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Jewish World Review June 11, 1999 /27 Sivan 5759

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Small Stories With Important Conclusions --
OFTEN, IT IS THE LITTLE STORIES -- the sidebars, as we call them in the newspaper business -- that tell you as much if not more than the big ones. Here are a few small stories that are more significant than the attention they have heretofore received.

One of the strangest bits of intelligence I have come across in recent months barely made a ripple in the media. It was the news that the recently defeated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent his three years in power trying to negotiate the surrender of the Golan Heights to the Syrians. Pardon me for being a credulous fool, but am I the only one who is stunned by the hypocrisy here? Netanyahu spent years berating Shimon Peres and the late Yitzhak Rabin for begging Hafez Assad to take the Golan on a silver platter, then apparently turned around and did the very same thing under cover of darkness.

The rumor is, now that he has time on his hands, Bibi will lecture in the United States and write books for big bucks. I've even heard that he may even reissue his 1993 book "A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World," with new chapters included about his exploits as prime minister. Now that I'd like to see. It will take a better writer than Bibi (or whoever is hired to ghost it in his name) to explain why he governed Israel as if the majority of the thoughts in that much-admired book were false. But laying Netanyahu's mendaciousness aside, the most bizarre aspect of this story was the news that Netanyahu's special envoy to the dictator of Syria was none other than Ronald Lauder. Lauder is the cosmetics heir who is currently president of the Jewish National Fund and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (making him the unofficial "prince of exile").

In the past, he has been a failed candidate for mayor of New York, Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Austria and the benefactor of the revival of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. But whoever thought Lauder (who is also believed to be the man who bankrolled Bibi's American political consultant Arthur Finkelstein's losing activities in Israel) was doing double duty as our man in Damascus? Considering how much fuss was made over his ties to Bibi when he was voted in as head of the Conference, one wonders who there was in the know.

Giving a political dilettante like Lauder so much responsibility doesn't make me feel particularly safe. But I'll say this for him: He did manage to keep his mouth shut about it.

This past week, on the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the news media finally paid some attention to the state of human rights in China.

The sorry record of the Clinton administration on this issue is no secret. Their "engagement" of the butchers of Beijing is a nice word for appeasement. With the applause and support of the business community (which always think making a buck is more important than human rights), the Clintons have made a mockery of American principles - and security - in their reckless embrace of China.

But sadly, the loudest noise I have heard on China was the silence of the American Jewish community. American Jews, who are usually in the forefront of human-rights campaigns (witness our leading organizations' attitude during the Bosnia conflict and on Kosovo), have been very quiet about the world's largest tyranny.

It's not because there are virtually no Jews in China to persecute. The lack of a Jewish component to a tragedy never stopped us in the Balkans and on other issues.

Is it because we don't know what is happening there? Surely not, as the destruction of the people and the culture of Tibet or the existence of a huge gulag for Chinese dissidents and religious believers called the laogai is no secret to anyone who wants to know.

Another answer may be the prominent involvement of many American Jews in trade with China. These are the people who will tell you how complex the situation in China is, but fail to notice that they are giving the same kind of excuses that apologists for the Soviet Union gave 20 years ago during our protests on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

Yet another is the fact of Israel's pursuit of both security and trade relations with the Chinese. The latter can be partially excused by a need to try to separate the Chinese from the Muslim world, but the odds of success there are about as great as Arik Sharon's recent attempt to ally Israel with Russia behind America's back. Whatever the excuse, it is still wrong.

Wherever the truth lies on this issue, with a few prominent exceptions, American Jews are still quiet about the greatest ongoing human-rights tragedy in the world. We ought to be ashamed. Too bad we're too busy patting ourselves on the back for our gung-ho attitude in the Balkans to care.

There are many things that the American Jewish Congress does that I support heartily. But every now and then, the AJCongress takes a position that makes me wonder what exactly is going on with the venerable organization. Witness its attitude toward the Fidel Castro regime on Cuba. Reports in the press, as well as in the group's recent releases, have indicated it is moving toward a stand that the embargo on the communist dictatorship should be lifted. This is a stunning development when you consider the fact that the Castro government has stepped up its repression of dissidents this year.

It is a sad day when a group that was created to protest abuses of human rights puts itself in the position of supporting "engagement" with a tyrannical regime like Castro's Cuba. The point here is not about lessening the plight of the tiny remnant of Cuban Jewry. If we are so concerned about Cuban Jews, then we should be helping them get out of the country, not using their poverty as an excuse to provide Castro with much-needed foreign currency.

But I don't believe that's why AJCongress is supporting easing up on Castro. Just like its embarrassing support of President Clinton during the height of the impeachment debate, its position on Cuba has more to do with the closeness of AJCongress leaders to the president (who is using them to create support for a policy change on Cuba) than anything else.

I think a Jewish defense organization that has nothing better to do with its scarce resources than to be a stalking horse for the Clinton administration is a group that needs to reassess its priorities. To paraphrase the old slogan: Cuba sí, Castro, no. ¿AJCongress, por qué?

Finally, the dumbest item of the week concerned the latest "Star Wars" movie. As I predicted in this space on May 13, some diligent searchers for anti-Semitism have decided that one of the characters in this science fiction/fantasy-film blockbuster is a thinly disguised unflattering caricature of a Jew. At least that's the position taken in a recent article published by the online magazine Slate.

The character in question is "Watto," a winged insect-like creature who owns slaves, and buys and sells spaceship parts and junk.

Of course, there is nothing Jewish about Watto, but he does have a funny accent. (Some at my home paper, the Jewish Exponent, thought he was Arab; I thought he sounded Italian - all of which says more about the screenwriter's poverty of imagination than anything else.)

Fortunately, even the Anti-Defamation League wants no part of this bogus controversy.

So, to all of you out there who relentlessly search for anti-Semitism no matter how trivial or nonexistent the "proof," I have but one thing to say: Get a life.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


06/04/99: Local Heroes Wanted: Taking Hebrew School Seriously
05/28/99: Kosovo's Chicken Hawks and Cluster Bombs
05/19/99: Not to Bibi: Netanyahu's Downfall Is His Own Doing
05/13/99: The search for Jews in outer space continues
05/10/99: Cheering From the Sidelines: American Jews are more than interested observers of Israel's election
05/05/99: Perilous Diplomacy: Palestinians Want To Go Back To 1947
04/30/99: Politically Conservative and Jewish: Not an Oxymoron After All
04/23/99: Notes From the Home Front
04/16/99: The Sporting Jews: Making America's Game Our Own
04/09/99: From Silence to Cacophony: Holocaust metaphors are the coin of the realm
04/05/99: A Righteous but Confused Cause: Kosovo war shines a light on our principles and our hypocrisy
03/19/99:Jewish Art, Jewish Artists: Making beautiful music is no guarantee of goodness
03/17/99: When Jewish Foes Come Together
03/11/99: The Lingering Romance of the Jewish Left: When naming names was a righteous cause
03/05/99: Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers
02/25/99: Changing Our Minds on School Choice
02/18/99: Morality Play: Mixing Politics and Values Is a Tricky Business
02/11/99:Of Human Rights and Wrongs
02/05/99:The Bibiphobia Conspiracy
01/27/99: Israel and Us: Putting Up or Shutting Up
01/20/99: The High Cost of Jewish Education
01/14/99The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Have American Jews finally arrived?
01/06/99 Israel: The Millennial Theme Park
12/30/98 Memo to Bubba: Israel ain't Monica, keep yer hands off!
12/22/98 Calling Things by Their Right Names
12/12/98 Good news...and bad news
11/05/98 What price free-speech?
10/30/98: Haunted by the past
10/23/98: American Jewry: Ethnicity or faith?
10/15/98: Converts, saints and Jews: Confronting the story of Edith Stein
10/02/98: Bibi: No Messiah, just a politician
9/11/98: Politics ‘98: By their enemies shall ye know them
9/04/98: Pro-terror groups' cry of discrimination rings hollow
8/28/98: Defending the undefendable;Or, the AJCongress should stop wasting Jewish resources
8/21/98: Is 'Jewish journalism' an oxymoron?
8/14/98: Holding on to our heroes
8/07/98: Three strikes, but they continue to play
7/23/98: Zionist vs Zionist
7/17/98: Summer news stories: Large and small
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

©1999, Jonathan Tobin