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N.J. lawmakers laud decision to boycott ‘Durban III’

 
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The Obama administration announced last week that the United States would not participate in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism, scheduled to take place in New York City in September, during the U.N. General Assembly opening session. New Jersey members of Congress commended the president’s decision, noting the irony that a conference purportedly against racism has in the past degenerated into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic event.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement: “I applaud the State Department’s decision to forgo participation in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism this year. People of democratic principle understand the misnomer, that Durban III will be yet another ugly opportunity to single out Israel and become a megaphone for anti-Semitism and anti-American vitriol.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) responded to the Standard’s request for comment, saying, “President Obama has made the right decision to pull the United States out of this year’s conference in New York City.” (Both men signed a letter last year led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D-N.Y.] urging the U.S. to refrain from participating in the conference.) “Instead of providing an opportunity to address the very serious issue of racism,” Lautenberg continued, “the Durban conference has been tainted by anti-Semitic and anti-American demonstrations. This conference,” named for the first such gathering in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, “is intended to provide a forum on eliminating discrimination, and the United States should only participate when this issue can be legitimately addressed.”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), reached for comment by the Standard, concurred with Menendez, stating, “Despite being called a ‘Conference Against Racism,’ Durban III, like Durban I and II, is exactly the opposite. The agendas of these Durban conferences have been and continue to be filled with anti-Semitism and hateful attacks against Israel. I applaud the Obama administration for announcing that America will not be taking part in this charade.”

Rothman contended that the administration’s decision to forgo “Durban III” signals not just a commitment to stand with Israel in diplomatic forums but on security issues as well.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) also weighed in, saying, “The president made the right call…. The original conference in 2001 contradicted itself with displays of blatant anti-Semitism. Intolerance committed under the guise of breaking down racial barriers is simply an insult to American intelligence, and I’m glad the United States won’t be participating in the event.”

The first Durban conference was described by many commentators as an anti-Israel hate-fest, with representatives of the Arab Lawyers’ Union at one point passing out pamphlets depicting hook-nosed Jews dripping blood from their fangs with pots of money nearby. The conference produced a document condemning Israel as racist while condemning no other country. Speakers included Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro, who reportedly delivered an anti-American tirade.

“Durban II,” in Geneva, Switzerland in 2009, featured as its keynote speaker Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has expressed doubts about the Holocaust and endorsed the destruction of Israel. At Durban II, he characterized Israel as a “racist government” and condemned its establishment.

The United States and Israel walked out of Durban I, and the Obama administration made the decision to boycott Durban II 48 hours before it opened. Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Poland joined the boycott.

Critics contend that by waiting until two days before Durban II to decide to boycott it, the Obama administration weakened efforts to build a solid coalition of democracies to boycott the event. Both Great Britain and France attended in 2009, although both countries’ representatives walked out during Ahmadinejad’s speech.

Commentators have speculated that timing Durban III to coincide with the annual opening of the General Assembly may increase the presence of prime ministers and presidents who might not otherwise attend. There is speculation over whether the timing and location of the event is coincidental. The conference is being billed as a commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of Durban I — but some say it is too close to the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks for comfort.

So far, the conference has met with opposition from the U.S., Israel, and Canada.

 
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A new relationship in Ridgewood

Conservative, Reconstructionist shuls join forces, work together, retain differences

Last December, Rabbi David J. Fine of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood wrote a thoughtful and perceptive op ed in this newspaper about why the word merger, at least when applied to synagogues, seems somehow dirty, perhaps borderline pornographic. (It is, in fact, “a word that synagogue trustees often keep at a greater distance than fried pork chops,” he wrote.)

That automatic distaste is not only unhelpful, it’s also inaccurate, he continued then; in fact, some of our models, based on the last century’s understanding of affiliation, and also on post-World War II suburban demographics, simply are outdated.

If we are to flourish — perhaps to continue to flourish, perhaps to do so again — we are going to have to acknowledge change, accommodate it, and not see it as failure. Considering a merger does not mean that we’re not big enough alone, or strong enough, or interesting or compelling or affordable enough. Instead, it may present us with the chance to examine our assumptions, keep some, and discard others, he said.

 

An ‘unwavering Jewish compass’

As he transitions out of his CEO job, supporters talk about Avi Lewinson

Last week, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly announced a major change in its professional leadership.

According to a press release, the “exciting changes” saw its CEO, Avi Lewinson of Demarest, leave that position to become a fundraising consultant. He will be replaced in the JCC’s executive suite by Jordan Shenker, who had worked for the JCC Association of North America as a consultant to large JCCs, including to the Kaplen center.

Mr. Lewinson has been at the JCC for 25 years, and at its helm for most of that time. Since the announcement of his role change, his many supporters have been reminiscing about his work there.

 

‘Very, very cool’

Frisch students learn high-level engineering

If three high school boys put many months of work into tricking out a walker — not a bike, a walker — you know there has to be a mighty strong motivation pushing the project along.

For Justin Sohn, Izzy Selter, and Harry Kramer, all students at the Frisch School in Paramus, that motivation was a strong interest in engineering, combined with the tools to create a useful health-related product. The interest was innate; the tools came courtesy of CIJE-Tech, a discovery-focused interactive curriculum for Jewish high schools including Frisch, developed in collaboration with the Israel Sci-Tech network of schools and New York-based Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education.

CIJE-Tech offers a year each of scientific and biomedical engineering geared to introducing a diverse range of science and technical knowledge while encouraging multidisciplinary and abstract thinking as well as leadership and teamwork skills. CIJE also provides intensive teacher training and mentoring and it also gives students laboratory equipment.

 

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Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.

Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.

 

Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”

 

Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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