott movement against Israeli universities gains steam, Israeli professors say they are feeling the pressure from their colleagues overseas. Although the movement ostensibly targets universities, not individuals, Israeli academics say they are often shunned at the personal level. They experience snubs at academic conferences, struggle to get recommendations and can experience difficulty publishing their work in professional journals.

“This is highly personal and personalized,” said Rabinowitz.

And yet Israeli universities are widely seen as liberal bastions, and their professors are some of the most vocal government critics. The situation is equivalent to foreign universities marginalizing American academics over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though those academics also oppose the wars.

Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion, Israel’s premier science and technology university, said the effect of such decisions has so far been minimal. Lavie is leading a battle against the boycott.

While acknowledging that Israeli government policies are open to criticism, he said that holding universities responsible for them is unfair and asked why countries with abysmal human rights records, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, have been spared.

“We have the feeling that these movements treat Israel differently than any other country in the world,” he said.

Many American Jews believe that anti-Semitism is at the heart of the discrimination leveled at Israeli academics, although many also allow that the hatred is unconscious rather than intentional. For millennia, suspicion and resentment of Jews has been so engrained into Western culture that it’s become part of the culture’s DNA.

The academic boycott is part of the broader pro-Palestinian “BDS” campaign, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Inspired by the anti-apartheid movement, BDS organizers say they are using nonviolent means to promote the Palestinian struggle for independence.

Israel says the campaign goes beyond fighting its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and often masks a more far-reaching aim to “delegitimize” or destroy the Jewish state. But the BDS movement’s decentralized organization and language calling for universal human rights have proven difficult to counter.

The BDS website says “the vast majority of Israeli intellectuals and academics have either contributed directly to the Israeli occupation and apartheid or at the very least have been complicit through their silence.”

Already enjoying significant support in the U.K., the academic boycott has chalked up a series of accomplishments in the United States.

In recent years, the Association for Asian American Studies, the American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the National Women’s Studies Association have approved boycott measures.

In November, a meeting of the American Anthropological Association overwhelmingly endorsed a motion supporting a boycott of Israeli universities..

Lavie said relations between Israeli and American universities remain strong at the institutional and leadership levels, and praised this month’s decision by the Association of American Universities reaffirming its opposition to the boycott. The group, which represents 62 leading U.S. universities, said the boycott “violates academic freedom.”

Nonetheless, Lavie said the boycott movement has become a top concern for Israeli university leaders, particularly as it gains support at the “ground level” from U.S. student unions and academic associations.

“There may be a domino effect,” he said. “If we do not deal with it, it will be a major problem.”

Rabinowitz counts the November vote by the anthropological association as one of the most painful chapters of his career. He said he personally tried to alter the boycott resolution twice — only to be rejected with little or no debate. He said the rejection by his colleagues was a “defining moment” for him. In a statement, the association confirmed Rabinowitz’s account, noting that the meeting was “highly charged.”

Ed Liebow, the association’s executive director, said the organization felt “a strong commitment” to take some sort of action. “The one thing we can’t do is nothing,” he said. The measure goes to the association’s more than 10,000 members for a vote this spring.

Although the American anthropologists have never before proposed a boycott of academic institutions, the association said it commonly takes public stands against governments accused of restricting academic freedom. It recently sent a letter to leaders of Turkey, criticizing them for allegedly curbing scholars there.

Ilana Feldman, a professor of anthropology at George Washington University and a boycott supporter, said the proposal, if passed, would not impede professors “in any way” from working with Israeli scholars.

Rabinowitz, however, said it is impossible to distinguish between a person and his institution, which becomes part of one’s professional identity.

Israeli academics say such feelings are increasingly common.

Rachelle Alterman, a professor emeritus of urban planning at the Technion, said she still has strong working relationships with colleagues around the world, but the pro-boycott camp is a “rising minority” in academia. She said it is less of an issue in the hard sciences like medicine and physics, and much more palpable in more subjective social sciences. Younger academics trying to establish a reputation are especially vulnerable.

Alterman said she has begun to feel a “coldness” from some colleagues at conferences that was not there in the past. She said some colleagues refuse to attend conferences in Israel, and editors at professional journals tell her it is difficult to find people willing to review papers by Israeli academics.

“I call it the dark matter. It’s there all the time, but elusive, hard to spot,” she said.

In one recent case, a British colleague coolly rejected a request to assist one of her graduate students.

“I am afraid that as part of the institutional boycott being observed by some academics in relation to Israeli organisations I am unable to help with your request,” the British professor wrote in an email.

Rabinowitz said the boycott efforts will backfire by undermining Israeli moderates and playing into the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line government.

“It is the best present they can give Netanyahu and the radical right in Israel,” he said.

Louis Weisberg contributed to this article.

Tunisian pro-democracy group accepts Nobel Peace Prize

A Tunisian pro-democracy group accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 and set the fight against terrorism and helping Palestinians to achieve self-determination as global priorities.

The National Dialogue Quartet, which won the Peace Prize for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, accepted the award at a ceremony in Oslo held under tight security following the armed attacks in Paris on Nov. 13.

“Today we are most in need of making the fight against terrorism an absolute priority, which means perseverance on coordination and cooperation between all nations to drain its resources,” Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union, one of the quartet honored, said in a speech.

“We need to accelerate the elimination of hot spots all over the world, particularly the resolution of the Palestinian issue and enable the Palestinian people the right to self-determination on their land and build their independent state,” he said.

Security precautions loomed large over the banquets and concerts for hundreds of political, intellectual and business leaders attending the lavish Nobel awards ceremonies held jointly in Oslo and Stockholm.

“Security is higher than it would otherwise have been because of the situation in Europe,” Johan Fredriksen, chief of staff for Oslo police told Reuters, referring to the Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed.

Last year, a demonstrator carrying a Mexican flag disrupted the ceremony at Oslo City Hall when Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai and Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi received their Nobel Peace Prizes. He was not a guest but managed to get through the security checkpoints.

The quartet of the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers was formed in the summer of 2013. It won the award for the role it played in the peaceful transition of power in Tunisia in a region struggling with violence and upheaval.

With a new constitution, free elections and a compromise arrangement between Islamist and secular leaders, Tunisia has been held up as a model of how to make the transition to a democracy from dictatorship, said Kaci Kullman Five, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Last year Tunisia held successful legislative and presidential elections but the country has been hit by violence this year. In March, Islamist gunmen killed 21 tourists in an attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and 38 foreigners were killed in an assault on a Sousse beach hotel in June.

“In this time of terror, the threats against Tunisia and the Tunisian people are indistinguishable from the threats against other countries,” she said in her speech. “I came here to share this extraordinary moment with the whole of Tunisia. I am so proud,” said Haddad Fayssal, a 39-year-old Tunisian engineer from Paris, draped with the red-and-white flag of the North African nation over his shoulders.

“This prize is a powerful message against all types of extremism and terrorism. It is a message that we can all live together,” he told Reuters outside Oslo City Hall, the peace award ceremony’s venue.

In neighboring Sweden, the Nobel Prize winners in literature, chemistry, physics, medicine and economics gathered in Stockholm to receive their prizes from the King of Sweden later in the day.

Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich won the literature prize for her portrayal of the harshness of life in the Soviet Union

In Stockholm, the winners will collect their medals at a concert hall before attending a banquet at the city hall, which will include VIPs like European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

Security around the festivities — which has hundreds of royals and prominent politicians as guests — has also been heightened this year after Sweden raised its terror threat level to the highest ever after the Paris attacks. Each of the prizes is worth 8 million Swedish crowns ($949,440).

Walker silent about ‘listening tour’ to Israel, but tweets show him wearing skullcap

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is wrapping up a five-day “listening tour” through Israel, his first visit to the U.S. ally. But don’t ask the Republican White House prospect where he went, whom he listened to or what was said as he shapes his foreign policy.

Walker isn’t taking questions. And his aides refused to disclose his itinerary or the identities of his traveling companions.

His staff confirmed a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — one of several high-level meetings — only by referring to a picture of the two shaking hands posted on Twitter.

He said before leaving that he’d talk about his trip when he was back in the U.S.

Walker has limited foreign policy experience, and he’s working to bolster his resume on the foreign policy front. He stumbled rhetorically at times during a more public European tour earlier this year, perhaps explaining why he’s relying on his own social media for getting the word out on his travels in Israel.

Beyond Netanyahu, tweets from Walker and his staff confirm private meetings with the Israeli minister of intelligence, legislative leaders, chairman of the Jewish Home Party and the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Other posts show photographs of him, wearing a yarmulke, at significant local stops, the Western Wall among them.

Walker’s political organization and the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose board includes Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, paid for the trip. Walker’s staff said Adelson did not accompany him. Tweets confirm the coalition’s executive director, Matt Brooks, who is close to Adelson, was on hand.

Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, put out a statement Wednesday saying he had met Walker the day before. The statement gave few details about their talks.

Steinitz, who is responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, gave Walker an “up to date picture” on Israel’s objections to the emerging multinational nuclear deal with Iran, the statement said.

Walker spokesman AshLee Strong said the trip has been “an incredible spiritual and cultural experience” for Walker and a chance to hear about Israel’s concerns about “the future of our alliance and identify ways to restore the ruptured bonds between our two countries.”

Children of Holocaust survivors inherit the role of witness

When David Hershkoviz was a child, he used to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of his mother screaming in her sleep, knowing that she was reliving the horrors of the Holocaust.

In time, he learned of the traumatic wartime experience that haunted her most — being torn away from her own mother at the Auschwitz concentration camp’s selection line, where at 21 she was forced into work and her mother dispatched to death.

“That separation never left her,” said Hershkoviz, 54, his voice quivering as he choked back tears. “She said, `I think my mother is angry at me because I left her. … My mother never comes to me in my dreams. I haven’t dreamed about her since we parted. How is that possible?'”

When his mother, Mindel, died two years ago, he wanted to carry on her legacy by bearing witness to the Holocaust. He found help in a first-of-its-kind course teaching the children of Holocaust survivors how to ensure their parents’ stories live on.

Hershkoviz is one of 18 graduates of the Shem Olam Institute’s inaugural four-month “second-generation” course, where children of survivors study the history of the horrors their parents endured and how best to pass it on. The program in Israel aims to usher in a new stage of Holocaust commemoration in a post-survivor era.

The German Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews during World War II, wiping out a third of world Jewry. Only a few hundred thousand elderly survivors remain, and the day is fast approaching when there will be no one left to provide a coherent first-person account of the ghettos and death camps.

With Israel marking its annual Holocaust remembrance day this week, that has become the central challenge for Holocaust institutes around the world as they rush to collect as many records and belongings as possible before the live testimony of survivors is a thing of the past.

Shem Olam looks to take this trend one step further, by not only recording survivors’ biographies but also the emotional experiences that can be relayed through their children.

“We are here to give a different narrative of the Holocaust. We’ve heard the story of tragedy, we want to give the story of how people coped inside this living hell,” said Avraham Krieger, the institute’s director.

Krieger, himself a child of survivors, said the second generation grew up in homes that were haunted by the past and where the concept of a grandparent was nonexistent.

He believes that in 100 years, when people recall the Holocaust, they will be most interested in how people lived rather than how they died. He says it is his generation’s responsibility to counter the myth of Jews meekly marching to their deaths.

“The story of the Holocaust is how a person copes in such an environment,” he said. “An extreme reality, which has no parallel in modern history, of people who are in the most dire human situation and are still maintaining their humanity, still maintaining something from their values.”

Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, welcomed the initiative, saying it would be very meaningful for future generations to have live contact with people who had personal relationships with survivors. She said there are still some Americans old enough to remember the powerful experience of meeting someone who was the child of a slave.

“That physical presence of a second generation person will lend authenticity to the history and will give it another dimension,” she said, before adding a warning. “I am a historian so what I want to say to them though is, `You inherited the legacy of trauma but it is not your history. … The history your parents lived is their history, not yours.'”

Established in 1996, Shem Olam says it looks to provide an alternative to the more established Holocaust museums by providing the “story behind the story” and getting beyond the victimization to focus on issues of faith and resilience. Krieger said “Shem Olam” derives its name from the same passage in the book of Isaiah that mentions “Yad Vashem” – the name of Israel’s official Holocaust memorial. Yad Vashem is Hebrew for “a memorial and a name,” while Shem Olam roughly translates into “everlasting name.”

Located in a modest three-story building inside a Jewish seminary in this small central Israeli village, it features Holocaust-inspired artwork and artifacts collected from the destruction, such as a charred Torah scroll.

Shem Olam, which receives minimal state funding and mostly exists off contributions, focuses on documenting religious life in the Holocaust. It holds public lectures and arranges delegations to former Jewish communities in Europe. But its flagship project of late has been the second-generation outreach program.

“Today we, as second generation, know which camp my mother and father were in, and how much bread they got is an important story. But it is more important to find out what kind of person they were,” said Krieger, 53. “We never really asked the tough questions of how our parents coped emotionally.”

Besides finding a kinship with others who shared a similar background, Hershkoviz said the course helped him understand his mother better. She died at the age of 90 with 13 great-grandchildren, and though her biography is well chronicled, Hershkoviz is determined to keep her “emotional experience” alive as well.

“The most significant thing I have to pass on from my mom is survival and how she built a new family,” he said. “I feel a responsibility to tell her story. There is no one else to do it.”

Milwaukee Jewish Federation denounces Paris attacks

We are outraged and filled with grief after the incidents of terrorism last week in Paris. We join with the people of France and the global Jewish community in loudly and clearly denouncing these attacks by radical Islamic terrorists and offer condolences and prayers for the 17 victims and their families. 

The horrific shooting at the offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead, was an attack on our basic democratic freedoms. On Friday, as many Jews prepared for the Sabbath, terrorists entered a kosher grocery store with the stated intent of “targeting Jews” and murdered four people. 

These attacks are part of a rising tide of anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism in France and throughout Europe that has led many French Jews to flee their homes and country. 

In the face of these acts, we stand with the people of France and all peace-loving people in the struggle against an extremist, supremacist ideology that is filled with hatred and backed by violence. We affirm that this is a struggle against radical Islamic terrorism, not a struggle against the vast numbers of people of goodwill in the global Muslim community. 

We offer prayers and condolences for all the victims and their families, and a complete recovery for the injured. We call upon all the people of our community to speak loudly and persistently in defense of freedom and in active rejection of violent extremism.

On the Web…

http://www.milwaukeejewish.org 

Publisher pulls atlas that omits Israel

A leading publisher has pulled an atlas tailored for students in the Middle East that omitted any references to Israel.

Facing international criticism, HarperCollins UK issued a statement this week apologizing for the book, published by the subsidiary Collins Bartholomew.

On Facebook, the publisher stated, “HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas. This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologises for this omission and for any offence caused.”

The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that it “welcomed HarperCollins’ swift apology.”

ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman said, “We welcome Harper Collins’ swift apology and pledge to remove the offensive atlas from sale. The initial explanation offered by Collins Bartholomew rationalizing Israel’s omission was unacceptable and highly offensive.” 

The Tablet, a London-based Catholic weekly, had reported that Collins Bartholomew was citing “local preferences” for leaving out Israel from the “Collins Primary Geography Atlas For The Middle East.”

The book, which came out in June, was designed for English-speaking schools in the region.

Highly skilled LGBT Russians are fleeing despite good career prospects there

Had he stayed in Russia, Andrew Mironov would be settling in to a stable job with an oil company, likely with a newly awarded doctoral degree in electrical engineering.

Instead, he faces an uncertain future in New York City — one of scores of Russian gays seeking asylum in the United States due to hostility and harassment in their homeland.

“In Russia, I would have gotten my Ph.D. this fall, had a job and health insurance,” said Mironov, 25. “Now, here, I’m nobody.”

Yet the sacrifices have been worth it, Mironov says, given the fears that lingered after he was severely beaten by several assailants in the lobby of a gay bar in his home city of Samara.

“Which is more important — happiness or success?” he asked over coffee in midtown Manhattan. “I would say happiness. I feel no fear here.”

There are no firm statistics on the number of gay Russian asylum seekers; U.S. government agencies which handle applications do not report such details. However, the Department of Homeland Security’s latest figures show that overall applications for asylum by Russians totaled 969 in the 2014 fiscal year, up 34 percent from 2012.

The increase is due in part to the worsening anti-gay climate in Russia, according to Immigration Equality, a New York-based organization which provides legal services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants.

The organization says the number of inquiries it received from gay Russians seeking U.S. asylum has risen from 68 in 2012 to 127 in 2013 and 161 through Oct. 30 of this year. During that period, gay-rights gatherings in Russia were frequently targeted by assailants, and the parliament passed a law targeting “gay propaganda” that was widely viewed as a means of deterring gay activism.

Said Mironov of that law, “It helped homophobic people feel the government is on their side.”

To get an application approved, an asylum-seeker must present a convincing case that he or she was a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country. Russia’s anti-gay policies and its record of anti-gay violence are factors that could strengthen an individual’s case.

Aaron Morris, Immigration Equality’s legal director, said most of the recent asylum inquiries came from gay men in their 20s and 30s who had been targeted by anti-gay attacks, while only a handful have come from gays or lesbians raising children.

“If you have kids, it can be really hard to leave everything behind,” Morris said.

In several U.S. cities, programs have been launched to assist gay asylum-seekers from Russia and elsewhere as they await processing of their applications, which can take six months or more. For the first five months, the asylum-seekers are barred from taking paying jobs, so they often struggle to support themselves, even with resumes illustrating professional success in Russia.

In Washington, D.C., housing is among the major challenges, according to Matthew Corso, who has helped the DC Center for the LGBT Community create a program to assist people who are seeking asylum.

“We have no trouble finding them legal representation, but trying to find someone willing to give part of their home, or money for food or transportation is not easy,” Corso said.

Another group aiding gay Russian asylum-seekers in the Washington area is the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, founded in 2011 by Russian immigrant Larry Poltavtsev.

Poltavtsev, who studied chemistry at the University of North Carolina in the 1990s, is frustrated by the rules that bar asylum-seekers from working. “It makes no sense, because most of our arrivals have advanced degrees and speak good English,” he said. “They’re capable of being productive, paying taxes, but we are not letting them do those things while they’re waiting.”

Soon to join the queue of applicants are Andrew Nasonov and Igor Bazilevsky, longtime partners from the Russian city of Voronezh who wearied of threats, harassment and beatings, and came to the United States in July. They’re now assembling the paperwork for their case and getting Russian documents translated into English.

“Of course we are worried, but we hope for the best,” said Nasonov.

Nasonov, 25, was a journalist and human-rights activist in Russia; Bazilevsky, 32, a graphic designer. They hope to pursue those careers in the U.S. if their asylum applications are approved.

Meanwhile, they’ve been provided with lodging by a gay couple in a Washington suburb, and took a step in October that would have been impossible in Russia — they got married.

“We were finally able to say that we are a real family — there are not enough words to describe how wonderful these feelings are,” Nasonov wrote in an email.

“But of course, we are still faced with a lot of difficulties,” he added. “It was hard to leave our relatives, friends, and parents behind in Russia. … We have nothing here, and in many ways are completely dependent on the assistance of the people who surround us.”

In New York City, many asylum-seekers have received advice and support from Masha Gessen, a Moscow-born journalist and activist whose family moved to the U.S. in 1981 and who holds U.S. and Russian citizenship.

She said her family, as Soviet Jews, had group refugee status, allowing for an immigration process far easier than that faced by today’s asylum seekers who must prove their individual case.

“There’s no worse way to emigrate to the U.S. than the way these people are doing it,” Gessen said. “You have nothing, and you have no right to work or public assistance. We’ve seen people end up on the streets.”

She and her allies have lobbied the State Department to extend refugee status to LGBT people from Russia, but thus far to no avail. So for now, asylum-seekers arrive unsure of their long-term prospects.

“After your tourist visa runs out, you’re basically undocumented,” Gessen said. “It can be hard to rent an apartment or get a cellphone. You have problems navigating everyday life.”

The United States is among several countries favored as havens by LGBT Russians who emigrate — Canada, Finland and Israel are among the others. Gessen said the U.S. is more receptive than many Western European countries, and Aaron Morris, the Immigration Equality lawyer, said his legal team had been able to win approval for most of the Russian asylum cases that it has handled.

Morris commended the Department of Homeland Security for asking Immigration Equality to train its asylum officers on distinctive aspects of LGBT asylum cases. “They understand our community is a little different,” Morris said.

Among the many pending cases is Andrew Mironov’s asylum application, buttressed by photographs showing the injuries he sustained in Russia that required a hospital stay. He’s not sure when he’ll be called in for an in-person interview, but says his lawyer believes the case is a strong one.

Mironov has been in the U.S. since November 2013, spending his first night in a homeless shelter run by the Metropolitan Community Church of New York. He now lives in Brooklyn but continues to attend the church, which serves the LGBT community.

The past 12 months have been challenging. One obstacle, he said, is a chilly reception from many non-gay Russian immigrants in New York.

“Americans don’t care if you’re gay, but the Russians here, they still have a problem with it,” he said.

Mironov worked for several months as a bartender at a restaurant in Manhattan but said his manager often mistreated him, calculating that he wouldn’t complain because of his uncertain legal status. Now he’s trying to establish a photography business, called Strekoza — Russian for “dragonfly.”

“It’s hard to not be sure about your future,” he said. “In Russia, I’d planned my whole life out.”