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December 8, 2016 / 8 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Interview’

Early Jewish New York: Poets, Anarchists, And Unspeakable Crowding: An Interview with Historian Tyler Anbinder

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

The Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Chinese, the Puerto Ricans – wave after wave of immigrants over the centuries have come to New York City seeking opportunity in the land of the free. A new book, “City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), documents some of their stories. The author, Tyler Anbinder, is a professor of history at George Washington University and the descendant of Jewish immigrants from southwest Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.

The Jewish Press: The front cover of City of Dreams features a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Interestingly, though, you write that the statue was not originally associated with immigration, or even the friendship between France and the United States. What did the French who gifted it have in mind, then?

Anbinder: The Statue of Liberty was originally conceived as a monument celebrating the emancipation of the slaves at the end of the Civil War. But by the time the Frenchmen got around to building it, Americans were no longer interested in commemorating the slaves’ emancipation since racial issues had begun to divide the country again. So people in the United States who were trying to raise money to build the pedestal for the statue began to portray it as a symbol of Franco-American friendship instead.

And it was within that effort to build this ten-story pedestal that Emma Lazarus, in 1883, wrote her poem in which she commemorated the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The idea was that she would write a poem which would be part of a scrap book of artistic works that would be auctioned off, and the proceeds from the auction would help pay for the pedestal.

It was only in 1903, though, 16 years after Lazarus died, that her poem, “The New Colossus,” was affixed to the base of the statue.

That’s correct. In fact, when Emma Lazarus died in 1887 at age 38, none of her obituaries even mentioned “The New Colossus.” And when the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886, none of the speeches by President Grover Cleveland or any of the other dignitaries in attendance mentioned immigrants or immigration. It was only later that the Statue of Liberty became a symbol of immigration.

            Many Jews believe the names of their ancestors were changed at Ellis Island when they entered this country. You argue that this is a “myth.” Please explain.

There was no time for the immigration officials at Ellis Island to change anybody’s name. They only had one minute per family; it was a very fast process, and name changing was not one of the things done. There was no official document you left Ellis Island with that stated your new name. In fact, you didn’t leave Ellis Island with any official document whatsoever.

So where did this myth come from?

It’s not clear exactly. There are a couple of possibilities. One is that the immigrants were confused when they went through Ellis Island. Sometimes the shipping companies put a piece of paper on the immigrants’ coats with their name on it as it was written on the ship manifest, and sometimes that ship manifest would spell their name incorrectly as it was often transliterated from Yiddish. So it’s possible the immigrants thought that was an official document telling them their new name when in fact it wasn’t. It’s also possible that they supposed the mispronunciation of their name by the workers at Ellis Island was something official when it wasn’t.

But I think the theory that is most likely is that immigrants changed their names themselves to try to assimilate – especially if they had a business where having a more American-sounding name would help them – and I think a lot of these immigrants were embarrassed later to tell their children or grandchildren that they had changed the family name, so they came up with this story that somebody else had done it for them.

            You write that the Lower East Side – home to many Jewish immigrants – was the most congested area in the world before World War I. Was it really that crowded?

It’s unimaginable today. The closest you can get to it is maybe Mumbai, Dakha, or Nairobi. I think one good way to think about it is that the Lower East Side’s 1.4 square miles had more inhabitants than the 440,000 square miles of Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona combined.

Why was it so crowded?

Because Jewish immigrants wanted to live on the Lower East Side and the landlords didn’t want to build new buildings – in part, because if they did they would have to meet the requirements of housing codes that tried to make buildings safer but also made them more expensive to build. So the landlords kept the buildings the same while the number of immigrants living in them expanded exponentially.

Some Jews in the early 20th century were active in the rising socialist movement. Emma Goldman is perhaps the most famous among them. Can you talk a little bit about her?

I think Emma Goldman is a fascinating story. She was a Jewish immigrant who left Russia because her father had wanted her to get married and she didn’t want to get married so young. So in 1885, at age 16, she came to America with her half-sister and moved to Rochester where she was pushed by her relatives into a marriage she didn’t want. So after a couple of years, she left her husband and moved to New York to join the anarchist movement.

The anarchists were kind of the radical end of the socialist movement, known in particular for advocating violence to achieve socialist goals. So Emma Goldman came to New York and very quickly became one of the leading socialist public speakers at rallies and assemblies and soon became nationally famous for advocating for the anarchist cause. She plotted to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, who was one of the leading American industrialists at the time, and helped plot bombings across the United States later on as well. She spent a lot of time in jail and eventually was deported back to Russia during World War I.

Some twenty million people immigrated to the United Stated from 1881 to 1914, including two million Jews. Yet, shortly after World War I, Congress imposed severe immigration restrictions, which of course had dire consequences for Jews 20 years later trying to escape the Holocaust. Why were these restrictions imposed?

A couple of reasons. Part of it was a fear that with so much of Europe devastated because of the war, too many European refugees would come to the United States and the Roaring Twenties would grind to a halt. Another reason is that many native-born Americans associated Jewish immigrants and Italian immigrants, in particular, with radical movements like the anarchists.

Back then, when Americans thought of terrorists, they thought of Italians and Eastern European Jews – people like Emma Goldman and some of the Italian socialists who carried out bombings. The biggest terrorist attack in the United States before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was an anarchist bombing of Wall Street by Italian anarchists in 1920, in which dozens of people were killed. So a lot of Americans associated Eastern European Jews and Italians with violent anarchism. And the immigration restrictions especially targeted these two groups.

            You argue at the end of the book that all immigrant groups to America are, in essence, the same. How so?

Immigrants come to America mostly for the same reason – to improve their lives and those of their children. When they first get here, immigrants struggle to fit in and they feel very lost. They take the lowest jobs because they usually can’t get any others. They eventually – with the help of friends and family members who are already here – start to learn the ropes and feel more at home. Yet at the same time they worry that their American-born children will become too American and lose too much of their heritage.

Was there anything you were surprised to learn when doing research for the book?

One thing I found surprising was how similar the debates about immigration 100 years ago are to the debates today. Pretty much all the things people say today about Muslim immigrants were said 100 years ago about Italians and Eastern European Jews – that they took Americans’ jobs, that they posed a national security threat, and that they would change the very nature of what it meant to be an American. And whereas today people might argue against Muslim immigrants on the grounds that they don’t fit into America’s Judeo-Christian tradition, 100 years ago they said Jews didn’t fit within America’s Christian tradition.

To be fair, though: Just because an argument may have been wrong in one context doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong in another.

Certainly not, but I think the argument was wrong both times. And I think the fact that each generation of immigrants is eventually seen as perfectly American and perfectly acceptable shows that, very likely, the anti-immigrant sentiment today against Muslim immigrants is going to fade and a generation from now people will look back and say how funny it was that we thought Muslims couldn’t be good Americans.

Elliot Resnick

The Rise And Fall Of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: An Interview with Author Eric Trager

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Five years ago, many in the West were hailing the “Arab Spring,” viewing the wave of uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere as the harbinger of a new liberal democratic era for the Middle East. No such era ensued. In Egypt, for example, the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime led not to a liberal government but to one run by the radical Muslim Brotherhood. And in 2013, Egypt’s military – headed by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood and returned the country to autocratic rule.

Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute, did research in Egypt during the Arab Spring, interviewing dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members, including the future Egyptian president, Muhammad Morsi. He analyzes the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise and fall in Egypt in his recently-published “Arab Fall: How the Muslim Brotherhood Won and Lost Egypt in 891 Days” (Georgetown University Press).

The Jewish Press: For those who know little about the Muslim Brotherhood, what can you say about it by way of introduction?

Trager: The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist organization founded in Egypt in 1928 at a time when Muslim thinkers were pondering why the Islamic world had fallen behind the West. One of the answers a certain group of thinkers gave was that reviving Islam required reviving the Sharia [Islamic law] and that reviving Islam and Islamic practice would ultimately enable the Muslim world to stand alongside and even challenge the West.

So the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to Islamize Egyptian society in order to establish an Islamic state in Egypt and then use that state as a foothold for establishing a global Islamic state.

How does it do that, practically speaking?

By recruiting very dedicated members. Every Muslim Brother goes through a 5-8 year indoctrination process, at the end of which he swears an oath to obey orders from the organization’s leaders. Those members are then distributed in a nationwide command chain in which cells of followers march to the orders of a central leadership known as the Guidance Office.

The important point here is that the Muslim Brotherhood is the only organization of this kind in Egypt. In other words, it is the only organization that up until recently had a nationwide command chain that directed very dedicated foot soldiers on the ground. And that’s why it rose to power so closely after the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

You argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is a radical group. Many in Washington, though, regarded it as a moderate group during the Arab Spring. In fact, the Obama administration welcomed the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt. Why?

After 9/11, various analysts in Washington and academia argued that the way to fight jihad was to engage Islamist groups that spoke the same political dialect but renounced violence. So the Muslim Brotherhood was seen as one of these groups because it had renounced violence to some extent in the 1970s.

The problem with calling the Muslim Brotherhood moderate, though, is that in this context it really just means the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate relative to al Qaeda – which is not much of a standard of moderation. But rather than saying the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate compared to al Qaeda, many analysts simply declared it moderate – and that left Washington unprepared when the Muslim Brotherhood won power and governed in a very autocratic and ultimately radical fashion.

Many in the West regarded the Arab Spring as a liberal movement seeking democracy. What is your view?

There’s no question that during the early Arab spring protests there was a strong sentiment against autocracy and in favor of political reform. But the most important thing to remember about the Arab Spring is that masses of people came together against something – namely dictatorship – but once the dictator was gone, they were unable to coalesce around any other type of consensus. That’s why a very well organized group such as the Muslim Brotherhood was able to take advantage and win power very quickly.

What is the situation like now in Egypt?

It’s very difficult. The political situation is very autocratic and repressive and the economic situation is deteriorating. But the difficult experience of the Arab Spring has made many Egyptians wary of calling for another uprising. It’s difficult to say how long that will last, but I think the lesson of the Arab Spring is that uprisings don’t always make things better and can, in fact, make things much worse.

What’s the status of the Muslim Brotherhood today in Egypt and in the Middle East more broadly?

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was crushed since Mohamed Morsi was removed from power on July 3, 2013. Its hierarchy has been decapitated, tens of thousands of its members are in prison, and many thousands more are probably in exile. Perhaps over a thousand have been killed. So while you have many thousands of Muslim Brothers who are still living in Egypt, they are laying low politically.

In Istanbul, some Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members have congregated and tried to resurrect he organization from abroad and have established four to five satellite media channels that broadcast their message.

Muslim Brotherhood groups are also active in Tunisia, Jordan, Gaza, the Syrian sphere, and beyond. So even though the Brotherhood has been crushed in Egypt, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the organization.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) presents itself as a moderate group, but some conservatives claim it is something of a Muslim Brotherhood front. What’s your opinion?

What defines the Muslim Brotherhood is a rigid command chain and a membership that has gone through a specific indoctrination process. I don’t believe those two features apply to CAIR. However, it may be the case that individuals affiliated with various Brotherhood organizations are within CAIR. It’s very difficult to say, though, because many Muslim Brothers – in the West as well as in some Middle Eastern countries – don’t identify themselves as such.

Elliot Resnick

Eisenhower And Nasser: The Alliance That Wasn’t: An Interview with Former White House Adviser Michael Doran

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

 If the U.S. were only more understanding of Arab grievances, our position in the Middle East would vastly improve. So goes a popular theory. Crafting foreign policy based on this premise has repeatedly failed, but many politicians seem mysteriously drawn to it nonetheless.

One of the first to chase this chimera was President Dwight Eisenhower. As former White House adviser Michael Doran writes in a new book, “Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East” (Free Press), Eisenhower believed that propping up Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s at the expense of Great Britain and Israel would convince him to ally with the U.S. against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Nasser had other ideas, though. He took all the U.S. aid he could get and then turned to the Soviet Union. A decade later, he tried destroying Israel in the Six-Day War.

Doran, a senior director in the National Security Council under George W. Bush from 2005-2007, currently serves as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute where he specializes in Middle East security issues.

The Jewish Press: According to your book, the United States essentially built Nasser into the powerful Arab leader he became. Please explain.

Doran: When Eisenhower came to power in 1953, there were 80,000 British troops in the Suez Canal zone and the Egyptians and the British were on the brink of a war. The United States thought if war broke out, it would find itself on the side of a dying European imperialism suppressing Arab nationalism, which would be disastrous, it thought, for the Cold War. So, to make a long story short, what Eisenhower did is force the British to get out of Egypt, which handed Nasser his first big political victory.

Two years later, during the Suez Crisis in 1956 – when Israel, Britain, and France attacked Egypt – Eisenhower again handed Nasser a victory by bringing Britain to the brink of economic ruin. Nasser had very cleverly filled boats with concrete and sunk them in the Suez Canal, and then, working with his allies in Syria, he blew up the oil pipeline running from Iraq to the Mediterranean. Sixty-six percent of Europe’s oil went through the Suez Canal and the other 33 percent went through this pipeline, so Nasser managed to cut off all the oil to the British. But when Anthony Eden, who was the prime minister of Britain, asked Eisenhower for North American supplies of oil, Eisenhower said “No.” The markets got wind of this and the bottom dropped out of the pound.

So Eisenhower used extreme economic measures to force the British and French out of Egypt and then put very powerful diplomatic pressure on the Israelis to evacuate the Sinai with almost no concessions by the Egyptians. These moves handed Nasser an incredible political victory over the three enemies of Arab nationalism, if you will, and turned him into a figure of mythic power in the Arab world.

You write that we didn’t just support Nasser diplomatically; we actually provided him with propaganda expertise.

Yes, that’s one of the most surprising and fascinating aspects of the miscalculation. Behind the scenes, the CIA started treating Nasser as a close ally of the United States even before the agreement between the British and the Egyptians of October 1954. Nasser duped the Americans. He understood how important he was to them – that they really needed an Arab ally who would help them organize the Arab world [against the Soviets], and he led the Americans to believe that he was going to play that role.

So Eisenhower and Dulles, the secretary of state, started giving Nasser all kinds of support that they should’ve withheld until they really knew where he stood in the Cold War. They gave him beneficial press in Western outlets we had influence over; they gave him the most powerful broadcasting equipment in the Middle East; and they actually sent Paul Linebarger, who was an expert on black propaganda, to Egypt to help develop the content of Nasser’s propaganda.

There was a revolution in communications taking place in the Middle East at the time, and the transistor radio allowed an Arab leader with a powerful broadcasting system to beam his voice into every household in the Arab world. Nasser was the first to capitalize on that, and the United States helped him.

And despite all this help, Nasser nevertheless turned to the Soviet Union.

Correct. By September of 1955 – that’s just one year after the Americans helped Nasser get all the British troops out of Egypt – Nasser brokered the Soviet-Egyptian arms deal and received a huge amount of weaponry from the Soviet Union. Then Nasser turned his propaganda machine to the Arab world and said that we, the Egyptians, are working with the Soviets to drive the British from the region and defeat Israel. In general, Nasser took our broadcasting equipment and used it to broadcast anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda, which destabilized the Arab allies of the West in the Cold War, particularly Jordan and Iraq.

So the theory Eisenhower had when he first came into office – that by distancing himself from his allies he was going to open up a space for cooperation between the United States and Egypt – [was incorrect] and what actually happened was he opened up a space for Soviet-Egyptian cooperation and destabilization of the whole Middle East.

We didn’t turn off our propaganda support for Nasser, though, until March of ’56.

Why did we wait so long?

One of the more interesting aspects of the story is the role Nasser’s anti-Israel policies played in his relations with the United States. When Nasser made the arms deal with the Soviets in September of 1955, he managed to convince the Americans that it wasn’t a move against them, and he does that by playing the Israel card. He tells them he has to get weapons from the Soviet Union in order to defend himself against Israel, which he depicts as extremely aggressive.

He says, “Look, I’m a moderate, but I’m surrounded by extremists and the extremists expect me to defend Egypt against Israeli aggression. If I don’t accept these arms from the Soviet Union, they will topple me, and you’ll get then somebody’s who’s more extreme than me. So you should play along with me and allow me to do this.”

And the Americans bought it because they themselves came into power with the sense that Israel was an albatross around their neck and that Israel was the source of their problems in the Arab world. They bought it to such an extreme that their response to the Soviet-Egyptian arms deal in ’55 was funding for the Aswan High Dam, which was Nasser’s flagship development project. So Nasser aligned with the Soviet Union, and the United States responded by offering him a huge gift.

Nasser may have ultimately duped us, as you put it, but he is hardly the only Arab leader to have done so over the years. Time and again, Arab leaders have smiled while saying one thing to U.S. officials and then doing something completely different afterward. Don’t Western leaders realize Arab leaders operate in what might be called a culture of deviousness?

Elliot Resnick

Kastner: Holocaust Hero Or Nazi Collaborator? – An Interview with Author Paul Bogdanor

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

In 1952, an elderly Hungarian Jew, Malchiel Gruenwald, published a pamphlet accusing Rudolph Kastner – a spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Trade and Industry – of collaborating with the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Israeli government sued Gruenwald for libel, expecting the trial to last a couple of days.

It didn’t. It lasted a yearAnd at its conclusion, instead of exonerating Kastner, Judge Benjamin Halevi found that Kastner had “sold his soul to the devil.” The trial led to the government’s collapse and the assassination of Kastner in 1957.

Although six decades have since passed, the Kastner Affair remains highly controversial. Some continue to see Kastner as a collaborator while others – like Israel’s Supreme Court, which overturned Halevi’s ruling by a vote of 3-2 in 1958 – argue that Kastner’s dealings with the Nazis enabled him to save over 1,500 Jews. The latest to weigh in on the debate is Paul Bogdanor, an independent researcher in England and author of the recently released “Kasztner’s Crime” (Transaction Publishers).

The Jewish Press: Many Jews know about Rudolph Kastner from the riveting book Perfidy, by Ben Hecht. Are your book’s findings in consonance, or in conflict, with those of Perfidy?

Bogdanor: What Perfidy says about Kastner is accurate. Its accusations against the Zionist movement as a whole, however, are not so accurate.

For example, Perfidy accuses Ben-Gurion and his colleagues of deliberately sabotaging a mission by Kastner’s colleague Joel Brand to convey Eichmann’s “goods for blood” offer to the West. This was an offer by the Nazis to release a million Jews in exchange for 10,000 trucks and other goods from the West. Hecht says the Zionist leadership willingly sabotaged this mission, and thus doomed the Jews to extermination.

But the opposite is true. Ben-Gurion and his colleagues went all out to further the “goods for blood” offer. In doing so, though, they fell into a Nazi trap since these trucks were going to be used on the Eastern front against the Soviets in an effort to split the Allied coalition at a crucial point of the war.

Furthermore, Eichmann told Brand that he would not murder Hungary’s Jews until he had a definite answer on the “goods for blood” offer when, in fact, he had already started deporting thousands of Hungarian Jews a day to Auschwitz even before Brand left Budapest to convey Eichmann’s offer to the Zionist leadership. In other words, the Nazis used this offer as a way of keeping the Jewish leadership busy while it went about murdering Jews.

You write that Brand might have been naïve but you offer no such excuses for Kastner. You regard him as an outright Nazi collaborator. Why?

Because he deliberately misled scores of thousands of Jews into boarding the trains to Auschwitz. And because throughout the mass deportation from Hungary to Auschwitz he sent Nazi disinformation to his Jewish contacts in the free world with the aim of aborting any successful rescue effort.

How so?

For example, at the height of the deportations – when 12,000 Hungarian Jews every day were being driven onto death trains and sent to Auschwitz – he wrote that the deported Jews were alive in “Waldsee,” which was a Nazi camouflage for Auschwitz. At one point he even claimed to have received 750,000 postcards from these Jews saying they were alive and well. So Kastner’s Jewish contacts abroad read these letters and were misled about what was going on.

Is it clear that Kastner knew the Nazis intended to exterminate these Jews?

Absolutely. There’s no doubt about that because he admitted it. After the war he said Eichmann repeatedly told him that Hungarian Jews were being exterminated in Auschwitz. He also knew that escapees from Auschwitz had warned that the camp was being prepared to receive – and murder – massive numbers of Hungarian Jews.

If Kastner knew the Nazis planned on exterminating Hungarian Jewry, why didn’t he sound the alarm? He negotiated with the Nazis to save 1,684 select Jews on board what later became known as the “Kastner Train,” but why didn’t he warn all of Hungarian Jewry to go underground or resist boarding the deportation trains to Auschwitz?

When the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944, Kastner tried to negotiate the rescue of all of Hungary’s Jews. At the very first meeting with Adolf Eichmann’s officer, Dieter Wisliceny, on April 5, 1944, Kastner and Brand made four demands: no executions, no concentration in ghettoes, no deportations, and permission for Jews to emigrate.

Wisliceny, though, told Kastner that the Jews could only emigrate if the emigration was disguised as a deportation. Kastner agreed, and from that moment on he had to collaborate with the Nazis because he had to make sure Jews boarded the deportation trains. But of course, once the Jews were on these trains, the Nazis could do whatever they wanted with them, and they sent them to Auschwitz.

Perhaps Kastner thought he had no choice. Perhaps he believed the Nazis would most likely kill everyone and that only by negotiating and cooperating did he stand a chance of rescuing at least some Hungarian Jews.

First of all, if the Jews were going to be killed, they didn’t have to be killed with Kastner’s help. And secondly, there was an opportunity to save many thousands of Hungarian Jews in north Transylvania. There was an escape route across the border to Romania, but on May 3, 1944, Wisliceny told Kastner to tell the Jewish leaders in Kolozsvar – Kastner’s hometown – that the escape routes had been blocked.

Kastner gave this false information to the leaders in Kolozsvar who immediately ended all the escapes. Kastner directly obeyed a Nazi instruction to sabotage the escape routes from his hometown.

Didn’t Kastner realize at some point that he was being used? After all, the Nazis exempted him from wearing a yellow star and allowed him use of a phone and car. At one point, they even convinced him to hand over two rescue activists – Yoel Palgi and Peretz Goldstein – who had been smuggled into Hungary by the Zionist leadership. Didn’t this close relationship with the Nazis make Kastner suspicious?

Exactly. Kastner must have understood he was serving the interests of the Nazis and that his rescue negotiations were gaining time, not for the Jewish victims but for the Nazis to exterminate them. And I argue that he understood this very early on in the rescue negotiations.

So what are we to conclude – that Kastner was an evil man?

My conclusion is that he was motivated partly by his pessimism about the possibility of saving any Hungarian Jews and partly by his megalomania. You have to remember that before the Nazi occupation of Hungary, Kastner was an underground rescue activist. He wasn’t a major figure among Hungarian Jews; he was a minor figure operating illegally. As soon as the Nazis occupied the country, though, he suddenly became the most important figure in Hungarian Jewry because he was the only person (after Brand’s departure) allowed to negotiate officially with Eichmann on the fate of the Jews of Hungary.

Even Kastner’s enemies usually give him credit for saving 1,684 Jews aboard the “Kastner Train.” You don’t. You argue, provocatively, that this rescue train was actually a Nazi hostage operation. How so?

Elliot Resnick

Exclusive Interview: Hillary Clinton On Israel, Iraq And Terror [archive]

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Originally Published:  Wednesday, October 25, 2006 [Restored from Archive]

On the eve of her expected reelection victory, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the editorial board of The Jewish Press.

The former first lady (and current front-runner in opinion polls for the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential nomination) spoke at length about Israel, the ongoing war in Iraq, and the war on terror. Following are highlights of the discussion:

The Jewish Press: Israel recently concluded its war against Hizbullah in what many consider to be a stalemated position. How do you see things right now?

Sen. Clinton: First, I don’t think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. If we were going to push for an election, we should have made sure we did something to determine who was going to win instead of signing off on an electoral system that advantaged Hamas.

That, to me, was a first step that led Hizbullah to take the actions that it took [killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers and firing missiles into Israeli population centers]. What has concerned me is that I don’t think our or Israel’s intelligence was very good at uncovering what Hizbullah had developed in the last six years.

Frankly, the American intelligence didn’t know how dug in Hizbullah was, how many rockets they had, where they were going to be launched from and what the range was.

I think, based on what I know, that a lot of damage was inflicted on Hizbullah’s capacity. But that capacity is not destroyed and has not disappeared. Thus, Hizbullah, the Syrians and the Iranians have been emboldened.

This was a problem of situational awareness and about what we were up against. This is a longer-term issue for us and for Israel as we try to figure out how we’re going to get a better grasp of what we’re up against.

Do you think the peacekeeping forces on the Israeli-Lebanese border will be effective?

I don’t have a lot of confidence in what the peacekeeping forces will do, because nobody’s willing to say that they’re willing to disarm Hizbullah. That’s the problem. UN Resolution 1701 [which ended the war] originally said that you had to go in and disarm Hizbullah — but there was no effort to do this at the time, and now we’re trying to play catch-up. They initially said the Lebanese army’s going to do it, but that’s not going to happen.

Is it worth talking to Syria, from the perspectives of the U.S. and Israel?

You know what? I’m pretty much of the mind that I don’t think it hurts to talk to people as long as you’re not stupid in giving things away. I would argue that we don’t know what’s going on inside Iran and Syria. I just want us to get better info. We don’t have good info. I asked the Israelis if [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is really in charge. They said they weren’t sure. So I suggested that we get something going to see who is pulling the levers of power in order to try and figure out how we can influence them.

Please explain your strong criticism of President Bush’s Iraq war strategy after you voted to give him authorization to topple Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.

I guess I hae been more willing to criticize the administration’s conduct of the war than some [of my Democratic colleagues]. I don’t know why they wouldn’t put in more troops.

Why wouldn’t they follow the military plans that had been drawn up previously by Gen. [Anthony] Zinni and others? Why did they create this awkward entity known as the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was a disaster, diplomatically and strategically?

But I voted to give the president authority and I’ve said many times that I regret the way he used the authority. I haven’t said I made a mistake or I wouldn’t have given it to him again. I made the best decision I could at the time, based on my assessment.

I think my position differs with the administration largely with respect to the execution and implementation of the policy, which I think has been a terrible series of blunders.

There are many people in the Democratic Party who are pushing for the U.S. to leave Iraq. What about those folks who say “cut and run”?

Well, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that if we don’t change what we’re doing, our chances for success are pretty limited. This undermines our capacity to take action that is in our interest and in the interest of Israel and our other allies.

I’ve joined onto a very reasonable proposition put forward by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI), which says we’ve got to do three things: You’ve got to have an internal political process in Iraq. We haven’t told the Iraqi government, “You’ve got to deal with the unfinished business, and we’re going to push you to do it and we’re going to help you do it, but we’re not going to stand by and have you ignore doing it.”

Second, why haven’t we done more to put Iraq’s neighbors on the spot? This international process would say, “You have a big stake in the survival and stability of this regime — you, Saudi Arabia; you, Jordan; you, Kuwait.”

And third, we have to send a message to the Iraqis that they’ve got to do a better job of securing themselves, which is where this concept of phased redeployment comes.

But this proposal says nothing about cutting and running. It says to the Iraqi government, “You’ve got to disarm your militias. You’ve got to rein in your Interior Department, which has been a haven for death squads. You’ve got to get the Islamic clerics, both Sunni and Shi’ites, to issue fatwas (Islamic decrees) against this sectarian violence.”

There’s a lot we could be doing. And you know what? I don’t see it.

How do you view the war on terror?

In this new type of war, we have several big tasks ahead of us. First, we must do everything possible to prevent any of them — Iran, Al Qaeda and the like — from getting nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction. That’s the ballgame.

I don’t think our strategy is working. Six years ago, North Korea and Iran were not as close as they are today to having nuclear weapons. Let’s ask ourselves, “What do we need to do differently to be more effective?” Let’s get the best people we can to deal with this problem. And let’s have a robust discussion and not shut people’s ideas down because they don’t agree with yours.

That’s one of my criticisms of the administration, which has the attitude that it’s their way or no way. I’m not sure any of us have the way. That’s why we need, in a democracy, a vigorous debate. There are a lot of people who may have some good ideas that have basically been ignored up until now.


Eli Chomsky

Vichna Kaplan: America’s Bais Yaakov Pioneer: An Interview with Rebbetzin Danielle Leibowitz

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Although Sarah Schenirer – the founder of the Bais Yaakov movement – is a legend in Orthodox Jewish circles, the woman responsible for bringing her vision to the United States, Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan (1913-1986), is relatively unknown.

A book recently published by Feldheim aims to correct this state of affairs. “Rebbetzin Kaplan: The Founder of the Bais Yaakov Movement in America by Rebbetzin Danielle Leibowitz (with Devora Glickman) runs close to 600 pages in recounting the life of this pioneer in Jewish education for girls in America.

Rebbetzin Leibowitz was an early student of Rebbetzin Kaplan and the wife of Rabbi Yehuda Cohen, z”l (principal of Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway for many years), and, after Rabbi Cohen’s passing, of Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz, z”l (rosh yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva).

The Jewish Press: Where did Rebbetzin Kaplan grow up?

Rebbetzin Leibowitz: She was born in Slonim in Poland in 1913 and was orphaned as a little girl. She was brought up in Baranowitz by her uncle, Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Lubchansky – who was the mashgiach of Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s yeshiva – and his wife, Rebbetzin Faiga Malka Lubchansky, who was the daughter of Rav Yossel Horowitz, the Alter of Novardok.

How did Rebbetzin Kaplan wind up at Sarah Schenirer’s Bais Yaakov teachers seminary in Krakow?

Well, the story goes like this. In her small town of Baranowitz, Vichna saw an ad for the Bais Yaakov seminary and wanted very much to become a teacher of Yiddishkeit because many girls were going off the derech at the time. She approached her uncle, but he said, “You can’t go to a big city like Krakow. ‘Kol kevudah bas melech penima – The glory of a woman is within’ [Psalms 45:14]. A girl has to be in the house.”

She was very disappointed but she was determined, so she went to Rav Elchonon Wasserman. He approved of her plans, so Rabbi Lubchansky let her go.

What happened next?

She went to Krakow and became the star pupil of Sarah Schenirer. Later she moved to Brisk. The Brisker Rav – Rav Velvel Soloveitchik – had written to Sarah Schenirer asking for a teacher for his daughters and Sarah Schenirer sent Vichna. Vichna taught in Brisk for five years, and became very close to the Brisker Rav’s family. When she was there she would give public lectures and the whole town – both men and women – would come to listen to her because she was such a powerful speaker.

How did she wind up in America?

A shidduch with an American boy, Boruch Kaplan, was suggested to her. Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman, the hero of the book All For the Boss, had a great influence on Boruch and sent him to study in Rav Yehudah Heschel Levenberg’s yeshiva in New Haven and then later in the Chevron Yeshiva. He was there during the Chevron Massacre in 1929, and was saved by an Arab who hid him.

After that, Boruch learned in Mir and Brisk, and that’s where the shidduch was made. Vichna’s uncle, Rabbi Lubchansky, opposed her moving to America – it was a “treifa medinah” – but the Brisker Rav told her, “For a boy like Boruch Kaplan, you have my permission to go anywhere in the world.” So she left Europe and came to America in 1937 on the same boat as Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky. She married Boruch in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas with a wedding meal consisting of salami sandwiches.

The following year she started the first Bais Yaakov in America with seven girls.

Why was she determined to found a Jewish girls school so soon after her arrival in America?

Because she wanted to continue Sarah Schenirer’s ambition and she knew girls in America didn’t know anything about Yiddishkeit. She wanted to teach what it meant to be a bas melech, what the Torah was all about, what a Jewish girl’s ambitions should be.

Most of the parents she approached about starting a school didn’t want their girls to be “old-fashioned” ladies. They wanted them to be Americanized and make a good living. So the beginning was very, very difficult. Rebbetzin Kaplan had seven girls in her first class. Two of them were the daughters of Rav Shraga Mendlowitz [the founder of Torah Vodaas].

The first class met around Rebbetzin Kaplan’s table. They were a bunch of American girls who weren’t initially interested in being there. They went to public high school, and after high school they worked to help supplement their family’s incomes. They went to Rebbetzin Kaplan at 7 o’clock, four nights a week. And then on Sunday and Shabbos Rebbetzin Kaplan had a bnos group.

What was the state of Jewish education for girls in America at this time?

Negligible. Girls had very little knowledge. There were Talmud Torahs and girls learned a bit from their parents. There were also Shulamith and Ramaz, but these were elementary schools. Bais Yaakov was the first full-day Jewish high school for girls in America. It started off as an after-school program, but it became a full high school in 1944.

You note in the book that in the early years of Bais Yaakov, students came from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Yes, there were all kinds – litvish, chassidish, the daughters of roshei yeshiva and girls who weren’t even shomer Shabbos. Rebbetzin Kaplan took them all in. If they wanted to learn Yiddishkeit, she welcomed them. Her whole mission in life was to teach these girls. And she succeeded. When I entered Bais Yaakov in 1947, many of us wore very short sleeves. She said we should wear longer sleeves, so we did. Many also started wearing sheitels after they got married. Rebbetzin Kaplan was a very charismatic person and when she spoke we wanted to listen because it came from her heart and we wanted to be good.

She believed in us and only saw the good in us. To me, her aura was one of goodness and kindness, and she gave us a feeling of what we should do with our lives – that we should want to be Jewish and we should want to have a Jewish home and bring up Jewish children. She taught us Yiddishkeit and that we were princesses. And we wanted to do what she wanted because she gave it to us with such sincerity, truthfulness, and goodness. You didn’t want to disappoint her.

Elliot Resnick

Fighting Anti-Israel NGOs And BDS Activists: An Interview with Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

In just a few years, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has shot to political stardom in Israel. A computer engineer turned politician, Shaked, 40, has been a member of Knesset for the Jewish Home party since 2013 and was appointed justice minister by Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2015.

Shaked, a forceful champion of Israel’s rights both at home and abroad, is an outspoken supporter of Jewish settlements and was the driving force behind Israel’s 2016 NGO transparency law.


The Jewish Press: Can you describe your background and what influenced your political views and your decision to join the Jewish Home party?

Shaked: I was right wing since I was a child, after having watched a debate between Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres. I served in the army in the Golani Brigade and that also influenced my ideology, since most of the soldiers were from the Religious Zionist movement.

For a few years I was a Likud member, working with Benjamin Netanyahu after the Gaza Disengagement. I decided to leave the Likud and join the Jewish Home party because I thought that it’s very important to have a party that has secular and Orthodox working together on the basis of Religious Zionist values.

How concerned are you that the UN will try to impose a unilateral solution on Israel?

The UN is a very political and biased organization and I don’t believe in truth coming from it. It’s just a body of political interests. The fact that the UN has failed to deal with Syria while hundreds of thousands of women and children are being slaughtered there proves that it does nothing. The UN tries to hit Israel whenever it can in a very biased approach without even mentioning the ongoing incitement by the Palestinian Authority. Just the other day Mahmoud Abbas paid a condolence call to families of terrorists who tried to kill Jews.

The UN also ignores the fact that there are terror attacks conducted in the U.S. for the same reason – radical Islam against the West. In dealing with the UN, Israel should stick to its own beliefs.

Establishing a Palestinian state right now is a very dangerous thing. It’s also not realistic at all. The majority of the people in Israel, including those from the left and center, don’t think we have a partner right now. So Ban Ki-moon can talk, but it’s just wishful thinking. In reality we will do what we think is good for us.

How would you advise America to combat the scourge of Islamist terrorism that both America and Israel face?

You just need to face reality. In Europe they are already facing reality and identifying it as radical Islamic terrorism. We are not at war with Islam. In Israel, 20 percent of the population is Muslim. And we have a very good relationship with them. But we need to distinguish between Islam and radical Islamic terror, which threatens the Western world.

This is actually a war between two civilizations; between the Western world and radical Islamic terror. It’s in the U.S., in Europe, in Israel; it’s all over the Middle East. And radical Islam is mainly aimed at hurting other Muslims. There are hundreds of thousands of Muslims all over the Middle East who have been slaughtered because of this extreme ideology. We need to face this reality.

What is your position on Israel’s claim to Judea and Samaria?

After the Oslo Accords, Judea and Samaria were assigned to areas A, B, and C. Areas A and B are under the Palestinian Authority and area C is under Israeli authority. If you ask me what will be in the end, how will we finish the conflict, I believe we should annex area C. There are 425,000 Jews and 90,000 Arabs who are living there. The Arabs should be full citizens of Israel and get all the according rights. Areas A and B should be a strong autonomy or in conjunction with Jordan.

Under international law, those territories are not occupied territories; they are territories under dispute. There is a lot of land in area C that belongs to the state and we should expand building on those lands. There’s nothing we need to apologize for. It’s legally state land and we should continue to build there.

You initiated and then advanced Israel’s NGO bill through the Knesset. What do you hope it will achieve in terms of deterring agitators from working within Israel?

It’s a transparency bill. In Israel, there are a few NGOs that get the majority of their money from abroad from different countries. Those countries actually try to interfere in a diplomatic way in Israeli policy and are trying to do it through NGOs.

We are not forbidding that, but we want the public to be aware of it. That’s why we passed a transparency bill that any NGO that gets more than 50 percent of its budget from a foreign country should declare it when approaching a Knesset member and in their official publications.

What more can be done about many of these NGOs who are aligned with the BDS movement and their allies, such as the Black Lives Matter delegation that recently visited Israel and accused it of “genocide”?

There are definitely NGOs in Israel that cooperate with BDS groups, mainly in the United States. They actually lay the groundwork for the lies and they distort the facts the BDS groups end up using.

We need to determine what falls under freedom of speech, but we are fighting against the threat of delegitimization the NGOs are pursuing. This is something we are dealing with on a regular basis because it’s based on lies and it hurts Israel.

Unfortunately, many agitators against Israel in these various groups are Jewish. What would you say to them as Jews?

They are confused. I talked about it in the lecture that I gave to the JNF, in which I said there are extreme liberal Jews who just swallow the lies and the propaganda the BDS movement is selling. They are confusing liberal and human rights values with the new anti-Semitism. BDS is perpetrating a fraud and unfortunately there are people who are buying into it.

Sara Lehmann

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