David Mandler, Ph.D.

Thoughts, feelings, reactions to events in the world. Hungarian, Jewish, assimilationist, Orthodox, American issues.

Evil, Thy Name is ISIS: Why Western Inaction is Unforgivable

I was against the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein following the horrifying attacks on September 11, 2001. The case that Iraq was somehow connected to the terrorist attacks in the United States never made much sense to me when it morphed into an allegation that Iraq had chemical weapons and, by implication, that it presented a clear and present danger to the United States or to any of its neighbors.

The subsequent decade of U.S. presence in Iraq, with enormous sacrifices in blood and treasure to the United States and incomparably more so to the people of Iraq has shown to most Americans why this adventure George W. Bush and Dick Cheney pulled the United States military into was so tragically ill-conceived.

So, it is understandable that President Barak Obama, having taken the pulse of the American people before his first election, has been reluctant to change his course and admit that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 has left the country open to a new kind of threat: the spread of a violent group that wants to distinguish itself as the most callous, violent, aggressive and intolerant militant group that has surfaced in the name of Islam in recent memory.

The name of this modern day manifestation of unbridled evil is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The list of monstrous crimes ISIS fighters have committed has been growing with each passing day. From expelling all Christians from Mosul, beheading children, forcefully converting Christians to Islam, driving 40,000 Yazidi men, women, and children out of their homes and currently holding them hostage on a mountaintop until they either convert or die of hunger and thirst, kidnapping and enslaving hundreds of women in Mosul, blowing up ancient Muslim shrines and graves in Mosul (because they view “worshipping graves”) to videotaping the gruesome and barbaric murder of captured Iraqi soldiers for propaganda purposes (allegedly 1500 of them), the the Islamic State has made it clear that its vision of life on Earth is the only one it tolerates. And this vision contains nothing but misery, domination, and subjugation.

In the past few weeks, ISIS has been spreading like cancer and its staggering military successes only serve to attract more youngsters from Western Europe as well. It is truly frightening that ISIS flags have appeared in European cities during demonstrations against Israel in the past few weeks, showing that this murderous group, the utterly barbarous cruelty of which would have amazed even the Nazis, finds supporters in Europe.

ISIS represents the most urgent challenge to basic human rights today. It must be confronted and defeated immediately.

I believe that Americans would overwhelmingly support even a major offensive that required ground forces if people were informed about the aims if this group that has declared an Islamic Caliphate on June 29, 2014 with the purpose to spread all over the Islamic and the non-Islamic world to impose its cruel ideology on the rest of the world.

While the world is busy protesting against Israel as it faces Hamas–a group that has apparently decided to sacrifice the people of Gaza and commit suicide by indiscriminately shooting missiles at Israel using civilian infrastructure, knowing full well that Israel will respond rather than change its core goal of destroying Israel–the lives of millions of people have deteriorated as ISIS has established sovereignty over large geographic areas in Iraq and in Syria. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and the number of dead and wounded only grows as ISIS remains in control.

President Obama can no longer ignore the dire situation in Iraq. Dropping a couple of bombs to scare away ISIS fighters only emboldens them. The American people, and people around the world, should make their voices heard now with as much ferocity as supporters of the Palestinian cause have done in recent weeks.

No to ISIS, no to real genocide, no to brutality.

Remove this evil from the face of the Earth before it infects the Middle East and spreads all over the world.

Inaction is intolerable. In fact, inaction in the face of this tangible evil constitutes a crime against humanity.

The Power of Palestine: Making Peace with Reality

Property rights, human rights, and  national self-determination are but a few concepts that, on the surface, guide how people react to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Yet, upon closer scrutiny, it becomes apparent that the reactions in the anti-Israel camp are based on deeply-ingrained beliefs regarding the very nature of Israel. It is clear that those who virulently oppose Israel’s move against Hamas in Gaza have deeply internalized the normative Hamas–and, to a great extent, general Palestinian–narrative that Israel is built on stolen land and that the Gazans are justified in shooting rockets (and, if they succeeded in assassinating or kidnapping Israelis, that too) because they have been dispossessed (to use Edward Said’s favorite word), oppressed, imprisoned and have been treated badly in all sorts of cruel and even demonic ways.

And the pictures and youtube videos–even if they are from Syria, a Hollywood horror film, or five years ago in Lebanon–are there to illustrate the horror of Israel’s actions.

Clearly, nothing I could write here would serve to convince those who have given in to passionate hatred of anything Israeli. They operate from the assumption that Israel as a country does not have a right to exist–and if it does exist, we should all understand that it is built on stolen land and the blood of the “Palestinians” (not exactly a reassuring belief for long-term peace). Having said that, I feel frustrated because I would want these people to read all about how Israel came into existence, how many Jews had always been living in the Land of Israel (that was renamed multiple times as its sovereign rulers and populations changed throughout history, with Palestine as the last name before it was changed into Jordan and Israel).

History, though, is rejected by the committed anti-Zionist if it does not tell his story.

Let’s take a few of the guiding assumptions now and see where it takes us.

1. Property Rights: Zionists took the Arab land of Palestine by kicking out the owners of the house and moving in.

Has this happened? Jews have, indeed, moved into houses abandoned by Arabs in 1948 following the defeat of the Arab armies intent on destroying the nascent Jewish country. Most Arabs left as a result of propaganda regarding Israeli brutality (very much like the kind you see now on twitter and Facebook with the added horror of fabricated stories about Israelis raping Arab women). Many Arabs from the former British Mandate of Palestine and former Ottoman province of Palestine were forced to leave. As to the proportion of how many left voluntarily at the urging of their own leaders and how many were forced out, the debate is still on amongst Israeli historians. How many of the Arabs who left permanently were legal owners of property abandoned is yet another question. Why the neighboring countries did not absorb the Arab refugee population from Palestine who spoke the same language and shared their religious beliefs and Arab ethnicity is yet another question others have already addressed (even as Israel fully absorbed an equal number of dispossessed Jewish refugees who were pushed out of Arab countries at that time as well).

But how did things come to this?

How did the Jews manage to establish a presence in great numbers in Palestine prior to 1948? Did they show up and say to the Arabs living there, “get out. This is my house now”? Palestine’s total population was 350,000 in 1850 only to quadruple in less than a hundred years to 1,339,763 in 1946 (according to Justin MacCarthy). Jews acquired land not through violence and dispossession prior to 1948 but rather through valid purchases of land from the Turkish or Arab property owners. More often than not, Jews were sold the least fertile parcels of land. It was these lands that the “settlers” transformed with backbreaking hard work into fertile lands–often to the great irritation of the original owners. 

Property rights. Yes, we all believe in property rights. The question is whether or not these rights are absolute on an individual level or not. Doesn’t a war of aggression that the aggressor loses change our calculations or assumptions regarding property rights? Is it not clear to the anti-Zionist crowd that the element of violence was introduced not by the Zionists–who had accepted the U.N. plan of division and the amount of land thereby offered–but by the Arab countries who told the people living in Palestine that they would push the Jews out of their legitimately purchased and legally acquired lands? So, it’s only in the case of Israel that violence should never be answered with counter-violence, right?

Human rights.
There is something inexpressible hypocritical about people who espouse a system of values associated with Western countries imposing that system on Israel but not on any of its neighbors to claim that “human rights” are violated by Israel. Israel’s current population is almost 20% Arab. Just the fact that the Israeli-Arabs are the most vociferous opponents of the idea of land transfers in a possible peace deal should be enough to let an objective observer see the extent to which Israeli Arabs appreciate the rights afforded to them by virtue of being citizens of Israel (even as they wave Palestinian flags during demonstrations against the idea of becoming Palestinian citizens). Why would these Israeli Arabs not want to become Palestinian citizens? The answer is clear if you look at the human rights records in Gaza under Hamas and, to a lesser extent, the West Bank under Fatah. Gay rights are non-existent and women’s rights are severely curtailed  as they are in all Arab countries.

National Self-Determination.
Much has been written about the emergence of the Palestinian as a separate identity since 1967. Well, it’s a complex question that needs more attention than can be afforded by this present article, but clearly, it’s an identity with a strong political purpose. Why does it resonate so well with European and American intellectuals? Because the word “Palestinian” has become synonymous with “oppressed” and “downtrodden.” The David and the Goliath effect is inescapable. Israel has developed into a technological superpower while the  Palestinians have been left behind (subsisting on handouts from Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere). So, if you suspect that there will be fewer human rights in Palestine (i.e. no Israelis allowed even in the West Bank) than in Israel then why support a Palestinian state? Aren’t you for human rights and equality? You say you are because you want to see the Palestinians “liberated” even though the liberation would lead to fewer human rights then are afforded to Israelis.

And the tug of war between various values would continue if not for the overwhelming trump card that puts to rest these concerns: the occupation of Palestinian lands.

The question is this: when did Israel begin to occupy Palestine? In 1948 (following the War of Independence forced upon Israel) or 1967 (following the Six Day War)? Those who believe that Israel was wrong to occupy the abandoned villages settled by Arabs in 1948 would have to take the moral position that the very existence of Israel is morally unacceptable. Again, a tug of war breaks out between property rights, human rights, and national self-determination (in this case, the self-determination of the Jewish people in its national homeland). Of course, we are leaving God out of the equation altogether since the Western European and U.S. advocates of Palestinian rights tend not to believe in any narratives about God promising and giving the Land of Israel to the Jews. That argument, an overwhelmingly strong one for most religious Jews and a sizable portion of American Christians, is out the window.

And so, you see why peace is such an elusive goal in Israel? With Hamas totally against the very idea of a Jewish State and Fatah merely giving lip service to the idea, no real negotiations are possible at this juncture. Even Jimmy Carter agrees that no peace agreement can ever be implemented unless it is also accepted by Hamas.

What remains is a tug of war between those who accept Israel as a legitimate country on a deeply personal level, those who really believe in the two-state solution and those who say they want the two-state solution but are really hoping for a final solution for Israel (namely, its total demise).

In the meantime, Israelis will fight to preserve what they have achieved in the past 66 years and Palestinians won’t give up on trying to secure a state of their own (however viable or unviable it may become).

If you are virulently anti-Zionist, you want Israel to be gone with all its human rights and democratic values because for you, property rights and what you perceive as national self-determination wins over human rights. But you deny this because you are a champion of human rights, which you see Israel violates in the occupied territories (not wanting to realize that  most of the restrictions are in place because a sizable enough portion of the population had been engaged in violent acts against Israelis and would revert to violence in the West Bank if they had the chance). So, there’s nothing anyone can say to you to change your mind to see that another model is also possible–one that operates within Israel proper, with its Arab minority population enjoying the rights that Israeli citizenship affords.

If you are on the fence, all I ask of you is to be fair and try to make peace in your head between the competing values of property rights, human rights, and national self-determination.

I hope you will come to the right conclusion and leave the knee-jerk reactions to jerks with knees.

 

Thank You, Mr. Carter, for Stating the Obvious: No Deal is Possible with Only Abbas

Jimmy Carter’s May 12 opinion piece in the Washington Post should be cut out, framed and hung on the wall.

Not because it lists all the unilateral steps Israel took during the last round of abortive peace negotiations  (the “14,000 new Israeli settlement units…approved, more than 3,000 Palestinians…arrested and 50…killed, provoking troubling examples of Palestinian retaliation, including the deaths of three Israelis”) even as the former president forgets to mention the 78 convicted terrorists Israel released by October, 2013. No, this is, so far, nothing unusual from Carter who, after all, used the word apartheid to describe Israel in his 2006 book.

So, what is so important in Carter’s latest opinion piece that it merits lasting attention?

It’s the former president’s rationale for welcoming the unity deal between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Carter writes, “This reconciliation of Palestinian factions and formation of a national unity government is necessary because it would be impossible to implement any peace agreement between Israel and just one portion of the Palestinians.”

Let’s remember these words when the unity talks between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, once again, result in an acrimonious divorce.

Therefore, when pressure is inevitably applied on Israel once more to go back to the negotiating table with the Palestinian Authority after  the Palestinian unity government fails, Benjamin Netanyahu should be the first to point to Jimmy Carter’s words: “it would be impossible to implement any peace agreement between Israel and just one portion of the Palestinians.”

Thank you, Mr. Carter, for confirming what most rational people had already known: no comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians, even in theory, is possible without an agreement to that effect from both the West Bank and Gaza.

And for the foreseeable future, Gaza, with Hamas in charge, will not be interested in living side by side with the “Zionist Entity” that the rest of the world calls Israel be it within or without a Palestinian unity government.

Be it as it may, one thing is clear: the charade will continue.

To my Daughter: On the Holocaust

“To my Daughter: On the Holocaust”
by David Mandler

What words can I use to tell my father’s story
To my little Rachel with that angel smile?
What words can be used now when the only glory
In that time of demons was reduced to empty style?

No words. Clearly, no words will ever scream the pain
My grandmother suffered on board that rushing train
As the pangs of birth shook her to the core
Standing…with no space for her to spread out on the floor.

No words. Clearly, no words will ever, ever suffice
To describe the agony reflected in her eyes.
Why were they packed into all those cattle cars?
Why, like some smelly weeds, grew those yellow stars?

What words can be used to tell of the six million?
Words like empty bottles line up in my head—
Burned, gassed, starved to death, shot…floating in vermilion
Images of horror, dry, abstract and dead.

No words.  No dead imagery, nor the sounds of rhyming
Can help me rise above this sentimental drag.
Even in a black hole we seek the silver lining—-
Looking for a diamond in the body bag.

Oh, I cannot tell you how my Zaide’s daughters
Gasped for air and clawed, clawed into their mother’s skin…
Nor will I attempt to justify God’s orders
Since I cannot stop now nor can I begin.

Oh, the silver lining coils itself around me
Like the snake that charmed Eve all those years ago.
I can’t handle darkness—can’t escape my ego
Grasping after straws of positivity.

There were some good men and women who were brave then…
Life emerged from darkness: my father was born.

In 1944.
In a cattle car.

No words. No words will ever
No rhymes however clever
Will suffice to tell the story of this crime.

I know I cannot tell you—I shout I cannot tell you
I sob, Rachel, because, I know, that I simply must tell you.

And pray that you forever keep your angel smile.

April 24th, 2014
© David Mandler

Ahogyan szavaztál…

Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjanak veled
Parfüm illat helyett, érezd végbélszeled.

Tudd meg, a férgek sem kedvelik a beled
Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjanak veled.

Mert bölcs vezérunk szava számodra nem törvény
Nyeljen el egy kátyú, Dunában az örvény.

Munkahelyed biztos: közmunkás, az legyél
Mákosgubát soha, csak kenyérhéjjat egyél.

Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjanak veled!
Mindegy miben hiszel ha Orbánt emeled
Magad felé mindig, hiszen Ő szent álvány
Igaz Úrunk Viktor, a nemzeti bálvány.

Megbocsájtanék mint názáreti Jézus
De hajléktalan vagy: messze nem egy krőzus!

Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjon Ő veled.
Közmunkán a hollók vájják ki a szemed.

Kommunista sem vagy ha segíted a Viktort
Művész úrnak hívnak ha Fideszes disznótort
Rendezel minden nap az opera helyett
De ha nem…téged a fene is megevett!

Áldjad az új rendszert: az élet nem rólad szól
Temethenek ingyen rokonaid mostantól.
Négy év múlva, ha élsz még, Viktor néz majd le rád
Rozmárbajuszával Kövér László megáld.

Elmondom versemet ezerszer is neked
Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjanak veled.

–Mandler Dávid
Április 17, 2014

A Step Beyond the Boycott: Opening up Hearts and Wallets

On a warm day in the early 1980s in Budapest, while clandestinely taking a quick break from the morning prayer service, my friends and I made a shocking discovery in the courtyard of the Dohány Street Synagogue. I will never forget the moment when an elderly man who walked to the courtyard from the synagogue shortly after we did told us with a sombre face that what lay below the thick, snake-like coils of the ivy leaves on which we had been playing a game of tag were thousands of skeletons. I remember how stunned I felt by his chilling words that he had seen hundreds bodies laid out in this very courtyard in 1945. I was incredulous. Perhaps he only wanted to frighten us away the courtyard. After all, nobody had ever told me before that time that the synagogue’s courtyard was also a graveyard. And certainly, nobody talked to me or any of my friends about how the bodies got there. But then the small stone memorial plaques with individual names and the year 1945 inscribed hidden by the ivy leaves lined up against the framework of the gravesite made me realize that the man was telling the truth. It sickened me.

I was no more than ten years old then.

The horror of it all only intensified as I grew older and learned that the thousands of people buried in the courtyard of the synagogue died of starvation, the winter’s cold, and the murderous bullets of the Hungarian Arrow Cross men on the hunt for Jews in the Jewish ghetto within the last two months of the war leading up to January 18, 1945, the day the ghetto was liberated. Because most bodies could not be transported to any Jewish cemetery, the decision was made to bury the Jewish victims right there in the courtyard of the synagogue.

Now, this unique cemetery wedged between the largest synagogue in Europe, the Dohány Street Synagogue and the Heroes Temple synagogue is in such a bad state that the courtyard has been closed to visitors indefinitely. A major overhaul and restoration project with the price tag in excess of 20,000,000 Hungarian Forints (approximately $89,000) had been planned to take place with the help of a grant provided for this purpose by the Hungarian government. According to the rabbi of the Dohány Street Synagogue, Robert Frolich, the foundation intends to renovate the frames around the graves, replace those memorial plaques that have been ravaged by the passage of time with brand new ones, upgrade the graveyard’s vegetation, replace the gravel on the pathways, and install two interactive monitors with the map of the cemetery and a searchable database with the names and burial locations for each person in the graveyard.

But this sorely needed restoration project has now been jeopardized by the courageous and exemplary stance of the Dohány Street Synagogue Foundation to stand up to the Hungarian government’s ideological cuddling with the era named after Hungary’s leader between 1920 and 1944, Miklós Horthy, mainly remembered for Hungarian chauvinism buttressed by increasing anti-Jewish measures. Many, including the foremost historian of the Holocaust in Hungary, Randolph Braham of New York’s City University, have voiced their concerns that Hungary’s government, while talking the talk of contrition abroad, is in the process of whitewashing Hungarian responsibility for the wholesale murder of Hungarian Jewry in the Holocaust. In light of that, the Dohány Street Synagogue Foundation, along with other Jewish foundations, has refused to accept the 20,000,000 Forints awarded for this project by a Hungarian government that has for the past few years has created an atmosphere in which anti-Semitic public discourse is nothing unusual and has recently angered most Hungarian Jews by pushing plans for projects about the Holocaust without meaningful input by Jewish organizations.  

Since February 9th, 2014, when the largest Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, Mazsihisz, declared that it would not be able to participate in any official government sponsored Holocaust commemorations in 2014 until the government reversed itself on two damaging projects and fired the head of the new Veritas Institute for labeling the very first deportations from Hungary in 1941 as an “immigration procedure,” the situation has only gotten worse. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s response was to offer no response until after the Hungarian general elections on April 6th. Holocaust commemorations, however, are scheduled to take place shortly thereafter in April, leaving no time for any meaningful discussions.

The boycott, thus, is here to stay.

In order to show resistance to a culture of intolerance in Hungary supported by the actions of the current Hungarian government, I urge all people of goodwill to make a concrete gesture by opening up not only their hearts but also their wallets in order to make sure that this extremely important project can go forward. Help the Dohány Street Foundation make sure that no ten-year-olds will ever play tag on the ivy-covered graves of the Dohány Street Synagogue’s cemetery simply because they are unaware of what lies below and, equally importantly, how the bodies ended up there.

Please join the resistance against the forces of anti-Semitism and xenophobia by making a donation in memory of all those murdered in the Holocaust. The Dohány Street Foundation’s bank account information is IBAN: HU71 1170 7024 2035 9234 0000 0000 Swift code: OTPVHUHB.

The memory of those who died in such brutal circumstances and were buried in mass deserves no less.

You may email rabbi@dohany-zsinagoga.hu for more information and/or send him a message of support.

Follow me on twitter: Dr. David Mandler @MandlerDr

Why Everyone Should Boycott Official 2014 Holocaust Commemorations in Hungary

Imagine the White House chief of staff stating the following at a press conference after a significant meeting about a highly controversial issue with the leading representatives of American Jewry: “the President will address all of our fellow Americans as well as our Jewish citizens next week.” It does not take a lot of imagination to envision the firestorm of criticism that would follow such a division of the American people into real Americans vs. Jewish citizens of America.

Yet, this is precisely what János Lázár, the Minister of State for the Prime Minister’s Office, said after the unsuccessful round-table meeting with leading Hungarian Jewish organizations. Of course, he was not talking about fellow Americans but rather “fellow Hungarian countrymen” and “our Jewish citizens.” Perhaps at other times, this statement would have drawn more fire from liberal Hungarians and Hungarian Jews alike. At this time, though, Hungarian Jews are, in a sense, too focused on the trees to notice the forest. The largest Jewish organization, Mazsihisz, in the past few weeks, has been on a collision course with the government. On Sunday, February 9th, Mazsihisz  identified three major issues with which the Hungarian government needs to deal in a satisfactory way for it to reconsider its decision to boycott the official commemorative events in 2014 scheduled for the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary.

One may argue that the comparison between Americans and Hungarians does not work since the American people is a rather recent construct that designates a group of individuals whose coherence is not determined along ethnic lines. That argument, however, also applies to the Hungarian nation since that, too, is not only an amalgamation of various ethnic groups tied together by history, cultural affiliations, and language but is also a constitutively heterogeneous nation. The history of Hungary shows that any ethnic group that wished to become absorbed into the body of the Hungarian nation could do so. The patriotic Hungarian Jews in the middle of the 19th century believed it was no different for the Jews. And indeed, the endeavors of Jews in Hungary for the past 150 years to acculturate within Hungary began to bear very significant fruits from the time Hungarian Jews committed themselves on the side of the Hungarians against the Austrians in the abortive Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-1849. Once the law removed all legal obstacles from Jewish Hungarians with the passing of the 1867 Jewish Emancipation Law, Hungarianization of Jews accelerated at a remarkable pace. An increasing number of Jews in Hungary began to think of themselves and carried on their lives as Hungarians with their Jewish cultural affiliations either remaining intact or shrinking rapidly.

The ascendancy of Jews in all areas of Hungarian culture occasioned a severe backlash with Admiral Miklós Horthy’s assumption of power in 1920. The first anti-Jewish measures in all of Europe were passed in Hungary in the same year Horthy took power. The Numerus Clausus law, a sort of reverse affirmative action law, greatly limited the number of Jewish students eligible for university admissions. From that moment on, the Jewish citizens of Hungary must have known that they were not considered as part of the Hungarian nation. The eruption of anti-Jewish violence in universities in the 1920s and 30s must was another painful reminder that Hungarian Jews were not welcome in the universities. In 1938-39, further anti-Jewish laws were passed that limited the number of Jews allowed in various intellectual professions. These measures were taken because Hungarians of Jewish descent had become “too successful” in Hungary in all cultural and professional areas and had to be restrained. Jewish success was also Hungarian success.  Hungarian Jews came up with amazing inventions, achieved olympic victories, expanded industrial output and furthered intellectual work to the benefit of the entire Hungarian nation. Yet, to the anti-Semite, a Jew remained a Jew no matter his or her acculturated appearance and estrangement from all things Jewish.

Nothing prepared Hungarian Jews to the horror that would befall them toward the end of World War II. The most tragic period for Hungarian Jews came in the summer of 1944 when Jewish life outside of Budapest came to an abrupt end with mass deportations and murder of an estimated 437,000 Hungarian Jews within a eight-week period. In Budapest itself, derisively called Judapest at the turn of the century the for its large number of Jewish residents, Jews were herded into a large ghetto or went into hiding with false papers (many of whom, in a figurative if not literal sense, stayed in hiding as a Jew in forever). That large numbers of Jews in Budapest could pass for non-Jews with the help of a piece of paper is eloquent testimony of the success of Hungarian Jewish acculturation. The significant role of the Regent of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, in allowing mass deportations from all of Hungary is clear to historians and Hungarian Jews. It is precisely the current Hungarian government’s attempt to reevaluate and whitewash the Horthy regime with the proposed erection of a statue commemorating the 70th anniversary of the German occupation of Hungary that has unified the otherwise very fragmented Jewish Hungarian part of the Hungarian people to an unprecedented extent.

Many in Hungary remember the rather placid and ineffective role Jewish organizations played in the face of increasing pressure just prior to and during the Holocaust. Although the facts are not as clear, the popular perception amongst many Jews today is that the Jewish council in 1944 collaborated with the authorities and, thereby, made the situation for the Jews much worse. So, the decision not to go along with the Hungarian government’s expectations of Jewish collaboration in the 70th anniversary’s commemorations constitutes a watershed moment in Hungarian Jewish history.

It is incumbent upon everyone to support this extraordinary self-assertion by the official representatives of Hungarian Jewry by urging everyone involved to follow suit and boycott all official government sponsored commemorations of the Holocaust in 2014. That means every international dignitary, speaker, or guest invited by the Orban government to participate in the official Holocaust commemorations in 2014 should now express solidarity with the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants in Hungary who have made the difficult but morally correct decision to boycott these events by declining the invitation.

Yet, complete non-action would serve no purpose.

I believe that all people of goodwill, whether inside or outside of Hungary, may now begin to contribute to conceiving and/or putting into action alternate modes of commemorations (both traditional as well as innovative ones) that would serve to educate people about what happens when age-old prejudices, greed, the active hatred of some as well as the callous indifference of the majority are combined, as happened in Hungary but seventy years ago, resulting in the gradual dispossession and large-scale murder of more than half a million people classified as Jews in death camps and in the streets of Budapest.

As far as Hungarian Jews are concerned, 2014 will not be a year of national reconciliation and forgiveness but rather the year in which even the most Hungarian of the Hungarian Jews will have to realize that they are still perceived as “our fellow Jewish citizens” rather than as “our fellow Hungarians.”

Miklós Horthy died on February 9th, 1957. Fifty-seven years later to the day, Hungarian Jewish resistance to the revival of the Horthy cult and its exclusionary definition of what it means to be Hungarian was born.

Csanád Szegedi Revisited: the Hatred Continues

Csanád Szegedi, the former Vice President of the Jobbik Party in Hungary known for its radical (that is anti-Semitic) stance in Hungarian political issues, was deported from Canada on December 9th within 24 hours of his arrival for his extreme right-wing past.

Wonderful.

At least, this seems to have been the reaction of almost all of my Facebook friends from Hungary who have followed the unbelievable saga of Csanád Szegedi’s learning of his Jewish maternal ancestry, his subsequent attempts at staying on as Jobbik’s Vice President, his  eventual resignation from the party following the airing of a recording in which he had allegedly offered a bribe to those with the “damning” information about his mother’s Jewishness to keep silent, and finally, his total renunciation of his earlier persona with the intention to become a practicing Jew with the help of Budapest’s Chabad rabbi, Baruch Oberlander.

Why the animosity, resentment, and outright hatred? After all, Szegedi has been recently featured in Pat Robertson’s 700 club show and in the New Yorker Magazine. Why the interest? Americans may find Szegedi’s story a very appetizing narrative. Culturally, it resonates very strongly. American culture celebrates bad-guy-turns-good stories. Spiritually, it feels like the story of the Prodigal Son, and could very well be a Church service narrative of “finding Jesus” (in this case, finding God through being broken and rebuilt). Praise the Lord!

Most Hungarians–whether on the extreme right or left–see Csanád Szegedi, who did not renounce his position as a member of the European Parliament despite leaving the party that sent him there, as an opportunist who has jumped ship when he had no other choice. He is seen as an insincere career politician now without the prospects of a political career who realized he had to reinvented himself as a Nazi-turned-Jew to make money in the future (his mandate in the European Parliament expires in 2014). For his former home base, Szegedi is an incredible turn-coat. He is a traitor who gave up everything sacred to that camp as he went to the arch-enemy. But I’m not concerned much about the reactions of Szegedi’s Jobbik ex-buddies and supporters. That, and much worse, is entirely to be expected.

What interests me is why Hungarian Jews, outside of a very few people around Rabbi Oberlander, have reacted with such visceral hatred and rejection towards an ostensibly remorseful and reformed Csanád Szegedi.

Here are the top three some reasons most Hungarian Jews do not accept Csanád Szegedi the way I see it:

1. Szegedi is a hypocrite. He’s in it for the fame and future job opportunities.
2. Szegedi should have waited much longer (five to ten years) and have done much more to repair the damage his political career caused in the last ten years before appearing in public to talk about himself.
3. Szegedi’s way back to his Jewish roots is a private affair. Any publicity is a cynical attempt by the Chabad rabbis to enhance the reputation of their own movement at the expense of the older and more indigenous movements in Hungary.

While I sympathize with people who still continue to resent Szegedi, I believe that a complete rejection of his attempts at changing his life from a hater of Jews to a Jew who tries his best to learn about what it means to be a religious Jew is simply short-sighted. For sure, it must be very annoying to Hungarians, many of whom now struggle to make ends meet, to see Szegedi turn his story into money. After all, it would mean that a career built on xenophobia and anti-Jewish propaganda can be seen as money-making tools (for that part of Szegedi’s life is an indispensable prelude in Szegedi’s narrative).

So, from a Hungarian’s perspective, the only decent way for Szegedi forward is to shut up and disappear.

Clearly, Szegedi should not entertain any false hopes of re-entering the Hungarian political scene. His name is now tainted. Nobody in Hungary admires him for making the, no doubt, heart-wrenching decision to face his identity crisis by taking the most radical step possible: to sit in a synagogue and learn with Rabbi Oberlander, an Orthodox rabbi. Jewish atheists scorn him (yet feel threatened by this Nazi-turned-Jew) and think “what? this guy was a rabid anti-Semite yesterday, and now, it looks like he’s a better Jew than I am!” Those who are in the Neologue movement–a uniquely Hungarian denomination that is between Conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism–scorn him for joining the Chabad who are seen as a foreign import and, currently, seen as having closely aligned themselves with Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party for economic gain.

Then what should Csanad Szegedi do? He is only 31 years old…

I believe that Szegedi should go back to school and learn a profession or vocation  and make his money that way. (He may have to move to another country once he returns from Brussels to Hungary since his safety in the streets may not be guaranteed). If here were to write a book, it’s doubtful that he could make that much money out of it in any case.

Yet, I deeply believe that Szegedi should not be written off. I deeply believe that my fellow Hungarian Jews who know him best should take the more noble path and ignore the stomach cramps occasioned by watching the many vitriolic interviews and speeches the old Szegedi Csanad gave that are still available on Youtube. I deeply believe that Csanád Szegedi’s story, while a complete anomaly in the degree and extent of his recent identity transformation, has many lessons for us about identity, human emotions, God and country and cliche, and many many other things. Thus, he should be encouraged to write a detailed book about his life, his feelings, the Jobbik movement’s behind-the-scenes motivations and leaders, and his experiences. It could be a fascinating read not only to Hungarians wondering how and why the radical right has gained such momentum–and why it seems to be losing some of it today–but more importantly, how ideology can both poison and cleanse the human spirit, which transcends nationality.

What would be an unconscionable act for Hungarian Jews is to block Szegedi’s road toward repentance and the many acts of kindness that he would have to make by discouraging him from continuing his Jewish learning and synagogue attendance. I ask my fellow Hungarians to let Szegedi continue to cleanse himself and, by witnessing his incredible turn-around, recognize that we all have to do better as human beings by stopping the cynicism and hatred.

My newest short story, “The Loft,” is now available.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Loft-David-Mandler-ebook/dp/B00E4WONNA 

Budapest, Budapest is Still Nice!

Having just returned from the city of my birth, Budapest, (yes, in Hungary), I want to reflect briefly on my experiences there.

Anyone who’s read some of my articles here can see that I’ve been consistently concerned about the direction Hungary has taken since the election of Victor Orban’s FIDESZ Party three years ago. I don’t need to rehearse all of the anti-humanitarian measures this government has taken in the name of humanity and “the nation.” The record is as clear as it is dire.

So, what kind of Budapest did I see on my very brief trip? Decidedly, the answer to that is simple: a very beautiful one! Despite my expectations, I saw no signs of the far-right (i.e. neo-Nazi) scourge that has plagued Hungarian public discourse for many years. Surely, that is not to say that the numerous members  of the Jobbik Party and the banned Hungarian Guard with its various incarnations have disappeared. But if you are a tourist in Budapest, it is very likely that you’ll never see them in the streets at all while you are enjoying your time in the various hot entertainment spots scattered around in the center of Budapest. What you will see is an increased number of renovated houses and buildings (mostly financed by the very European Union the FIDESZ ruling party never misses to disparage).

I was astonished by the sheer number of young tourists having a wonderful time in various parts of Budapest. The neighborhood where the Jewish district used to be before World War II is now a tourist magnet with a plethora of restaurants, bars, and so-called ruins-pubs (romkocsma). My childhood best friend kindly took me to one of these fashionable ruins-pubs called “Fogashaz.” Inside the large tenement-style house (in ruins, as it ought to be), a very comfortable space with a well-appointed bar, an adequate (though mostly empty) dance floor with a trendy DJ, and a ping-pong table greeted us. Clearly, those who like nightlife will find what they seek in Budapest’s nightlife in like places as well as an almost endless variety of entertainment venues.

So, am I plugging tourism to Budapest now? Could that be considered a betrayal of the fight against those who have replaced Hungary’s democratic constitution with one that all but guarantees their political and economic dominance as far as the eye can see? I would hope not. My delight with Budapest can never replace my absolute loathing for those who would selfishly want to take everything away that makes Budapest great.

Despite the encouraging signs of life, most of my acquaintances in Budapest were uneasy about their own situation (be it economic, political or religious) in today’s Hungary. Some have talked about leaving Hungary while most want to stick it out. None discussed the possibility of active resistance, and I can understand why.

The patient is gravely sick but not hopelessly so. I sincerely wish that this extremely beautiful city remain vibrant for decades to come and that the rest of Hungary begin to appreciate what Budapest means.

Were that to happen, the restauration of Hungarian democracy would surely follow.

“The Loft” Publication Announcement:

It is with great pleasure that I announce the publication of my short story, “The Loft” on amazon.com. Enjoy reading it! If you liked it, please write a few words in the review section (or even to just rate it) because the more (positive) reviews the story gets, the more potential readers may decide to read the story. Also, I urge you to share this information on your own Facebook wall. The publicity you, the readers, generate is the best kind! To find the story (or just read what the story is about), please click on the link below.

Thank you very much.
http://www.amazon.com/The-Loft-ebook/dp/B00E4WONNA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1374746426&sr=8-2&keywords=David+Mandler

Israel Must Choose: Rename “Life Sentence” or Institute the Death Penalty

Time and again, Israel has released convicted murderers as a good will gesture or in exchange of captured Israeli citizens. Today, the names of the first 26 prisoners to be released have been published.  All 26 have been serving prison terms for murder.

(http://www.jpost.com/HttpHandlers/ShowImage.ashx?ID=224452).

The latest release of murderers at the outset of renewed talks between Israelis and Palestinians underlines one thing: murderers of Israeli citizens can rest assured that there is no such thing as a life sentence in prison in Israel.

To those who believe that the deliberate taking of human life merits severe punishment, this realization is rather disheartening. Palestinians in Israeli jails are generally seen as heroes (even more so if they are serving time for killing Israelis). It is for this reason that Mahmoud Abbas wanted to see the day on which Palestinians (in this case, murderers) are released from jail as a result of his intervention to counter the major “victory” Hamas scored when it successfully pressured Israel into releasing a staggering number of convicted criminals (one thousand and twenty seven, to be precise) two years ago. And if you think that no released prisoners planned to kill Israelis again, just read this article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/8836933/Gilad-Shalit-release-freed-Palestinian-prisoner-vows-to-sacrifice-her-life.html.

Now it is the Palestinian Authority’s time to celebrate. Human beings who deliberately killed (and in some cases, brutally tortured) other human beings (and not only for political reasons) are to walk the streets of Gaza and the West Bank again. In exchange, Israel will get a chance to talk to Mahmoud Abbas…

Why does this make me angry? Would I be outraged if the situation were reversed and Israeli murderers of Palestinians convicted to serve a life sentence in Palestinian jails were to be released? Before I answer that question, I hasten to add that no such symmetry exists. Palestinians in Israeli jails are entitled to an enormous number of benefits with most opting to complete their higher education courses for college diplomas before consenting to leave Israeli jails although terrorists will no longer be entitled to receive a free university education.

http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2012/12/finally-no-more-free-college-for.html?m=0).

To answer my own question, yes I believe that I would find releasing murderers as a political gesture problematic no matter the situation or the nationalities involved. Why? Here are but four reasons.

1. Family members of those who have been killed should never be subjected to seeing the killers of their loved-ones leave jail to resume their lives, especially not when those killers profess a desire to kill again.
2. Those who murder human beings forfeit the right to live in general society unless they undergo a complete change of personality, repents sincerely and credibly pledge to change their ways. But even in this case, the relatives of the murder victim should have the ultimate word.
3. Releasing murderers in a political game such as talking about talking about how to talk about peace only serves to encourage future murderers, for upon their eventual return, they will be celebrated as heroes and their family members will receive financial support in recognition of their “glorious” deeds. (http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/04/04/norway-foreign-minister-in-israel-expresses-anger-over-pa-use-of-aid-to-pay-terrorists/).
4. People who have murdered another human being have traditionally been executed as a punishment. As views on capital punishment have shifted, the alternative punishment of life in prison has gained an increased level of acceptance. After all, exonerating a person who has been wrongfully convicted of murder is of much less value if the wrongfully convicted person has been executed in the interim. Also, many people are loath to become the instrument of another human being’s death (which is the case when the state executes a human being). Consequently, when a state cannot guarantee that a sentence of life in prison actually means just that, the state loses its credibility and no effective punishment for murderers remains.

In light of the above, my first and most humane proposition to Israelis is that they pressure their legislators to introduce a law that would outlaw the possibility of such mass releases of murderers ever again. Yet, it’s not easy to believe that any subsequent government would not circumvent any such new laws.

It makes me very sad to conclude that in a country where, in effect, no such thing as a life sentence for murder exists, capital punishment is the only way to ensure just punishment.

How unfortunate that Israel is now such a country.

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