Two Responses to Alvin Rosenfeld from Signatories to Survivors’ and Descendants’ Letter

Below are two editorials from signatories to the survivors' and descendants' letter submitted to The Jewish Daily Forward in response to Alvin Rosenfeld's op-ed which was full of ad hominem attacks on the signers. Neither op-ed was published nor did either author receive a response from The Forward. First is an op-ed by signatory Jesse Strauss and second one from Bruce Ballin. Click here to view a press release about The Forward's refusal to provide the signers an opportunity to defend themselves agains Rosenfeld's attack.


By Jesse Strauss

I am disappointed that the Jewish Daily Forward chose to publish Alvin H. Rosenfeld’s piece of August 28th. In it, Rosenfeld attacked – with no legitimate claim – a letter published as a paid advertisement in the New York Times which opposed Israel’s siege and recent bombardment of Gaza, and the signers of it, all Holocaust survivors or descendants of them.

I am proud to have signed on to that letter, as the grandson of two Polish Jews who had no choice but to watch their close family (a wife and two daughters, then a brother, then a mother, a father, a sister, and too many more) systematically gassed, executed, and otherwise killed, as they struggled and managed to survive the Nazi occupation and genocide.

Rosenfeld’s attack was devoid of any engagement with the actual content of the letter, serving at best as a distraction from the urgent issues of the moment, almost entirely focused on unsubstantiated and inaccurate personal and organizational attacks. He begins by quoting Hitler’s understanding of how Jews treat each other: “It is the Jews themselves who say it about themselves, about their greed for money, their fraudulent ways, their immorality, and their sexual perversions.” For obvious reasons, I will not accept this as a legitimate point of reference. From there, Rosenfeld states that the letter published in the New York Times was written “by” the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN), which is not true.

The initial signers on the letter were Jewish survivors and the descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide who work with IJAN and IJAN supported us in circulated the letter, coordinating the grassroots fundraising that paid for the letter to be posted in the NYT and supported media outreach. However, the letter is an autonomous expression by survivors and descendants.

Rosenfeld starts by quoting Hitler – who is not a legitimate point of reference for anyone interested in human rights or justice, the rest of Rosenfeld’s piece follows that terrible offensive and inaccurate starting place, not countering in any meaningful way the piece published in the New York Times, its content, or those of us who signed on. It is merely a distraction.

Each time a Palestinian life is taken by the state of Israel, their murder is justified by the supposed self-defense of a Jewish state, created under the auspices of making sure that a people who had been wracked by mass killings had a safe place to live and strive. Leaving aside that Israel’s systematic violence toward Palestinians will only continue to make Israel less secure, the logic that justifies the brutal occupation requires the consent of those not only Holocaust survivors and their descendants (myself included), but of all my family members and all those who perished under Nazi occupation.

Unlike Rosenfeld’s assertion that we signed the letter as descendants of Holocaust survivors because that heritage makes us think we have moral authority over Israel, we did so to publicly reclaim our names away from the brutal occupation, from the systematic killings, and from the deprivation of means of survival of the Palestinian people living in historic Palestine. in the Occupied Territories. It is an assertion not only that there is no Jewish consent on the State of Israel, but that there is no consent amongst Jewish Holocaust survivors and their direct descendants.

Proud to have survived the Holocaust, my grandparents raised my mother (in the United States) to honor a cultural and religious legacy of liberation from slavery, resistance to military occupational forces, and to celebrate resilience under the weight of widespread and disproportionate violence.

It is in that spirit that those of us who signed the letter did so. We are speaking out not because of what Rosenfeld refers to as Jewish “betrayal” of one another (in his apparent agreement with Hitler), but rather because we choose to honor a proud Jewish legacy of social justice and we refuse to allow the occupation of historic Palestine and the daily atrocities committed against the Palestinian people to be committed in our names or in the names of our parents or ancestors. And most of all we are speaking out because of the urgency of the situation on the ground - a context that Rosenfeld makes virtually no reference to: The murder of over 2,000 Palestinians, the bombing of UN shelters and hospitals and 141 schools, half a million displaced from homes, no gas or electricity or access to medicine and hundreds of summary arrests and detentions in the West Bank as well as in Israel. Far from our Passover stories of liberation, these numbers are continually growing and the livelihoods of Palestinians at the hands of Israel are continually worsening. The process appears to signify no less than a rising tide of fascism.

As represented in the original letter published in the New York Times, Jews in many parts of the world who are survivors or closely related to survivors of the Nazi genocide assert that this is not only morally unacceptable in and of itself, but that we will not accept that the bombardments (let alone the siege! Let alone the occupation!) happen in our names.

There were only hundreds of us who are survivors or descendants of survivors and victims of the Holocaust who signed the original letter published in the New York Times. With quick turnaround for the signature-gathering, now supported by more than 50,000 recommendations (or ‘likes’ and shares) of Haaretz’s main article that covered the story. We know we are not fringe. Our numbers are especially large given the power of the pro-Israel lobby in creating obstacles and threats for those who speak out on this issue. For every person that publicly speaks out, there are many more building up the courage to publicly express their views.

Never again can we – humanity, but especially Jews who celebrate a legacy of liberation – tolerate the systematic murder of thousands, ghettoized ethnic cleansing processes, or a growing fascism. I am proud, as part of my peoples’ legacy, to associate my name with that letter, saying in my own name: Never again for anyone.

By Bruce Ballin

Professor Rosenfeld’s article Moral Emptiness of Holocaust Survivors Who Took on Israel does not deal with the substance of the Advertisement in the New York Times this past Saturday.  He seems not to be able to simply say he disagrees with the signers.  Why shouldn’t all survivors and their descents have their testimonies and conclusions from the Holocaust be seen as valid.  In any case he rejects the opinions of 40 direct survivors, so his assertion about distance from Auschwitz becomes absurd.  And one might ask do only survivors who agree with Israel only have wisdom, or possibly could all survivors have wisdom regardless of their opinion?  All in all the survivor community is shrinking and so the direct descendants of those survivors who have been affected by having relatives who went through the Holocaust also have something to say.  Validation of experience does not come from conformity of thought. Validation comes from honest expression and respect from others who otherwise may agree or disagree.

The decisions of the Zionist movement are no so great as to be unassailable. And Professor Rosenfeld did bring up Hitler.  From the Ha’avara (Transfer) Agreement with Hitler in 1933 and the resulting suppression of the boycott of German goods, to the handling of Hamas in the present, there is much to criticize.  We do not need to blindly accept what we are told from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  There is no purity in following blindly.

I also signed the Ad.  I signed as an individual.  My parents were Shoah survivors.  My mother still lives. Many of their relatives died in the Concentration Camps.  A close cousin of my mother’s was beheaded for being in a resistance group.





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