News from April 5 to April 11
Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli election update, explosion at a Iranian nuclear facility, and honorable mentions
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What happened? Last Wednesday was Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. One of the most significant memorials this year was Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s speech in which he acknowledged the United States’ inaction during the Holocaust (with an emphasis on the State Department’s complicity). Blinken, who is Jewish, has a stepfather who is a Holocaust survivor. To be clear, I did not choose to highlight his speech because of his political views or my opinion of the current administration. I decided to include his speech because, as far as I know, there hasn’t been an American official who directly addressed the United States’ failure to save Jews during the Holocaust. Here are a few selections from his remarkable speech (you can watch below):
“We remember to learn. And we learn so that we do not repeat.”
“The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum currently has an exhibit called ‘Americans and the Holocaust.’ One story it highlights is about a man at the State Department named Breckenridge Long. He was appointed in 1939 by President Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Special War Problems Division, a unit created after Hitler invaded Poland. Long oversaw immigration and refugee policy for countries impacted by the war, including the issuing of visas. He had immense power to help those being persecuted. Yet as the Nazis began to systematically round up and execute Jews, Long made it harder and harder for Jews to be granted refuge in the United States. He established onerous security checks, claiming they were necessary to prevent enemy spies from infiltrating the U.S., even though there was no evidence that refugees posed that risk.”
“Long didn’t hide what he was doing. He wrote it up in official cables. One from June 1940 read – quote – ‘We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.’ Postpone and postpone and postpone. As the Nazis continued to kill and kill and kill.”
“Assistant Secretary Long did still worse. He blocked cables with reports of the mass killing, which would have increased pressure for America to take in more Jews. And he lied to Congress. He told them the State Department was doing everything in its power to rescue Jews from Europe, and that the U.S. had admitted 580,000 Jewish refugees. We had only taken in around 138,000 Jews. It is important to note that Long did not act alone. Others at the State Department helped him draft and implement his policies. And still others sat silently while Long created more restrictions and delays.”
“But some did push back. A group of determined officials at the Treasury Department came up with payments to evacuate thousands of Jews in Romania and France who faced execution. After countless obstructions by officials like Long, they decided to appeal to President Roosevelt. They produced a document titled ‘Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews,’ which laid out in devastating detail the State Department’s refusal to help Jews. The authors wrote – quote – ‘State Department officials have not only failed to use the government machinery at their disposal to rescue the Jews from Hitler, but have even gone so far as to use this Governmental machinery to prevent the rescue of these Jews.’ They warned – quote – ‘his government will have to share for all time responsibility for this extermination.’”
“Six days later, Roosevelt announced the creation of the War Refugee Board, to pursue ‘the immediate rescue and relief of the Jews of Europe and other victims of enemy persecution.’ And the board went on to rescue tens of thousands of Jews and help hundreds of thousands more. But by then, more than four million Jews had already been murdered.”
“From 1933 to 1943, America’s immigration quotas permitted accepting 1.5 million people. We admitted fewer that 480,000 people. More than a million slots unfilled, as thousands of Jews were murdered every day. ‘Never forget,’ the words scratched into the walls of the gas chamber tell us. I hear that warning, as the current Secretary of State, leading the institution where Breckenridge Long and others once used the levers of government to do harm.”
You can watch the whole speech here:
Other Holocaust Memorial Day stories:
“As Racial Hatred Rises, Unity Is the Best Way Forward” by Gilad Erdan and Enes Kanter (Newsweek) (This piece, released on Holocaust Remembrance Day, was written by Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and Muslim NBA star Enes Kanter).
“Avdija wears special message on sneakers for Holocaust Remembrance Day” by Idan Zonshine (Jerusalem Post) (Deni Avdija is an Israeli NBA player who the Washington Wizards selected 9th overall in the 2020 NBA draft)
“On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Lawmaker’s Comments Draw Fire” by Bruce DePuyt (Maryland Matters) (A lawmaker compared a mental healthcare access bill to the Holocaust on Holocaust Remembrance Day)
“In first, Holocaust remembrance ceremonies held in UAE, Bahrain” (Times of Israel)
What happened? After consulting with all of the political parties elected to the Knesset, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin decided to give the first “mandate” to form a government to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although Netanyahu still does not appear to have a clear path to assembling a government, Rivilin granted him the opportunity to try first because 52 lawmakers recommended him, compared to 45 for Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and 7 for Yamina’s Naftali Bennett. 16 MKs decided not to recommend any candidate.
What does this mean? Netanyahu now has the exclusive ability to form a viable governing coalition for a few weeks. However, forming a government remains a tall task for Netanyahu. For one, he still needs to somehow convince the far-right, overtly anti-Arab Religious Zionist party and Ra’am, a conservative Islamist party with ideological ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, to work together. Even if he can, he also needs to convince Bennett and his Yamina party to join the coalition, which would likely require Netanyahu to offer a rotation of the premiership. Last week, reports indicated that Netanyahu was willing to offer Bennett a rotation where Bennett would serve as Prime Minister first (though Netanyahu would remain in the Prime Minister’s residence and serve as Alternate Prime Minister). If Netanyahu wants to form a government, he’s going to have to get really creative.
Anything else? Lapid made a speech earlier this week in which he announced that he was willing to rotate the premiership with Bennett and let him serve first. That’s a big deal because if Bennett does not like the terms he gets from Netanyahu, he has an excellent insurance policy by becoming the Prime Minister. Although Bennett would prefer a more right-wing government, he retains the option to compromise and join forces with Lapid. In his speech, Lapid said that “the Israeli public needs to see that its leaders can work together.”
What happened? Yesterday, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, revealed that an Iranian nuclear facility had suffered a blackout, which he described as “nuclear terrorism.” Western intelligence officials suggested Israel’s Mossad spy agency was behind the incident, which targeted Iran’s primary uranium enrichment site (Natanz). The incident comes just one day after Iran announced it had begun operating advanced IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges. Although the extent of the damage remains unclear, Iran has suggested it may retaliate, saying, “Iran reserves the right to respond against the perpetrators, and those who committed the terrorist action.” The latest reports suggested a large explosion had destroyed the independent power systems that supply the underground centrifuges, causing damage that will take at least nine months to repair.
What’s the bigger picture? Tensions between Israel and Iran are quite high right now. Israel was reportedly involved in a separate incident at Natanz and the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist within the last year. A few weeks ago, an Israeli cargo ship was targeted with a limpet mine, causing minor damage. Just last week, an Iranian spy vessel in the Red Sea was damaged in an attack analysts have attributed to Israel. If Israel is indeed involved in the latest incident at Natanz, it represents yet another development in the slow-burning Israel-Iran conflict.
It’s also important to consider the timing of this incident at Natanz. Not only did it happen shortly after Iran started using more advanced centrifuges, but it also comes as the United States is engaged in diplomatic talks with other world powers about reentering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran Deal. Accordingly, some analysts have speculated that Iran might not be able to respond to the Natanz incident because it would complicate the United States’ efforts to reenter the deal.
“Biden’s new slate of aid to Palestinians comes under intense scrutiny” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)
“Local Rabbi Introduces Social Media Star David Portnoy to Tefillin” by Harvey Farr (Jewish Journal)
“Israel to tell ICC it does not recognise court's authority” by Dan Williams (Reuters)
“In surprise twist, enrollment in many Israel gap year programs ‘skyrocketed’ amid pandemic” by Marie-Rose Sheinerman (Forward)
“ADL may have violated Wikipedia rules — editing its own entries” by Arno Rosenfeld (Forward)
“The Democrats launching long-shot bids to unseat Marjorie Taylor Greene” by Marc Rod (Jewish Insider)
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