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June 8, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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June 8, 2012
 

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PAGE 14A By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- When does a bimah turn into a political soapbox? The controversy last month over a Miami temple's invita- tion and then disinvitation to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)mwhich prompted the resignation of an influential congregant who also is a Republican activist--has revived with a new vehemence a question common in every election cycle: What are the appropri- ate parameters for political" visits to houses of worship? "It's true, Debbie Was- serman Schultz is not only active in supporting Obama, she's a candidate," said Marc Stern, the American Jewish Committee's associate gen- eral counsel. "But Debbie Wasserman Schultz is also a congresswoman and she is a sitting member of Congress talking about something pertinent to her duties and undoubtedly is important to many of her constituents in South Florida." StanleyTate, a 63-year member of Temple Israel and a prominent local Re- publican and philanthropist, demanded the right to rebut Wasserman Schultz, who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Com- mittee, in real time. Turned down, he quit the synagogue in disgust. "The topic she had selected, U.S.-Israel relations, was a political topic," he said. "It was a terribly wrong thing to !aave been done. They could have lost their tax status." By Dan Goldberg SYDNEY, Australia (JTA)--When Australia's highest court soon rules on whether the 90:year- old Karoly "Charles" Zentai should be extradited to Hun- " gary, if likely wil! be passing judgment on the last known Nazi war criminal suspect residing in the country. The pending end of the drawn' out legal proceed- ings is forcing some here to examine Australia's poor record in cases of suspected Nazis. Zentai is facing extradi- tion charges to his na- tire Hungary for Mlegedly murdering Peter Balazs, ao 18-year-old Jew who was not wearing his mandatory Star of David in 1944. It is alleged that Zentai, then a cadet sergeant in the pro- Nazi Hungarian army, and two others tortured and HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 8, 2012 Miami shul controversy harbinger of political tone in Jewish community The temple, fearing a reprise of a recent headline- making showdown between a Boca Raton.temple and Jewish critics of Obama, dis- invited Wasserman Schultz postponed the session and instituted a new policy: No candidates would appear at its events during election season. "We will continue to de- cline to have candidates speaking during active cam- paign periods," Ben Kuehne, the temple's president, told JTA. But banning political speak.ers from the sanctu- ary "is not what Congress intended" when it shaped laws govern!ng the status of 501(3)s, the Internal Revenue Service term for tax-exempt nonprofits, Stern said. Kuehne said he was not opposed to balancing Wasser- man Schultz with an etluiva- lent Republican speaker. Tate said that Kuehne's objection was on Tate's rebutting her in real time. Tate, 85, quoted Kuehne in their back-and-forth as offering to invite Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to speak on the same topic at a Similar time and place. By that time, however, Tate felt Kuehne had misled him, and quit. Tate said when he first raised his objection, he was not aware that Kuehne had been active in Democratic Party politics and was a donor. to Democratic candidates. Kuehne, a legal adviser to Democratic nominee Al Gore's team during the 2000 presidential election rec6unt, would not describe his private conversations with'Tatg. "We. will continue to reach out to elected officials to help us with our social justice programming," Kuehne said, referring to the rubric under which Wasserman Schuitz was to have spoken. That, however, will wait until after the election "be- cause of heightened attention to the partisan politics," he said. Wasserman Schultz did not hold back on her char- acterization of the incident. "It is unfortunate that some would allow politics to stand in the way of citizens' ability to interact with their representative," she said in a statement to the Miami Her- ald. The temple is just outside Wasserman Schu/tz's dis- trict, although many of her constituents are members. In a letter to the congrega- tion explaining the decision, Kuehne cited an effort by some right-wing Jews to protest a speech by Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, at the B'nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton earlier in the month. Officials of the congrega- tion feared disruptions; the protesters said they were unfairly silenced. That event, he wrote, "was met with heightened levels of protest and disruption that potentially imperiled the safety and security of the Temp le and its congregants." B'nai Torah also decided not to host candidates for public office or their associ- ates this election cycle. For Kurt Stone, a political science professor at Atlantic and Florida International universities, the policy is akin to giving into bullies. He was once a congregational rabbi and now authors a liberal biog. "There was a time in fairly recent memory when you could bring anyone to speak in your synagogue and talk on just about anything, and at least give the person the respect they deserve as a human being, a community leader and a fellow Jew," he said. The episode has left a marked impact on Lauren Trushin, a 16-year-old fan of Wasserman Schultz WHose confirmation speech was to have coincided with the politician's talk. "What I learned from the member who made the threats is that some people consider personal politi- cal beliefs about how this country is run to be more important than the State of Israel, and that people who engage in bullying get their way when people don't stand up to them," she said in her May 25 speech, reported by the Miami Herald. That aside, keeping politi- cians and public officials out of the synagogue is not good for the Jews, said Mark Pelavin, the associate direc- tor of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center. "It allows a heckler's veto," he said. "The notion we need to avOid speech that is controversial is troubling. That would leave out every haftarah portion and a good chunk of the Torah as well." The roles were reversed in 2004 when Jewish Republi- cans and Democrats did rhe- torical battle over a speaker program by the Jewish Policy Center, an affiliate of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Democrats said the program, which featured conservative scholars, was poorly guised propaganda targeting Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), that year's presidential candidate for the party. In 2008, Democrats ob jected to an invitation by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Or- ganizations to Sarah Palin, then the GOP vice presiden- tial nominee, to-speak at an anti-Iran rally, citing much the same reasoning Tate used in Miami: Political speech is by definition partisan, and requiresbalance. Democrats said Joe Biden, Palin's coun- terpart at that time, had been invited, but with not enough notice. The solution to partisan speech, AJC's Stern said, is more speech from the other side. In the 2004 controversy, for instance, he said had the conservative scholars ven- tured into pro-Republican political speech synagogue officials only had to make it clear that they did not endorse it- and to invite the opposing view at a different time. Jonathan Tobin, writing on. the conservative Contentions blog hosted by Commentary Magazine, said the season should count out appear- ances by the likes of Wasser- man Schultz. "Synagogues and churches should stay away from al- lowing their services to be commandeered by partisans, especially during a presiden- tial election in which the considerable Jewish vote in Florida may be up for grabs," he said. The rules for 501(c)(3) exemptions are fairly narrow and allow considerable leeway in such matters. On its website, the IRS prohibits "contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." However it exempts "voter education activities (includ- ing presenting public forums and publishing voter educa- tion guides)conducted in a nonpartisan manner." .The key is "nonpartisan," said Pelavin of the Reform movement. "You can't invite a candidate for one office without inviting a candidate from the other side at as similar time," he said. "It can't be one side for Friday night services, and the other side for Thursday morning youth group." David Harris, the executive director of the National Jew- ish Democratic Council, said he advises synagogues that solicit his group's services to make sure they hear the opposing side--whether in h face-to-face debate, or at a different time. "It's important there's bi- partisan balance throughout an election cycle," he said. Australia's poor record prosecuting Nazis highlighted by pending Karoly Zentai case country. In fact, from 1987 to 1992, no fewer than 841 people wer investigated by the government's Spe- cial Investigations Unit (SIU), which was set up to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. It was shut down without a single successful conviction. Zentai has vehemently denied the charges ever since he was arrested in 2005, which followed a Simon Wiesenthal Center investigation that flushed out information of his whereabouts. He has consistently main- tained that he was not in Budapest the day Balazs was murdered, contending he left the Hungarian capital a day earlier. When first arrested, he said he was prepared to go to Budapest to clear his name. But his Son, Ernie Steiner, said last week, "My father sentence, Steiner said. Regardless, Efraim Zuroff, head of the Wiesenthai Cen- ter's office in Jerusalem, said it is "outrageous" that Zentai has eluded justice for So long. "The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers,': he said. "Old age should not afford protection for people who committed murder. "Don't look at Zentai and see a relatively old and pos- sibly frail gentleman, but.,. [see someone] who at the height of his physical powers devoted them to the murder of an innocent young boy whose 'crime' was being born a Jew," he said. Marika Weinberger, a Holocaust survivor who was born in a Hungarian-con- trolled town called Kosice, agreed. "My grandmother was nearly 90 when she died at chwitz and her father died in Dachau. "Only my sister and I survived," said the 83-year* old Weinberger. She arrived in Sydney by ship in 1950, one of an estimated 35,000 Holocaust survivors--the largest country intake per capita outside of Israel. The Executive Council of Australfan Jewry, which represents the nation's es- timated 110,000 Jews, con- gratulated the government in 2010 when it appealed a lower court's ruling that Zentai could not be extra- dited. ".The surviving relatives of Peter Balazs are not looking for vengeance," Danny Lamm, the group's president, said at the time. "They want ... justice, no matter how long it takes." Zentai is far from the first alleged Nazi war criminal in Australia whose case has beat Balazs to death before dumping his body in the Danube. About seven years ago, a Hungarian military tribu- nal issued an international warrant for Zentai's arrest, which began the process of seeking an extradition from Australia. The Australian government approved the request in 2009, but asked the country's courts to de- termine the legality of its decision. The judges',verdict, which could come imminently, will likely end the seven-year controversial legal case. If Zentai is extradited, it will be the first time Australia has sent a suspected Nazi war criminal back to Europe for prosecution. Zentai arrived in Austra- lia by ship in 1950. He was one of hundreds of sus- pectecl Nazi war criminals who found sanctuary in the while awaiting a court deci- sion on whether he should be extradited to Latvia. His commanding officer, Karlis Ozols, was arguably Australia's highest-ranking alleged Nazi war crimes suspect. He was accused of ordering the slaughter of more than 10,000 Jews. The SIU referred,its file to the Director of Public Prosecu- tions in1992, saying "The. evidence establishes four counts of genocide." But the SIU was closed that year and Ozols was never prosecuted. He, too, died in Melbourne in 2001. "It's hard to be optimistic about a case of  Nazi war criminal in Australia, given the county's terrible record to date," Zuroff said. "But in this case, the government has acted in the proper manner and perhaps we will finally see a successful result." AIIStar Janitorial I SERVICES Edward & Sandi C.E.O, Owner Call For A FREE Estimate 321.442.7272 has always stated that he is willing to face questions in person in Australia from. any credentialed Hungarian government investigator." His father, a pensioner who still lives alone in Perth, would not survive extradi- tion, he added. Zentai's heart specialist, who had previously said the suspect was fit to travel to Hungary, has now said that extradi- tion would be a virtual death Auschwitz," she said. "That doesn't do anything for me when they say he's an old man. I don't care; there were lots of old men and women. who were taken to'the gas chambers." Weinberger, a former president of the Australian Association of Jewish Holo- caust Survivors and Descen- dants, said her mother and two grandmothers perished in the gas chambers at Aus- been bound up in the legal system. In 1988, a U.S. judge ruled there was "unequivocal evi- dence" that Konrads Kalejs participated in atrocities while he was an officer in the notorious Arajs Kommando, which murdered thousands of Jews in Latvia. He eventu- ally was deported to Austra- lia, where had earlier lived and gained Citizenship; he died in Melbourne in 2001 Indeed, Weinberger fears gentai, like Kalejs and Ozols, may avoid prosecu- tion. "I'm proud to be Austra- lian but this is something that does pain me," she said of her country's failure to act against suspected Nazis. "I would've liked to have lived to the day when at least one would be sent back to answer the brutality and the pain they caused."