Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Islam in Europa, Revolten in Mittelost: Islamismus und Genozid von Wilhelm II. und Enver Pascha über Hitler und al-Husaini bis Arafat, Usama bin Ladin und Ahmadinejad sowie Gespräche mit Bernard Lewis [Islam in Europe, Revolts in the Middle East: Islamism and Genocide from William II and Enver Pasha through Hitler and al-Husaini up to Arafat, Osama bin Laden and Ahmadinejad as Well as Conversations with Bernard Lewis], Berlin: Trafo Wissenschaftsverlag, 2013, xii + 782 pp.
Reviewed by Joseph S. Spoerl
This lengthy and ambitious study mainly focuses upon the history of German policy toward the Muslim world since the late nineteenth century. The author, Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, was born in Communist East Germany in 1955 and grew up in Cairo as the son of East German diplomats. Fluent in Arabic and several European languages, his book includes extensiveoriginal research in German, American, British, Egyptian, Russian, Israeli, Serbian and French archives.
The main theme of the book is that German policy, conceived by Kaiser Wilhelm II and continued by Adolf Hitler, deliberately cultivated Islamist allies and promoted jihadist extremism in order to foment rebellions in the colonies of the Western democracies, especially Great Britain, during both world wars. Schwanitz shows that the same cadre of diplomats and academics who served the Kaiser in World War I (and coined the term “Islamism,” or Islamismus in German) continued to pursue similar policies under Hitler in World War II. Some even served in the government of West Germany after 1945. Their ranks include several founders of modern Islamic studies in Germany.
The architects of this policy, including the Kaiser himself, were well aware of its potentially lethal side effects, such as the genocidal violence against the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, Germany’s ally in World War I. The Kaiser and his officials were quite willing to stand by and allow the genocide of the Armenians and even to cover up for the killers. However, when jihadist xenophobia threatened to unleash a similar genocide against the Jews of Ottoman Palestine, the Kaiser and his officials intervened decisively and saved the Jews, partly because half of them were German subjects and partly because the Kaiser supported Zionism. In fact, even after Palestine had been lost to the British, in August 1918, the Kaiser managed to persuade the Ottoman government to issue its own “Balfour Declaration” in support of a Jewish national home there.
Schwanitz pointsoutseveraltimes howthe effectsoftheseGerman policiespersist to the present day. For example, among the Islamist agitators and propagandists organized by the German diplomat Max von Oppenheim during World War I were men who later became close associates of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928. One of these associates and an ideological soul-mate of Hassan al-Banna was the “Grand” Mufti of Jerusalem and founder of the Palestinian Arab national movement, Haj Amin al-Husseini. After 1933, the Mufti became the most important Arab ally of the Nazis. According to Schwanitz, al-Husseini probably may have witnessed the Armenian genocide when he served as an Ottoman soldier stationed in northern Syria during World War I.
Indeed, Haj Amin al-Husseini is one of the main protagonists and villains of this study. Schwanitz argues that al-Husseini played a central role in inducing Hitler to adopt the policy of physically annihilating the Jews, not only in Europe, but all over the world. From January 1933 until October 31, 1941, Nazi Germany allowed Jews to emigrate from Europe. Indeed, under the so-called Ha’avara agreement, the Nazis officially allowed German Jews to immigrate to Mandate Palestine for a time with some of their assets intact. In 1940, Hitler even seriously considered physically transporting millions of Jews from Europe to Madagascar. Until 1941, it was not yet clear that the Nazis would choose genocide as their preferred “final solution to the Jewish question.”
In the fateful year of 1941, as Hitler’s armies conquered vast swaths of the USSR, and Rommel’s Afrika Korps closed in on the Suez Canal from the west, Hitler realized that he had to devise a strategy for conquering and occupying the Middle East. Like the Kaiser before him, Hitler regarded the presence of millions of Muslims across the British Empire as the Achilles’ heel of his British enemies. He needed Arab allies who would rally their fellow Arabs (most of them Muslims) to jihad against the British imperialists and the Jews who, according to Nazi propaganda, secretly controlled the British war effort. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and his allies, including Rashid al-Gailani and Fawzi al-Qawuqji, served this purpose. However, in order to win al-Husseini’s enthusiastic support for the German war effort, Hitler had to agree to the Mufti’s conditions, namely, the cessation of all Jewish emigration from Europe, since many Jewish emigrants would make their way to Palestine, and the physical destruction of the Jews in Palestine and across the Arab world. Consequently, the Mufti could rule from Jerusalem as caliph over a “judenfreies Grossreich” or a greater Arab empire, free of Jews.
On November 28, 1941, the Mufti met with Adolf Hitler in Berlin. Hitler sketched out his grand strategy: after completing the destruction of the USSR, German forces would continue south through the Caucasus into Iraq and Iran, at which time Germany’s sole interest in the Middle East would be the annihilation of the Jews living there under the British protection. The Mufti would become the most important leader in the Arab world and would call his fellow Arabs to action against the British and the Jews. Schwanitz calls this the “genocide pact” and points out that it was no coincidence that the very next day Hitler gave the order to convene the Wannsee Conference in order to work out the logistical details of implementing the genocide of the Jews. Furthermore, Schwanitz maintains that, contrary to his customary practice, Hitler deliberately delayed the public announcement of his meeting with al-Husseini in order to obscure the close connection between this meeting and the convening of the Wannsee Conference. This delay would allow al-Husseini to argue dishonestly and falsely, at the time of the Eichmann trial, that Hitler had given the orders for genocide before their meeting.
Al-Husseini went on to play a central role in stiffening Arab and Palestinian resolve to reject any compromise with the Zionists from 1947 to 1949. Schwanitz thus describes him as the true architect of the nakhba or “catastrophe” that befell the Palestinian Arabs during those years. The Mufti continued to condemn any Arab who talked about recognition, peace or compromise with Israel after 1949 and was an important mentor of Yasser Arafat, who continued in his footsteps. After World War II, al-Husseini helped leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Said Ramadan, to establish a foothold in Europe and also facilitated the flight of hundreds of Nazis to Arab countries such as Syria and Egypt. Many of them converted to Islam and played important roles in producing anti-Jewish propaganda and establishing secret police forces for a new generation of anti-Semitic Arab dictators.
As a German, Schwanitz clearly understands the vital link between the rebuilding of German democracy after 1945 and the honest writing and teaching of German history before 1945. As a former East German, he raises similar points regarding the necessity for honest historiography in East Germany as well. Honesty about the painful past has been an indispensable part of the new democratic ethos cultivated by West Germans since 1945 and by East Germans since 1989. Schwanitz thus speaks from his own personal experience when he maintains that Arabs and Palestinians will never create authentically free and democratic societies until they honestly confront the dark side of their own history, a task which they have not even begun to contemplate.
Palestinians have long decried the alleged injustice of the Western powers that ostensibly forced them to pay the price for the Holocaust—a crime for which they claim that Europeans alone were culpable—by imposing on them the modern state of Israel. In addition to the recent works by Klaus Gensicke, Jeffrey Herf, Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers that have disproved this oft-repeated Palestinian argument, the comprehensive scholarly study by Wolfgang G. Schwanitz definitively exposes this claim as the self-serving nonsense and baseless canard that it is.
Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2014, xiii plus 340 pp.
Reviewed by Johannes Houwink Ten Cate
“The enemy of your enemy is your friend,” wrote the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, about his reverence for Nazi Germany that had fought his enemies, the (British) colonialists and the Zionists. While this may have been an understatement, it is common knowledge that the Palestinian Arab leader ruined his reputation by collaborating with the Nazis. The exact nature and extent of his collaboration and the solidity of its ideological foundations, however, were not fully explored until the publication of this study. It is to the credit of these two fine scholars, the late Israeli historian Barry Rubin and his colleague Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, that they discovered documentary proof in German, Yugoslav, Israeli, British and Russian archives of how the Grand Mufti made maximal efforts to provide the Nazis—who were notoriously short of allies—with as much assistance as he could.
Goebbels and Himmler were grateful to the Grand Mufti for his support. With his usual self-gratulatory tone, Goebbels wrote in his diary that al-Husseini was “intelligent and had good judgment.” With the help of the Mufti, the Nazis hoped that they could win the support of four hundred million Muslims. As late as May, 8, 1944, Himmler gave the Mufti an entire afternoon of his precious time. During this meeting the two men discussed horses, Arabic poetry and the achievements of the Muslim units that the Mufti had helped enlist and which fought for the Third Reich. These included the Hanzar (Khanjar) division which “had participated in the murder of thousands of Bosnian Jews, Christian Serbs and Roma (“Gypsies”).”
After the defeat of the Third Reich, al-Husseini wanted to persuade the world that he had collaborated out of opportunistic motives, essentially because other Middle Eastern leaders accommodated the British and French colonial powers, and Nazi Germany fought against those countries. During the war, however, and especially before Nazi audiences, al-Husseini quoted the Quran as proof that the Jews were terrorists, the bitterest enemies of the Muslims, and haters of Muhammad. Second on his list of worst enemies were the British. The Mufti added that he did his utmost to convince Muslims to join the Waffen-SS, the elite army of Nazi Germany. Thousands followed the call of the Mufti, although the contingent of Dutchmen outnumbered the Muslims among the foreign volunteers in the SS. According to the Mufti, Nazi Germany was the natural ally of the Muslims. He added that Germany was fighting against “World Jewry,” England and Communism which oppressed forty million Muslims and wanted to destroy Islam. However, there was much more to his collaboration. According to the Mufti, the most important feature of their alliance was the fact that Nazism and Islamism shared a common ideological basis.
The title of this seminal book, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East is appropriate because Rubin and Schwanitz document these ideological similarities. Indeed, Rubin and Schwanitz not only have written a study of the collaboration of the Mufti with Nazi Germany but also a study of the “making of the modern Middle East.” Both Islam and Nazism preached the necessity of a community living in a single state under a single, all-powerful leader [i.e., Das Führer Prinzip]. Furthermore, redemptive anti-Semitism was central to the worldview of the Nazi religion. Both Islam and Nazism glorified armed conflict and martyrdom as well as the notion of the common good (as opposed to individual liberty), the family, motherhood, physical labor and hatred of Jews. According to the Mufti, an Allied victory would mean the triumph of the Jews and a disaster for Muslims and Islam. If Germany and Islam would win the war, the Arabs would be united under their new leader, namely the Grand Mufti, and the Jews would be destroyed. Despite the setback of the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Haj Amin al-Husseini remained the historic Palestinian Arab leader until Yasser Arafat succeeded him in 1968.
Rubin and Schwanitz have produced an extremely well-researched and documented book, both on the Mufti and on the common ideological ground shared by Nazi doctrine and political Islam in its radical form. However, some of the authors’ assertions are not entirely convincing. Along with Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, they state that the Mufti visited Nazi death camps. Nazi leaders usually did not show these camps to foreign sympathizers. They also note that the Mufti supported an “accelerated policy of genocide that the Axis’ partner intended to spread to the Middle East” (160). Had the Nazis been victorious in the Middle East, it is plausible that in planning the most universal of genocides (to paraphrase Professor Yehuda Bauer), they would have murdered the Jews there as well, since that was their policy toward all Jews, even in territories that they had not yet conquered. However, it is not likely that Hitler and his henchmen needed the support of the Mufti in making their genocidal decision to kill the Jews. In their discussion of the role of Haj Amin in the decision-making process of implementing the Holocaust, Rubin and Schwanitz are skating on thin ice. They repeat the common error of over-estimating the importance of the Wannsee Conference (20 January 1942). In fact, 1,100,000 million Jews had perished prior to that meeting. In addition, they appear to have ignored much of the recent scholarship on this decision-making process, particularly the works of Christopher R. Browning on the origins of the Final Solution.
In any case, the above is but a minor criticism. The main point is that Rubin and Schwanitz have provided a work based upon excellent original research and have produced a well-written and seminal book on the collaborationist policies of the Grand Mufti, who strove to become the most important Arab leader of his time. It is always important to remember that it was the Mufti himself who emphasized the ideological common ground of Nazism and radical political Islamism. Rubin and Schwanitz have demonstrated its continuity.
Hetty Berg and Bart Wallet, eds., Wie niet Weg is, is gezien; Joods Nederland na 1945 [Who Is Not Hidden Is Seen:1 Jewish Netherlands after 1945], Zwolle, The Netherlands: Waanders/JHM, 2010, 224 pp.
Reviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld
In November 2010, the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam launched an impressive exhibition on post-war Dutch Jewry. This collection of twelve essays with many illustrations was published concurrently with the exhibition.
In May 1940 the Germans occupied The Netherlands. The Jewish population numbered about 140,000. During World War II, the Germans deported most of the Dutch Jews, mainly to the death camps of Sobibor and Auschwitz, where over 100,000 were murdered. Most of the 5,000 who returned from the camps were those who had been in Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt. A smaller number of Jews survived Auschwitz and made their way back to The Netherlands. In addition, some 16,000 of the original 24,000 Jews who went into hiding survived, while 8,000 were betrayed to the German occupiers mainly by Dutch collaborators. Survivors also included Jews who were married to Gentiles and therefore, were not deported and those who passed as non-Jews or found refuge abroad.
After the war, the surviving Jews had to rebuild their personal lives, reconnect with their families and reclaim their place in Dutch society. Part of this group reestablished and joined the reconstructed decimated Jewish communities. For decades, they remained nominally Orthodox, despite the fact that the majority of the members of both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic religious communities were not observant. At the same time, significant numbers of survivors chose not to identify at all with Jewish organizations because their wartime experience had made them wary of being “listed,” which could be life-threatening.
We shall review a few of the essays in this book. The editors acknowledge Dr. Joel Fishman, now a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, as the pioneer of the historiography of post-war Dutch Jewry. In his essay on the change in post-war government policies toward the Jews in the mid-1950s, Fishman demonstrates that during the first decade after the war, the reemerging Jewish communities were confronted with major difficulties. Dutch authorities frequently discriminated against them and only partially reversed the policies of the campaign of delegitimization and defamation that the Nazis and their local collaborators conducted against the Jews of The Netherlands. In 1955, ten years after the Liberation, a memorial meeting took place in the Amsterdam New Church (Nieuwe Kerk), attended by Queen Juliana, her husband Prince Bernhard and representatives of the government and main churches. At this commemoration, the Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam, Aron Schuster, declared that “an anti-Semitic ideology [Nazism] has left its traces in The Netherlands, even in circles where this had been inconceivable before.” Schuster is quoted as saying that the official government attitude toward the Dutch Jewish community was “as if we did not exist.” Fishman shows that ultimately most of the grievances of the Jewish community were rectified after a discreet meeting between Chief Rabbi Schuster and the president of the Upper House of the Dutch Parliament, Jan Anne Jonkman, a member of the Labor party. He points out that this meeting took place at the initiative of the Royal House and represents an exceptional intervention on the part of a constitutional monarch in Dutch political affairs.2
The chapter by Hetty Berg of the Jewish Historical Museum consists of interviews of one hundred Jews, mainly in The Netherlands and Israel, and records their life stories. Many of the interviewees were child survivors. Those born after the war, the so-called “second generation,” often recounted how they too suffered from trauma as a result of the emotional problems of their survivor parents.
Bart Wallet contributed a chapter devoted to the reconstruction of religious Jewry in The Netherlands between 1945 and 1960. He notes that the Ashkenazi religious community again became the dominant group. Immediately after the war, a new body, the Jewish Coordination Commission ( JCC), which was financed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee ( JDC, the Joint), played a leading role in the revival of Dutch Jewry. However, it could not maintain its position after the Joint withdrew its funding in 1947 and several of its members immigrated to Israel. What remained of the JCC was the Jewish Organization for Social Work (JMW), which, over the decades, has gradually become one of the most powerful organizations in Dutch Jewry. Another legacy of the JCC was the coordination of Jewish childcare, an important task as there were many Jewish war orphans. It is to his credit that Wallet mentions the long-forgotten history of the yeshiva (Talmudic academy) which existed in Leiden for several years.
Ido de Haan analyzes the role of prominent Jews in post-war Netherlands. Before the war, Jews had played an important role in many fields. Therefore, anti-Semites argued that Jews were over-represented in the country’s cultural, economical and political elite. This claim led to further anti-Semitic accusations, such as the lie that Jews formed a group that wished to impose its views on Dutch society. For example, in the 1930s, four out of six aldermen in Amsterdam were Jewish, while the Jews comprised less than ten percent of its population. During the post-war period, these anti-Semitic stereotypes occasionally reemerged. In 2010, a journalist falsely claimed that three Jews had formed a lobby in order to form a cabinet of the Labor party and the Liberals. The cabinet that was formed did not include Labor. Furthermore, one of the three “Jews” mentioned was Amsterdam Labor party alderman, Lodewijk Asscher, who had married in a church and whose father was Jewish. In addition, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen of the same party frequently has made a point that his Jewish background means nothing to him. Only former Liberal senator Uri Rosenthal identifies with the Jewish community. This disparity is but one of numerous examples that show that anti-Semitic stereotypes are still alive and well in Dutch society.
Before the war, there had never been a Jewish mayor in The Netherlands. After World War II, there were four Jewish mayors of Amsterdam and some in other cities. Their identification with Judaism varies greatly. The most Jewishly active was Amsterdam Labor party mayor Ed van Thijn who focused much attention on the fight against racism and anti-Semitism and made the annual Auschwitz memorial ceremony into an important date on the calendar of the municipality.
De Haan concludes that there is no common denominator regarding the Jewish identity of well-known personalities who identify as Jews, or are considered as such by parts of society. One may disagree with his conclusion that “Judaism occupies an important place in post-war Dutch society, not only because Jews cannot and do not want to forget [their Judaism] but also because non-Jews in various ways draw benefits or satisfaction from the cultivation of Judaism in the Netherlands.” In contrast, the following statement by Wallet seems closer to the truth: “From 1967 until 1990, the Shoah became the central iconic story of the Second World War in the Netherlands. The Jewish community turned into a kind of moral conscience for Dutch society in which it acquired an important role.”3
This pioneering book by Berg and Wallet provides a solid basis for further research on post-war Jewish history. Events of the past few years indicate that such research also may be useful in increasing our understanding of the place that Jews occupy in postwar Dutch society.
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1. Expression from the Dutch children’s game of Hide and Seek.
2. Joel Fishman, “Een keerpunt in de naoorlogse geschiedenis van de Nederlandse joden. De toespraak van opperrabbijn Schuster in de Nieuwe Kerk (1955),” Wie niet weg is, is gezien. Joods Nederland na 1945, Hetty Berg and Bart Wallet, eds. (Zwolle: Waanders, 2010), 118–129.
3. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Bart Wallet, “La Communauté juive hollandaise d’après-guerre: des enseignements qui prennent sens pour l’Europe entière,” http://lessakele. over-blog.fr/article-la-communaute-juive-hollandaise-d-apres-guerre-des-enseignementsqui-prennent-sens-pour-l-europe-e-112660443.html
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a former member of the Board of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as its Chairman from 2000–2012. He founded and directed the Center’s Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism program.
Efraim Zuroff, Operation Last Chance: Im Fadenkreuz des ‘Nazi-Jägers’ [Operation Last Chance: In the Crosshairs of the Nazi Hunters], tr. Stephanie Wills, Münster/Berlin: Prospero Verlag, 2011, 276 pp.
Reviewed by Kirsten Goetze
The autobiographical account by Dr. Efraim Zuroff, entitled Operation Last Chance has appeared in German translation at the time of the last criminal proceedings against those who were accused of crimes against humanity during the Nazi era. The accused are not fit to stand trial because of physical or mentally infirmities or because investigations of their crimes have ended and they have not been tried. The German translation is the second edition of Operation Last Chance and it includes an epilogue as well.
For the German public, the image of a man who describes himself as a Nazi hunter may be that of a member of the secret service, surrounded by the latest technological devices and computers. Perhaps, he is shrouded in secrecy and is someone who has dedicated his life to avenging the deaths of the six million Jews. Efraim Zuroff definitely does not fit this description. In the first part of the book, he notes that he grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a middle-class Orthodox Jewish family. His parents were born in the United States. Their parents and siblings fled Lithuania (then part of Tsarist Russia) in the early twentieth century. The one uncle who remained in Lithuania was murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, along with his family, during the massacres at Ponary in 1941. Born in 1948, the author was named Efraim after that uncle. Despite this background, the Holocaust was not a subject of discussion during Zuroff ’s childhood.
Israel’s victory and the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War in June 1967 was a turning point in Zuroff ’s life. Like other young Jews, Zuroff went to Israel where he took part in the hope and optimism of that era. While a student at the Hebrew University, he became interested in the Holocaust. At that time, it
was a virtually unknown field. In Germany, for example, the discipline of modern history usually ended in the late nineteenth century, with Bismarck. World War II, the Holocaust and the questions of genocide and war crimes were not part of any curriculum and those who were interested in these subjects had to enroll at foreign universities.
Efraim Zuroff returned to the United States where he completed his undergraduate studies and then immigrated to Israel where he earned a doctorate in Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University and worked as a historian at Yad Vashem. In 1978, Rabbi Marvin Heir invited him to become the academic director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. After meeting Simon Wiesenthal, Zuroff decided to leave academic scholarship. He became an independent researcher for the Office of Special Investigations of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. When the Simon Wiesenthal Center opened a branch in Jerusalem, Zuroff started an independent career as a “Nazi hunter. “
The autobiographical background presented above gives German readers an impression of the character of Efraim Zuroff, who often is regarded as a divisive figure. Some view him as a type of cowboy; others, as an enemy who will not be quiet even after decades. And others admire him for his relentless work in the name of the victims of the Holocaust. However, the autobiographical material does not provide information about his modus operandi or his objectives. First, Zuroff is a trained researcher who bases his views and statements on historical research and has extensive knowledge of the documentary record of the Holocaust. An observant Jew, he considers himself part of the Jewish tradition of bearing witness and recording the history for posterity. At the same time, he is engaged in bringing perpetrators to justice. According to Zuroff, “hunting” does not mean seeking revenge. He regards himself “as a person with a vision [and is] basically trying to make the last effort to improve the entire Nazi-hunting effort in several different countries.”1
While he may not have accomplished all of his goals, Zuroff retains his optimism. He considers even small steps to be a victory as far as justice for the victims, their families and the remaining survivors, is concerned. Initially, his research focused on English-speaking countries. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Zuroff began to concentrate on Eastern Europe. His message to the emerging post-Communist countries that often denied the extent of their citizens’ collaboration with the Nazi occupying forces and regime was that they had to confront their pasts in order to become a modern society and democracy.
As both the last Holocaust survivors and the perpetrators of Nazi crimes were dying, Zuroff launched Operation Last Chance in July 2001. It ended in December 2011. With the prosecution of John (Ivan) Demjanjuk by the State Court in Munich in 2011,2 Zuroff once again expressed the hope that despite the fact that it was late, a new generation of German state prosecutors and judges would be willing to make a final effort to demand criminal accountability, before the “biological clock” ran out on Nazi-era war criminals. On 14 December 2011, together with his representative in Germany, historian Stefan Klemp, Zuroff launched the second campaign of Operation Last Chance in the press lobby of the Bundestag. Finally, in the autumn of 2013, Operation Last Chance began a poster campaign in several German cities, in order to expedite the identification and prosecution of Nazi criminals in Germany. Specifically, the publicity campaign focused upon those who served in the extermination camps (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, and Auschwitz-Birkenau) and with mobile killing detachments (Einsatzgruppen). Therefore, their actions could be considered comparable to those of Demjanjuk at the Sobibor extermination camp.
The joint project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Targum Shlishi Foundation also changed the conditions under which any relevant information would be rewarded. A total of up to €25,000 was offered for information. The payment, however, would be staggered. Thus the source could receive:
€5,000 for an indictment
€5,000 for a conviction
€100 per day in prison and for the first 150 days in jail, up to €15,000
The new program set the maximum at €25,000. In addition to Germany, Operation Last Chance is active in eight other countries in Europe.
The decision to “incentivize” public sources with the prospect of a reward for information or evidence against an alleged perpetrator met with controversy in Europe and the United States. It was feared that Holocaust deniers might act as informers or make false accusations. It is noteworthy, however, that a public tender of “lists of wanted persons,” with a request for relevant information, is common in all democratic states.
Nevertheless, Zuroff ’s strategy departs from that of decades of investigative work undertaken by leading state investigative bodies such as the Zentrale Stelle in Ludwigsburg and Office of Special Investigations in Washington, DC. In order to justify his course of action, Zuroff has stated that he “could not afford the luxury of investigating crime after crime, or camp after camp, or unit after unit” (p. 277). Doing so would ultimately prove that most of his time, effort and resources would have been wasted on hunting ghosts, men who had died long ago and, therefore could not be brought to trial for their actions. By deliberately turning to the general public for information and offering a reward, Zuroff consciously chose to use the little time remaining in order to bring perpetrators to justice on the basis of the most immediately available sources of information.
Zuroff recently has stated that he is satisfied with the results of his poster campaign, as far as the flow of information is concerned. There are doubts, however, as to whether his hopes for speedy trials will be realized.
The second part of Operation Last Chance provides a more detailed overview, naming specific persons and demonstrating their culpability, their postwar lives, which passed with impunity, and how they became known. Zuroff shows that the identification of such persons is not the main problem, but the unwillingness of various governments to investigate and prosecute them in their places of residence. After decades of conveniently ignoring the historical record, the bodies responsible for bringing them to trial are not only unwilling to cooperate, but even try to postpone dealing with such matters. During Operation Last Chance, Zuroff had to engage in political lobbying and often had to use his reputation and his international network to get the attention of the public.
Although the German edition honors Zuroff, it also has some faults. On occasion, the translation is sloppy and there are grammatical errors. A new edition requires a careful and knowledgeable editor. With the launching of the advertising campaign of Operation Last Chance in several German cities, the book could have provided a better introduction that would have helped German readers understand the contextual background.
Efraim Zuroff is fully aware of the fact that his task is becoming increasingly difficult and that it is coming to an end. He emphasizes that the Holocaust is not only history which is to be studied by reading about it. While the perpetrators are alive, he insists that they be investigated and brought to trial. No one should be allowed to go unpunished. They must know that they will never be able to put it behind themselves. Zuroff ’s serious efforts and his presentation of reliable sources have provided the missing pieces for beginning effective investigations of hitherto unknown or neglected Nazi war criminals. Often his task may be frustrating and unsuccessful, but even a modicum of justice is better than none at all.
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1. David Green, “Efraim Zuroff,” in: Aryeh Rubin, ed., Jewish Sages of Today—Profiles of Extraordinary People (Devora Publishing, 2009), pp. 247, 253.
2. In the judgment of the District Court of Munich on 12 May 2012, the accused was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for murder. Due to the crediting of his pre-trial detention under the arrest warrant, Demjanjuk was released from prison and died in March 2013 in a retirement home in Bavaria. The lower court’s verdict thus never went before the Federal Supreme Court for affirmation.
Ms. Kirsten Goetze studied law and history in Berlin and Freiburg. She served as a judge at the Central Office of the State Justice Administration for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes (Germany). In 2007, Ms. Goetze was assigned to the Central Office of the State Justice Administration for Investigation of Nazi Violent Crimes, in Ludwigsburg where she served as a judge. During this period she investigated and prepared prosecution recommendations for many notable cases, notably that of John Demjanjuk.
Haggai Erlich, Alliance and Alienation: Ethiopia and Israel in the Days of Haile Selassie, Tel Aviv: Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, 2013, 261 pp. in Hebrew.1
Reviewed by Zvi Mazel
ECHOES OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA
Historians have largely neglected the love affair between Israel and Africa in the sixties and the seventies. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion for ideological and practical reasons wanted close ties with what he saw as Israel’s natural hinterland: a wish to extend a helpful hand to the newly independent African states while securing potential allies. Golda Meir, the minister of foreign affairs at the time, orchestrated the opening of Israeli diplomatic missions throughout the continent. In a matter of years Israel’s technical assistance in such diverse fields as agriculture, medicine, leadership courses would make a significant impact due to the country’s emphasis on hands-on experts being sent for on-the-spot training. This important program came crashing down with the onslaught of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 when all African countries decided to cut off relations with the Jewish state. A case in point was Ethiopia which should have been the flagship of Israel’s policy in Africa. Ties between Ethiopia and the ancient kingdom of Israel go back to the dawn of recorded history. Alliance and Alienation: Ethiopia and Israel in the Days of Haile Selassie dwells on the ebb and flow of the links between the mountain kingdom and Israel from the beginning of the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930, that is before the proclamation of the State of Israel, until the resounding break-off of ties in 1973. This is a welcome addition to the few scholarly works devoted to Israel and Africa. Its author, Professor Haggai Erlich has made a lifelong study of Ethiopia. From 1973 until he retired in 2004, the Israeli born professor was head of graduate studies in the Middle Eastern History Department of the School of History of Tel Aviv University. He has taught in number of prestigious institutions in North America—from Concordia, Montreal, to Georgetown and San Diego State, California. He has focused mainly on the Middle East and on countries of the Horn of Africa—more specifically Eritrea and Ethiopia. However, most of Erlich’s work deals with the emergence of the Ethiopian state and its tribal and religious components. In this new book he details the scope of Israel’s assistance while insisting on the importance of Ethiopia for the Jewish state. “Ethiopia, he writes in his introduction,2 “is part of the life of Israel. Immigrants from that country are now full partners in the Israeli experience…. Israel saw Ethiopia under the rule of emperor Haile Selassie as part of its so called peripheral alliance, a system which was intended to include Iran and Turkey as counter-weights to what appeared to be at the time a united and menacing Arab world.” The move was also intended to secure freedom of shipping in the Red Sea for the benefit of both countries.
The first part of the book is devoted to a lengthy but fascinating historical review which is essential to the understanding of the complex modern interaction between the two countries. It starts with the different versions of the biblical story of the Queen of Sheba. According to Ethiopian tradition, Makeda, their queen, became pregnant with the son of King Solomon and delivered Menelik when she came back to her country. Menelik later came to Jerusalem to meet his father and returned with 12,000 of the best of the tribes of Israel, taking with them in secret the Ark of the Covenant hidden to this day in the “Our Lady Myriam of Zion” church in Axum, the ancient capital city of Ethiopia; no one is allowed to see it. Menelik, first king of Ethiopia founded a dynasty of which Haile Selassie, who called himself “the Lion of Judah,” was the last ruler. This tradition is enshrined in Ethiopian Christianity—the country had been one of the first to accept the new religion in the fourth century. “The Christianity and the churches of the Ethiopians, according to their belief, are therefore the natural and true continuation of the history of ancient Israel,”3 stresses Erlich. Christian customs to this day include Jewish customs such as keeping the Shabbat as well as Sundays, circumcision, dietary laws reminiscent of Jewish kosher laws and more. However Christian textbooks accuse Jews of “not having accepted Jesus” as well as other accusations common to Christian theology in the past. For Erlich, “This aspect of kinship to Israel as a religious and historical concept has been and remains alive and active in the mind of many Christian Ethiopians to this day.”4 This unusual link should have led to a high level of friendship and cooperation, but it did not happen. Ethiopia abstained on the Partition Plan of 1947 and in 1949 voted against Israel’s being accepted into the United Nations.
Only in 1961 did the kingdom formally recognize Israel following a harsh letter sent by Ben-Gurion to Haile Selassie demanding the recognition of Israel for reasons developed below. By then Emperor Haile Selassie had come to understand that he needed help to counter Nasser’s subversive activities; Egypt was openly supporting the Eritrean national movement demanding independence from Ethiopia. On October 10, 1961, a terse communiqué issued by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry declared that the country was fully recognizing Israel. For Erlich, the monarch, who had been fighting all his life against attacks by neighboring Arab states, was moved more by geopolitical considerations than by history and religion though he saw himself as the descendent of King Solomon. Muslim Arab countries have always been the enemies of Ethiopia, which considers itself primarily Christian though half its population is Muslim today. Ethiopians can never forget that their country was taken over by Muslim conquerors in the sixteenth century; it was only through the help of Portugal, which wanted to advance its own interests in the region that they managed to regain their freedom. It was therefore the Arab/Islamic threat which dictated Selassie’s policy towards Israel, a fact that the emperor would repeatedly emphasize when speaking to the many Israelis he encountered. Yet Erlich takes pains to stress that though Selassie understood that Israel was his natural ally in the region and though he expected economic and military assistance from that country, he tried to keep it under wraps in order not to provoke the anger of neighboring Arab states.
Official recognition may not have occurred before 1961, says the professor, but relations had developed well before. After all there was an Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem as early as in the fourth century, though following the Arab conquest of Ethiopia in the sixteenth century it shrank to a small convent—Dir el Sultan— situated on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Israel allowed Ethiopia to open a consulate in Jerusalem in 1956 and in 1970 gave the keys of the gate leading to the convent to Ethiopian monks; the keys having previously been in the possession of Coptic monks. This gesture provoked a crisis with Egypt which has not been solved to this day. From the beginning of the twentieth century, the fate of Ethiopian Jewry was an important factor in the developing of relations, explains Erlich. In the thirties a few activists promoting the “return” of those Jews succeeded in bringing promising youngsters to study Judaism in the Holy Land as well as opening learning centers in Ethiopia. However, Haile Selassie opposed mass emigration, and only after his fall was the problem resolved. Following a succession of setbacks and a number of secret operations, Jews from Ethiopia finally reached the Promised Land in the eighties and nineties.
Erlich closes his long historical review with two little known episodes. Interestingly, the Italian invasion of 1936 led Haile Selassie to flee Addis Ababa and seek refuge in Jerusalem, where he was warmly welcomed by the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, and remained at the King David Hotel for two weeks. And during WWII, Orde Wingate led commando forces in Ethiopia to attack Italian forces and helped the British army rout the occupiers. Wingate, a British officer assigned in 1936 to Palestine under the British Mandate fell under the spell of the Zionist movement and set up Special Night Squads working with the Haganah to fight Arab marauders. He called these squads “Gideon Forces” and it was that name that he gave to his commandos fighting in Ethiopia.
The second part of the book is devoted to the developing relations between the two countries. Military assistance was the mainstay of those relations. It started as early as 1957 and was initiated by an appeal presented to a Mossad officer in Europe by Ethiopian envoys. Israel agreed immediately and dispatched Isser Harel, the head of the Mossad at the time, to Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian ruler complained that the United States was refusing to train Ethiopian paratroopers. Ben-Gurion did not hesitate to give the green light for the project. Since both countries were targeted by Nasser’s subversive activities, they shared the same interests. Haile Selassie felt that his antiquated army could not deal with an Arab front; Israel was still trying to set up the peripheral alliance with Iran and Turkey mentioned above. It failed of course, explains Erlich, but Israel was still very much focused on freedom of shipping in the Red Sea and launched an ambitious and long term project. It began training the Ethiopian army, gaining the confidence of the emperor and generally securing its position. The security services of Israel were drafted to the effort and soon the best and the brightest were sent to develop ties with Ethiopia, to coordinate actions and organize training sessions. After the head of the Mossad, records Erlich, the head of military intelligence, Yehoshafat Harkabi and his number two, Professor Yuval Neeman visited Ethiopia, soon followed by the head of the Shabak—Israel’s internal security services—high ranking police officers, cabinet ministers, Golda Meir included. Even then—Deputy Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin came. The Israel Defense Forces dispatched their best fighters to train paratroopers, guerrilla fighters, air force and armored corps. Hundreds of Israelis—some accompanied by their families—lived in Ethiopia, and in fact an Israeli school was set up for them.
Haggai Erlich describes at length the depth of the many-faceted Israeli involvement during the years 1957 to 1973—when Ethiopia broke off relations— and the events in the region; the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia, Nasser’s ongoing subversive activities; the decision to set up the seat of the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa and more. Israeli training teams including the army, the police and the security services were at work in the most sensitive spots. Haile Selassie knew he could trust them absolutely, especially after he was able to foil a military coup thanks to intelligence received from Israel. Yet it was not an easy time for Israelis. They were warmly welcomed on the field by officers and soldiers alike, but there were tensions between elements in Ethiopia afraid of the Israeli involvement and the pro-Israeli elements who were aware of the importance of Israeli assistance. Then there was the emperor himself, forever vacillating, who lived in dread of Arab neighboring countries and never admitted publicly that he was receiving assistance from Israel. He never visited Israel, nor did his Prime Minister Aklilio, and he even refrained from establishing an embassy in Israel. In the end Haile Selassie bowed to Arab pressure and cut off ties with Israel in October 1973.
Erlich believes that cutting off relations and causing the Israeli instructors to leave created a vacuum in the army and exposed the corruption, inequality and insufficient development plaguing Ethiopia—which in a scant few months led to the military coup led by Lieutenant Mengistu Haile Mariam which put an end to the emperor’s long reign and to his life.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the peace between Egypt and Israel brought great changes to the region; Ethiopia lost much of its strategic value for Israel. When ties were renewed in 1989, military assistance was no longer a significant factor. Meles Zenawi who was president and prime minister in the years 1991–2012 did his best to foster better relations and opened an embassy in Tel Aviv. The two countries are now on friendly terms based on regional cooperation in such domains as commerce and aviation, with immigrants from Ethiopia settled in Israel contributing to the warmth of the ties, concludes Erlich at the end of this extremely important and well researched work based on a great number of sources. At the same time, and through the Ethiopia prism, the reader can get a sense of the difficult conditions confronting the foreign policy of Israel, conditions which are valid to this day.
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1 The Red Sea Press of Ewing Township, New Jersey has recently published an English translation of this book. 2 P. 11. 3 P. 18. 4 P. 19.
Zvi Mazel, a retired Israeli diplomat, served as the Deputy Director General of the Foreign Ministry (in charge of African affairs). Ambassador Mazel is a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Meir Persoff, Hats in the Ring: Choosing Britain’s Chief Rabbis from Adler to Sacks, London: Academic Studies Press, 2013, 337 pp.
Reviewed by Leslie Wagner
In his introduction to one of Meir Persoff ’s previous books, Faith against Reason, Todd Endleman states that the British Chief Rabbinate is unique, and that “no similar institution, with similar claims to authority, emerged in other Western Jewish communities in the modern period.”1 The United States had an “entrepreneurial, laissez faire and voluntaristic” environment. While religious life was decentralized in Germany, Austria and Hungary, membership in the community was not and was authorized by the State. French Jewry was highly centralized and hierarchical with the grand rabbin at the apex, but the post had little power and the community was run by the lay leadership.
In contrast, Britain has always relied upon voluntary membership of the Jewish community. Membership was an issue of self-identification rather than civic status. Initiatives to establish communal organizations have come from the community not the state, and it was the community, not the state, which wanted a chief rabbi and which gave him the powers to be its most significant professional leader.
While the British Empire was ascendant, until the end of World War II, the influence of its chief rabbi was felt across the Jewish world, and the lay leaders of the community assumed that the post would be attractive to the world’s most renowned rabbinical leaders. Although Britain’s power has decreased over the last half century and its Jewish community now represents no more than two percent of world Jewry and less than 0.5% of the population of the United Kingdom, the comments and advice of its chief rabbi are still highly influential both in Britain and elsewhere. This is due to the personality and the intellect of its two most recent incumbents: Lord Immanuel Jakobovits and Lord Jonathan Sacks. When the chief rabbi speaks, people listen, not because of whom he represents, but because of what he says.
As society has changed, so have the demands upon a chief rabbi. Until the mid-1960s, authority was paramount, but it is doubtful if Rabbi Joseph Hertz and Rabbi Israel Brodie, the two main incumbents, had much to do with the media. Over the last fifty years, there has been less emphasis on authority and more on leadership. Involvement in the media has increased, particularly in the past decade with the growth of the Internet and social media. Communication is now a crucial area for any chief rabbi.
Meir Persoff has contributed significantly to our understanding of the British Chief Rabbinate through his previous publications, particularly Faith against Reason and Another Way, Another Time. The first impressively looks at how the British Chief Rabbinate reacted to the challenges from Reform and other non-Orthodox movements. The second, less impressively, critically assesses Rabbi Sacks’ approach to religious inclusiveness.
In this study, Persoff has devoted his attention to how the last six chief rabbis were appointed, covering a 170-year period. It is a perceptive choice of subject. The process of choosing leaders of important organizations may tell us a great deal about both the organization and its environment. In Hats in the Ring, Persoff not only explores the intricate politics of each appointment in detail, but also provides the reader with the induction address of each appointee. The work has clearly involved him in ploughing through the dusty archives of many communal organizations, as well as numerous personal papers, along with the more obvious sources of the Jewish and general press. It is all meticulously documented with copious notes and references. If there is a fault, it is that Persoff has followed the practice of his previous publications of not sufficiently editing the documents that he includes. Therefore, the reader often has to wade through much tedious, verbose and irrelevant prose, in which the main point occasionally is lost.
Persoff begins his story with the latter days of Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell, who in fact had been appointed in 1802 as the rabbi of the London Great Synagogue. Given its history and size, this was undoubtedly the most senior rabbinical position in Britain and Hirschell was popularly known as “Chief Rabbi.” Persoff points out that the Gentiles referred to him as “the High Priest of the Jews of England.”
Hirschell’s latter days were dominated by the establishment of the first Reform Synagogue in 1840, to which he reacted a year later by proclaiming a “herem” (excommunication) on all involved with the new synagogue. It was a controversial decision by a sick man who died at the end of 1842. It took two years to appoint his successor, and one of the conditions of appointment was “that he shall on no account denounce ‘herem’ against any person.” The person chosen was Nathan Marcus Adler, chief rabbi of Hanover, apparently because of his friendship with Prince Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge, who was viceroy of Hanover. Adler, was a British subject, born in Hanover when it was an appanage of Britain. However, he had to apologize for delivering his induction address in German. One of the other candidates was Samson Raphael Hirsch, then chief rabbi of Emden. He received two votes to Adler’s 121.
Historians disagree as to whether Adler succeeded Hirschell in 1844 and whether he was appointed formally as the rabbi of the Great Synagogue or as Chief Rabbi. However, it mattered little because, a few years after taking office, Adler published, without dissent, his Laws and Regulations for all Synagogues in the British Empire effectively establishing his control over synagogue life not just in Britain but also its considerable empire. This was the moment when the Chief Rabbinate was effectively established.
Upon his death in 1890, the main issue was not the choice of his successor but who should make that choice. Adler had been ill and increasingly incapacitated for some ten years, and in 1880, his son Dr. Herman Adler, was appointed as his delegate to perform the duties that his father was unable to carry out. When the time came, there was no serious opposition to Herman Adler succeeding his father. The controversial question was: who made the decision?
Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe was changing the nature of Anglo-Jewry. The formal atmosphere of United Synagogue services and the rather relaxed approach to Jewish practice of its leaders was alien to the experience and values of the new immigrants who were used to smaller buildings, more informal and intimate services and stricter standards of Jewish observance. They established their own organizations, notably the Federation of (minor) Synagogues. While the immigrants lived in the east of London, the United Synagogue was building new places of worship in the west of the capital.
The United Synagogue invited the Federation, the Sephardim and the Reform synagogues to participate in the election of the Chief Rabbi. As there was no serious contest, the move was designed to give wider communal legitimacy to the appointment rather than influence its outcome. The Sephardim and Reform politely declined. The Federation wanted voting to be based on membership, but the United Synagogue determined that it should be based on financial contribution which gave it an overwhelming majority of votes. The Federation protested strongly, but said it didn’t matter in practice because Adler was the only candidate. It warned that it expected changes next time.
When Herman Adler died in 1911, it was clear that the issues that had surfaced twenty years earlier were felt even more strongly. The east/west divide was greater; the Federation representing the east was more confident; and religious differences not only with Reform, but within the United Synagogue itself were clearly evident. Moreover, this time there was no agreed upon candidate. The discussion between the United Synagogue and the Federation on the basis for the number of seats on the selection panel repeated that of twenty years earlier, but this time the Federation declined to participate. The other synagogal bodies also declined, but the Chief Rabbinate Conference, as it was now called, included the provincial communities and still represented the vast majority of the community.
The choice, eventually, was between Dr. Joseph Hertz, who had just accepted an appointment in the United States, having served a major congregation in South Africa, and Dr. Moses Hymanson, a dayan of the London Beth Din. The old battles between east and west continued with the view that Hymanson had no support in East London. Indeed, the powerful sermons delivered by Hertz in various synagogues apparently played an important role in the selection process. This meant that Hymanson’s candidacy generated little support in East London and Hertz won the vote by a large margin.
Hertz remained in office for over thirty years. Upon his death in 1946, a first approach was made to Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog of Israel, but he declined to leave the Yishuv at that critical time. Eventually three names emerged with a substantial support: Israel Brodie; Kopul Rosen and Alexander Altman. Israel Brodie had served as a chaplain in the British Army during World War II and was now the senior Jewish chaplain. Kopul Rosen, in his early thirties, had recently been appointed Principal Rabbi of the Federation, having previously been communal rabbi in Glasgow. Alexander Altman, was communal rabbi of Manchester, a post created for him when he escaped from Germany in the late 1930s.
Altman was a respected scholar (he was later appointed to a chair at Brandeis University), but was seen as too remote from day-to-day issues, and his candidacy was soon discarded. Rosen was bright, mercurial and a fine orator. Brodie was regarded as moderate, even-tempered and worldly wise because of his wartime experience. There was strong competition between supporters of Brodie and Rosen largely behind the scenes. Eventually Rosen’s perceived impetuosity and unpredictability contributed to his defeat and Brodie, the safer candidate, won the day. Persoff ’s blow by blow account of the process is fascinating.
Brodie proved competent for most of his time in office. In the early 1960s, however, he was confronted with a religious controversy that he could not handle. This time it was not with Reform but within his own United Synagogue. Louis Jacobs, a leading young rabbi, had published a book which discussed biblical criticism and argued that one could be an observant Jew without necessarily believing in the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. Brodie prevented Jacobs from being appointed principal of Jews’ College, the Orthodox rabbinical seminary, and later barred him from returning to his old synagogue when the post became vacant. Anglo-Jewry erupted; Brodie became ill, and by 1964, it was clear that Anglo-Jewry would need a new Chief Rabbi.
For perhaps the first and only time in the long history of the Chief Rabbinate, the lay leadership thought “outside the box” and approached Yaacov Herzog, son of the late Chief Rabbi Herzog who had been approached for the previous appointment. Yaacov had received semicha (rabbinic ordination), but had never held a rabbinical or communal post. Instead, he had become a senior civil servant in the Israel Foreign Ministry. It was hoped that his intellectual and diplomatic skills would heal the schisms within the community. He was courted, and in May 1965, Yaacov Herzog agreed to accept the post to general acclamation. It is clear both from Persoff ’s account, and those of others, that he soon began to have serious doubts about the wisdom of the move, to the extent that they caused him to suffer what can only be described as a major breakdown.
By late 1965, the search had begun again when Herzog withdrew on grounds of health. The Federation was now, as in 1947, outside the process, and serious candidates were all from outside the community. For a while, Norman Lamm of Yeshiva University was considered, but he eventually declined to be a candidate. The final choice was between Louis Rabinowitz from South Africa and Immanuel Jakobovits from New York, previously chief rabbi of Ireland. Because of his age and temperament, Jakobovits received much greater support, although he took up the post only in April 1967.
When he approached retirement age in 1989, the process of choosing Jakobovits’ successor began. Unlike the previous occasion, a strong local candidate in Jonathan Sacks was available. Indeed, Persoff argues that Sacks was groomed for the position throughout the 1980s, first through his appointment as principal of Jews’ College, and subsequently, through serving in various high-profile platforms. But other strong candidates also were considered, most notably Cyril Harris, chief rabbi of South Africa, who had previously held senior rabbinical posts in England. Eventually, in February 1990, Sacks was chosen.
Each of the brief descriptions above does not do justice to the rich detail of the narrative that Persoff provides on each selection process. The role and different styles of the various lay leaders, and the often unseemly maneuverings taking place under what appeared to be a serene, calm surface are described in detail. Persoff is meticulous in his use of sources and judgment about what is relevant or irrelevant, with the sole exception of his treatment of the Sacks appointment.
(Full Disclosure: The reviewer was a member of the 1990 Sifting Committee, charged with making the nomination, and is quoted [accurately] by Persoff.)
For some reason, Persoff relies on the diaries of Ann Harris, wife of Cyril Harris, to provide an insider account of the process. Yet Ann Harris is an unreliable witness. Apart from being an interested party, many of the people with whom she speaks and whose opinions she reports, were not directly involved in the selection. There is no corroboration, even when she quotes the views of those directly involved. This is non-critical scholarship.
Some of this is not trivial. For example, Ann Harris claims that early in the process, the president of the United Synagogue, Sidney Frosh and the chief executive of the United Synagogue, Jonathan Lew, approached Cyril Harris and expressed doubts that Sacks was suitable for the position. Lew’s support for Harris was known and there is other evidence for it in the book. But the allegation that the chairman of the selection committee told one candidate that he thought another candidate was unsuitable is a very serious charge, and, to those who knew the late Sidney Frosh, it is highly implausible. Lew died some years ago, but Frosh only passed away as the book was being published. Why is there no comment from him about this allegation?
The explanation for the Sacks appointment is much simpler, and Persoff had access to it in the documents at his disposal. Sacks and Harris were two very different candidates—one was younger, with great intellectual skills and less communal experience; the other older and had greater pastoral skills and more communal experience. While both were serious candidates, the committee decided that the qualities offered by the younger more intellectual candidate better matched the future needs of the community.
Indeed, Persoff is so distracted by Ann Harris’ diaries that he ignores his own evidence and implies, incorrectly, that Cyril Harris’ eventual withdrawal paved the way for the Sacks appointment. Persoff states that Harris “withdrew” on February 18, 1990. Yet he reports, two pages beforehand, that on February 11, a week before, the Sifting Committee met and, in the words of the president Sidney Frosh, as quoted by Persoff, “after considerable discussion, it was unanimously agreed that a recommendation go forward to the Chief Rabbinate Conference that a call be issued to Rabbi Sacks.”
That was when the choice was made, and two days later it was conveyed to Sacks. It is entirely plausible that Harris heard of this outcome from his supporters on the Sifting Committee after the February 11 meeting and decided that the best course would be for him to withdraw his name before the public announcement. This is perfectly understandable, but it had no effect on the choice, which had already been made.
This bizarre interpretation of the 1990 selection process should not, however, detract from the value of Persoff ’s work. There is important material here for anyone interested in Anglo-Jewish history, and in particular the politics of communal decision making.
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1, Meir Persoff, Faith against Reason, London: Valentine Mitchell, 2008.
Prof. Leslie Wagner is vice-chairman of the JCPA’s Institute for Global Jewish Affairs in Jerusalem. Among the posts he has held are chancellor of the University of Derby in the UK, and prior to that vice-chancellor (president) of Leeds Metropolitan University and the University of North London. He has been a member of the Advisory Board of the UK Academic Friends of Israel since its inception.
Gary Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians (2nd ed.), Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2013, 315 pp.
Reviewed by Dexter Van Zile
The objective of Whose Land? Whose Promise?, written by Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois, is to convince Christian readers that the State of Israel is not worthy of their support. Burge’s argument is based upon the outdated doctrine of Christian supersession and an assortment of incorrect assumptions, presented as historical facts. Burge uses Scripture to bolster his claim that Israel does not deserve the backing of civilized Christians in the United States.
Supersession is the belief that Christianity has superseded Judaism and that the Jewish people no longer have a role to play in God’s plan for humanity. If Judaism is obsolete because of the coming of Jesus, the Jewish people do not need and should not have a state. Therefore, the existence of Israel is questionable. While many contemporary Christians reject supersessionism, Burge applies it to the Jewish State of Israel. For example, he interprets John 15: 6 as proof that Jews who do not accept Jesus as the messiah cannot live in the land of Israel. The verse reads as follows: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” Burge explains it by stating that “branches that attempt living in the land, the vineyard, whichrefuses to be attached to Jesus will be removed.” Thus, he predicts the eventual end of the Jewish presence and Jewish sovereignty in the land.
Such arguments and the use of Scripture in this manner are disconcerting because this book is published by The Pilgrim Press, which is owned by the United Church of Christ. The General Synod of the UCC, a mainline Protestant denomination, repudiated supersessionism. Moreover, the resolution of the General Synod stated that supersession was a factor in presenting “a negative portrayal of the Jewish people and of Judaism [which have] been a factor in the shaping of anti-Jewish attitudes of societies and governments. The most devastating lethal metastasis of this process occurred in our own century during the Holocaust.” Burge’s teachings on Israel contradict the resolution of the UCC and may indicate that supersessionist beliefs have come back, particularly with regard to Israel.
While, in Burge’s program, Jews may not have a place in the land, the Palestinian Christians definitely do—as victims of the Jews. Burge portrays the Christians as living “in fear of the Jews” as if they are reenacting John 20:19. In fact, he describes their current situation as “reliving for the first time in history, the conditions of the first century church, in which a Christian minority is suffering under the rule of a Jewish majority.” Their alleged suffering under the Jews revives a historically inaccurate anti-Judaic trope. It was the Romans and their proxies that ruled the country during the first century C.E. In fact, Israel is the sole country in the Middle East where the indigenous population of Christians has increased in the last several decades. According to the Statistical Abstract of Israel, in 1949, there were approximately 34,000 Christians living in Israel, mostly Arabs. At the end of 2011, there were 125,000 Arab Christians in Israel. This is striking in light of the expulsion and persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
A collection of false accusations that appear in the form of “facts” are interspersed throughout the book. They fall into the category of the standard libels against Israel, albeit occasionally with a Christian twist. For example, in order to show that Israel is an apartheid state, Burge falsely reports that Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel (the latter include Christians) renew their driver’s licenses on two different days of the month, when in fact, licenses are renewed on the holders’ birthdays, regardless of ethnicity. He also falsely suggests that the security barrier surrounds the city of Bethlehem, a city of special sanctity in Christianity. Without providing a source he claims that polling data reveals that most Israelis have rejected a two-state solution when, in fact, reliable polling data indicates exactly the opposite. Burge falsely states that under Israeli control “no new wells” can be dug for Palestinian use in the West Bank, when in fact, 70 such wells have been dug.
Furthermore, the author also misconstrues Israel’s Law of Return. For example, he states that Jews born to a Jewish mother who converted from Judaism are not eligible for citizenship, when, in fact, the right to claim immigrant status and become citizens is accorded to those having one Jewish grandparent. Burge also states that Jewish believers in Jesus are denied the right to claim Israeli citizenship, when, in fact, they may acquire Israeli citizenship by virtue of having Jewish fathers, according to the Law of Return.
In conclusion, Whose Land? Whose Promise? serves the campaign to delegitimize Israel by presenting erroneous facts and false accusations about Israel in the context of repudiated supersessionist doctrine and largely discarded Christian anti-Jewish tropes. It reveals more about its author, Gary Burge, and his many followers than about the subject it purports to cover. Unfortunately, the book attests to the existence of Christian anti-Judaism, in the guise of anti-Israel propaganda.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. His writings have appeared in numerous American Jewish newspapers as well as the Jewish Political Studies Review, the Jerusalem Post, Ecumenical Trends, and the Boston Globe. He has a BA in politics and government from the University of Puget Sound and an MA in political science/environmental studies from Western Washington University.
Max Blumenthal, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, New York: Nation Books, 2013, 512 pp.
Reviewed by Petra Marquardt-Bigman
Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel is primarily of interest to students and researchers of anti-Semitism and the demonization of Israel, which is depicted as a uniquely evil state that must be eliminated. The book provides a handy compendium of the type of material available on websites devoted to making the case that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. Blumenthal himself indicates as much in the “Acknowledgements” at the end of his book when he gives credit to several of these sites—notably “Mondoweiss” and “The Electronic Intifada”—for having “provided essential outlets for much of the reporting contained on these pages.” At the same time, he complains that “less courageous publications have shied away from” publishing this material.
Reflecting Blumenthal’s modus operandi as a video “reporter” producing short clips, some 400 pages of the text of Goliath consist of 73 chapters that provide context-free snapshots showing Israel in a way that would appeal to the type of audience that Blumenthal addressed while working on this book. Therefore, it is not surprising that material appealing to activists devoted to campaigning for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state would often appear on websites and Internet forums catering to white supremacists, neo-Nazis and a variety of far-right and far-left fringe groups. Hence, this explains why “less courageous publications” than “Mondoweiss” and “The Electronic Intifada” would not want to promote Blumenthal’s book on Israel.
Perhaps even Nation Books had second thoughts about publishing Goliath, because The Nation asked its columnist Eric Alterman to review the book. In an extremely harsh critique entitled “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” further expanded upon in a blog post, Alterman noted that Goliath “could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed) without a single word change once it’s translated into Arabic.” But while Alterman’s criticism elicited a furious reaction from Blumenthal and his admirers, the praise garnered by the book actually confirms Alterman’s assessment. As much as Blumenthal resented being criticized for depicting Israel as the Nazi Germany of our time, he was flattered when he was praised for doing so and warmly thanked an anonymous blogger for an enthusiastic review that emphasized how readers of Goliath would inevitably compare Israel and Nazi Germany. Other admirers of Blumenthal’s work were inspired to describe the Jewish state in terms eerily reminiscent of how Nazi propaganda depicted Jews. Well-known British Middle East reporter David Hirst praised Blumenthal for documenting “in rich and riveting detail” that Israel risked being destroyed by “the full, shocking scope and virulence of a cancer, both institutional and popular […] essentially of its own racist and colonialist making.” In addition, American journalist Chris Hedges endorsed Goliath as “one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel” because it “methodically rips down the façade” to expose the world’s only Jewish state as an utterly repulsive and horrifying “corpse.” In a slight variation on this theme, political scientist Ian Lustick concluded in an amicable debate with Blumenthal that Goliath demonstrated that Israel was too “fascist” to be allowed to survive. When Lustick referred to the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and invited Blumenthal to fancy himself in the position of God in order to decide whether there were enough “good people” in today’s Sodom-like Israel to save the Jewish state from destruction, Blumenthal explained that Israel’s demise as a Jewish state was absolutely necessary and should also entail the expulsion of those Israeli Jews who were unwilling to “become indigenized” by submitting to Arab political, cultural and social dominance.
While it is usually difficult to expose anti-Semitic intent, Blumenthal has made it easy by embracing praise for depicting Israel as the Nazi Germany of our time and by advocating not only Israel’s demise as a Jewish state but also a “Juden raus” policy for Israeli Jews who would refuse to “become indigenized” under Arab rule. However, when Blumenthal found himself included in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2013 list of the “Top Ten Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs” in the category, “The Power of the Poison Pen,” he reacted with predictable scorn and ridicule. Blumenthal apparently believed that he could defend himself against accusations of anti-Semitism because he was careful to attribute particularly obvious comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany in Goliath to Israeli Jews. Thus, a provocative chapter title like “The Concentration Camp” (Chapter 62) echoed (Israel’s current president) Reuven Rivlin’s criticism of detention facilities planned for African refugees in an interview in Haaretz in December 2010. Unsurprisingly, Blumenthal was selective in what he quoted and ignored that Rivlin had emphasized that he meant “concentration camps, where people are warehoused […] not camps in the sense of extermination.” The full quotation would not have served Blumenthal’s purpose, because detention centers for migrants and refugees exist also in Europe, the US, Australia, and elsewhere.
Indeed, Goliath is also an anti-Semitic book precisely because it depicts Israel’s mistakes and failures as uniquely evil and characteristic of the Jewish state, while ignoring the fact that comparable wrongs and failures may be found in nearly all countries, including Western democracies. Thus, Blumenthal likes to describe African migrants and refugees in Israel as “non-Jewish,” thereby insinuating that the fact that they are not Jews is the only reason for their plight. Migrants and refugees, however, face hardships and mistreatment in European countries because they are “non-Italian,” “non-French,” “non-German,” etc. Blumenthal, however, manages to prove that the hardships attributed to being “non-Jewish” are more worthy of attention. An 11-minute clip produced by him and his colleague David Sheen and posted on The Nation’s YouTube channel under the title “Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land” garnered more than 500,000 visits during the first three months after the publication of Goliath.
In conclusion, it is clear that the kind of material presented in Goliath also reflects the notion that anti-Israel activists are entitled to their own definition of anti-Semitism. Blumenthal not only inverts what he likes to call “the lessons of the Holocaust” by implying that they require the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, but apparently he also subscribes to the truly Orwellian definition of anti-Semitism promoted by Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the “Electronic Intifada, who has denounced Zionism as “one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today” and views support for Zionism “not [as] atonement for the Holocaust, but its continuation in spirit.”
Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli writer and researcher. She has a Ph.D. in contemporary history and has written a book on American intelligence analyses on Germany in the 1940s and several academic articles. Her blog, The Warped Mirror, focusing on how Israel is covered by the international media, has been published by the Jerusalem Post, and her writings on Israel and the Middle East have appeared at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, World Politics Review, The Commentator, The Algemeiner and other sites. Some of her work on anti-Semitism may be found at the Louis D. Brandeis Center.