Thursday, February 21, 2019

Benjamin B. Ferencz Continues His Fight for Justice at 98

From WSJ, 20 Feb 2019, by Samuel Rubenfeld:

‘No War Is Won’

The last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials is the subject of a new documentary

Follow this link to see a 2-minute trailer

Benjamin B. Ferencz, shown here in 2014, is the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials.
Benjamin B. Ferencz, shown here in 2014, is the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials. PHOTO: ROBIN UTRECHT

He dug up bodies of Jews buried in shallow graves, unearthing them however he could, the souls of those killed by Nazis during World War II. Sometimes by hand, sometimes with shovels, sometimes with the help of rope and the torque of a military vehicle.

In the days after the war, he toured concentration camps for the U.S. military, witnessing bodies in crematoriums stacked like cordwood and surviving inmates gnawing on garbage.

Benjamin B. Ferencz, a Jewish man from New York, had to suppress his horror to accomplish his mission: to collect evidence to convict Nazis of war crimes—an experience that left him with an unshakable purpose that would guide the rest of his life.

“I couldn’t possibly do the job if I let it get to me at that time,” Mr. Ferencz says in an interview at his New Rochelle, N.Y. home. “It’s remained with me ever since.”

Mr. Ferencz during the Einsatzgruppen Trial in Nuremberg in 1947.
Mr. Ferencz during the Einsatzgruppen Trial in Nuremberg in 1947. PHOTO: BEN FERENCZ PRIVATE COLLECTION

Mr. Ferencz, 98 years old, is the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials. His story is the subject of “Prosecuting Evil,” a documentary to be released later this month at Cinema Village in New York, with a wider release to follow. It has screened for Jewish audiences at New York’s Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center and in synagogues across the U.S., and for the general public at film festivals, including last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

The documentary follows Mr. Ferencz’s life, his pursuit of justice and his decades of work building the underlying legal principles for international criminal law. Barry Avrich, who directed and produced “Prosecuting Evil,” calls the film the most important and fulfilling work of his career. “Ben should be recognized globally as a historical icon,” he says.

Much of the roughly 80-minute documentary is built from interviews with Mr. Ferencz about his life and the trial, accompanied by archival photos and video footage of Germany during and after the war. Others interviewed for the film, including Mr. Ferencz’s son Don, legal analysts and government officials, provide the context of Mr. Ferencz’s legacy in international criminal justice.

Mr. Ferencz was instrumental in the development of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, where individuals face prosecution for genocide, war crimes or crimes of aggression.

“This is one person, one great man in history who...continues to show that this world can be better,” says Fatou Bensouda, an international criminal law prosecutor at the court, in the film.

Those days in the concentration camps fueled Mr. Ferencz’s ongoing fight for the use of jurisprudence in mitigating international conflicts, decrying war as genocidal.

“War will take otherwise decent people and turn them into murderous killers,” Mr. Ferencz says. “No war is won; it’s not a ballgame.”

Born in Transylvania in 1920, Mr. Ferencz came to the U.S. as an infant with his sister and parents, fleeing persecution to settle in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. He spoke Yiddish at home and wasn’t initially admitted to public school, because he couldn’t speak English. But, according to the documentary, teachers believed he was gifted and he was admitted to Townsend Harris High School, which had a program that included an opportunity to attend the City College of New York.

Mr. Ferencz attended Harvard Law School, where he conducted research for criminologist Sheldon Glueck, who at the time was writing a book about war crimes.

An image from the documentary ‘Prosecuting Evil,’ showing Mr. Ferencz in Munich in August 1945.
An image from the documentary ‘Prosecuting Evil,’ showing Mr. Ferencz in Munich in August 1945. PHOTO: BEN FERENCZ PRIVATE COLLECTION

Mr. Ferencz graduated law school in 1943, after the U.S. entered the war. He enlisted that year in the U.S. Army as a private, and eventually rose to the rank of sergeant, having fought as an antiaircraft artillery man in the European theater.

As Nazi atrocities were being uncovered, Mr. Ferencz received his final Army assignment: He became a war-crimes investigator, entering the concentration camps to gather evidence.

Mr. Ferencz says he prepared himself for the task as if he was personally directed by Gen. George S. Patton to enter the camps. “I couldn’t afford to be stopped by anything I saw,” he says.

Describing in the film what he saw in the camps, Mr. Ferencz stops, swallows hard and holds back tears. “It becomes vivid again,” he says. “I did my job, because that was my job.”

A general view of the trial of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg in 1946.
A general view of the trial of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg in 1946. PHOTO: BETTMANN ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

The Nuremberg Trials, as the documentary portrays in depth, were also a formative experience for him.

When he returned to New York after the war, he was recruited by Gen. Telford Taylor, then chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials, to return to Germany and gather more evidence. Mr. Ferencz and his staff discovered dossiers of the Einsatzgruppen, Nazi death squads who murdered more than a million Jews, Roma, gay people and political opponents in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Taylor then assigned Mr. Ferencz to lead the prosecution of the Einsatzgruppen case, one of the dozen subsequent war-crimes trials held at Nuremberg and what Mr. Ferencz described as the biggest murder trial in human history. The defendants were Nazi officers and Gestapo members who had carried out the murders; Otto Ohlendorf, the chief defendant, was commander of one of the death squads.

At age 27, it was Mr. Ferencz’s first trial. Barely over 5 feet tall, he stood on a stack of books to deliver the opening statement—the moment is captured in video footage in the film—in which he said: “Vengeance is not our goal, nor do we seek merely a just retribution...the case we present is a plea of humanity to law.”

Mr. Ferencz presents evidence as chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Trial in 1947.
Mr. Ferencz presents evidence as chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Trial in 1947. PHOTO: US HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM/BENJAMIN FERENCZ
All of the men prosecuted by Mr. Ferencz were convicted, and many received death sentences.

Mr. Ohlendorf, who had a wife and five children, was executed by hanging. “Aside from the fact that he killed 90,000 Jews, I’m sure he was quite a gentleman,” Mr. Ferencz says in the film, reflecting on the man’s character.

After the trial, Mr. Ferencz took over the process of recovering the heirless, unclaimed assets of murdered Jews. In the years following the Nuremberg prosecutions, Mr. Ferencz returned to New York and practiced law, eventually becoming partners with Mr. Taylor and taking what he called “hopeless cases” that had a moral element he could pursue.

Mr. Ferencz presents evidence as chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Trial in 1947.
Otto Ohlendorf, center, during the Einsatzgruppen Trial. PHOTO: BETTMANN ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Avrich says when he showed Mr. Ferencz a rough cut of the film, Mr. Ferencz broke down crying and told him, “it’s all I need.”

Mr. Ferencz hopes the attention, including through the film, will help continue the fight for rule of law. It took decades to create the International Criminal Court, but he never gave up, even when people he trusted told him to stop trying, he says.

He says he seeks a more peaceful world for younger people because their lives are at stake.

“If we are repudiating law as an instrument of policy, you’re dooming the young people of the forthcoming generation—if there is one,” he says.

Follow this link to see a 2-minute trailer of the documentary

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Arab ministers defend Israel’s right to attack Iran, downplay Palestinian issue

From World Israel News, February 16, 2019, By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff:

At a major Mideast summit in Warsaw this week, Arab leaders said the Iranian threat is the region’s most pressing challenge, dismissing the Palestinian issue’s relevance in comparison.

Arab ministers defend Israel’s right to attack Iran, downplay Palestinian issue
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yemen's Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday [reported on] a closed meeting in which senior Gulf Arab officials supported Israel’s right to defend itself, played down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and described Iran as the greatest threat to regional peace.

...[He referred to a] series of comments made by officials from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on a closed panel discussion at a U.S.-sponsored security conference in Warsaw. Some 60 nations participated in the gathering, which was focused heavily on countering Iran’s growing influence in the region.

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, made some of the toughest comments, saying that Iran is a far bigger threat to regional security than the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue,” he said. “But then at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge. We saw a more toxic one, in fact the most toxic in our modern history, which came from the Islamic Republic, from Iran.”
He went on to denounce the “neo-fascist regime” in Tehran, accusing it of plotting attacks in his country and destabilizing Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

‘Every nation has a right to defend itself’

Khalifa continued, 
“When we come to Israel-Palestine, we had the Camp David agreement. There was Madrid. There were many other ways of solving it, had we stayed on the same path. If it wasn’t for the toxic party [Iran] … [and the] guns, food, [and] soldiers of the Islamic Republic, I think we would have been much closer today in solving this issue with Israel,” Khalifa said...

Asked about Israel’s military activity in Syria, the UAE’s Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, commented, 
“Every nation has the right to defend itself when it’s challenged by another nation.”

Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, also accused Iran of hurting the Palestinian cause by supporting terror groups battling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Who is supporting Hamas and [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad and undercutting the Palestinian Authority?...Iran.”

Netanyahu did not participate on the panel, but is seen sitting in the audience. Speaking to reporters early Thursday, Netanyahu hinted at the “unfathomabl[y]” friendly atmosphere at the conference.

Iran: the greatest regional threat

Israel has identified Iran as its greatest threat...
“Once the Palestinian issue took center stage. Now [the Arab states] say that first and foremost the Iranian issue needs to be dealt with,” Netanyahu commented ...
“Four out of five Arab foreign ministers who addressed the conference [on Thursday] spoke strongly and clearly against Iran, saying exactly what I’ve been saying for years. They were as clear as possible about the issue, and Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian aggression,” he explained.
Netanyahu identified the Arab representatives’ mere decision to remain in the room when he spoke, breaking from standard protocol in the past of getting up and walking out when an Israeli leader speaks, represented “the breaking of a taboo.”
“Here you have Arab foreign ministers, who say that Israelis have the right to defend themselves, and don’t say it in secret but on a stage with 60 other countries present...”

Monday, February 18, 2019

Benny Gantz’s Dangerous Ambiguity on West Bank Disengagement

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,091, 18 Feb, 2019, by Gershon Hacohen:

Unilateral disengagement from the West Bank, which Israeli PM candidate Benny Gantz seems to support, would have far-reaching adverse implications for Israel in the security, economic, social, infrastructural, and ecological spheres.
For all his efforts to keep his views on key national issues under wraps, so as to make his premiership bid appealing to the largest possible number of Israelis, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has indicated his readiness to apply the highly controversial unilateral disengagement formula that Sharon applied to Gaza in 2005 to the West Bank as well. 
“We need to find a way in which we’re not controlling other people,” Gantz told the daily Yediot Ahronot in his first interview as a PM candidate. “[The unilateral disengagement] was a legal move, a decision made by the Israeli government and carried out by the IDF and the settlers in a painful, but good manner. We need to take the lessons learned and implement them elsewhere.”
Leaving aside the ambiguity of these well-worn terms (e.g., most of the world views Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem as “settlements” while Israelis consider them an integral part of Israel), or the feasibility of evacuating some 140,000 Jewish residents from their homes with no Palestinian quid pro quo, Gantz’s thinking seems to be predicated on dated suppositions that have long been overtaken by events.
The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total disinterest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. The US, which rose to world preeminence after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the east European bloc, has largely lost this status over the past decade, while Russia has recovered much lost ground and regained a firm military and political foothold in the Middle East. Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups of Hezbollah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.
Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90% of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Effectively realizing PM Rabin’s vision of ending Israel’s control of the Palestinians without creating a fully-fledged Palestinian state, this move should have ended the debate about the supposed contradiction between Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature. These territories (Gaza and Areas A & B) are to all intents and purposes independent entities that will never become a part of Israel.
This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of East Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible – and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the millenarian Jewish ancestral homeland.


From JPost, 8 Feb 2019, by Ben Bresky:

Maps erase Israel, math problems involve Palestinian causality figures, and militaristic images are found in PA textbooks being used in UN schools, report states.

A declassified document from the United States Government Accountability Office says that schools in Palestinian Authority areas run by UNWRA have an anti-Israel bias, bordering on incitement to violence.

The report was published in 2018 and made available this week to the public after two congress members called for its release.

Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA) and Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY) requested the full 65-page report of “West Bank and Gaza: State Monitors Textbook Content but Should Improve Its Reporting to Congress GAO-18-227C: Published: April 26, 2018." The congressmen commented on the report's contents in a press release Thursday.
"It is unacceptable that the textbooks that are used delegitimize Israel and demonize the Jewish people, it is unacceptable that this program attempts to engrain this hatred in the hearts of children," Rep. Zeldin stated. "American’s hard earned money went towards its funding and it is unacceptable that the State Department lied to Congress about these very realities."
Schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have come under heavy criticism for years culminating in the Trump administration withdrawing funding from the agency. In February, the US announced its decision to de-fund the Palestinian Authority via its USAID program.

The two congressmen called the report "damning." In one section, the report states that "more than half of the neutrality / bias issues it found were related too one of the following three categories -- maps, Jerusalem and cities -- for example, regional maps that exclude Israel and refer to Israeli cities as Palestinian."

Math problems found in textbooks were also found to be "problematic" and "not aligned with UN values." The report explained, "a specific math problem using the number of Palestinian casualties in the first and second intifadas (uprisings) was clearly objectionable."

US officials found "material that ignores Israeli narratives, includes militaristic and adversarial imagery, and preaches the values of resistance."

Congressman Scott Perry said, “The declassification of this report is a win for government transparency and the American public. The UNRWA textbook report sheds light on how misreporting from the Department of State directly interfered with the ability of the US Congress to conduct its constitutionally vested oversight."

The report was based on an earlier study recently issued by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education [IMPACT-SE] which found that the latest Palestinian Authority elementary school textbooks are even more radical than previous editions. The IMPACT-SE report was based on examination of elementary-school grades one through four and high-school grades 11 and 12 of the 2016-2017 PA’s educational curriculum.
“The release of this report puts to rest the myth that UNRWA is teaching an alternative, less radical curriculum to the children in its care," [IMPACT-SE] CEO Marcus Sheff said. "The report clearly states that while UNRWA may have created complementary materials in an attempt to cover up some of the hate in the PA curriculum, these materials never saw the light of day. They were not distributed, nor were teachers instructed in their use."
...Many of the textbooks reached the hands of US officials through David Bedein of the Jerusalem based Center for Near East Policy Research. Bedein personally met with Yasser Arafat, the late head of the Palestinian Authority in 1996 as part of a special delegation and requested the textbooks. "Since then we've [examined] every textbook for the past 20 years," Bedein told The Jerusalem Post. He said school children were being taught to look up to Dalal Mughrabi, a perpetrator of the  1978 Coastal Road massacre in Israel, among other concerns.

UNRWA has provided assistance to Palestinians in Israel and other countries since 1949. The Trump administration in August 2018 cut all funding to the agency questioning the organization's "fundamental business model" of servicing an "endlessly and exponentially expanding community" of declared Palestinian refugees.