Incident at Durban II

You won’t read about this in conventional media.

My dear colleague, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, was one of three senior officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center to attend last week’s “Durban II” United Nations conference on racism in Geneva. Once again, an event many years in the making, and that could have addressed the real needs of millions of people suffering and dying around the globe, was sabotaged by hatred of Israel. Any chance to get groups from all over the world to work together was torpedoed by Ahmadinejad’s tirade against the United States, Israel, and Jews. The conference never recovered from the circus on its first day. Delegates decamped a few days later hailing the accomplishment of a single document that spoke of the rights of individuals. The number of people subject to torture in North Korea, beheading in Iran and Saudi Arabia, terrorism in Southeast Asia, and programmed starvation in Africa has not, however, declined since last week. This itself is a human tragedy.

While it lasted, NGO’s tried to salvage the opportunity, with so many representatives of governments and civil society gathered in one location. At one meeting, the Wiesenthal Center joined with two (non-Jewish) groups to focus on racism in Iran. The entourage that had accompanied Ahmadinejad numbered about 130; thirty of them decided to attend the session.

One of them, a diplomat permanently assigned to Geneva, sat politely with the rest, but was quick to rise in the Q&A. “Why are you picking on Iran?” It was certainly a legitimate question, that could have been answered in many ways. Rabbi Cooper went for one that was short and devastating. “How about starting with the Baha’i?” pointing to the Muslim splinter group that suffers from enormous persecution.

The diplomat responded. “The Baha’i are known spies for the Zionist entity!” Rabbi Cooper moved in for the kill. “Do you mean to tell us that Israel has three hundred thousand spies operating in your country?” The diplomat left – not apparently as a sign of disrespect, but to get orders from highers-up, because he did return later.

This may have left his colleagues who stayed behind without an apparent group leader, which may have made the next episode possible. Dr Charles Small of the Yale Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism proposed that, with a short period remaining of Holocaust Remembrance Day, people rise to observe a minute of silence. The victims of mankind’s worst example of genocide should be remembered.

Everyone rose – including the thirty Iranians. Perhaps they were simply blindsided by the request, and followed the lead of everyone else. Perhaps, not having other instructions, they believed that failing to rise was more problematic for them than coming to their feet and joining everyone else in attendance.

So the entire session, including the delegates of the Islamic Republic of Iran, memorialized the kedoshim of the Shoah. Everyone, that is, with the exception of one gentleman who refused to rise, and sat through the brief ceremony. He had a beard, and wore a black hat, and long black clothes. He spoke Yiddish, not Farsi. His hatred of Zionism/ Israel had led him this far – to refuse to acknowledge with the others the gravity of the Holocaust.

You won’t read about this in conventional media – and it doesn’t belong there. For a smaller group of readers, the incident adds another twinge of pain to a painful week. Perhaps it also helps remind us of the dangers of getting so caught up in our own ideas and defending them, that they can redefine our view of everyone and everything, perverting the ideas that should be safeguarded as most dear. Rarely is any evil we observe limited to the egregious evildoers. Most of us, psychologists tell us, have tendencies towards things we wouldn’t want to think about. We have just learned how to carefully suppress, channel, or control them. The tendency towards extremism is likely one of those evils that exists in many of us. Neturei Karta is just one example of what happens when it gets out of hand.

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26 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Was there any result (a real result, not symbolic) that made the decision to attend a proper one?

  2. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Another example of this extremism is our “neighbors” here in Beit Shemesh who, in violation of Torah law, have been stealing Israeli flags off our cars and homes.

    This religious extremism, whether Moslem or Jewish, is a cancer and it’s metastasizing rapidly.

  3. Ori says:

    What is the point of this kind of conference? Besides letting people make speeches about specific forms of racism they consider particularly evil, what can it accomplish?

    The number of people subject to torture in North Korea, beheading in Iran and Saudi Arabia, terrorism in Southeast Asia, and programmed starvation in Africa has not, however, declined since last week. This itself is a human tragedy.

    All of these are political tools used by evil governments. At the risk of sounding like the cynic I am, those governments are not going to stop doing it unless they are pressured into doing so. Probably militarily.

  4. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Once again, if a tree falls in a forest and the mainstream media don’t cover it, did it happen? But kol hakavod to Rabbi Cooper just the same. It doesn’t get any better than that. Did anyone get it up on YouTube?

  5. Orthodox Independent says:

    The extremist, illegal actions of the Settlers in the Occupied Territories place not only their own wives and children in grave danger but Jews all over the world. (This, of course, besides the very real issue of injustice to the Palestinians). If I were to see Rabbi Adlerstein condemn such blatant defiance and violation of both Torah as well as International — and often often even Israeli— law for the desecration of G-d’s name and redifa that it is, I might perhaps consider pieces like this more credible.

    On ‘Extremism’:

    ‘Extremist’ is a relative term that is generally applied subjectively and selectively in service to whatever agenda the user may have. At least to a large extent, what George Orwell wrote of the word ‘fascism’ in his 1946 essay ‘Politics and The English Language’ (that it “…has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable.”) could be applied today to ‘extremist’ as well.

    From a Torah perspective, whether or not something is considered ‘extremist’ has no real significance. No one would deny, for example, that the martyrdom which the Torah clearly demands in certain cases is ‘extreme’.

    (It is a common error that people make in applying The Rambam’s concept of always taking The Middle Path to questions of halacha and ideology; The Rambam was referring to personal temperament and character traits (midos, deios)

  6. felix says:

    Kol HaKavod R’Adlerstein for calling out religious extremism.
    The NK are clearly dangerous. But we should cut it off at the roots, before they get dangerous. First they start off silly, like the Israeli Health Minister changing the “Swine flu” to “Mexican flu”. This creates an impression of the religious being fools. Once the outsiders laugh at us, the extremists can justify their actions by saying “look they hate us anyway.”

  7. Adib says:

    I’d just like to point out that the Baha’i Faith is no more a Muslim splinter group than Christianity is of Judaism. We are an independent world religion. My deepest thanks to Rabbi Cooper for remembering us.

  8. cvmay says:

    Dear Orthodox Independent,
    “(It is a common error that people make in applying The Rambam’s concept of always taking The Middle Path to questions of halacha and ideology; The Rambam was referring to personal temperament and character traits (midos, deios)”.
    Human nature has proven that those who chose the MIDDLE PATH in personal temperament & character traits NEVER end up as the extremist, violent, spiteful, selfish, hateful personality which embodies the fibers of the extremist person. Therefore Rambam DID NOT have to venture to the next step of questions of halacha/ideology. (Sort of like a kal vechomer)

  9. Raymond says:

    Did my eyes just fool me, or did somebody write above a condemnation of Jews living in Judea and Sumeria, because, he says, it somehow puts the lives of Jews in danger? And did I hear him use the same kind of language that our enemies use, such as occupied territories or illegal occupation? (how can we illegally occupy our own land? the logic escapes me)

    ummm, excuse me? By that logic, Jews should never have returned to Israel in the first place. After all, we are surrounded there by hundreds of millions of extremely hostile people whose religious beliefs call for the destruction of our tiny nation. But wait, suppose we would do just that, abandon Israel. Would that make our position safer in the world? Before we had Israel back, we had the Holocaust, precisely because we Jews were subject to the whims of the larger, hostile, gentile world.

    There have been too many heartbreaking Jewish deaths at the hands of its Middle Eastern neighbors, yet clearly, one advantage of having a State of our own, is the ability to defend the lives of our fellow Jews as best as we can. That is not the only reason to have our Jewish State of Israel, but it is certainly one of the better justifications.

    As for Neturei Karta, sorry, but I am suspicious about such a group. Are they really religious? Do they honestly observe the kosher laws, keep the Sabbath and laws of family purity, and all of the other Torah commandments that would justify them being called religious? See, I suspect that they do not. I think they are actually secular leftist extremists who are only dressing up as religious people, in order to give Orthodox Jews a bad name. Those people are complete phonies, a joke that is hard for me to take seriously.

  10. Menachem Lipkin says:

    With all due respect to Orthodox Independent’s erudite attempt to obfuscate the issue as one of mere semantics, all I can say is if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s a duck.

    Dredging up Rambam’s middle path is a red herring. If anything we’re dealing Ramban’s “menuval b’reshut Hatorah” however these people are worse as they are often menuvalim (degenerates) outside the bounds of Torah law.

    You want to subjectify the word “fascism” fine, but we all know what a Nazi was. Similarly, you can call these people Purple Sneeches for all I care, but those of us who are exposed to them and are forced to deal with their behavior know who and what they are.

    Of course there are settler extremists as there are secularist extremists, liberal extremists, environmental extremists, etc. Their existence only serves to bolster Rabbi Adlerstein’s point. That he didn’t write about other extremists, settler or otherwise, (he even specifically stated that “Neturei Karta is just one example”) is irrelevant and no way diminishes the point that we have much to fear as the world is becoming overrun by ducks and Purple Sneeches.

  11. Naftali Zvi says:

    To Orthodox Independent,

    Given the fact that all of the US and most of the Western Hemisphere is under illegal occupation (and has been for over 200 years), I am very curious as to what part of the globe you are occupying, why you think that it is legal, and why you think that living there is not a grave danger to your own wife and children as well as to Jews all over the world.

  12. Akiva Blum says:

    Changing “Swine flu” to “Mexican flu” is called lashon nekiya, refined speech, not an extremist position.

  13. felix says:

    Are you kidding? Did you see the reason for why it was done? There is nothing unrefined about “swine”, I guarantee if it was called “pig” or “pork” flu, the same action would have been taken. It it wasn’t so silly and laughable, it would indeed be extreme.

  14. Ahron says:

    “The extremist, illegal actions of the Settlers in the Occupied Territories place not only their own wives and children in grave danger but Jews all over the world. (This, of course, besides the very real issue of injustice to the Palestinians)….”

    Oh, Orthodox Indpendent it goes so much farther than that. It is the extremism of Jews who weren’t happy observing their religion in other places around the world, and insisted on the extremist and aggravating step of establishing a Jewish country on the land of Israel. In blatant violation of international law and local and world opinion. And now we’re all in danger!!!

    Despite your webonym, your thinking is a dismaying mixture of fashionable convention and ideological fanaticism. That you would ascribe any moral weight to the fiction of “international law” in the era of Taiwan, Tibet, Rwanda, Darfur and Iran is a testament to your factual oblivion and moral immaturity.

    To move out of the realm of emotions and into the realm of facts I suggest you research and report back to us with the following:

    1. Number of Jewish casualties (Israeli and worldwide) of Arab/Muslim terrorism and military attacks between 1947 and 1967 (Six-Day War).

    2. Same as above between 1967 and 1993 (Oslo Accords).

    3. Same as above between 1993 and April 2009.

    That should provide a useful test for your thesis. Can’t wait to discuss your findings.

    “Changing “Swine flu” to “Mexican flu” is called lashon nekiya, refined speech, not an extremist position.”

    I agree, Akiva. Let’s change the name to something religiously affirming like “Mitzvos flu”, “Learning flu” or “Beheimah k’sherah flu”.

  15. Miriam says:

    From the AP wire today: “….officials appeared to go out of their way on Wednesday to not call the strain ‘swine flu. Obama called the bug the ‘H1N1 virus.'”

  16. Barzilai says:

    Akiva Blum’s comment has merit. Talmudic Jews often refer to the pig as a “davar acheir,” that other thing, to avoid explicit reference to the unclean animal.
    However: I think that worrying about sullying the speech of refined people, in the face of a deadly and potentially epidemic disease, earns a spot next to Nero noodling away on his fiddle. But if you like, call it the Davar Acheir flu. We’ll all know what you mean.

  17. Ori says:

    Why is it considered a good thing to use euphemisms such as “davar acher” for pig?

  18. Phil says:

    Belgium calls it Mexican flu, but I imagine for different reasons. Wait, why did I follow this silly tangent??
    The article, the article — it was great, Rabbi Adlerstein!

  19. Bob Miller says:

    The State of Indiana has started to call this flu “Influenza A”. At least in part, this is to protect the pig farmers from a loss of business due to the verbal association of swine with this flu.

  20. felix says:

    The WHO and others’ motivation for changing the name is to protect the livelihood of farmers and the lives of pigs. The motivation of the Israeli health ministry is the fact “that pigs are treif”. That is nourishkeit, WADR.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    What could be better to someone who abhors pigs than to have a feared disease named after pigs? That’s why this flu discussion is surreal.

  22. Phil says:

    Close felix. The rabbi invoked both Jewish /and Muslim/ sensivities. (Haaretz left the Muslim part out of statement, but CBS included it.)
    Now, can we get back to the awesome Durban article?

  23. felix says:

    agreed Phil, last post from me. The Neturei Karta “rabbi” also invoked Muslim and Jewish (what he believes them to be) sensitivities. I think my point is being missed, it’s not about the name of the flu. It’s about the gravitation of Orthodox Judaism toward extremes. Something this article decries, much to the author’s credit.

  24. Raymond says:

    Why has this turned into a discussion of the swine flu, when it was originally about the far more important and life-threatening issue of the return of world-wide antisemitism?

  25. Ori says:

    Raymond, the swine flu is a lot newer. Antisemitism has been discussed to death and beyond. There’s little new to say about it.

  26. Raymond says:

    But the swine flu is a fake issue created by the sensationalist-driven media, while antisemitism continues to prematurely end the lives of countless Jews.

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