Jewish World Review July 17 , 1998 / 22 Tamuz, 5758

Jonathan S. Tobin

Jonathan S. Tobin Summer news stories: Large and small

SUMMER IS TRADITIONALLY a slow time for news as well as the organized Jewish world. This means a lot of small silly stories will get ink that they wouldn't get in the Fall. But some of these stories tell us a lot about where society and the Jewish community is heading. Here are a few:

Comics and the Holocaust

Hot on the heels of the conclusion to the latest squabble at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in which a prominent scholar lost his bid to head the Museum's research department because of his inappropriate use of Holocaust analogies, borscht-belt comic Jackie Mason has weighed in with his own stupid remark.

The comedian told the Los Angeles Times that President Clinton could, "just as easily kill as Hitler would." Mason ought to be ashamed of himself for even joking about such a thing, but anyone who really takes the words of a vulgar clown like Mason seriously (I'll confess to being part of the minority of American Jewry that cringes every time he opens his mouth) probably needs a vacation. But there is a serious point to be made about this tempest in a teapot. Most American Jews are quick to cry outrage (and right to do so) when they hear someone compare the I.R.S. to the Gestapo, Israel to Nazi Germany, or anyone short of Stalin or Mao, to Hitler.

But how often do we hear other inappropriate analogies to the Holocaust in our conversations within our own community? Too often, I suspect. Having made the Holocaust the center of Jewish thinking in the last generation, many of us are a little quick on the draw to link anyone we don't like with the Nazis. For some that can mean Gingrich, the GOP, or the Christian Coalition. For others, it can mean Clinton or liberals who don't like Israel. Such persons may be worthy of serious criticism, but they are not Nazis or anything like them.

Jackie Mason isn't alone in opening his big mouth in a way that challenges the integrity of history. Would that he were.

Gambling in the Land of Israel

Much like classic television character Ralph Kramden, Palestinian Authority strongman Yasser Arafat is fond of get-rich-quick schemes. His favorite is skimming money from his shakedowns of Arab regimes as well as U.S. aid, but he's exploring a new idea. The latest is the scheme to build a major gambling casino in the PA's Jericho stronghold. Under the rule of the PLO's top terrorist the place with the lowest elevation from sea level in the world will sink even lower.

And who are the saps who will play against the house and enrich Arafat and the Austrians who are building the casino? Apparently they are counting on Israelis and American Jewish tourists. This project will do little for poor Palestinian Arabs (just as gambling projects in the U.S. are ultimately destructive of their host populations too), but that won't stop Arafat. Even worse, there are a lot of Israelis who would like to open their own casinos, though so far they have failed. Interestingly, the leaders of the Afula-Gilboa region of Israel which is linked to Connecticut via the Partnership 2000 program, have also proposed a gambling-related scheme to boost their local economy. Two years ago, Danny Matar, mayor of the Gilboa region, told me he'd like to have a "Hippodrome" for horse racing built in his region. I doubt he'll get his wish, but how pathetic that so many Israelis and Arabs are wasting time thinking about developing a destructive industry like gambling (which creates as many victims as jobs) instead of concentrating on the high-tech future of the global economy.

Sharansky and Clinton's Jews

The top silly story of the month so far is the brouhaha over Israeli Minister of Trade and Industry Natan Sharansky's comments about American Jews who serve in the Clinton Administration. Sharansky, the former prisoner of Zion and hero of the Soviet refuseniks, was asked about the Netanyahu government's problems with the White House. Sharansky, who remains honest to a fault, answered that the biggest problem the Israelis have with Mr. Clinton is the large number of American Jews who hold positions of influence in the Administration. He explained that the problem stemmed from the fact that so many of them were supporters of Israel's "Peace Now" movement.

But Sharansky has taken a beating from many leading Jews who linked his comments to the vicious attacks that some of these same administration figures have been subjected to in the Arab world. Interestingly, the State Department takes great umbrage anytime Under Secretary of State Martin Indyk (former U.S. ambassador to Israel and currently in charge of the Middle East at State), Amb. Dennis Ross (America's perpetual Middle East negotiator since the days of James Baker) and Amb. Aaron Miller (Ross' colleague who now serves as U.S. ambassador to Egypt) are accused of being supporters of Zionism. As if that and their overt Jewish faith was something to be ashamed of. Of course, they're all Zionists.

So what was Sharansky complaining about? Anyone who follows the peace process closely knows that Sharansky hit the nail on the head. Leading figures like National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (a Peace Now contributor), Indyk, Ross and Miller, have all clearly demonstrated over the years their preference for the Israeli Labor party which was defeated by Netanyahu in the 1996 Israeli elections. They can't stand Bibi's government and have orchestrated a lot of the U.S. pressure on Israel in the last two years in hopes of reversing the election results.

Yes, there a lot of prominent Jews in the administration and American Jews should be proud of their achievements. But most of them, as well as the large crowd of Hollywood Jewish liberals who fawn on the Clintons (and stay over in the Lincoln Bedroom), are equally hostile to Netanyahu. These people are not anti-Israel, as some falsely suggest, but they are anti-Likud and anti-Bibi. Which means they are prepared to put the screws on Israel's government in order to advance their partisan agenda. They are one of Israel's biggest current problems. Sharansky is right and everyone knows it.

Kind words and no action from Clinton

The first big story of the summer was probably its most superficial: President Clinton's much ballyhooed trip to China. The trip was, by all accounts, a great success for our image-driven and Television-friendly president, who said all the right things. Despite the public relations, little has changed in China as a result of the trip. According to news reports, dissidents were rounded up just before his trip and they were again rounded up after his trip. Even though, Hillary Clinton toured a (closed) synagogue in Shanghai with a rabbi, religious freedom in the world's most populous country is still restricted.

What did the trip really accomplish? It has taken the wind out of the sails of the drive to exert more U.S. pressure on human rights in China such as the Wolf-Specter bill before Congress. That's good for big business (and Clinton contributors) and good for the Chinese tyrants. But nothing for Americans to be proud of.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association highest award: First Place in The Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing. The Rapoport award is named for the longtime editor of the Jerusalem Post and was given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 1997 Simon Rockower Awards dinner in Cleveland on June 18, 1998.


7/13/98: A step closer to school choice
6/26/98: The Holocaust Museum and Mort Klein
6/12/98: What price Jewish education?
6/5/98: Ten books for a long, hot summer: A serious vacation reading list for Jewish history lovers
5/29/98: Double standards here and there: Hypocrisy raises its ugly head in Israel and the U.S.
5/26/98: Hartford Seminary tangle points to bigger issues
5/22/98:The importance of being Bibi
5/14/98: The ‘dream palace' of the anti-Zionists: Hartford Seminary controversy has historic roots
4/26/98: All-rightniks versus the alarmists: Focussing on the Jewish bottom line
4/13/98:Of ends and means and victims
4/5/98: Hang up on Albright
3/29/98: Bigshots or activists?: Clinton's three clerics return from China
3/27/98: Will American Jews help Clinton push Israel into a corner?
3/22/98: Anti-Semitism then and now
3/15/98: Still searching for Jews at the opera
3/11/98: Remembering Eric Breindel
3/8/98: Getting lost in history
3/5/98: Follow the money to Hamas
2/22/98: Re-writing "Anne Frank" - A distorted legacy
2/15/98: Religious persecution is still a Jewish issue
2/6/98: A lost cause remembered (the failure of the Bund)
2/1/98: Economic aid is not in Israel's interest
1/25/98: Jews are news, and a fair shake for Israel is hard to find

©1998, Jonathan S. Tobin