Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

Workers of the health sector and opposition supporters take part in a protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello
By Anggy Polanco | SAN CRISTOBAL, VENEZUELA

Venezuela said it was sending 2,000 soldiers on Wednesday to a border state that is a hotspot of anti-government radicalism after a night of looting in which one 15-year-old died as political unrest rumbled on in the volatile nation.

Most shops and businesses in San Cristobal, capital of Tachira state on the Colombian border, were closed and guarded by soldiers on Wednesday, though looting continued in some poorer sectors, residents said.

People made off with items including coffee, diapers, and cooking oil in a country where a brutal economic crisis has made basic foods and medicine disappear from shelves.

Barricades of trash, car tires, and sand littered the streets, as daily life broke down in the city that was also a hotspot during the 2014 wave of unrest against leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

Hundreds of thousands of people have come onto the streets across Venezuela since early April to demand elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.

Maduro’s government accuses them of seeking a violent coup and says many of the protesters are no more than “terrorists.” State oil company PDVSA also blamed roadblocks for pockets of gasoline shortages in the country on Wednesday.

In Tachira, teenager Jose Francisco Guerrero was shot dead during the spate of looting, his relatives said.

“My mom sent my brother yesterday to buy flour for dinner and a little while later, we received a call saying he’d been injured by a bullet,” said his sister Maria Contreras, waiting for his body to be brought to a San Cristobal morgue.

The state prosecutor’s office confirmed his death, which would push the death toll in unrest to at least 43, equal to that of the 2014 protests.

’21ST CENTURY JEWS’

With international pressure against Venezuela’s government mounting, the United Nations Security Council turned its attention to the country’s crisis for the first time on Wednesday.

“The intent of this briefing was to make sure everyone is aware of the situation … we’re not looking for Security Council action,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters after the session.

“The international community needs to say, ‘Respect the human rights of your people or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go’ … We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma.”

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy Rafael Ramirez in turn accused the United States of seeking to topple the Maduro government.

“The U.S. meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela,” he said, showing photos of vandalism and violence he said was caused by opposition supporters.

Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom fled the country’s economic chaos, have in recent weeks accosted visiting state officials and their family members.

Maduro on Tuesday likened that harassment to the treatment of Jews under the Nazis.

“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Maduro said during the cabinet meeting. “We don’t carry the yellow star of David … we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”

The German Nazis and their collaborators persecuted and killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s.

Social media has for weeks buzzed with videos of Venezuelan emigrees in countries from Australia to the United States shouting insults at public officials and in some cases family members in public places.

Maduro’s critics say it is outrageous for officials to spend money on foreign travel when people are struggling to obtain food and children are dying for lack of basic medicines.

But some opposition sympathizers say such mob-like harassment is the wrong way to confront the government.

Graphic on Venezuela’s economic woes: here

(Reporting by Anggy Polanco, additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea, Brian Ellsworth, Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations in New York; Writing by Girish Gupta and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay)

Science helps verify an unbelievable Holocaust escape account

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

Jews digging a trench in which they were later buried in, after being shot, in Ponary, Poland. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)
The escape tunnel at Ponar is witness to ‘the victory of hope over desperation’

Science helps verify an unbelievable Holocaust escape account

The story of a band of Lithuanian Jews who dug their way to freedom was met with widespread skepticism over the years. A new TV program sheds light on their incredible tale

April 15, 2017, 8:38 am 4

LOS ANGELES (JTA) – A one-hour TV program airing next week on PBS links brings advanced scientific techniques to bear on an incredible Holocaust escape story.

“Holocaust Escape Tunnel,” a “Nova” production to be shown April 19, sheds new light on the attempt by 80 imprisoned men and women — mostly Lithuanian Jews — to make a break for freedom in the face of Nazi bullets. The show documents the application of scientific methods to verify what would otherwise be a nearly unbelievable story.

The documentary is set in and around Vilna, the Yiddish and Hebrew designation for Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. At its peak, before World War II and the Holocaust, the city boasted a Jewish population of some 77,000, had 105 synagogues, the largest Jewish library in the world and six daily Jewish newspapers.

The vigorous Jewish life in Vilna started to decline in 1940, when the Soviet Union absorbed Lithuania. It was almost completely destroyed after German armies attacked Russia in 1941, quickly conquering Lithuania.

Within a year Nazis shot and killed – in the days before Auschwitz-type gas chambers – most of the Jews and tossed their corpses into huge pits in the nearby Ponar Forest, initially dug by the Soviets to store fuel and ammunition. One pit alone held 20,000 to 25,000 corpses.

In late 1943, with Russian armies advancing from the east and partisans attacking German supply lines in surrounding forests, Hitler’s headquarters in Berlin decided to cover up the monumental massacre by ordering that all the bodies be cremated.

The Germans ordered the region’s surviving Jews, along with some Russian prisoners of war, to first chop down large trees in the forests, cut them into planks, form huge layers of wood, spread the bodies between the layers and then set them aflame. Methodically, the Germans formed 10 “burning brigades,” each consisting of 80 prisoners, mainly Jewish.

After a day’s work, the “burners” were held in pits and their feet shackled. One such unit, consisting of 76 men and four women, decided it was duty bound to pass on the truth to the world and future generations.

The prisoners freed their legs by cutting the shackles with a smuggled-in file and, for the next 76 days, using only spoons and their hands, carved out a 2-by-2-foot-wide tunnel extending 130 feet.

April 15, 1944, the last day of Passover, was set for the escape. As the first prisoners left the tunnel, guards opened fire and killed almost the entire group. But 12 made it out and cut through the wire fence. They joined a detachment of partisans commanded by the legendary Abba Kovner.

At the end of the war, all but one of the escapees were still alive and eventually settled elsewhere, mainly in pre-state Israel and the United States.

Among the thousands, if not millions, of post-Holocaust remembrances, the story of the Vilna escapees was met with widespread skepticism even by the future wives and children of the 11 survivors, said historian Richard Freund, who is prominently featured in the documentary.

The skepticism was fueled by the absence of any physical evidence of the alleged tunnel. Lithuania — already beleaguered by charges of its wartime collaboration with the Germans — showed little enthusiasm for further investigations.

In recent years, however, with a change of attitude by a new generation of Lithuanians, their government was ready to seek the truth about the Holocaust and invite outside experts to participate in the endeavor.

An initial contact was Jon Seligman, a leading researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority. Freund, of the University of Hartford, also was interested — he had directed archaeological projects at the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland, as well as at six ancient sites in Israel. In 2014, the two scholars decided to cooperate on the project, spurred by their similar ancestral descent from Vilna Jews. A third member of the documentary team with Jewish roots in Eastern Europe was Paula Apsell, the senior producer for “Nova.”

The infamous “Burning Pit” used by the Nazis to burn the remains of their Jewish victims in order to rid themselves of all evidence. (Ezra Wolfinger for WGBH/JTA)

The infamous “Burning Pit” used by the Nazis to burn the remains of their Jewish victims in order to rid themselves of all evidence. (Ezra Wolfinger for WGBH/JTA)

Seligman and Freund had initially set their sights on exploring the fate of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, once the center of Jewish worship and scholarship, which had been destroyed by the Germans. The Soviets later razed the remains and built a school there.

The two scholars — backed by other experts and teams of young volunteers — made some dramatic discoveries at the Great Synagogue site, but also were intrigued by reports on the escape tunnel.

In approaching the latter, the project leaders ruled out using the traditional method of digging into an archaeological site with spades and machines.

“Traditional archaeology uses a highly destructive method,” Freund told JTA. “You only have one chance to get it right and you can’t repeat an experiment. Additionally, in our case, we were determined not to desecrate the site and victimize the dead a second time.”

Instead, the teams used two noninvasive techniques that are widely employed in gas and oil explorations. One approach was through Ground Penetrating Radar, or GPR, which uses radar pulses to return images of objects found beneath the earth’s surface. The results were analyzed in Los Angeles by geophysicist Dean Goodman, who developed the GPR software.

In the second approach, called Electrical Resistivity Tomography, or ETR, scientists investigate sub-surface materials through their electrical properties. The same technique is widely used in medical imaging of the human body.

Thanks to these techniques, in 2016 the investigators were able to scientifically confirm the existence and dimensions of a wartime escape tunnel, as JTA reported at the time. The New York Times listed the feat as one of the top science stories of the year.

One of the successful tunnel escapees was Shlomo Gol, whose son Abraham (Abe) was born in a displaced persons camp in Munich, Germany. The elder Gol died in 1986 at the age of 77, and his son will be 68 in July. The family initially immigrated to Israel, then moved to the United States.

Abe Gol, who lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida, told JTA that friends recalled his father as a young man full of life and as a natural leader. However, the father young Abe knew “withdrew within himself” and did not speak of his experiences.

The little he learned of his father’s past came in two ways: One was the annual reunion, on the last day of Passover, held by escapees who had settled in Israel. At dinner, when shots of vodka loosened tongues, the men talked of the past, paying no attention to the boy listening in.

In later years, Gol discovered that his father had kept a written record of his past, which the son translated into English. One small recollection from the diary: the persistent stink from the combination of kerosene and tar the prisoners had to pour on the wood pyres to fan the flames.

At the time of the tunnel’s discovery, Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority wrote, “As an Israeli whose family originated in Lithuania, I was reduced to tears on the discovery of the escape tunnel at Ponar. This discovery is a heartwarming witness to the victory of hope over desperation. The exposure of this tunnel enables us to present not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the yearning for life.”

With the deaths of the last eyewitnesses of the Holocaust, Freund said, historians will have to rely increasingly on yet unknown scientific and technological advances to preserve and enlarge our knowledge of the great tragedy of the 20th century.

“Holocaust Escape Tunnel” will air April 19 at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times; 8 p.m. Central time. Check your local PBS station for details.

UK Grows A Set of Testicals Concerning Growing Anti-Semitism At College Campuses?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWS PAPER)

UK university cancels ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ event over anti-Semitism

Citing the British government’s adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism that includes exaggerated criticism of Israel, a university in Britain calls off an event marking “Israel Apartheid Week.”

According to a report on the Jewish Chronicle news site, the University of Central Lancaster event was meant to feature Ben White, a prominent anti-Israel activist, and pro-Palestinian academics.

A university spokesman quoted in the report says the session, titled “Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine,” was canceled because it contravened the government’s new definition of anti-Semitism and was thus “unlawful.”

“The UK government has formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s new definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism,” the spokesperson is quoted as saying. “We believe the proposed talk contravenes the new definition and furthermore breaches university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests.”

The British government in December adopted the relatively broad definition of anti-Semitism first put forward in May at a conference of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which is based in Berlin.

According to that definition, anti-Semitism includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

It also says anti-Semitism includes “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing
Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Anne Frank Center: Trump Administration ‘Infected’ With ‘Anti-Semitism’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

Anne Frank center: Trump administration ‘infected’ with ‘anti-Semitism’

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect excoriates Trump, saying his statement earlier today condemning anti-Semitism is “too little, too late” and a “Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration.”

The full statement, posted to the Anne Frank Center’s Facebook page, reads as follows:

The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own Administration. His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record. Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration. The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial. And it was only yesterday, President’s Day, that Jewish Community Centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the President said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to Antisemitism proactively and in real-time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment.

Idiotic John Kerry And His Idiotic Ideas About Israel And Islamic Terrorism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FOX NEWS)

After UN veto, Kerry suggests Israel’s West Bank foray spawning ‘terrorism’

Secretary of State John Kerry is defending the Obama administration’s decision to effectively allow the United Nations to condemn Israeli for attempting to build more settlements in the disputed West Bank, saying the “unprecedented” effort has spawned terrorism and violence that jeopardizes lasting peace in the region.

The United States on Friday abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote to adopt a resolution condemning the Israel’s settlement expansion, which allowed for the measure’s passage and disapproval from incoming Republican President Donald Trump.

“Things will be different after Jan. 20,” Trump tweeted minutes after the vote.

Kerry said Israel’s continued and stepped-up attempt to build more settlements, or communities, in the region, which includes East Jerusalem, risks the so-called “two-state” solution between Israelis and the Palestinians, who also lay claim to the region.

“The United States acted with one primary objective in mind: to preserve the possibility of the two state solution, which every U.S. administration for decades has agreed is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Kerry said Friday. “Two states is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors, and freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people.”

He also said the administration does not agree with “every aspect” of the resolution but that it “rightly condemns violence” and calls on both sides to take constructive steps to reverse current trends and advance the prospects for a two state solution.”

The resolution was put forward by four nations a day after Egypt withdrew it Thursday under pressure from Israel Trump.

The U.S. not vetoing the measure is being considered a snub to the country’s key Middle Eastern ally and attributed to outgoing Democratic President Obama, who has had chilly relations with Israel throughout his eight-year tenure.

Reaction from U.S. Republicans and Jewish leaders around the world was swift and sharp.

“It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution,” said Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon. “I have no doubt that the new U.S. administration and the incoming UN Secretary General will usher in a new era in terms of the UN’s relationship with Israel.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., blasted the administration for undermining America’s historic Middle East ally.

“This is absolutely shameful,” Ryan said. “Today’s vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel.”

Former GOP presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said called the administration’s move “a big mistake.”

Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and president of Human Rights Voices, said the contention that settlements, and not Palestinian terrorism, is the obstacle to peace is false.

“This UN resolution represents the Big Lie of modern anti-Semitism,” Bayefsky said. “Palestinians’ backers on the Council, New Zealand and Malaysia, made today’s slander clear, claiming Jews living peaceful, productive lives on Arab-claimed land was the ‘single biggest threat to peace’ and “primary threat to a two-state solution.’

“Seven decades of violent Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state prove otherwise.”

The measure was adopted with 14 votes in favor, to a round of applause, after U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power abstained. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

Powers said the U.S. used its veto power in 2007 on a similar matter but that “circumstances have (since) changed dramatically.”

“One cannot simultaneously champion Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution,” she said. “One has to make a choice.”

The Obama White House, under heavy pressure from the Israeli government and its supporters to veto the resolution, kept everyone guessing until the vote whether it would stop shielding Israel from council resolutions and permit it to pass by abstaining.

After the vote, White House officials acknowledged on a conference that Obama made the decision himself after several rounds of discussions with top administration officials.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said afterward that the U.S. has only one president at a time.

Israel believes it has the right to expand settlements in the disputed territories as populations within them expand. Palestinians do not believe the settlements should exist at all, and world condemnation of expansion is seen as a possible first in that direction.

The resolution calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activity in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.” And it repeated the longstanding U.N. position that all settlements on land Israel conquered in 1967 are illegal under international law.

A senior Israeli official accused the U.S. of a “shameful move” after learning that it did not intend to veto the text, the BBC reported.

As one the council five permanent members of the council, the U.S. has veto power and has used it to sheltered Israel from condemnatory resolutions. But the Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory, even though it gives Israel tens of billions annually in assistance.

“This last minute political maneuvering is shameful,” said Ric Grenell, former spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. and a Fox News contributor. “Today’s abstention by the Obama administration will make it harder to find a peaceful solution because it imposes outside positions on Israel without letting them negotiate directly.”

Fox News’ Eric Linton and Jonathan Wachtel contributed to this report.

This Is A Great Article By A Muslim American College Girl About Mr. Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES NEWS PAPER)

When she outed herself to me as a Trump supporter, I realized I had finally found the “silent majority.” I looked at her, this suddenly strange girl who sleeps a few feet away from me, my college roommate. The silent majority has seen me put on my head scarf in the morning and take it off at night. The silent majority has touched my face, done my makeup, watches “Gilmore Girls” religiously. The silent majority occasionally enjoys sliced mango before bed.

We fought; I packed. This was Tuesday evening, so I headed to my friend’s dorm, where a small group of us, mainly black women, tried to find solace in one another as the country slowly fell to red. I tried and failed to speak, to write. I ignored my roommate’s lengthy texts.

Did she really expect me to respect her choice when her choice undermined my presence in this country, in this university, in my very own dorm room? Did she really expect me to shake her hand for supporting a candidate who would love to bar my relatives from this country, who has considered making people of my faith register in a specific database and carry special ID, Holocaust-style?

What with the standstill of loyalties in this election, it is no surprise that our argument proved hopeless. There was no reasoning with her, but my goal today is not to reason with her. I know perfectly well — by the nature of this very platform, by the type of person who would click on this article — that I am preaching to the choir.

My roommate’s reasoning reflected an “us versus them” mind-set that has defined this nation for as long as it has existed, that explains the very core of Donald J. Trump’s appeal. Mr. Trump’s canned last-minute appeals to “one united people” does not change the fact that the world feels very different to me today.

I’ve always found refuge and clarity in the streets of New York City. After the vote was all but called at 3 in the morning, I wandered around Times Square with two equally bewildered friends. Drifting through the empty blue streets, witnessing the ugly truth illuminated by billboards, was more surreal than I could have imagined. The emboldened silent majority speckled the streets, sporting their red “Make America Great Again” caps. I was struck by a feeling that their caps were a military uniform, that our country was at civil war, and that I was a target. The way we eyed one another warily seemed to confirm this sentiment. And in fact, this exact dynamic seems to be playing out on college campuses around the country.

During a job interview recently, I was asked about the audience that I write for. I responded instantly: people who do not look like me. People I can shock with my multifaceted existence — the fact that I am Muslim and an ardent feminist, a child of immigrants and a writer in English. People — mainly white people — whom I can persuade to see reason by sharing parts of myself through stories that make me as real to them as they are to themselves.

On the subway back from Times Square, I realized that I was seeing the election results as proof of my personal failure as a writer. A black friend who was with me saw the election results as proof of her personal failure as a Black Lives Matter activist. A white friend seemed to blame his choice to vote in New York rather than back home in Michigan. Everyone I was with seemed crippled by a collective lack of agency that was more difficult to watch than CNN’s election coverage.

But this is not our fault. We are not the silent majority.

My roommate’s main defense of Mr. Trump during our argument was that he didn’t mean the “stupid things” he said. She had the privilege to dismiss his words, just as he has the privilege to dismiss mine. But today, I have woken up with a craving to write. Today, for the first time in a long time, my audience has changed.

Now that an us-versus-them system has been voted into office, I want to write for those who feel like the latter, the “them.” National unity in this moment may be nonexistent, but the unity among us is real and crucial. To the first trans kid I ever met; to my Muslim and Hispanic and female friends; to my sister and my mother, both hijabis; to all of the individuals who helped me feel love on Tuesday night, who offered me water as I cried on their bathroom floors, who marched from Union Square to Trump Tower on Wednesday — I believe in us, in our ability to regroup and find a course of action.

Mobilization depends on all of us — everyone who has been or could be a target of Mr. Trump, everyone who has been appalled by this election, at the parody of American democracy that has unfolded. We do not need to be silent. We do need to find resilience, inspiration and hope in one another.

University students in Toronto walk out on vote to mark Holocaust Education Week

(This article is from the Israeli Times News)

(This hatred should be a surprise to no one, considering who this ‘hate group’ is.)

Members of SJP, Muslim student group leave student union meeting rather than decide on proposal offering annual Holocaust education programs.

Source: University students in Toronto walk out on vote to mark Holocaust Education Week

Belgium: Catholic School Teacher’s Anti Jewish Cartoon Is Praised By Administration

(This story is courtesy of the Times Of Israel News Paper)

FIRST PERSON / I’ve seen how anti-Israel vitriol has mainstreamed classic anti-Semitism

How my reporting about an anti-Semitic cartoon changed my views of Belgium — for the worse

Luc Descheemaeker was denounced by UNESCO, Germany and the US, but his school says it’s ‘proud’

August 26, 2016
Belgian cartoonist Luc Descheemaeker posted this image to his Facebook page after it won a prize at Iran’s widely condemned Holocaust mockery cartoon contest om May 2016. (Facebook)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — I used to think I had a pretty good understandingof what it means to be Jewish in Belgium.

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A longtime observer of that polarized binational country, whose dysfunctions and successes often reflect those of the European Union headquartered in its capital, Brussels, I have family ties there and am fluent in the local languages.

But I had to readjust my understanding of Belgian Jewry’s circumstances this month while reporting on a local Catholic school’s stated pride in and support for a teacher who had published anti-Semitic caricatures, and who recently won a cash prize at Iran’s Holocaust mockery cartoon competition.

Shielded by education officials’ wall of silence and celebrated in mainstream Belgian media as a champion of free speech, Luc Descheemaeker was able to pass off anti-Semitic imagery as legitimate criticism of Israel in a way that I had thought impossible in an established Western democracy in the heart of Europe.

As Descheemaeker’s advocates circled the wagons around him — his school praised him as working to preserve, not distort, the memory of the Holocaust — I saw firsthand how anti-Israel vitriol has mainstreamed classic anti-Semitism in a country where Jews are leaving partly because they feel their children can no longer comfortably attend the public schools.

My Belgian eye opener began with a post on The New Antisemite blog, which tracks anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe. It said the vice director of the Sint Jozef Institute highschool near Antwerp had told a Belgian Jewish publication that she was “very proud” of Descheemaeker after he won $1,000 and a special mention at the Second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest in Tehran.

Belgian cartoonist Luc Descheemaeker shared news of his prize at the Iranian Holocaust cartoon contest in May on his Facebook page. (Facebook)

Belgian cartoonist Luc Descheemaeker shared news of his prize at the Iranian Holocaust cartoon contest in May on his Facebook page. (Facebook)

The winning entry by Descheemaeker, a plastic arts teacher who retired this year, was a drawing of the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” over Israel’s security barrier along the West Bank. The German sentence, which means “work sets you free,” was featured on a gate of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland.

Previously, I found, Descheemaeker had published at least two cartoons that used classically anti-Semitic imagery. In one, an Orthodox Jew waits to bludgeon a peaceful Arab baby and his mother with a giant Star of David. In another, the Jew is waiting to startle a jihadist who is holding a shopping bag while wearing an explosives vest — presumably so she blows herself up.

The Forum of Jewish Organizations of Belgium’s Flemish Region condemned Descheemaeker’s Arbeit Macht Frei cartoon as “an example of modern anti-Semitism” and his earlier work featuring depictions of Jews as “classically anti-Semitic.”

Additionally, the cartoon contest in which he participated was decried as anti-Semitic by UNESCO, Germany and the United States, among others.

And finally, comparing Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany is an example of anti-Semitism, according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – an intergovernmental organization with 31 member states, including Belgium.

I was skeptical of the blog’s report about the school’s endorsement of Descheemaeker because Western European educational institutions rarely seek to associate themselves with his brand of imagery.

Belgium has made discernible progress in recent years in coming to terms with the Holocaust-era complicity of its authorities and population. Surely, I thought, Descheemaeker would not get support and praise from a prestigious Catholic school there.

My first surprise was the reply I received from the school to my query over Descheemaeker. Yes, confirmed the school director Paul Vanthournout – “we are proud of Luc Descheemaeker,” though not, per se, over his winning the award in Iran or his cartoons, he said. Vanthournout declined to comment on these activities, which he said had nothing to do with Descheemaeker’s teaching position, but assured me that Descheemaeker “is not an anti-Semite.”

As proof, the school director cited an award that Descheemaeker won in 2002 from Belgium’s Queen Paola for staging a student show based on Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust memoir “Maus.”

I wanted to see whether the school can get away with defending the maker of blatant anti-Semitic imagery by claiming to be neutral on its celebrated teacher’s extracurricular activities. So I repeatedly queried the board of education, the royal house, the Queen Paola Foundation, the municipality where the school is located and Belgium’s federal center against discrimination. I received one written response, from the foundation, saying it had no comment for me.

This see-no-evil approach from government offices in a country whose leaders often declare a zero-tolerance attitude to anti-Semitism surprised me. But the real shock was the response from the Belgian media to JTA’s coverage of the affair.

De Morgen, one of Belgium’s largest and best-respected dailies, ran an article that omitted reference to Descheemaeker’s caricatures of Jews. It described the Iranian competition as a “controversial” affair “themed on the Holocaust,” which the paper said was instituted as a statement about freedom of expression following the publication of insulting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark.

(UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations, had called the contest “a mockery of the genocide of the Jewish people.”)

Descheemaeker, who is described in the paper as an internationally acclaimed caricaturist, is quoted as saying in reaction to the uproar created by his work: “There is still such a thing as freedom of expression.”

Knack, a popular news site, took the same editorial line.

(Descheemaeker did not respond to JTA requests for an interview sent through his school, on social media and via email.)

Confused, I reached out to Joel Rubinfeld, founder of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism and former president of the CCOJB umbrella group of French-speaking Belgian Jewish communities. I wanted to know whether Belgian education officials were more tolerant of expressions of anti-Semitism than their counterparts from other Western European countries.

Joel Rubinfeld, Director of the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism (Maryll Israel/JTA)

Joel Rubinfeld, Director of the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism (Maryll Israel/JTA)

“It’s a problem,” he said. “We’ve encountered a number of cases where schools did not take the necessary measures when Jewish pupils were targeted in anti-Semitic bullying, for example.”

A teacher who last year told a Jewish high school student, “We should put you all on freight wagons,” was allowed to keep his job following an internal inquiry. It ended with him apologizing while denying any anti-Semitic intent in the first place.

Cases involving anti-Semitic abuse among students are regularly ignored at Belgian schools, “which don’t apply the measures necessary to make these cases stop,” Rubinfeld said.

One student was forced to leave his public school and was enrolled in a private Jewish one last year following harassment, which included a threat to “break his skull” if he showed support for Israel. Also last year, the Belgian media reported on the online shaming by classmates of a pro-Israel high school student. He also left the public education system for a Jewish school.

As Belgian Jews continue to grapple with the anti-Semitism problem in their country — in 2014, a suspected jihadist was arrested for the shooting deaths of four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels — a growing number are deciding to look for a new home.

Last year, 287 Jews immigrated to Israel from Belgium, which has a Jewish population of about 40,000. It was the highest figure recorded in a decade. From 2010 to 2015, an average of 234 Belgian Jews made aliyah annually — a 56 percent increase over the annual average of 133 new arrivals from Belgium in 2005-2009, according to Israeli government data.

“In Belgium, the choice for Jews is often between abuse or ghettoization,” Rubinfeld said. “It’s not surprising that a growing number of Belgian Jews are finding alternatives to both.”

Belgian cartoonist Luc Descheemaeker posted this image to his Facebook page after it won a prize at Iran’s widely condemned Holocaust mockery cartoon contest om May 2016. (Facebook)
FROM THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

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