Check facts and choose words carefully, says reader

By Henry Srebrnik

Editors, the Gauntlet,
Re: “Death defined along ethinc lines,” June 22, 2000

I guess you never know when you’re going to bump into some anti-Jewish commentary, even if it is unintentional. The column “Death defined along ethnic lines,” by Patricia Fuentes in the June 22 issue of the Gauntlet, takes to task the “community of Holocaust survivors and Jewish lobby in the U.S.” for working “furiously” to increase public awareness of the Nazi genocide that killed six million Jews in World War II, while ignoring–so Ms. Fuentes maintains–recent genocides in Africa.

First of all, it is entirely understandable and legitimate for Jewish Holocaust survivors to worry first and foremost about their own pain–as it is for Armenians, Chechens, East Timorese, Iraqis, Palestinians, Salvadorans, Tamils, Tutsis and others to bring their own tragedies before the world community. There is nothing wrong with this, and it ill behooves a writer to put this in a negative light.

In any case, as it happens, North American Jewish groups have been in the forefront of the battle for human rights worldwide and have been among the loudest of voices calling for action to help beleaguered victims of warfare and mass murder in Kosovo, Rwanda, and the Sudan, among many other places. Ms. Fuentes should do some research and acquaint herself with the facts before making unfounded statements.

She ends her column by criticizing U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for ignoring Africa. Referring to Albright as “a very powerful and political product of that [Jewish] lobby,” Ms. Fuentes concludes that if Israelis were Africans, more attention would be paid to the continent. References to the “power” of Jews is part of the classical discourse of anti-Semitism and I am surprised that Ms. Fuentes is unaware of how such rhetoric might sound to readers.

And if Ms. Fuentes implies by this statement that the Secretary of State is Jewish, then she also got her facts wrong: Albright has stated that, at the time she was appointed, she was unaware of her Jewish heritage; no Jewish organization or newspaper had ever made reference to her being of Jewish descent. She had always said she was a Czech Christian–indeed, she was “outed,” so to speak, by anti-Israeli newspapers in the Middle East, and only after she had been selected by President Clinton.

And by the way, Ms. Albright, having been raised a Christian, has chosen to remain one. She is not Jewish–unless one defines Jews as a so-called “race,” which is something anti-Semites do. Since I am sure Ms. Fuentes did not intend to place herself in that category, I hope this letter will clarify some of the concerns Jews feel about such language.

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