Tuesday, April 29, 2003


As quiet music plays on my radio and the siren stops the country for two minutes to reflect, I have a few more Holocaust related thoughts. I heard yesterday that the UN's Genocide Convention of December 1948 was approved one day before the announcement of Rene Cassin's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are a matched set. Its pretty cool, in a UN sort of way. This may be a central lesson of the Shoah. How to go forward after seeing the ulimate abyss.

It is tempting to note the scariness of continued anti-semitism, the horror of the Durban Conference of 2001 which turned racism on its head, continued preaching of holocaust deniers and say nothing has changed and that we must do anything (ANTHING) to protect Israel. I think this is very wrong. We have to reject actions that threaten humanity of others - not because we might be like the Nazis, we aren't - but because we intimately knew them. Israel has to defend itself, sometimes in ways that make us squeamish (like Jack Nicholson said "you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall"). At the same time, accepting everything, always arguing away any criticism claiming self-defense, weakens us.

Israel is still at war... but it has to work, actively, to end the war.

Monday, April 28, 2003


Tonight, we in Israel mark Holocaust Memorial Day, specifically noting the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. I visited Poland exactly two years ago and thought I'd share the words I wrote then. I would only add that much of our lives in Casino Israel we emphasize our country's imperfections. Leadership, economy, priorities. At least one day a year, and I think this is the right day, it is more appropriate to sit back and wonder in amazement. Where were we 60 years ago and where are we today. I heard a terrific hassidic story this morning: man goes to a Rabbi and asks about the prayer equally thanking God for all that is bad and all that is good. The Rabbi answered that he too struggled with that prayer because he had never experienced any bad.

I sent this to some friends on 21 April 2001 upon returning from the March of the Living. Its long but you can always stop and surf on:

just got back to israel from a five day trip to poland. i sort of felt the need to put some of my feelings from the trip in writing and i thought that this is the 21st century way to do it. i hope that the following rambling will have some interest for you and if not, there is always the delete button. there will be some relatively graphic descriptions. if you aren't up to it, stop here. in any case, this is probably more for me. i apologize, in advance, for the ramblings that are about to come. i'd love to hear your thoughts as i am not sure about many of the things i saw.

i went with a delegation from [work] to participate in this year's "march of the living". this project is now in its 13th year and is mainly the sending of jewish teenagers from all over the world to poland and then israel. jewish awareness and building community - that sort of thing. this year there were kids from morocco, the former soviet union, new zealand, the USA, france and i'm sure many more. the name comes from the january 1945 death march when the nazis cleared out much of auschwitz and birkanau and walked the prisoners to their deaths.

well, our group arrived last sunday in warsaw and without even going to the hotel went straight to the jewish section of the city. nothing is left. the nazis basically razed all of warsaw and the first lesson for me was that the jews were not the only victims in poland. in fact, there were two "camps" on the bus on this subject. some felt that our role in poland was as jews and only as that. others may have suffered, too, but the holocaust was basically about the jews. there remains much hatred here - primarily for germany but also for the continued anti-semitism in poland. the second group, of which i was generally a member, felt too removed to hate. the poles lost over 20 million people and you can't rate or compare levels of suffering. the poles on the street that are my age
suffered through soviet occupation and are trying to rebuild a wesern democracy. as you will see, these two camps had their ups and downs throughout the trip.

warsaw was odd. you had to imagine almost everything. the jewish ghetto, the spot where the jews were gathered for the transports, the way the old city really looked (and not the rebuilt ersatz old city that looks like a back lot at paramount). a city that once was one third jewish now has 10,000 people "of jewish heritage". it is still not prudent to be jewish in poland.

then came maydanak. it is a death camp two hours from warsaw, near the city of lublin. its all there - the gas showers, the cremetoria, barbed wire, the bunks, the room full of thousands of shoes. what got me the most is that poles live today (did they 60 years ago?) on the edge of the camp. as we walked around (inside the barbed wire camp) we saw a family out for a walk. out for a walk. near maydanak. did they see it as a grassy open area? a shortcut? what do you tell your kid who asks why all those foreigners are visiting town? again and again. they, the foreigners are all dressed well and seem to have money. none spend it in lublin which is a dump. what do the locals think? what did their grandparents think as they went for walks near town and the death camp and the smoke stacks 60 years ago?

the next day we visited the old warsaw jewish cemetery. that is sort of an oxymoron. all of poland is a jewish cemetery. apparently on the edge of the cemetery there are mass graves from during the war. most, though, are markers from hundreds of years of jewish life. rich poor old young. jews who lived full lives.

then we started a long ride to krakow. a couple of stops on the way were interesting. one, the city of kielce was the city of a massacre of 46 jews in 1946. yes, 1946. survivors came home after the war. their polish neighbors killed them. the other camp on the bus "won" that day.

later that day, we stopped in a remote village that one of my collegues had anscestors from. the bus stopped in the central square and it was like the circus came to town. i am sure i was projecting but these villagers KNEW we were jews. they wanted to see.
within 10 minutes there were 50 villagers near the bus. we saw the shell of the large synagogue in the village. it had a swastika and graffiti (in polish) - jews get out. these villagers don't ever see jews. we're out. why would they write this?

finally we reached krakow. krakow is beautiful. really. apparently unesco has recognised as a world heritage city. deservingly so. the "old city" is as great as the warsaw old city is absurd. beautiful church. charming shops and streets. it could be prague or even northern italy. people smiled once in awhile. we sat and drank coffee in the central square. the jewish quarter has some lovely old synagogues from the middle ages. the nazis didn't bomb out krakow because it was the provincial capital. warsaw was a symbol of polish nationalism and had to be crushed. krakow survived.

of course, the jews of krakow did not.

as part of our group, about 30 israeli army veterans, all holocuast survivors took part. on wednesday night, a number of them told us their stories. spielberg, and his efforts at the shoah foundation of recording survivors is genius. in a decade they'll be gone. how did these people rebuild lives and help build israel? how did they go on after armageddon?

then on thursday, we went to auschwitz. it is about a 90 minute ride from krakow. as we got off the highway and entered the city of oswiecim. all i could look at was the train tracks. i couldn't take my eyes off them. it is clearly a central pathway - lots of tracks
connecting poland with western europe. in fact, inside the camp there was an exhibit on the subject. you know how when you read an airline magazine and they show how their hub (newark, atlanta, london, tel aviv, etc) is at the center with lines all over the map showing the flights? well, they had a map showing all the places that led to auschwitz. from as far as oslo and athens. from hungary and germany.

anyhow, auschwitz was not such a surprise except for the fact that it is real and you can almost smell the blood there. as i walked out, a polish TV crew stopped me to be interviewed. after the usual questions (from where? why are you here? what did i think?) they asked me if i saw anti semitism in poland. i said that i did but hoped it was only on the edges - we have too much shared history together.

the walk (march) was from auschwitz to birkanau - three kilometers away. 2000 people took part. the kids, the old soldiers in their IDF uniforms. all was fine for me until we got close to birkanau and passed a new housing development (who would buy or build a house there?). dogs barked. old women stood in a window and watched us walk by. had they seen jews like us march by before? like 56 years ago?

at birkanau, the train tracks go right into the camp. this camp was specially built by the nazis. it was a factory. a killing factory. not as advanced as treblinka (which was state of the art) but it was pretty good. i walked on the tracks. at the end they had a lovely ceremony in three languages - english, polish and hebrew. they ended with the hatikva, israel's national anthem emphasizing for the kids the message of israel as the home that the jews of the 1940's didn't have.

its easy to be cynical in israel of 2001. we have a difficult situation. arik sharon is prime minister. we have splits between religious and secular between left and right. we are being condemned by much of the world for our actions vis a vis the palestinians over the
last seven months. we are fighting so much when we seemed so close to peace only months ago. now no one thinks we're close.

bashar assad said last month in amman that israelis are nazis. israelis are nazis. how can he say that? how can we make peace with such a young man? how can we get him to go on the march of the living?

we've got to somehow make peace with the palestinians- as i write these words there is a security cooperation meeting taking place. maybe there can be hope to stop the violence. the violence. only 56 years after auschwitz and maydanak and kielce and the warsaw

we lost one third of the jews of the world in the holocaust. as many of you know i'm not incredibly religious and not big on the praying thing. i prayed at birkanau. for my family. for israel. for peace. idon't know why. God didn't listen to prayers there once. why did i think he was listening now?

Sunday, April 27, 2003


Its an interesting question for those of us interested in Foreign Policy. Abu Maazan has named his ministers and they will likely be approved by the Plaestinian legislature later this week. Just after that the Road Map (without any adjustments from its late Dec. 2002 version) will be published. Secretary of State Powell is likely coming here over the weekend. Both Abu Maazan and PM Sharon will be invited to visit Washington in mid-May. So, you are Arik Sharon... what is your move?

It is clear that the Americans see now as a window of opportunity to move "something" here. They want to leverage the moment in Iraq to show the Arab world/Europe/etc. that there are other benefits of the quick knock out in Iraq while GWB and his staff continue to pressure Syria and Hizbullah. Other countries in the Arab world may be next. President Bush doesn't want to fight Sharon as he is only 18 months before the elections and the last thing he needs is fights with the various pro-Israel interests. But, here is the opportunity. Israel's greatest (perhaps) existential threat, WMD from Iraq, have been taken out of the mix. Oh, and by the way, Congress just approved nine billion dollars in loan guarantees for Israel, who needs them desperately to help get its economy going again.Wven the always dour Jerusalem Post offers its immitation of optimism in an editorial listing tests for Abu Maazan.

So, you are the PM. You have a central right coalition which is fine for domestic issues (economiy, religious-secular, status quo on foreign policy) but will likely fall apart if you grab onto the road map. The Labor party will likely support such a move (in case the right wing parties leave) but then you will only strengthen Mitzna and friends. Your relationship with the White House (perhaps your most important pillar over the last two years) is at risk if you don't accept the plan and make hard decisions such as a settlement freeze, closing illegal outposts, and offering a range of humanitarian steps to ease life for the average Palestinian. But if you do that, more suicide bombers like the one in Kfar Sava last week, might come across and attack.

Its hard.

I think that humanitarian steps such as freeing many of the Palestinians in Israeli prisons, Pick outposts that are least confrontational domestically to close down, easing IDF presence in some cities - especially in Gaza and setting up meetings with Abu Maazan would be a good start. It empowers Abu Maazan but isn't a big risk until Abu Maazan really shows he is in charge. It shows initiative and willingness to act and seize the moment.