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Ralph Seliger
Ralph Seliger writes mostly about Israel and Jewish cultural and political issues for a variety of venues.

Trayvon Martin: A Tragedy but Not a Crime (with Editor’s Note and Response)


by: on July 17th, 2013 | 28 Comments »

Editor’s Note:

We have two policies that are in conflict in the case of the article below by Ralph Seliger. On the one hand, our desire for our blog is to encourage open debate and present a wide variety of positions, many of which we disagree with. I think we’ve done an admirable job of that – I can’t think of a week that has gone by without us publishing some article that I personally didn’t agree with. On the other hand, we have a policy against publishing hate speech, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, etc.

So when several members of our staff found that Seliger’s article reflected racism and conflicted with Tikkun Daily’s goals of furthering dialogue about healing the world, we decided to momentarily postpone it until we could publish it with a response. In the meantime, Seliger reflected and decided to revise his blog somewhat. The editorial staff still felt that it needed a response, and asked Anna Stitt to go through Seliger’s article and explain some of our primary objections to both the original and the revised versions of the blog. We urge you to read the blog and then our corresponding response, below.


Trayvon Martin: A Tragedy But Not a Crime, by Ralph Seliger

Upon reflection, I can see that Tikkun Daily temporarily withdrew this piece from the homepage because it seemed to miss the painful impact this case has had on the African-American community, with the verdict compounding the sense of injustice and outrage felt by people already suffering the yoke of racial profiling and a criminal justice system all too often biased against them. It also may have appeared to place the victim, Trayvon Martin, on a similar moral plane as the killer, George Zimmerman, because it depicted both as acting in the wrong. I still believe that both made fatal missteps, but it’s clearly Zimmerman who initiated the confrontation, and in the end he walks away free while the young Martin is dead.


The Attack: Comparing Film with Novel


by: on June 26th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The Attack is a powerful, must-see film for those of us interested in Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. I enjoyed meeting the Lebanese filmmaker, Ziad Doueiri, and wrote of his evolution from hating Israelis into someone who could appreciate both sides of the divide. Sadly, the fact that he depicts both sides realistically and filmed in Israel, working with Israeli-Jewish actors and crew (as well as Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank) has subjected him to vilification in the Arab world, where his film has been banned.

Interestingly, Doueiri knows the writer, Yasmina Khadra, who wrote the novel of the same name from which the film is drawn. Both currently live in Paris, where they occasionally get together socially.

It turns out that Khadra is the nom de plume for Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former Algerian army officer who wrote under his wife’s name while still a professional soldier. When he retired, he found it convenient to continue to write as Khadra, because he had already established a reputation with that name. Doueiri said that Khadra was initially upset that he had changed the ending of his book, but is now okay with it.


Defending Samantha Power from Attacks by Right & Left


by: on June 10th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Samantha Power

Samantha Power is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and a veteran foreign policy analyst (with a human rights focus); she is now Pres. Obama’s nominee to succeed Susan Rice as US ambassador to the United Nations. This nomination will draw right-wing fire for her allegedly anti-Israel views, but she also has backing over the years, and now, from such consistent Israel defenders as Alan Dershowitz (a professor of hers at Harvard Law School) and Martin Peretz.

And the following is from an energetic defense of her record by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (a recent Republican candidate for Congress):

… The principal comments attributed to her come from an interview she granted in 2002 in Berkeley, California while she was on her book tour. She was asked by an interviewer to respond to a “thought experiment” as to what she would advise an American president if it seemed that either party in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were moving toward genocide. Any seasoned media professional would have known that rule number one – as Michael Dukakis famously discovered in 1988 after being asked by Bernard Shaw of CNN how he would respond if his wife Kitty were raped – is never to respond to a hypothetical. But Power, fresh on the national media scene, was baited by the question and answered that preventing such a genocide would entail America being prepared to alienate a powerful constituency – by which she meant the American-Jewish community – and sending in a protective force to prevent another situation like Rwanda. From these comments – putting Israel and the possibility of genocide against the Palestinians in a single sentence – Power has been lobbed together with other enemies of Israel.

In our conversation she rejected utterly the notion she had any animus toward Israel. She acknowledged that she had erred significantly in offering hypothetical comments that did not reflect how she felt. She said that opponents of President Obama had unfairly taken her disorganized comments further and characterized them as ‘invade Israel’ talk. She said that if she really believed that Israel could even be remotely accused of practicing genocide against the Palestinians then the correct forum for her to express that view would have been somewhere in the 664 pages of her book wherein she details all the genocides of the twentieth century. She never even hints at Israel being guilty of any such atrocity. …

As if on cue, Martin Kramer (a neocon intellectual who is currently associated with the conservative Shalem Center in Jerusalem) has pushed back against Power, with a post that reminds his readers of Power’s very same offhand suggestion in 2002 of introducing an international force in the West Bank. There’s also this swipe from Jerusalem by the right-wing columnist and blogger, Isi Liebler.  (Still, this counterpoint in ForeignPolicy.com, recounts support for Power’s appointment among other neocons and advocates of humanitarian interventionism — Max Boot, John McCain and Joe Lieberman.)


New Film on Hannah Arendt: Eichmann, Zionism & Other Controversies


by: on May 29th, 2013 | Comments Off

Barbara Sukowa as Arendt in press room at Eichmann trial

Two years ago, I published an analysis of Hannah Arendt in Tikkun (“Hannah Arendt: From Iconoclast to Icon“). As I had suspected, the new film (“Hannah Arendt”), which debuts commercially in New York today (May 29), lends credence to the simplistic notion that her controversial portrait of Adolf Eichmann at his Jerusalem trial was a mark of great insight. She didn’t merit the abuse that she suffered as a result; she was not intending to be hateful or to excuse the Nazis, but her most significant conclusions were drawn from the very limited range of Holocaust scholarship available to her in the early 1960s.

Arendt is something of a heroine among many, a lone figure who stood her ground in the face of fierce criticism on the New Yorker magazine articles that formed the basis of her famous book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Since that time, most of her conclusions have been challenged on the basis of more research and knowledge as the field of Holocaust studies advanced:

  • The behavior of members of the Nazi-appointed Jewish councils was more varied than she had indicated (and their options were horrifyingly limited), but there certainly was collaboration and self-interested behavior by many if not most;
  • Himmler’s brutal deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, did not have Jewish ancestry as she had alleged;
  • Eichmann was not simply the dutiful amoral bureaucrat as Arendt had portrayed (and her notion, brought up in the film, that he wasn’t personally antisemitic, seems ridiculous to me).

Nevertheless, I liked the film; I found it intelligent overall and absorbing. But it reinforced my view of her cold abstract intellect, and the ways in which her book failed factually.


Terror in Boston: Personal Malaise Meets Global Jihad


by: on April 22nd, 2013 | 6 Comments »

Last Tuesday, on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), I debated an American supporter of Likud in front of 200 students at the Kushner Academy yeshiva high school in Livingston, New Jersey. Everyone — including my opponent — was polite and friendly, and the teachers repeatedly exhorted the students to be civil and open to hearing a view they may disagree with. Three boys came up to me after to shake my hand and tell me that they were perhaps the only “liberals” in the school.

Although personable, my opponent was loose in his interpretations and misinformed on relevant events in Palestinian-Israeli relations. He even referred to the Boston Marathon bombing of the previous day, before we knew anything about the perpetrators, as if this were relevant to our debate. I don’t recall his exact words, but he insinuated that it proved how violent and undependable “they” are — by which he must have meant Muslims, Arabs and/or Palestinians.

Such generalizations are wrong, of course, but the extremist Jihadi script is out there; sadly, this constitutes a distinct behavioral model for disaffected and maladjusted individuals to embrace for meaning in their lives. From what we know of the Tsarnaev brothers, this seems to be true of the older brother, with the younger pushed along by the overpowering force of the older’s personality. I’m impressed with J. J. Goldberg’s thoughtful piece on this in The Forward, “The Deadly Identity Crisis Along Islam’s Borders.”


Another Anne Frank and a Jewish Oskar Schindler


by: on April 7th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

Salomon's self-portrait

Sunday, April 7, marks Holocaust Remembrance Day. This solemn day is commemorated annually by Jews around the world, recalling that from June 1941 until the end of the Second World War in Europe in May 1945, one-third of the world’s Jewish population perished in a systematic campaign of annihilation. But instead of acknowledging the impact of this mammoth horror on why most Jews support Israel as a Jewish state, many critics and opponents of Israel today denigrate this connection, with some even denying or downplaying the reality or magnitude of the Holocaust.

Surprisingly, much about this history remains to be learned. A recent NY Times article tells us that researchers have discovered evidence of “42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe,” rather than 7,000 sites thought previously to comprise this world of enslavement and genocide.

Suskind & daughter

In another few years there will be virtually no living witnesses. “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Schindler’s List” are iconic portrayals, but many more dramas transpired as well. It shouldn’t surprise us that literary and cinematic remembrances still proliferate.

The life and death of a 26 year-old artist, Charlotte Salomon, reminds us of Anne Frank. Although not a diarist, Salomon documented her family background in Germany and her life as a refugee in vivid color paintings (known as gouaches), framed with bits of narration akin to a graphic novel, presented as if an illustrated script for an opera representing her life, replete with stage directions and musical suggestions. (Her stepmother had been an opera singer.) Real-life characters are given different names, and some plot elements may have been invented, but the basic narrative of “Life? or Theatre? A Play with Music encapsulates Salomon’s life. Opinions differ as to whether she had a romance with her stepmother’s voice coach, as her work suggests, or if an infatuated young woman let her imagination take flight.

And just as there are by now thousands of survivors and descendants of people saved by Oskar Schindler, there are a similarly large number of Jews who owe their lives to the ingenuity and heroism of Walter Suskind. But this Jewish Schindler, his wife and young daughter all perished.


Petition for Int’l. Solution to African Refugee Crisis


by: on April 1st, 2013 | 5 Comments »

I’ve signed this petition, as have a wide array of public figures, artists and academics from across the political spectrum and of a variety of faiths — including such accomplished historians as Israel’s Yehuda Bauer, Canada’s Irving Abella, and David S. Wyman in the U.S. Israel’s initial welcome reception of African refugees has become unwelcoming and even ugly, as their numbers have grown precipitously. I begin with a note from Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, who initiated this petition (email him or contact the Wyman Institute to add your name):

As you know, Israel has been at the center of international controversy over its handling of African refugees who have been arriving at its border.

The interfaith petition below is intended to be signed by religious leaders of all faiths, scholars in all fields, organizational leaders, and political and cultural figures from around the world–we seek a broad cross-section of distinguished individuals to demonstrate the breadth of support for this effort. Once we have a sufficiently large and impressive body of signatories, we will present it to individual governments and press for its adoption.

The Hebrew University-Hadassah Genocide Prevention Program, and the Israeli Association to Combat Genocide, have endorsed this initiative. Would you do us the honor of allowing your name to be added to the list below?

With all best wishes,

Rafael Medoff, rafaelmedoff@aol.com

Israel and the African Refugee Crisis:


I Wish to Thank the Academy (Somewhat)


by: on February 25th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held its annual awards last night, better known as the Academy Awards or Oscars (as if you didn’t know).

First of all, given my special concern for Israel, it was too bad that neither “5 Broken Cameras” nor “The Gatekeepers” won in the documentary category, but I had expected that they’d knock each other out in the ballot. Both are great in their way, and I’d have a hard time picking between them. If anything, “Cameras” and “Gatekeepers” complement each other, with the first focusing on Palestinians and the latter on Israelis. I haven’t seen “Searching for Sugar Man” (the winner), but it didn’t surprise me that it would win, as it was the only one of the five documentary nominees that was about a phenomenon rather than an issue; the other two contenders were about the AIDS epidemic and sexual abuse of women in the U.S. military.

As for the biggies, I liked “Argo” but would have preferred “Lincoln” or “Les Miserables” for best picture. The latter has a score and presents themes of love and revolution that stir me every time, and I was very pleased to see Anne Hathaway come away as Best Supporting Actress for a role, albeit brief, that was unforgettable. I would have been even happier if there had been a tie vote with Helen Hunt for her outstanding work in “The Sessions” (something that happened in one Oscar category); by the way, that movie’s star, John Hawkes, was robbed of a nomination for Best Actor.


Powerful Film on Germany’s Post-war Chaos and a Moral Coming of Age


by: on February 8th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

I like the way that The Jewish Daily Forward has edited my new film review, “Australia’s Oscar Entry Revisits German Past,” posted earlier today at its Arty Semite blog. The Forward has given me permission to post the following version, which provides some additional detail:

To Grandmother’s House They Go

Courtesy of Music Box Films

The movie title, “Lore,” refers to the eponymous strong-willed but idealistic teenager who tries to lead her four young siblings to safety at their grandmother’s house, through the lawless, war-ravaged landscape of a German nation totally defeated in 1945. Her physical trek triggers an inner journey of an impressionable young person on the edge of adulthood who suddenly confronts a brutal reality denied her previously by die-hard Nazi parents. We gradually see her shed the Nazi faith she grew up with, and recoil against the ugly hatefulness of the people around her.

Lore, short for Hannelore, is played by Saskia Rosendahl, a striking young actress. Her co-star is Kai Malina (as Thomas), a rising young actor in German television and movies after starring in “The White Ribbon” in 2009.

After rousing them in the night from their large comfortable home and setting incriminating files alight, their uniformed father transports the family in an army truck to a farm in the countryside, and then leaves them, ostensibly to return to the front. His crimes are basically left to the viewer’s imagination, but after Germany’s defeat becomes official, the distraught chain-smoking mother packs her bag and instructs Lore to take the family’s remaining money and jewelry to get the children to “Omi” (grandma) near Hamburg. She then dons a smart blue outfit and proceeds on foot to give herself up to the American occupation authorities.


An Achievement Beyond ‘Pinkwashing’


by: on January 29th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

My review of “Yossi and Jagger” was published in the New Jersey Jewish News issue dated April 24, 2004. My piece on its sequel, “Yossi,” has been published in the current issue of this same newspaper. The main character in both, Yossi, played by the same actor, has changed his status in life from being a junior infantry officer who loses his lover, Lior Jagger, in combat in Lebanon, to a career as a cardiologist in a Tel Aviv hospital. But he has not yet moved beyond his grief. He remains deeply depressed.

And while Israeli society has changed to the point that being gay is no longer as stigmatized as it was ten years before, Yossi Gutman, M. D., has still not emerged from the proverbial closet. The NY Times reviewer, Stephen Holden, expressed incredulity that Yossi’s young new love would be so open about his sexuality and so accepted by his boisterously straight army buddies. But since the filmmaker is Eytan Fox, a gay Israeli who generally explores this reality in his films, who are we to doubt it?