Day: April 15, 2017

Meet Ezra Cohen-Watnick (Kike), the NSC aide who reportedly leaked intel to back Trump tapping claims

(JTA) — Ezra Cohen-Watnick has been in the spotlight recently following reports that he was the aide behind a White House leak to help back up President Donald Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had wiretapped him.

The New York Times reported last month that the Jewish senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council was one of two White House aides who leaked the information to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The White House apparently hoped the intel, which suggested Trump campaign officials were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies, would vindicate Trump’s claim that Obama had eavesdropped on him. The Times article followed a Politico report that Trump had overruled a decision by his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster,  in order to keep Cohen-Watnick in his current position.

Trump made the wiretapping claim, without citing evidence, on Twitter earlier last month. Intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, responded by saying there was no evidence to show that Obama had wiretapped Trump.

According to the Times, Cohen-Watnick started to review highly classified information after Trump posted his tweet in a bid to substantiate it. He and a colleague, Michael Ellis – formerly a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee – then contacted Nunes, who was on Trump’s transition team.

A Newsweek article published Thursday looked at Cohen-Watnick’s rise in the White House. Here are some of the interesting findings from that article as well as other recent reports.

Cohen-Watnick was involved in Republican groups from an early age.

Though Cohen-Watnick grew up in the liberal neighborhood of Chevy Chase, Md., he seems to have developed conservative political beliefs at an early age. In high school, he joined the Young Republicans Club, and during his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he was a member of the Union League of Philadelphia, which a pro-Trump columnist for Philly.com described as the city’s “iconic bastion of GOP conservatism.” Cohen-Watnick also joined a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps course, although he later dropped out.

Some of his family friends were bothered by his “growing anti-Muslim fervor.”

As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Cohen-Watnick helped plan a “Terrorism Awareness Week,” originally named “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” together with the conservative writer David Horowitz. Such “awareness week” events on other campuses, also sponsored by Horowitz, have promoted “anti-Muslim views” and featured “events with anti-Muslim activists,” according to a 2013 report by the Anti-Defamation League. Some of Cohen-Watnick’s progressive family friends “were disturbed by his growing anti-Muslim fervor, especially when they heard him express sympathy for illegal Israeli settlements and other hard-line views. Another family friend tried to persuade the young man that the Middle East was far more complicated than he thought,” according to Newsweek.

Around 2013 Cohen got a new job, did a bunch of training in Virginia, then went to Afghanistan

Here’s a photo of Ezra Cohen, the NSC senior director for intelligence, courtesy of a college associate pic.twitter.com/AUUnXlmvZi

View image on Twitter
His service at the Defense Intelligence Agency was less-than-stellar, according to classmates.

Cohen-Watnick didn’t earn high praises from those DIA training program classmates who spoke to Newsweek. One source said his reputation“was poor. He was allegedly not a team player and would also ‘leak’ denigrating information about his fellow trainees” to their instructors. “While we expect each student to do their own work,” the source adds, “we also demand they develop positive and healthy partnering skills.” After a training program in Virginia, Cohen-Watnick was assigned to serve in Afghanistan. Cohen-Watnick did apparently manage to impress one important person: Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who resigned in February after acknowledging that he had misled other administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about a phone call he had with the Russian ambassador before Trump assumed office.

Cohen-Watnick and Flynn were also connected through Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of a think tank that promulgates the theory that the Muslim Brotherhood has established a “Sharia-supremacist infrastructure” in the United States in the form of mosques, cultural centers and Muslim organizations. His daughter and Cohen-Watnick were close in high school, according to Newsweek. Gaffney reportedly offered Cohen-Watnick an internship at his think tank, the Center for Security Policy, although he told Newsweek that he had not spoken to Cohen-Watnick since he was in high school. Flynn, a friend of Gaffney, later brought Cohen-Watnick to the NSC.

Cohen-Watnick’s wife did PR work for Russia.

At the D.C.-office for the PR firm Ketchum, Rebecca Miller worked with Russia. In a 2014 interview brought to light last month by Los Angeles-based lawyer and genealogist E. Randol Schoenberg, Miller’s mother said her daughter was “responsible for providing PR and marketing to try to make Russia look better.” A Ketchum representative told Newsweek that Miller stopped working on the Russia account in 2012, but the revelations of her work may raise alarm bells due to Cohen-Watnick’s ties to Flynn, whose failure to disclose a conversation with a Russian ambassador led to his resignation. Newsweek found little other information about Cohen-Watnick and Miller’s relationship. A synagogue newsletter for Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a Conservative synagogue outside Washington, D.C.,  listed the two as having celebrated their engagement in November.

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Vilnius University to honor Jewish Holocaust victims — unless they fought Nazis

(JTA) — Vilnius University in Lithuania said it would award academic degrees posthumously to Jewish students who were murdered in the Holocaust — unless they were partisans.

In a statement published Wednesday on its website announcing the initiative titled Recovering Memory, the university encouraged relatives of Holocaust victims to apply for recognition through a special procedure set up this year.

But in a twist connected to the Lithuanian state’s complicated attitude to its wartime history, the procedure excludes any Jewish student who fought with communist or pro-Soviet partisans against the Nazis. Diplomas will not be issued “if evidence of collaboration with political and police structures of totalitarian regimes is determined,” the procedure states.

Virtually all resistance movements in Lithuania during World War II were supported or otherwise linked to the Soviet Union.

In Lithuania, both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are defined as totalitarian regimes by state historians. Prosecutors in 2008 launched a controversial probe against three Jewish partisans who were suspected of war crimes. The investigation was dropped following an international uproar.

Lithuania is among several Eastern European nations promoting what some historians call the “double genocide” narrative, or the “red brown equivalence,” which is seen as designed to establish a moral equivalence between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Lithuania is the only country in the world that defines its domination by the Soviets as a form of genocide.

Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter and head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has accused Lithuanian officials of pursuing this equivalence to obfuscate the Lithuanian population’s widespread collaboration with Nazi occupation forces, including in the murder of 95 percent of Lithuania’s prewar Jewish population of 230,000.

“It is an effort by the Lithuanian state to paint Lithuania as a victim without coming to terms to the roles of many Lithuanians as perpetrators in the service of the Nazis,” he said.

Academic degrees will be denied also to Holocaust victims if they were dismissed or ended their studies “after Vilnius University was closed by Nazi occupying authorities” on March 17, 1943, the university said, or if they left “voluntarily.”

Students expelled for poor scholastic performance will also not be recognized, nor will those with “certain facts in their biography” that are “incompatible with the content and the concept of the Memory Diploma.”

The decision to offer recognition to students who meet the criteria followed a request last year by an Israeli medical professor, Moshe Lapidot, for recognition of his late uncle, who studied chemistry at the institution before he was murdered in the Holocaust.

Lapidot accepted the diploma for his late uncle, whom he had never met, during a ceremony earlier this month at the Israeli Embassy in Vilnius.

Lapidot’s uncle, Chlaunė Meištovskis, became the first student to posthumously receive a degree — in the uncle’s case, a bachelor of sciences — under the initiative. Archival gaps complicate attempts to identify all the Jewish students on the list of students during the Holocaust years, the statement said.

Lawmakers (Jews and White Freemasons), Samantha Power (White Idiot, White Feminist) call on Trump to fill anti-Semitism envoy post

Samantha Power

NEW YORK (JTA) — Two Democratic congressmen and Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have called on President Donald Trump to fill a State Department position tasked with fighting anti-Semitism worldwide.

On Thursday, JTA reported that the office of the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism could be left empty indefinitely. Trump has yet to fill the envoy post, and the office’s staff is set to be eliminated later this month due to a wider State Department directive. The envoy is traditionally responsible for keeping tabs on global anti-Semitism and advising other countries in fighting it.

In response to the report, Reps. Nita Lowey of New York and Ted Deutch of Florida called on Trump to fill the post immediately.

“It is deeply concerning that President Trump reportedly has no plans to name a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, particularly during a time of increasing anti-Semitic incidents at home and abroad,” Lowey said in a statement Friday. “The president must show he takes the rise of anti-Semitism seriously by immediately appointing a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism and fully staffing the Special Envoy’s office.”

Power, who served as U.N. ambassador during President Barack Obama’s second term, also demanded Trump appoint an envoy.

“If this office is gutted, terrible,” Power tweeted Thursday. “Anti-semitism is surging in world. Entire Trump admin needs to focus on it & envoy position must be kept.”

If this office is gutted, terrible. Anti-semitism is surging in world. Entire Trump admin needs to focus on it & envoy position must be kept https://twitter.com/kampeas/status/852589308393529344 

Lowey linked the news to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s gaffe this week in which he falsely claimed that Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons against civilians. She said Trump has sent “mixed messages” regarding anti-Semitism.

“From his reluctance to disavow David Duke during the early days of his presidential campaign through his chief spokesman’s recent attempt to minimize the horrors of the Holocaust, President Trump has sent mixed messages regarding his commitment to combatting anti-Semitism,” Lowey’s statement said.

The last person to fill the post was Ira Forman, who was appointed by Obama in 2013 and served until Trump’s inauguration. Forman and his predecessors contributed to State Department reports on human rights and religious discrimination. They also worked through other government bodies to ensure that Jewish communities globally were protected from violence and helped Jewish refugees escape danger.

TRUMP ADMIN. FACES NEW ANTISEMITISM ACCUSATIONS

 

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Trump-administration-faces-renewed-accusations-of-antisemitism-487028

 

US President Donald Trump’s administration has faced a myriad of accusations throughout the president’s first hundred days in office regarding what has been perceived by some as the White House’s insufficient stance on the battle against antisemitism.

Such accusations arose again on Friday following recent reports that the president is seriously considering nixing the State Department post of Special Antisemitism Envoy as part of Trump’s much-debated plan to pursue significant budget cuts.

 

The Office to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism is part of the US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs and is devoted to combating antisemitism worldwide.

“It is deeply concerning that President Trump reportedly has no plans to name a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat antisemitism, particularly during a time of increasing antisemitic incidents at home and abroad,” Congresswoman Nita. M Lowey, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, stated on Friday.

“From his reluctance to disavow David Duke [American white nationalist, politician and antisemitic conspiracy theorist] during the early days of his presidential campaign through his chief spokesman’s recent attempt to minimize the horrors of the Holocaust, President Trump has sent mixed messages regarding his commitment to combating antisemitism,” she added.

Lowey’s statement referred to the controversial incident that took place this Tuesday when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer contrasted Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people with the conduct of Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler. Spicer condemned Assad’s use of sarin gas against Syrian civilians and said that “someone who is despicable as Hitler… didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

Spicer has since apologized profusely for his statement, which drew the ire of Jewish leaders and captured headlines worldwide. However, many expressed skepticism over his apology and claimed that by denying the Nazi regime’s infamous use of the Zyklon B gas to murder millions of Jews in extermination camps during World War II, Spicer had not simply erred but rather committed Holocaust denial.

The spokesman’s blunder comes amid growing concerns that senior staff at the White House as well as the president himself are not occupied enough with the prevailing antisemitism in the US.

In late February, reports alleged that the president was not taking the JCC bomb threats that had plagued the US for several months seriously. After scores of Jewish community centers were forced to evacuate following bomb threats, Trump had reportedly said during a meeting with state attorneys-general that the bomb threats were possibly false accusations that were simply intended to “make others look bad.”

Claims against the president’s lack of concern for world Jewry were repeated in January, when during International Holocaust Memorial Day, the president released a statement honoring the day and spoke about the Holocaust, but made no mention of Jews whatsoever.

While some are convinced that Trump and senior members of his staff are prone to antisemitic views, others have repeatedly dismissed the accusation, noting the president’s warm relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and especially his family background.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka is married to Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew who serves as a shadow diplomat in Trump’s administration, and has converted to Judaism herself.

The two are known to observe many Jewish traditions, and just this past week the traditional Passover Seder meal was held at the White House.

In a statement made on Friday that could easily be interpreted as a confident rebuttal of antisemitism accusations, the president recognized Passover during his weekly address. “This week Jewish families across our country and around the world celebrate Passover and re-tell the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people,” Trump said.

ANTISEMITISM ENVOY POST TO BE FILLED, STATE DEPT. SAYS

http://www.jpost.com/American-Politics/Antisemitism-envoy-post-to-be-filled-State-Dept-says-487034

 

The Trump administration will appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, according to State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

The envoy post has been vacant since Trump took office in January. On Thursday, JTA reported that the envoy’s office staff could be eliminated soon due to new State Department employment rules. The envoy is responsible for keeping tabs on global antisemitism and advising other countries in fighting it.

 

In a statement to JTA Friday, Toner didn’t address whether the staff would remain intact. But he said the department will continue its work to protect religious freedoms globally, and that it has selected candidates for the envoy post. Toner did not say when the envoy would be appointed.

Several senior positions at the State Department remain vacant.

“The Department remains committed to advancing the protection of basic human freedoms and values including the unimpeded practice of religion and protection of communities of faith from persecution in every form,” the statement said. “There have been no actions taken to limit or close the offices in the Department dedicated to this pursuit. Candidates have been identified for this role.”

In his Thursday press briefing, Toner said a hiring freeze remains in place at the State Department, even though a wider hiring freeze across the federal government ended this week. He said the freeze may continue until the department begins implementing a planned reorganization later this year.

On Thursday, a former State Department official, who spoke to JTA on the condition of anonymity, said a personnel directive would remove the three or four staff members working in the antisemitism envoy’s office. The directive is due to take effect later this month.

Toner’s statement to JTA comes after several politicians and Jewish leaders called on Trump to fill the post. Two Democratic congresspeople, Nita Lowey of New York and Ted Deutch of Florida, said the envoy is necessary in light of rising antisemitism. Samantha Power, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, also demanded Trump appoint an envoy.

Jewish organizations also called on Trump to fill the position, which was created by congressional legislation in 2004 and was last held by Ira Forman. The World Jewish Congress said that increasing antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere proves the need for a US envoy. The Anti-Defamation League called the position’s creation “a watershed moment in the fight against anti-Jewish hatred,” and demanded that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clarify how the department will fight antisemitism while the post remains empty.

“Eliminating the staff that advance these efforts would gut the US capacity to fight antisemitism at a time when it is flaring,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement, adding that the envoy post “was the strongest possible signal to our allies and to the world that fighting antisemitism is a fixture of American foreign policy.”

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center, the Reform movement’s legislative advocacy wing, called eliminating the office staff a “tremendous mistake.”

SISI’S CHOICES: BALANCING BETWEEN MOSCOW AND WASHINGTON

 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s recent visit to Washington and the warm welcome he received from the Trump administration are set to usher in a new era in the relations between Cairo and Washington, after years of hostility during the Obama years.

Sorely needed assistance was pledged on two crucial issues: fighting Islamic terrorism and stabilizing the economic situation.

It will not be easy. The terrorist attacks that killed and maimed dozens of worshipers in two Coptic churches on Palm Sunday in the heart of Egypt showed how woefully inadequate the security apparatus was in terms of intelligence gathering and protecting threatened targets.

The problem is that, denied American assistance by Obama, Sisi turned to Russia, Egypt’s erstwhile ally, for military and civilian help, which Moscow had been only too happy to provide. Russian assistance included the supply of advanced weapons and joint army exercises as well as financing nuclear power plants to produce electricity. Cairo had been expected to reciprocate by advancing Moscow’s efforts to reestablish itself in the region. Thus, Sisi supported Putin’s position regarding Syria – leaving Assad in power – and voted for a Russian resolution on Syria at the Security Council opposed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations and Western countries. He refrained from condemning Iran’s intervention in Syria and its subversive activities in Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon.

Egypt is not taking an active part in the American-led coalition against Islamic State, or in the coalition led by Saudi Arabia against the rebels in Yemen. This has led to a serious rift with Riyadh, Cairo’s staunchest backer in the region, which had helped Egypt’s failing economy with more than $20 billion in outright grants and long-term loans. Sisi also assisted Russia’s efforts to deepen its involvement in Libya and develop links with Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan army, who cooperates with Egypt in the defense of their long common border against Islamic militias and the prevention of weapons smuggling.

Can the Egyptian president now restore and deepen his relations with the United States without jettisoning vital Russian help? Egypt is still the recipient of a yearly $1.3b. in American military assistance, reluctantly renewed by Obama toward the end of his term. It desperately needs massive investments to develop its economy and introduce modern technology. Will President Donald Trump be understanding enough to provide that help, without demanding the severance of the Russian connection? There were attempts at conciliation between Cairo and Riyadh at the Arab summit held in Jordan in March. Sisi invited Saudi King Salman to Egypt, and there are some encouraging signs: Saudi Arabia resumed oil deliveries to Egypt that had been suspended because of the crisis.

However, serious issues remain, such as the new and close relations between Riyadh and Ankara, at a time when Egypt and Turkey are at loggerheads because of the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi’s arch-enemy. Saudi Arabia and Turkey recently held joint military exercises, which were perceived by Egypt as decidedly unfriendly.

Riyadh is also developing strong links with Ethiopia, a country embroiled in a bitter conflict with Cairo over plans to build a dam on the Blue Nile which might disastrously impact Egypt, which receives 90% of its water supply from the river.

While wrestling with these weighty issues, the Egyptian president is desperately seeking a strategy to defeat radical Islamic terrorist organizations in the Sinai Peninsula, which are also perpetrating deadly attacks in the heart of the country, as was seen on Palm Sunday. His army is still relying on outmoded tactics from the Soviet era: massive troop deployment and heavy guns ill-suited to guerrilla warfare against small terrorist groups that take refuge in hideouts in the mountainous and desert areas. The terrorists launch swift and well-planned raids, plant explosives targeting the many army vehicles plying the roads, and attack police stations inside the cities of northern Sinai and even military roadblocks. The kidnapping and murder of Copts have led to a general exodus of their population from northern Sinai.

A new concept is needed, but will Sisi and his generals let US Army Special Forces train and remodel the traditionally conservative Egyptian Army? And how will Russia react? Perhaps more important yet, will a restive Egyptian people, burdened by an unprecedented economic crisis, give the president time to implement his choices? Sisi’s first promise after his election had been to renew the country’s growth, which had come to a standstill during the years of turmoil following Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

He had pledged to show results in two to three years and set immediately to work, launching impressive projects such as doubling the Suez Canal, to increase the number of ships crossing that vital waterway; building a second capital east of Cairo, to ease that city’s congestion; granting major oil companies concessions to search for oil fields; building thousands of miles of roads; rendering vast tracts of land suitable for agricultural purposes; and even thoroughly cleaning the country’s huge grain silos of pests and dirt, which destroyed up to a third of their contents each year.

Saudi Arabia helped, as mentioned above, but it was not enough, and Sisi turned to the International Monetary Fund, which granted a $12b. loan with a very low interest rate – but with strings attached, such as canceling food and energy subsidies, introducing value-added tax and floating the Egyptian pound.

As a result, there were severe price rises and much grumbling in the streets. Support for the president declined from 90% to 70%, still a remarkable vote of confidence, and there is renewed economic growth: 4.3% in 2016.

Unfortunately, the president’s efforts are hampered by the security situation. Muslim Brothers are still protesting the regime and try to sabotage infrastructures throughout the country. Islamic State is still fending off the Egyptian Army in the Sinai Peninsula with the help of a steady supply of weapons smuggled from the Libyan border. Its terrorists have carried out successful forays into the mainland, and managed to deal a disastrous blow to tourism by downing a Russian plane that had taken off from Sharm e-Sheikh, a popular resort in Sinai.

Tourism revenues plummeted from $12b.

in 2010 to less than $5.

And if that were not enough, Sisi, who has engaged in a vital effort to eliminate extremist teachings from schoolbooks, is facing stiff opposition from the religious establishment led by Al-Azhar, the country’s and the Sunni world’s most prestigious Islamic institute.

Can the embattled president find a way to balance his conflicting obligations, at a time when Russia and American are on a collision course? His carefully worded comments after the US struck the base from which the recent chemical attack had been launched show how difficult his position is. Can he pull off the cooperation with America that he needs to forge ahead and restore security, while giving his people the better life they expect? The survival of his regime and perhaps of his country are at stake.

The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.

JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL: SPICER’S LESSON

 

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Jerusalem-Post-Editorial-Spicers-lesson-486961

 

How are we to interpret US President Donald Trump’s press secretary’s stunning statements earlier this week about the Nazi regime, Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust?

Was it sheer ignorance or just muddled confusion that led Sean Spicer to make up the term “Holocaust centers” as he attempted to extricate himself from his initial embarrassing comments about Assad being worse than Hitler – or is there something more inimical lurking below the surface? At the very least, we can say that the events of the Second World War and the systematically implemented genocide of the Jews were not an integral part of Spicer’s education.

Apparently these events did not interest Spicer enough to push him to learn more. And if Spicer’s knowledge of basic facts about the Holocaust is in any way representative, it is safe to assume that many Westerners of Spicer’s generation (he is 45) are worryingly ignorant about the Holocaust. The situation is even worse in younger generations and in the non-Western world.

According to a survey commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League that was published in May 2014, in the Middle East and North Africa just 38% of respondents said they heard of the Holocaust. Just 8% both heard about it and believed that it really took place as presented by historians.

In Asia 44% heard about it and just 23% believed it took place. Younger people tended to be less aware of the Holocaust worldwide with 48% under 35 saying they have heard of it compared to 61% 50 and older.

Obviously, in the West knowledge of the Holocaust is much wider spread. But even in Western Europe 10% of respondents said the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was exaggerated. In the Americas 19% said they were. In Asia, the Middle East and North Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa far greater numbers believe this to be true.

Clearly there is a pressing need to educate the world about the Holocaust in ways that are more engaging and that can be relevant for nations that were not directly connected to the events. In some countries – particularly in the Middle East and North Africa – ignorance of the Holocaust is not benign. Holocaust denial or distortion of the facts is an intentional policy of autocratic regimes which find it advantageous to deflect criticism by demonizing the Jews and Israel.

Anti-Zionists deploy Holocaust denial as a means of undermining the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Belittling the Holocaust is a tactic used by those who oppose the very existence of Israel and deny the need for a uniquely Jewish state.

Purposely distorting the facts about the Holocaust or denying it happened at all or that the scope of the casualties was exaggerated is also a tactic used by those who seek to destroy Israel. Those who deny the Holocaust want it to happen again.

Particularly troubling, however, is the sort of ignorance exhibited by people like Spicer. These are people who grew up in free, Western countries, attended good schools and received higher education. They are intimately involved in public life. Yet, they are remarkably ignorant about the most heinous crime of the 20th century and, as an extension, about the moral lessons that need to be drawn from the historical events that, taken together, made up the Holocaust.

The wall-to-wall condemnation of Spicer’s comments and Spicer’s speedy retraction and apology were reassuring.

However, the best response to Tuesday’s fiasco is a call for more Holocaust education.

Yad Vashem invited the press secretary to visit its website in order to “learn about the Holocaust….” Yoram Dori, former spokesman for the International March of the Living, announced the launch of the “6 Million Brothers – The 3rd Generation” project which calls on students and youngsters across the globe to write songs describing the emotions they feel while visiting German death camps in Poland.

Spicer’s public display of ignorance was unfortunate.

But the embarrassing incident which received extensive media coverage can be used as an opportunity to launch new educational initiatives that deepen knowledge of the Holocaust.

Maybe Spicer actually has inadvertently done something to help deepen knowledge of the Shoah.

Haaretz columnist stands by claim religious Zionists worse than Hezbollah

Haaretz columnist Yossi Klein on Friday doubled down on opinions he set out in a piece published earlier this week that caused a storm, in which he claimed that the religious Zionist movement is “more dangerous than Hezbollah.”

In the opinion piece, published Wednesday and titled in Hebrew “Our self-righteous elite,” Klein wrote: “The national religious are dangerous. More dangerous than Hezbollah, more than drivers in car-ramming attacks or girls with scissors (referring to a stabbing terror attack by a Palestinian teenage girl). The Arabs can be neutralized, but they cannot.” He went on: “What do they want? To rule the country and cleanse it of Arabs.”

The article was condemned by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many of his coalition partners, including members of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party. Prominent opposition lawmakers condemned the op-ed as well, and accused Klein of harming the Israeli left.

Defending his assertions in a TV interview, Klein said his comparison to Hezbollah was intended to highlight that religious Zionism has become a “political body,” and that combining politics with religion is dangerous “no less than Hezbollah.”

When his Channel 2 interviewer, Amnon Abramovich, told Klein that Hezbollah should “not be in your arsenal” when he writes, Klein said criticizing his piece because of that comparison was “missing the issue.”

“The issue is us — what happens among us and what is convenient for us to overlook,” Klein said.

After being accused by Abramovich of “committing the sin of generalization,” and being confronted with a list of religious-Zionist thinkers who were moderate and promoted dialogue, Klein said any listing of the religious Zionist group should also include the Jewish underground, a Jewish terror group active in the 1980s, and Yigal Amir, who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Every generalization by its nature, Klein said, misses the individuals. “I refer to religious Zionism as a political body,” he said, adding that naturally, when you examine individuals in the political camp, you will find a range of opinions.

“If you want to influence people,” retorted Abramovich, “you must not use ‘ear splitting expressions’.”

Klein claimed that the Israeli right-wing allows itself to act in ways that are forbidden to the left-wing. “The justice minister (Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home) said my piece was anti-Semitic,” he said. “She didn’t even read it. She can’t point to anything anti-Semitic about it. She just said it. You know, you taint something you dislike with an adjective like ‘anti-Semitic,’ and that’s it, you did your part. Or ‘incitement.’ What is inciting in this piece?”

Defending his choices of wording, Klein said: “I use the language that is acceptable today. This language where the right-wing generalizes and the left-wing generalizes, this is apparently the language that has become acceptable here.

“I am not the one who began with name-calling,” Klein said. “It is the current government that began with name-calling. It is the government that generalizes about the left and calls us ‘traitors’. It is he who whispered in the ear of Rabbi Kaduri that the left-wingers ‘forgot what it means to be Jews’.”

Klein was referring to a comment made by Netanyahu in the late 1990s when he visited Kaduri, who was considered an influential voice among Israel’s religious electorate.

Abramovich said the article’s opening lines, which featured the Hezbollah reference, are the “heart of its problems,” to which Klein answered: “You know what? Take these first three lines, excise them and throw them away. Do you agree with the rest?”

Klein added: “I cannot ignore the fact that this op-ed presents me in a light that is not true. I see myself as patriotic. I’ll tell you more: I see myself as more patriotic than them, because I genuinely believe the things that they are doing – and everyone who criticizes them is labeled as anti-patriotic or even anti-Semitic – these things hurt me, hurt this country, this country which is my homeland.”

Anne Frank’s final days, as told by her former classmate

Looking through the barbed wire of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, 14-year-old Nanette Konig could barely recognize her friend and classmate from Amsterdam, Anne Frank.

Both girls had been caught by the Nazis in the Dutch capital and were sent to starve to death in a place Konig describes today as “hell on Earth.” Both were emaciated when they saw each other again in different sections of the same German camp in 1944.

“She looked like a walking skeleton, just like me,” Konig, one of the few living friends of the teenage diarist, told JTA in a video interview from her home in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 6, which was her 88th birthday.

As more and more Holocaust survivors die each year, Konig was compelled a decade ago to break her long silence and join a diminishing group of witnesses who now tell their story in the media and at schools. Her lectures, which Konig says she has delivered to thousands of students on three continents, are something that “survivors owe to the victims.”

But it’s also her way of repaying Anne Frank’s father, Otto, who comforted Konig in the aftermath of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, even as he was grieving for his own two daughters and wife.

Otto Frank, who edited the diaries his daughter wrote while the family was in hiding into the best-selling “The Diary of a Young Girl,” met Konig in 1945 at a rehabilitation center in eastern Holland. Konig, who was 16 and weighed only 60 pounds, was brought there following the Allies’ liberation of Bergen-Belsen — “a hell where people were not exterminated immediately, but died from hunger, dysentery, typhus, cold, exhaustion, beatings, torture and exposure,” she says.

Anne Frank, age twelve, at her school desk in Amsterdam, 1941.

Yet Konig was one of the lucky ones to survive. Anne Frank and her older sister, Margot, were among the estimated 50,000 who perished at Bergen-Belsen in 1945 after arriving there from Auschwitz. Their mother, Edith, died at Auschwitz a month before her daughters, just three weeks before the Red Army liberated the death camp.

Otto Frank, the sole survivor from his family, already knew his daughters and wife were dead when he came to the rehabilitation center to visit Konig, who is also the only survivor from her family. Konig said he wanted to know as much as possible about his family’s last weeks.

Listening to her stories and seeing her emaciated physique “visibly caused Otto Frank a lot of pain,” Konig recalled.

But despite his grief Frank, who died in 1980, “gave me support, encouraged me at a point in my life when I had no one,” she said. “He was a very special man and I will always be grateful for the consolation he offered me.”

Like many of Anne Frank’s schoolmates and friends, Konig recalled the diarist as a “sunny, smiley child.”

But unlike most of them, Konig also witnessed Anne “change into an adult” in a matter of weeks at Bergen-Belsen, she said.

A photo of Anne Frank at the opening of the 2009 exhibition: 'Anne Frank, a History for Today,' at the Westerbork Remembrance Centre in Hooghalen, northeast Netherlands. (AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski, File)

“We had a childhood and then we had no adolescence,” she said. “We simply became grown-ups overnight. It was the only way to survive.”

During their meeting, Otto Frank told Konig that he intended to edit his daughter’s diaries — there were three of them — into a book. During their conversation, he said he was still thinking of omitting some of the personal details that Anne included in the diaries, including her tense relationship with her mother and her account of getting her first period.

Ultimately, though, he included these details — countless readers of Anne Frank’s book regard them as crucial to achieving the personal connection many of them feel to her.

“The Diary of a Young Girl” is perhaps the world’s most-read manuscript about the Holocaust; it has been translated into 70 languages in dozens of countries.

After the war, Konig worked as a bilingual (English-Dutch) secretary in England. She married a British man and moved to Brazil in the 1950s. She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren, as well as several great-grandchildren.

But it wasn’t until a decade ago that Konig felt the drive to bear testimony — similar to what Otto Frank felt when he published Anne’s diary and set up the educational Anne Frank Foundation in Basel, Switzerland.

Otto Frank (photo credit: Dutch National Archives, and Spaarnestad Photo / Wikipedia)

“I saw he was the exception,” Konig said of Otto Frank. “Most Holocaust survivors decided not to talk about it, maybe it was too painful. Maybe it was too complicated. In the Netherlands there was a sense that Jews shouldn’t make too much of a fuss about their own tragedy when everyone suffered.”

Gradually, Konig began speaking at schools – first the ones her grandchildren attended. Then she was invited to speak about the Holocaust on Brazilian television and other media. She went on to speak at schools in the United States and Europe, and give interviews to leading media in her native Netherlands.

In 2015, Konig published a book in Brazil titled “I Survived the Holocaust.” It has since been published in Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish. She said she is looking to have it published in English as well.

“It became clear to me that we, the survivors, have a duty to the victims, even when it’s an unpleasant one,” Konig said.

The Jews, she said, “are not so vulnerable anymore in a world that has a strong Israel and its robust voice.”

But other minorities, she adds, “are as vulnerable as we were.”

In her talks at high schools, Konig tries to impress upon her listeners how the Holocaust was the result of a democratic transition of power.

“Two weeks after he took office,” she said of Adolf Hitler, “he revoked the constitution, closed parliament and declared himself a dictator. When your time comes to vote, be sure to exercise it wisely.”

When she speaks in the Netherlands, Konig said part of what she regards as her duty is to talk about the checkered history of the population of that country, where both Nazi collaboration and heroism were prevalent.

The Netherlands has an outsize number of Righteous among the Nations — non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. More than a fifth of all the 26,513 Righteous recognized by Israel are from the Netherlands, a nation of 17 million people. Its tally of 5,595 Righteous is the second-largest in the world after Poland’s 6,706.

But the Netherlands also has the highest death rate of Jews in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. The genocide, which resulted in the murder of 75 percent of the country’s pre-Holocaust Jewish population of 140,000, was facilitated by Dutch police, collaborators and headhunters, and was followed by callous treatment of those who survived.

Thousands were required to pay taxes on properties while they were in camps or in hiding, and fined for missing payments because of this reason.

Konig herself had to pay the equivalent of thousands of dollars in medical bills for her own rehabilitation after returning from Bergen-Belsen, she said.

This appears to have left her bitter toward the Dutch state.

“I never went back and I never considered going back to that country, where most of the Jews were killed,” she said. “In fact, I left as soon as I could.”

Yet Konig draws a distinction between the country and its people.

“I don’t think the Dutch wanted to kill us. They were acting out of fear,” she said. “And people will do most everything when they are afraid.”

Why 189,000 Soviet Jews fled to Italy rather than the Promised Land

At age 10, Michael Drob left the Soviet Union and became a stateless refugee.

For almost a year, he shared a room with his older sister, his parents and his grandmother in Italy. In the room was a single bed, in which his grandmother slept — everyone else slept on the floor. Drob, who is today an American software engineer, remembers it as a happy year: Instead of attending school, he washed cars on street corners to help his parents pay for food.

The experiences of his family and other Soviet Jews who immigrated to the United States through Austria and Italy in the 1980s are the subject of Drob’s new documentary “Stateless,” released on DVD in late February.

“This specific immigration wave had never been mentioned in a film, it’s a subject that hasn’t been covered,” said the 39-year-old father of three who made the film with his wife Victoria. “One day, I decided to find out why my family was denied refugee status by the US while we were immigrating. It didn’t lead to answers, but it led to stories about immigration.”

Half a million Jews were let out of the Soviet Union between 1970 and 1990 with Israeli visas. But of these, approximately 189,000 people chose not to go to Israel but instead became refugees in Austria and Italy, hoping to secure visas to the United States.

An elderly woman guards luggage in an Austria train station in 1989. (Courtesy 'Stateless')

Prevented by Soviet authorities from taking their savings with them (each person could take only $96) and obliged to give up their Soviet passports, they left the USSR practically penniless but with suitcases of trinkets to sell in Italian markets. No one knew if or when an American visa would be granted or why some people were accepted while others were refused entrance.

Drob, not a professional filmmaker, learned video production while running a wedding video business with his wife. After obtaining a small grant to make the film from the Council of Jewish Emigre Community Organizations, a nonprofit that funds projects for Russian Jews in New York, he started by recording interviews with the people closest to him — his parents and his parents in law, and friends from their time in Italy.

An elderly man stands in front of a luggage cart. (Courtesy 'Stateless')

In the film, Drob’s father-in-law Alexander Korenfeld shares one of his most traumatic memories. When the family arrived in Italy after 18 hours on the overcrowded train, they were met by armed guards who separated the women from the men. They were given 10 minutes to get all their belongings off the train. The people panicked.

‘In his mind, he was saying goodbye to his family’

“It was for efficiency, to get women and children off the train so that the men could unload it,” Drob explained. “But in his mind, he was saying goodbye to his family. Everyone knows what happened during World War II with Jewish refugees.”

Drob said that the armed guards were there to assure the safety of the refugees after a 1973 incident in which Palestinian terrorists took a group of Soviet Jews hostage.

Refugees on a train from Austria to Rome, at Orte train station in 1989. (Courtesy 'Stateless')

In another part of the film, Korenfeld remembers going to the butcher in Italy and asking for some bones “to feed his dog.” In fact, the bones were to feed his family; they had no money for meat.

The Korenfelds were only in Italy for a short time, as they were soon successful in obtaining their American visas.

A Soviet exit visa. (Courtesy)

But Drob’s own family — his father decided to leave the USSR after being fired from his job as a violinist in an orchestra in Riga because he was Jewish — were less lucky. Refused visas twice, their stay in Italy dragged on for 10 months.

In the dark about why some received visas while others were denied, refugees tried to exaggerate their connection to Judaism, hoping that since Jewish organizations were lobbying to get Jews out of the USSR, those who had a stronger connection to Judaism would have a better chance at admission to the US, said Drob.

Many men and boys got circumcised in Italy, he said — and not for religious reasons.

“I remember these men just walking around for weeks in agony. You could tell by the way these men were walking that they just got circumcised,” he said.

‘You could tell by the way these men were walking that they just got circumcised’

Indeed, during their appointments at the US embassy, the refugees were always asked if they had been circumcised, said Mark Hetfield, president of the Hebrew Immigrants’ Aid Society (HIAS) in an interview in the film. In the 1980s, Hetfield was a HIAS case worker in Italy.

“It would bolster their claim, which is unfortunate,” he said.

The refugees were also asked if they celebrate Jewish holidays, but their answers sometimes backfired.

One of the film’s funniest moments was an account by Hetfield of how one applicant said that he always baked matzah on Yom Kippur.

Not included in the documentary was the much more somber issue of suicide, which tragically took a number of Soviet refugees in Italy after they were denied visas to the US.

Neither did Drob include a conspiracy theory that was going around at the time involving Israeli pressure on the US to deny visas in order to coerce refugees to emigrate to Israel instead. Benedict Ferro, district director of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service in Italy at the time, did not agree to be interviewed for the film, said Drob.

Men remove luggage from a train. (Courtesy 'Stateless')

Eventually, all the Soviet Jews who were stuck in limbo in Europe were allowed into the US thanks to the 1990 Lautenberg amendment. The legislation changed the definition of a refugee from someone who faced persecution personally to an entire group of people who had been victims of persecution — such as Jews in the USSR.

Not addressed in the film, however, is the issue of why many Soviet Jews did not want to go to Israel — a question that arises at every screening, Drob said. He said that practical reasons included fear of war, wariness of the mandatory military draft, and better prospects in the US.

But Drob believes that for many, it had more to do with their Jewish identity — or lack thereof.

“To go to Israel for a lot of people meant embracing their Jewish identity, but in the USSR it wasn’t a popular identity to embrace,” he said. “The Soviet Jews just wanted to be left alone, without having a label.”