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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Castro to Ahmadinejad: Stop slandering the Jews and stop denying the Holocaust

Jeffrey Goldberg was invited to come to Havana last week to discuss his article on the Iranian nuclear weapon standoff with none other than Fidel Castro himself. Along the way, Castro demonstrated a surprising understanding about the sensitivities of Jews to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
Castro opened our initial meeting by telling me that he read the recent Atlantic article carefully, and that it confirmed his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran. This interpretation was not surprising, of course: Castro is the grandfather of global anti-Americanism, and he has been a severe critic of Israel. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he said, was simple: Israel will only have security if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the rest of the world's nuclear powers will only have security if they, too, give up their weapons. Global and simultaneous nuclear disarmament is, of course, a worthy goal, but it is not, in the short term, realistic.

Castro's message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the "unique" history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. "I remember when I was a boy - a long time ago - when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside," he said, "and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.' God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.' They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?"

He went on, "Well, I didn't know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a 'Jew,' and so for me the Jews were those birds. These birds had big noses. I don't even know why they were called that. That's what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was."

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. "This went on for maybe two thousand years," he said. "I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything." The Iranian government should understand that the Jews "were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here's what happened to them: Reverse selection. What's reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation." He continued: "The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust." I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. "I am saying this so you can communicate it," he answered.
Hmmm.

It's no great secret that most of Cuba's Jewish community left after the Communists took over. And I've always had the impression (admittedly garnered from children of Cuban exiles that I encountered in youth group and in college) that Cuban Jews were not free to worship once Castro was in power. But if he understands anti-Semitism as well as he seemingly does, why wouldn't he let the island's Jews practice their religion?

Well, from this web site, it sounds like Castro has had a relatively recent epiphany about his country's Jews, which may fit in with what Goldberg describes later in his post as Castro's desire to be treated as an elder statesman.
Judaism in Cuba, like other religions there, was severely restricted for almost three decades. Now it is being rebuilt by the ten percent of the Jewish population which remained after the "revolution."

As individual congregations struggle for survival with only a remnant of their former population, new strains are put upon them as some families leave for Israel. Can Judaism in Cuba survive? Ten years ago only a tentative "yes" could be given, but now, with the support of Jewish communities from around the world, Judaism in Cuba grows stronger each year.
I count 12 synagogues on this page, one of which is Orthodox.

Hope my friend who has actually been to Cuba sees and comments on this post.

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