Unbearable

A winter flurry of “Dear President Obama” letters – in the forms of op-eds and paid advertisements – have swirled around the public square in the days since the 44th president of the United States was sworn into office.

Some of the open letters have concerned Mr. Obama’s economic stimulus plan; others, United States relations with Iran; others still, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether the President pays any attention to the multitudinous missives is anyone’s guess. But if I had his ear (or his BlackBerry contact information), I think my own message would consist of a simple video clip.

Broadcast on an Egyptian television channel on January 26, barely a week into Mr. Obama’s presidency and on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the clip addresses the destruction of European Jewry during the Second World War – but in a very different way from most Holocaust commemorations.

The video is a sermon offered to the public by an Egyptian Muslim cleric, Amin Al-Ansari; it was translated by the invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The gist of Mr. Al-Ansari’s teaching is that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust, since they had been “killing Germans, kindling civil strife, inciting the people against the rulers and corrupting the peoples.”

The cleric offers a similarly creative history of Zionism (turning Theodore Herzl, for instance, a lifelong journalist and writer, into the inventor of a new type of explosive that he offered the British government – evidence of how “annihilation underlies [the Jews’] ideology”); explains how the “rulers of America” themselves hated and feared Jews (impelling them to try to “give [the Jews] a place of their own”); and asserts that the destruction of European Jewry was a just and proper response to the crimes of Jews throughout history.

What is particularly remarkable about the sermon – similar ones, after all, are routinely offered by Islamist clerics – is its employment of Holocaust footage to make its case, so to speak.

“Let’s watch what Germany did to Israel – or, rather, to the Jews,” the preacher invites viewers – “so we can understand that there is no remedy for these people other than imposing fear and terror on them.”

And with that the screen shows archival film footage of horrific concentration camp scenes – no less wrenching for their having been in the public domain for more than a half-century. Piles of skeletal remains are bulldozed like so much refuse, emaciated Jews hobble along before Nazi soldiers, a man is prepared to hang… and more. And as the scenes are displayed, Mr. Al-Ansari’s voice begins to show a certain enthusiasm, even excitement. “Watch this,” he urges the viewer. “Look… This child awaits his turn. Watch their humiliation. They are corpses, Allah be praised…”

And then, with barely disguised glee, as the viewer is shown an elderly Jewish woman kneeling on the ground, clutching the hand of a German officer, putting it to her face, begging, it would seem, for her life, Mr. Al-Ansari suggests with satisfaction that we “Notice what humiliation, fear and terror have struck her… See how much she is kissing his hand…”

“This is what we hope will happen,” the cleric then assures viewers, “but, Allah willing, at the hand of the Muslims.”

We live in a complex world, filled with competing interests and “narratives.” President Obama was wise to tell his interviewer on Al Arabiya television that “the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world,” and no less wise to offer “a hand of friendship” on behalf of America to “the broader Muslim world.”

His wisdom showed, too, in his assertion during that same interview that the ideas of radical Islamists “are bankrupt” and that their path leads to “no place except more death and destruction.”

And both wisdom and principle were abundantly evident in his straightforward statement to an Arab audience – and, in effect, to the Arab world – that “Israel is a strong ally of the United States… [and] will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel’s security is paramount.”

There is something more, though, that is vitally important for an American leader to recognize about our world. I suspect that Mr. Obama knows it well, even if he may not choose to articulate it as bluntly as did his predecessor.

That something is the lesson of the clip I would send him: The contemporary world, like the world of yesteryear and before, back to the beginning of human history, harbors not only challenge and opportunity, but evil – unqualified, unbridled and unbearable.

© 2009 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered for publication or sharing without charge,
provided the above copyright notice is appended.

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8 Responses

  1. L.Oberstein says:

    Leah, just because someone believes in their religioun, doesn’t allow the denigration of another one. Within Islam, there are many moral people with good values who work hard to make a better life for their families. They cooperate with Jewish Kashruth agencies and are the biggest customers of Kosher food, more than Jews. Unfortunately, since their heyday many centuries ago, the Arab world has sunk into a self perpetuating decline. There is a lot of pathology in the Arab world that holds their people back and a lot of self perpetuating self justification for their failure by blaming it on others. It is a problem for Jews because the State of Israel is living proof of what could be in the Middle East if the Arabs could get their act together.
    That being said, there are many Moslems who follow the teaching of their faith and live modest, moral and productive lives. There is much that is wrong, honor killings for one and the relegation of women to inferior status, at least as we in the West view it. There are many streams within each religion and I wouldn’t want to be tarred with the same brush as some of my fellow Jews whose views are far from mine. There is diversity and we should respect the tzelem elokim in all of Hashem’s creations, including our Moslem cousins.

  2. Ori says:

    Nachum: If our enemies are this stupid, well, we’ve got at least that going for us.

    Ori: Our enemies as not reality oriented. That’s one of the reasons there is still a state of Israel.

  3. Nachum says:

    Actually, much of the footage comes from *after* liberation. The soldiers in many of the pictures are clearly American (note the helmets); you can even see Eisenhower in one shot. Most if not all of the Jews shown “waiting to be executed” have, in fact, just been freed. (Of course, many did, in fact, subsequently die, despite the efforts of the US Aemy.) The hand kissing may well be a gesture of thanks rather than begging.

    If our enemies are this stupid, well, we’ve got at least that going for us.

    In discussing anti-Semites, Ben Hecht once wrote, “It is pleasing to
    be disliked by obvious fools, and it is stimulating to knock such dunderheads off their perches, even if nowhere else than in one’s own soul.”

    Of course, he goes on to warn that this face of anti-Semitism can (and does) turn deadly very quickly. They may be stupid, but they’re evil and murderous as well, and the combination of all those may make things even worse.

  4. Leah says:

    “they hate us because they are humilated by our success.”
    LOberstein: I believe they hate us because the Jews represent what they cannot: Following a set of commandments that call for limiting physical desires that are not full of unbridled desires when we want and how we want at any time.
    Their resentment is when they see the Jew keeping the mizvos and using the physical to attaina high level of spirituality that does not invole murder, incest, rape and mutilation. This sick behavior is theopposite of the behavior of the Jew.
    This is one reason amongst many as for “why” they hate us. It is a fatherless nation…….

  5. David N. Friedman says:

    Rabbi Shafran, it is evident that our new President Obama is very reluctant to see or hear “evil.” To the fundamental question of our times, is there a war against radical Islam who seek to destroy us or is this a low-grade police action that is solvable if we enact smart and sophisticated policies (please see Jonathan Rosenbaum’s previous entry of last week)–President Obama has quickly called off the war and fervently believes he is our shining light.

    Yes, we should all be very troubled. Obama’s first step in his interview in al Araybia was to apologize for American action which has cost so many American lives on behalf of helping Muslim lives. Then he launched into his desire to “listen” since he regrets past American Presidents (that is to say George Bush) have “dictated” policy and he wants to listen. Yet, as Walid Phares has said, America knows the thoughts of all the players, so who is left to be reconciled into the process?: Iran, Hamas, Hezbulloh. He is speaking very clearly, what Mr. Obama wants to know from Iran is (courtesy Mr. Phares): “what is your price?”

    In setting out to reconcile the demands of our enemies into a formula for peacemaking, Mr. Obama is clearly walking in the footsteps of appeasement. Iran makes the demands, America writes the check. This nightmare scenario follows on the heels of the bad logic which says that the solution to runaway spending and deficits is to explode the budget with ever more wasteful spending–therefore, we should reward the enemies of peace by listening to what THEY need at the expense of peace and our allies in the region, chiefly Israel. If one is to believe that the solution to wasteful government is even more government, then it is easier to believe that the solution to peace in the broad Middle East can be achieved by listening, understanding and being more balanced.

    This is a double-edged sword, in his naivete, suppose Mr. Obama does not like what Iran has to say and they fail to be rolled by his charms? Having asked the price and then answering “no!” this is potentially far worse than standing for peace and principle and encouraging reform and moderation. In fact, the kind of negotiating Mr. Obama proposes almost guarantees a bad outcome by enabling their unreformed mindset to be honored as they can anticipate teams of diplomats coming to them asking them to name the price again and again.

    At this point, we can *hope* that this is a sign that our new President is wet behind the ears and simply knows little about what he is doing. At some point in the not too distant future, reality will set in and he will establish a more principled and realistic stand. To those who want to believe that Mr. Obama wants to sell out our national interests, bring havoc to Israel and embolden our enemies–I plainly hope they are wrong.

  6. Nathan says:

    Our great and holy Torah (Bershit 16:12) refers to Ishmael as PERE ADAM, which is usually mistranslated as: A WILD ASS OF A MAN.

    Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, a legendary tzaddik, taught that the correct translation is: A MAN OF A WILD ASS, meaning that the wild ass part is primary and the man part is secondary. In the mistranslation, the man part is primary and the wild ass part is secondary.

  7. Ori says:

    To save people a You Tube search, here’s the video. Please do not click on it with kids in the room, not safe for work, etc.

  8. L Oberstein says:

    They hate us because they are humiliated by our success. There is no logical way of dealing with people who are mentally ill. Arab regimes allow this kind of demonizing to divert attention from the oppression of their people by corrupt autocratic regimes. I have decided that the “Middle East” situationis a chronic disease like diabetes. There is no cure but it can be tolerated with the right medicine and diet.
    Prediction: The world will go bananas when LIkud and Yisrael Beiteinu form a coalition,but what diffrence will it make in the long run. The Arabs need to fear Israel, not look upon Israel as a failed state, a “lost cause”, the Arabs and the post Zionists too.