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Jewish World Review June 1, 2001 / 10 Sivan, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

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Concentrate on real tragedies, not 'Hurricane Israel' debate -- JEWS have enough to worry about.

That is one of the great all-time understatements, true in any era, though more so in some than in others. So it's understandable that some Jewish leaders and worrywarts said "Oy Vey" when they learned of a United Nations commission's decision to name a hurricane "Israel."

Every year a U.N. "naming committee" comes out with an alphabetical list of hurricane names. Until a few years ago, they only had female names, but that was considered insensitive. So, with progress comes a hurricane named Israel. The letter "I" is the ninth in the alphabet, so the ninth hurricane of the season will share a name with the beleaguered Jewish state. You can almost hear the yentas: "Don't we have enough headaches?"

Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami and chairman of the U.N.'s hurricane naming committee doesn't think so. He explained to The Jerusalem Post that it never occurred to him or to any of his colleagues that it could be a PR problem to name a Godzilla-like weather pattern that smashes homes and kills people after the Zionist state.

"We have 4 billion people on the planet, and you are the only person I've ever had express a concern about the name Israel," he explained to The Jerusalem Post reporter. Besides, Mayfield explained, Israel is a "good Spanish name."

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, responded, "How about Jesus? That's a good Spanish name."

"There is a certain terrible irony to naming a hurricane Israel, given that the Nazis forced Jewish males who did not have what they considered to be a distinctly Jewish name to add the name Israel as a middle name," Efraim Zuroff, Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told the Post. "It was done in order to make sure that they were clearly identified as Jews, and therefore subject to the racial laws and other discriminatory measures."

"With all our current security problems and the concurrent struggle over Israel's image in world opinion, a killer hurricane named Israel is the last thing we need," Zuroff said. "I shudder to think how terrible it would be in Muslim countries in the Far East if they found themselves suffering from a storm by that name. All we can hope is that if a hurricane is named Israel, it will be the least destructive one in recent history."

Now, all things considered, I guess it would be better if the United Nations - a notoriously anti-Israel body - hadn't opened the possibility of headlines such as "Israel Wipes Out Thousands in Manila" or "Miami Without Power for Second Day, Thanks to Israel."

Foxman is right that a headline "Jesus Pounds South Carolina, Thousands Left Homeless" wouldn't pass muster. And there are other countries with first-name names, like Chad and Jordan, but there's little chance they'll be barreling down on the Eastern Seaboard any time soon. Plus, the fact that No. 1 on next year's hurricane list will be named Adolph is hardly a helpful coincidence.

But come on. Jews have enough to worry about.

And yet, Foxman is demanding that the name be changed, and various Jewish leaders are pounding the table calling the name "bizarre," "stupid" and "insensitive."

It may be bizarre, stupid and insensitive. But is this the most important battle for Israel or Jews right now? There are actual battles taking place in Israel right now. Wailing and moaning about the politically incorrect name of a hurricane will not change that fact at all.

Indeed, there's little upside to taking on this cause. If they succeed in changing the name, woop-de-doo, the ninth hurricane of the season will be named Iggy. By then, the stereotype that Jews are unduly thin-skinned will have gained a bit more traction. Also, if the National Director of the ADL can't find an injustice greater than a misnamed hurricane, he's not looking hard enough.

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