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When Leaders Make Historical Mistakes Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
September 30, 2008

JERUSALEM -- Candidates for high office who summon up historical references should be sure they get them right.  This applies to Israel's ambitious Foreign Minister, Zippy Livni, who is campaigning for this country's highest political office, the premiership, as much as it does to the U.S. presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama.

Deploring Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad's speech to the UN General Assembly in which he inveighed against the Jewish state's right to exist, she said it was "absurd" that the world organization, "whose founding motto was 'Never Again," allowed him to deliver his genocidal address.

Livni and the foreign ministry researchers who assist her got it wrong.  Unfortunately, 'Never Again' was not adopted by the UN founding members convened in San Francisco, April 25,1945, and ratified its charter, October 24, 1945.  It was not proposed as their "founding motto" at the time and was not adopted by them in the ensuing years.  ('Never Again' later was used by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane as a slogan meaning that Jews must not allow another Holocaust to decimate them.)

Not wanting his mercurial chief to be embarrassed by this historical 'faux pas,'Israel's new foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, came up with a purportedly-plausible cover-up.  He cited a passage from a forthcoming book being written by Samantha Power, who now serves as Director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The prospective author resigned from Sen. Obama's brains trust when various remarks she made were construed by ardent American supporters of Israel as being barbed and hostile. Her text, according to Palmor, refers to the UN's Genocide Convention of 1948, which in her words "embodied the moral and popular consensus in the U.S. and the rest of the world that genocide should 'never again' be perpetrated."  Needless to say, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and other killing fields indicate that the intention ascribed to the conferees was not implemented during the subsequent years of the blood-soaked 20th century.

That, evidently, was the best Palmor and the foreign ministry experts he presumably consulted, could do.  It does not render Livni's public reaction to Ahmadinejad's genocidal diatribe accurate from a historical standpoint, however.  It was not "absurd," therefore, that the Islamic Republic of Iran's leading political demagogue could advocate the destruction of Israel and its erasure from the face of the earth from the UN rostrum, but shameful and tragic.  The diplomats who gave him a rousing ovation stupidly ignored the fact that the action which he advocates, would result in the death of most of the 5.4 million Jews -- men, women and children – and many of the 1.4 million Arabs who also inhabit it.  Is that not genocide?

Livni is not the first national leader to become embroiled in a historical blunder. President Reagan intended to decorate the graves of fallen German and American soldiers buried near the then-West German town of Bitburg, April 11, 1985.  This ceremonial act was meant to symbolize the rapprochement between Bonn and Washington and honor then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl who had agreed to deploy Pershing missiles on German territory.

The chief executive's point man, Michael Deaver, went to the cemetery in February, 1985, to inspect the graves.  They were covered with snow.  He did not notice that none of the headstones bore the names of American soldiers and that the 49 beneath which German military personnel were buried belonged to members of the Waffen-SS.  They were among 2,000 German war dead in World Wars I and Two.  There were no U.S. military graves there.

Deaver (and Reagan) evidently did not know that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as the supreme Allied commander in Europe, had ordered that the bodies of U.S. military personnel originally interred in Germany be exhumed and reburied elsewhere in Western Europe.  The then-future President Eisenhower did not deem it appropriate that these American soldiers' last resting place be Germany. (This was pointed out by my distinguished Israeli colleague, Yitzhak Noy, a gifted Hebrew radio broadcaster and bearer of a doctorate in history from Brandeis University.)

It reminds me of my unforgettable professor of history at Queens College, the late Koppel S. Pinson, author of the landmark historical work, "Modern Germany," who used to tell us that we must be accurate whenever we include historical references in our discourse.  Ms. Livni would be wise to adhere to this principle and the same goes for Senators McCain and Obama.  

 

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