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July 17, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 17, 2009 PAG E 5A Israel backers must support a settlement freeze By John Friedman DURHAM, N.C. (JTA)-- The Jewish community in America has always supported Israel. We have raised funds, walked in solidarity, visited whenever possible and prayed for the safety of the Jewish state since its very inception. "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel" is a comment made sincerely by many. But surely, if we stand with Israel, if we want what's best for the Jewish state, we must be honest--we must tell the leadership of our spiritual home the truth. And the truth is, President Obama is right when he says that settlement building must stop. There are many reasons to argue for a settlement freeze. The economic drain of the settlements on the Israeli economy is enormous. The government has spent more than half a billion dollars on the settlements annually, with each settler getting thousands of dollars more in benefits than other Israelis. Furthermore, the Is- raeli government has already signed an international agree- ment committing itself to a freeze--the 2003 "road map." Also, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state depends on territorial con- tiguity, and more construc- tion makes the achievement of a state that much more difficult. Finally, as a rabbi, I might be expected to con- cern myself with the moral implications of the settlement project. But the American Jewish community really needs to focus on only one thing in this battle over settlements: Freezing construction will lead to an improvement in Israel's security. This result will not be direct, nor will it be immediate. But calling a halt to Israeli construction on the West Bankwill serve as the first, vital step in a process that, simply put, will make Israel a safer place to live. One need only look at a map to see what Palestinians see every day: Israeli settle- ments--and the attendant bypass roads, roadblocks and security fence--have served to carve the West Bank into ever shrinking pieces. Pales- tinians look at the cranes and bulldozers and know what we are often loath to admit: Each new stone laid in an Israeli settlement is further reason to distrust the Israeli government's statements that it wants peace. A settlement freeze is a requirement if the sides want to start a true negotiation process. Not only will it allow the Palestinian leadership to sit at the table in good faith, it also will free the rest of the Arab world to begin to act on the promise of normalization made in the Arab League Peace Initiative. It will serve as the single clearest state- ment Israel can make that it is serious in its intention to see the establishment of a durable Palestinian state alongside Is- rael. And a sincere negotiating process, difficult and painiul as it may yet prove; is the one thing that can lead Israel to real peace and true security. In fighting the freeze, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is risking not only this process but also the alien- ation of Israel's strongest, staunchest ally. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have made it abundantly clear that unlike the Bush administra- tion, they mean what they say and they say what they mean. They expect the Israeli government to stand by its commitment to freeze all con- struction in the settlements. Can Israel afford to push the Americans away? Furthermore, the settle- ments have proven them- selves a burden on Israel's mil- itary for years. Every soldier sent to protect settlements or escort settlers on the roads is a soldier unavailable to guard Israel's borders. Each soldier trained to check Palestinian IDs at one of the hundreds of West Bank roadblocks is a soldier unavailable for train- ing in modern warfare. Every dollar spent on patrols around West Bank cities is a dollar unavailable for upgraded equipment. The state of Israel's military preparedness was revealed in the summer of 2006 during the Second LebanonWar, and the Israeli public and Jewish Diaspora grieved together to see the high cost of going to war unprepared. A settlement freeze would not immediately halt attacks on Israel. It would not im- mediately free up financial or military resources with which to build a stronger country, nor would it guarantee that Israel and the United States will see eye-to-eye in the future. But it would be an incal- culably important first step, demonstrating clearly to the American administration, the Palestinian people and the world at large that Israel is serious in its peaceful inten- tions. And this, in turn, will allow peace talks to move forward. If we are to truly stand with and for Israel, we must stand for peace. If we stand for peace, we as a community must stand for the settlement freeze. Rabbi John Friedman of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, N.C., is the chair of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's Rabbinic Cabinet. Should the killers be the victims' heirs? By Esther Toporek Finder WASHINGTON--The Ho- locaust EraAssets Conference concluded in Prague with a moving program at Terezin and a nonbinding declaration emphasizing that survivors' needs in these, their lastyears, should be treated with more urgency than real estate, art or other restitution issues. Elie Wiesel set the tone bril- liantly by asking if the killers should become the victims' heirs, telling how the killers "stole not only the wealth of the wealthy but the poverty of the poor," and imploring the world to remember the survivors whom we have al- lowed to suffer too much. Amazingly, survivors' needs never appeared on the radar screen at prior international Holocaust-era conferences, but this time, survivors and their children raised their voices and were heard. In Is- rael, survivors protested; in the United States, the survivors and their children (notably Holocaust Survivors Foun- dation-USA and Generations of the Shoah International) lobbied members of Congress and wrote articles and letters to draw attention to the needs of aging survivors. The efforts were successful enough to have changed the dialogue. At first, the topic of aging survivors was not on the conference agenda, then it was added as a postscripted "special session." Ultimately it became the No. 1 issue. It is about time. As a member of the official American delegation and the only child of survivors chosen to "speak about the concerns of our aging parents from the perspective of the survivor families, my job was to en- lighten the world about the issues we face. I was allotted seven minutes. It is not widely known that about half the Holocaust sur- vivors in the U. S. are living at or below the poverty line and struggling on a daily basis for basic necessities. Though the number of survivors decreases annually, their needs increase and they present unique chal- lenges. Holocaust survivors are not like other aging Americans. They often have medical conditions that began during World War II. Injuries and illnesses from those years can haunt survivors today. Because of their wartime ex- periences, they are morelikely to suffer fro m post-traumatic stress disorder. If memory problems arise, the survivor may be forced to relive Holocaust trauma again and again. Each relived episode feels like a fresh stab to the heart. Additionally, as memory goes, the last lan- guage learned is the first one lost, so some survivors can no longer speak with their children. These are just some of the problems. There were many moving speeches at the conference, but specifics were lacking regarding how to solve the residual fallout of the Shoah. There were calls for "heirless" property in Central Europe to be used to fund services for survivors. Poland and Lithu- ania, two countries with out- standing property claims, are not interested in restituting or compensating Jewish property. Also, the German property experience had the effect of pitting heirs against needy sur- vivors. The Conference on Jew- ish Material Claims Against Germany handled property claims in virtual secrecy; that cannot be allowed again. The controversial Claims Conference 80-20 split--80 percent to survivors' needs and 20 percent to education and remembrance--needs to change. As long as there are survivors unable to buy food or medical necessities, they must be the 100 percent priority. Use of victim money for these non-survivor proj- ects must cease until social service needs of all survivors are fully funded. Nothing was officially ac- knowledged about the billions of dollars global insurers such as Generali and Allianz and others have retained from Holocaust victims. And what about the banks, manufac- turers and governments that participated in this, the great- est theft in history? To be sure, there were people at the conference who have good intentions, but the problems are enormous and solutions complicated and expensive. Non-survivor organizations in the U. S. may have been well-intentioned, but they did not fully appreci- ate the situation. It is time to speak directly with survivor families to assess the needs. We look to the leadership of Stuart Eizenstat and Christian Kennedy, Reps. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and Ileanna Ross- Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and others for help in this late hour. Hopefully, we can change the rhetoric into reality. Let us not allow the killers to continue to be the heirs of our murdered brethren. Esther Toporek Finder of Rockville, Md., is the president of The Genera- tion After and a member of the coordinating council of Generations of the Shoah In- ternational. This op-ed first appeared in the Washington Jewish Week. Iran: On the precipice By Arash Farin Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles LOS ANGELES--In the same week that violent pro- tests engulfed Iran following its hotly contested election, W Magazine ran alengthy spread about the Iranian immigrant community in Los Angeles and the incredible name they have made for themselves. Given all the tragedies and trampling of human rights coming out of Iran, it was a welcome reminder of the astonishing success of one community basking in free- dom and is a potent example of how Iran and other countries could likewise flourish. The central theme of the article was that Iranians who moved to America in the wake of the country's last revolution in the late 1970s and early 1980s have not only survived in a foreign land, but also thrived. They've created unimaginable wealth for themselves, but also serve as role models, given the scope of their philanthropic endeavors, civic and religious participation, and pursuit of elected office. Of course, the Iranian community in Los Angeles is not alone in standing out. In August 2008, Newsweek ran a story on agroup of Iranian stu- dents who received the high- est scores ever on Stanford's Ph.D. entrance exam, known to be tremendously difficult. The majority of the students came from a single Iranian university, Sharif University of Science and Technology in Iran, known today to have one of the best undergraduate electrical engineering depart- ments in the world, despite competing with perennial all-stars such /s MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Tsingshua (China) and Cambridge. As the article goes on to say, Iranian stu- dents from Sharif and other outstanding Iranian schools have been recognized in the International Science Olym- pics and have won top prizes in physics, math, chemistry and robotics. Unfortunately, up to 90 percent of these students leave the country for graduate school or to work elsewhere around the world. Shortly after the article was published, another Iranian American also made the news. Professor Maysam Ghovanloo, of Georgia Tech, was singled out by then-President George W. Bush at a White House dinner and described as "one of our nation's most inge- nious biomedical engineers." Ghovanloo invented a tech- nology that could revolution- ize how people with severe disabilities operate their wheelchairs and engage in daily activities simply by mov- ing their tongue. I am reminded of these anecdotes as I watch the blood spill onto the streets of Teh- ran. Iranians in my commu- nity speak of the rhetoric they used to hear from the mullahs after the Iran-Iraq war, that these kids and young adults who risked certain death by being forced onto minefields were gharemans, or heroes of the Iranian people. It's plainly evident how Iran is treating its gharemans now. I'm reminded of these stories when I hear about ordinary citizens and journalists in Iran being thrown in secret prisons, violently tortured and beaten, brainwashed and forced to admit to crimes they didn't commit. I'm reminded of these stories when I hear reports of Iran employing the death penalty more often than nearly every other country, sometimes hanging people from a crane in public for all towitness this ghoulish scene. Why, then, is Iran willing to risk public humiliation, the ire of its citizens and the oppro- brium of the Western world? These are important ques- tions to ask, since today, just as in 19791 Iran stands yet again on the edge of a precipice. For all its chants of "Death to America," Iran has little to show for itself these last 30 years. With a popula- tion that is about 70 percent below the age of 35, there is double-digit unemployment (estimated at 13 percent by the Iranian government), infla- tion (28 percent in 2008) and discontent among the work- ing class. Thanks to its clerical regime, instead of welcoming Iran into the international fold as a forward-thinking nation, we have Iran to thank as one of the world's greatest state sponsors of terror, providing financing and weaponry to Hezbollah and numerous other terrorist groups. What will be the legacy of Iran a mere 30 years from now? These are the questions America, Europe and the Arab world should be ask- ing themselves today. These issues are emblematic of the deep-rooted dichotomy emanating out of the Middle East, not just Iran. 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