OyChicago blog

Demjanjuk is the new ''Jesus,'' You've got to be kidding me!

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Accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk was finally deported from Ohio to Munich, Germany yesterday to stand trial after a prolonged court battle that has covered many decades and countries.  The extradition came four days after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Demjanjuk’s request to block the deportation.  Demajanjuk, at 89, will, in all likelihood, be the last person to stand trial for Nazi war crimes. 

Yesterday was a real victory for all of the holocaust survivors who’ve waited decades to see this man be brought to justice.  "After too many years of delay, Demjanjuk is now under a final order of deportation," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor.

Not everyone is so pleased that Demjanjuk will finally face trial.  MSNBC political commentator and former Presidential Candidate Pat Buchanan compared Demjanjuk to Jesus Christ and the American version of Alfred Dreyfuss in a column on April 14.  (Alfred Dreyfuss was a captain in the French Army in the nineteenth century who was accused and convicted of treason, simply because he was Jewish.) 

Buchanan wrote that the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to bring Demjanjuk to justice is “the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary that first Good Friday 2,000 years ago.”

Despite Buchanan’s anti-Semitic and holocaust denying rants from over the years, it's always surprising to hear someone defend the Nazis.  It's also surprising that NBC gives Buchanan a platform to speak his opinion as a political commentator due to his extreme views on Jewish issues.

Here’s some other perspectives on the situation:

JTA editor Menachem Z. Rosensaft: “OP-ED: Comparing Demjanjuk to Jesus is Obscene

Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins: “Pat Buchanan’s Holocaust-Denial Enabling Ignored by NBC” 


Serious advice for the Pope on Jewish-Catholic relations

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It seems like the Pope just can't get favorable coverage in the Holy Land, no matter what he does.

For example, Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at Yad Vashem was described in an Israeli newspaper today as lukewarm. He disappointed the staff of Yad Vashem and Holocaust survivors by his use of mild terminology and not apologizing for German atrocities. (He is German born and had to join the Hitler Youth and the German Air Force).

However, the Pope’s personal history with Nazism or his almost reinstatement of a Holocaust denying priest is really not what’s at issue here. Nor is his speech that probably needed a better editor or two.

The issue is in order to have complete reconciliation, you need to have truth.

And Jews simply do not have that yet from the Vatican.

Pope Benedict must authorize the release of Vatican archives from the time of Pope Pius XII, no matter what their contents or how unflattering they are. Those documents then need to be put into context of the Vatican’s power or lack of power during WWII and the antisemitism that led to the Church’s probable complicity during the war. Just as priests, nuns and other Catholics who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust have been recognized as “Righteous Gentiles” by the state of Israel, in order to heal, the negative parts of the story must be known.

Considering the scales of the atrocities, German-Jewish relations are good. Why? The Nazi documentation as it pertained to the so called “Final Solution” has been accessible to historians since shortly after the war. Although the relationship isn’t perfect, when a German leader visits Israel, he/she is not criticized about the Holocaust as the Pope has been during his visit.

Until the archive is open, a full and robust relationship between Jews and the Church just won’t happen - no matter how much time passes. And if there is a desire to reconcile, the entire truth must be uncovered.

When it is, and after it is digested, and the apologies are made, anything the Pope says at Yad Vashem will be praised.


The Pope in the Holy Land

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Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Israel this week, after spending three days in Jordan. On the agenda: a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial; touring the Temple Mount and the Western Wall; leading masses in Bethlehem and Nazareth;  and talking shop – i.e. peace-achieving strategies – with Israeli and Palestinian politicians. As commentators throughout the world have noted, the Pope’s also on a mission of improving his image among Jews and Muslims.

In the past six months, Vatican has made several bad PR moves when it comes to relations with Jews, including almost welcoming a Holocaust-denying bishop back into the fold. This trip goes a long way to mend relations, even if the Pope’s plan for peace is diametrically opposed to the new Israeli government’s stance on giving land for peace.

Follow the Pope’s visit to Israel:

Israeli President Shimon Peres found a way to showcase Israel’s technological achievements and please the Pope. Peres gave Benedict the text of the Jewish Bible in vowelled Hebrew inscribed on a nanotechnology particle about the size of a grain of sand.

In a speech at Yad Vashem Monday afternoon, Benedict stressed prohibition against the evil of Holocaust denying and said that “the Catholic Church feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here." The speech disappointed Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and the chair of Yad Vashem Council because Benedict did not expressly condemn the perpetrators of the Holocaust, writes The Jerusalem Post.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a special Web site to track the Pope’s visit. The site includes video recordings of speeches and ceremonies as well as detailed itineraries and stories about the visit.

The JTA’s Dina Kraft explores Israel’s small minority of Arab Christians.


An Interview with David Gergen

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To say that David Gergen has done it all when it comes to American politics and public service would be an understatement— his bio includes Presidential adviser, commentator, teacher, editor, public servant, best-selling author and TV news personality.

I caught up with Gergen in a recent phone interview prior to his visit to Chicago May 18 to speak at a JUF Women’s Division event. I was curious to hear his take on the first months of the Obama administration, his opinion about his daughter's conversion to Judaism and what it was like to serve both republican and democratic presidents.

Of all you’ve accomplished as a political and presidential advisor, educator, journalist, author and public servant, what have you found most rewarding?
It’s an enormous privilege for any citizen to serve a President in the White House and so I’ve been wonderfully blessed in life by serving under four different presidents. But some of my most rewarding moments go back to an earlier time in my life, back into the 1960s—I grew up in North Carolina and I became a college intern with Governor Terry Sanford, a very progressive, Kennedy-like figure in North Carolina and they assigned me to work with a fellow David Coltrane who had been a long time segregationalist and had changed his views and become very strong pro-civil rights. I worked for him for three summers traveling the state trying to keep racial peace but also trying to promote integration and jobs and educational opportunities for African Americans. I look back upon that time as one of the most satisfying in my public life.

What drew you to politics—did you always know you wanted to work in public service?
I was drawn early on to be at the scene as a participant of the big events of my generation—I’ve always wanted to have a ringside seat. Wanting to be there, wanting to make a difference if I could, wanting to be a voice, trying to help shape how things turn out. I’ve been very fortunate in life and people have been enormously kind to me along the way.

You’ve served both democratic and republican presidents—what was the greatest challenge in serving both parties and how did you manage to stay true to your own political beliefs?
It was not always easy. There were some that believed that after I’d worked for three republicans that to go to work for Bill Clinton was an act of betrayal—some thought I was Benedict Arnold. I was brought up with the belief that I inherited from the World War II generation that you can be a strong republican or you can be a strong democrat, but it’s important that you first and foremost be a strong American.

How does your experience as a public servant play into your role as a journalist?
There used to be a barrier between public service and journalism or working in government and journalism and that barrier has come down. I don’t consider myself a journalist so much as I am a commentator. I do have biases and I’m not there to just report the news—I’m trying to interpret and understand the flow of events.

What do you see as the future of journalism—do you see a place for print in the coming years?
I’m optimistic about the place of print—just as people felt that when television came along movies would disappear and that has not been the case. I think print is always going to have a place in our minds and I’m old fashioned enough to believe it—I much prefer holding a newspaper to reading news online. But there’s no question that the business model for newspapers is a mess. They may have a model of how they try to make money but they don’t make money. And I think that’s a shame. I think we will rue the day that some of our major city newspapers disappear.

From your experience, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing the Obama administration today?
Their first and foremost challenge is to help propel us out of this economic crisis. The bigger question is now becoming what the recovery will look like and whether it’s going to be a rapid recovery like the Obama administration originally forecast or whether it’s going to be a slower and often painful recovery and it’s looking more likely that the second will be the case. He has taken on other challenges— by the end of the year (Obama) hopes to have a healthcare bill dramatically reforming healthcare and also have an energy climate change bill at least down in the House of Representatives. Those are huge undertakings and if he can get all that done he will be remembered as a President that made big accomplishments—now whether they work or not we’re going to have to wait and see.

How do you see U.S.-Israel policy options going forward with the Obama administration?
I think there’ll likely be some difficult conversations between the new administration and the Netanyahu government. They’re not on the same page on some issues. The Obama-Biden administration is clearly committed to Israel but they’ve already signaled that they have some differences on settlements and their pushing hard to have (Netanyahu) recognized or embrace the idea of a two state solution.

What role, if any, do you think an American President should play in that process?
I think the American President should remain engaged, I think it’s a mistake to pull back. He needs to be fully engaged and I’m pleased the Obama administration is doing that. I think it’s going to be very important what role Hamas and Hezbollah play here in the coming months. There is the danger that you could see Hamas increase power in the West Bank and there’s the danger that Hezbollah will increase its power in Lebanon and that would make many Israelis who are also facing the existential threat of a nuclear Iran, extremely nervous and make life more difficult for them. These are serious times.

You were interviewed in the Jewish Daily Forward about your daughter’s conversion to Judaism in 2003—How did you first react to this?  How do you feel about your daughter’s conversion now?
We’re very proud of her conversion and the way that she and her husband are building a family. I must say when she first started going down this path I was ambivalent about it. We’d always raised her to make her own choices and she was headed on a spiritual journey of her own that I admired. It had nothing to do with the quality of Judaism but having some concern that she would essentially leave our family and join something else, and I wasn’t quite sure what it would be. I was worried that there might be some invisible curtain that would come between us. That has not occurred and I give a lot of credit to her husband, Mark Barnett, who is an extraordinary individual. He invited us into the process of her conversion and made us feel very welcome. Now we look forward to Shabbats and we celebrate Shabbat with them on many occasions. We’re not only becoming accustomed to it, we’re really just reveling in what she’s found in Judaism and what her children are finding. And I should add that Mark Barnett’s parents live in Chicago. Steve and Teri have become dear friends. The whole relationship has been a wonderful, positive experience and I’m very proud of our daughter.

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