December 31, 2010

The nonprofit and politics - how much is too much?

It's encouraging that so many current conversations are focused on the future of philanthropy, integration with social media, and non-profit horizons. In this last week of 2010, amid the postal flurry of end-year fundraising appeals, it's also worth remembering the little things that make us worthy of all those big thoughts.  (CONTINUED)
5. In our succession of election cycles and partisanship, philanthropists and nonprofit executives are frequently called upon to lend their own names to support candidates and causes. Are there limits or caveats to safeguard the charitable mission and avoid abuse?

Even distinguished leaders of organizations, whether volunteer or staff, should realize that (a) any fame derives partly or completely from their association with their organization, and/or that (b) they at least have a responsibility to protect the organization’s reputation. A 501(c)3 charity, especially one to which others are contributing time and funds, does not “belong” to any individual.
To avoid the misuse of an organization’s good name, executives should refrain from publicly supporting political causes, foreign or domestic, even if they don’t mention their affiliation. If an organization decides institutionally to support such a cause, then listing an individual as the organization’s representative is perfectly appropriate and understood. 
Lay leaders using their affiliation to sign public letters should emphasize when this is only for “identification purposes” – at the very least. Ideally, they should never list their affiliation for personal gain, political or financial. Anyone who needs to list such an affiliation is obviously not a public personality in his/her own right, and is understood to be trading on the privilege of public service. 

The signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence concluded to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” That might be a reasonable test of what really drives someone to support any cause, political or charitable. Sacred honor is a rare asset, and possibly the most valuable resource anyone can bring to a nonprofit endeavor.

December 30, 2010

How independent will your 2010 "independent" audit be?

It's encouraging that so many current conversations are focused on the future of philanthropy, integration with social media, and non-profit horizons. In this last week of 2010, amid the postal flurry of end-year fundraising appeals, it's also worth remembering the little things that make us worthy of all those big thoughts.  (CONTINUED)
4. Here are more thoughts on conflict of interest, beyond the standard declarations that many staff and board members sign annually:
Often, the same accounting firm handles both the IRS filings and the “independent” audits, using the same team of accountants, year after year. Such audits are not functionally independent and leave the organization vulnerable to wrongdoing and liable for eventual penalties. When the audit firm has no learning curve, no need to ask difficult or obvious questions – no stomach for alienating a valuable client by raising red flags – it is time to SWITCH AUDIT FIRMS. 
Likewise, if the audit committee which REVIEWS the audit results is comprised of those indebted to the organization’s leadership, there can be no realistic expectation of due diligence or objective oversight. Serving on the audit committee should NOT be a path to promotion within the board, and ideally the chair and most members of the committee should have no further affiliation with the organization. For the system to work, there need to be built-in INCENTIVES – not barriers – to make waves. Volunteer treasurers and audit chairs should also have financial aptitude, relevant experience and sterling reputations, so they can hold their own with those more invested in a "clean" audit.

In nonprofits, conflicts of interest shouldn't pay dividends

It's encouraging that so many current conversations are focused on the future of philanthropy, integration with social media, and non-profit horizons. In this last week of 2010, amid the postal flurry of end-year fundraising appeals, it's also worth remembering the little things that make us worthy of all those big thoughts. (CONTINUED)
3. The integrity of staff and institutions cannot be guaranteed without clear and consistent policies. 


If charitable institutions choose to compensate their trustees or reimburse them for expenses, this needs to be explicitly stated and detailed, not hidden in a footnote or run through a shady outside arrangement. With the exception of student activists, volunteer leadership should not be subsidized for travel and other expenses, nor should they have any business relationship with the organization they serve. Staff members should never treat lay leaders to meals. In the exceptional case of an individual leader with limited financial resources – but judged to be indispensable – the arrangement should be explained in detail to the full board, and possibly to the public at large.


Similarly, staff should be incentivized to do their jobs with maximum effort and integrity, along with the means to prove it. Organizations should clearly disclose any outside business relationships or financial arrangements between staff and leadership, to ensure that lay leaders are not distracted from exercising their fiduciary and oversight responsibilities – and so the public knows exactly how much communal servants are profiting from their professional service. Before receiving public awards and gifts of value, staff and leadership should get approval from the organization through which they earned these benefits. The same goes for accepting free travel, accommodations and other services from governments and businesses that may expect favors or contracts in exchange. There should be a clear, written policy that protects the reputation and credibility of the individual, the institution, and the cause; it should apply to senior management in particular, so employees don’t look upstairs to see a double standard.

Tax-deductible donations to 501(c)3 organizations render them a public trust by definition. Their budgets and prerogatives should never be seen or perceived as vehicles for anyone's personal gain. Following a strict and transparent code of conduct can help keep everyone focused on the charitable mission.

December 29, 2010

How many nonprofits get robbed blind, deaf, and dumb.

It's encouraging that so many current conversations are focused on the future of philanthropy, integration with social media, and non-profit horizons. In this last week of 2010, amid the postal flurry of end-year fundraising appeals, it's also worth remembering the little things that make us worthy of all those big thoughts. (CONTINUED)

2. Since non-profits are accountable for donor dollars, most of which are one-third subsidized by tax write-offs from the federal government (and therefore absorbed by all taxpayers), there need to be serious, results-oriented safeguards against theft by employees, officers, and grantees. Cash transactions and reimbursement for expenses are the easiest ways to steal charitable dollars. Where expenses cannot be pre-paid or billed directly to the sponsoring organization, ORIGINAL receipts and ticket stubs or boarding passes should be mandatory. Corporate credit cards sound glitzy, but they prevent anyone from walking away with unreported cash refunds. Instead of REIMBURSING for airfare, flights should be purchased either with the corporate card or through the organization’s own travel agent, so the money stays between the organization and the vendor.

December 27, 2010

Nonprofits have work to do RIGHT NOW.

It's encouraging that so many current conversations are focused on the future of philanthropy, integration with social media, and non-profit horizons. In this last week of 2010, amid the postal flurry of end-year fundraising appeals, it's also worth remembering the little things that make us worthy of all those big thoughts.

1. Non-profits have a responsibility to their donor base, and not only to ensure and assure that donations are properly spent and the mission carried out as promised. They should remove any stumbling block that might prevent a donor from following the law of the land. This means making clear to each supporter – in real time and again at the close of the tax year – the precise dollar amount that is tax-deductible. While this is gaining in popularity, it is not yet universally applied.

December 22, 2010

Quote of the Day: Classified...

Just because a document is classified does not mean it's either useful or accurate.

December 20, 2010

A view from the Gulf

At the Arabs’ Table: A View from the Gulf

(A variation of this has been published in JTA and The Jerusalem Post.)

There is a conversation going on among Arab policymakers, and it’s neither all about Israel nor just Iran’s nuclear program. 
This Arab conversation is diverse and complex, counter-intuitive, on their turf, but always a two-way dialogue. One doorway into this conversation was this month's Manama Dialogue, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and hosted warmly by the Kingdom of Bahrain. A Jewish organization with background in the Gulf and ties to the leadership in Jerusalem and Washington can contribute to this dialogue as well as draw from it.
Manama attracts key ministers from the Gulf, as well as Europe, Asia, and North America – all with a strategic interest in addressing regional security here. The unofficial nature of IISS uniquely allows for equal participation and interaction by government and military officials, policy experts, and non-governmental delegates. Where else would the Iranian Foreign Minister sit at the same table and listen to remarks by the U.S. Secretary of State.
At Friday’s opening dinner, the atmospherics were palpable. Since the center VIP table was positioned perpendicular to the dais, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was able to avoid looking at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while during and after her speech. Quite the cool customer, he sat through her remarks and the question-and-answer without ever turning his head or displaying any expression. Most important, though, is that he did sit in that ballroom, barely 50 feet from the lectern, and four seats down from the Secretary during dinner. And he had his aides taking strenuous notes.

December 7, 2010

Wikileaks on Iran? Get over it. Quickly.

Many Israelis -- official and otherwise -- have been enjoying a victory lap over the Wikileaks dump of classified U.S. diplomatic cables. On Iran, the cable traffic reports several Arab leaders calling for the United States to attack Iran, or better yet... attack Iran. 
Few are suggesting the United States or Israel should attack Iran just because some Arab leaders think it would be either a nice idea or a last resort. But, the argument goes, this proves that Arab leaders are more worried about Iran as a threat than about Israel and the Palestinians. Not exactly a ringing endorsement...
First, do Israelis really feel proud because they’re considered less of a menace than the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is widely understood to be pursuing a massive nuclear program and sponsoring terrorism and subversion across the Middle East and as far away as Paraguay?
Second, if the Israeli-Palestinian issue is less of a concern to Arab governments than Iran is, this means Arabs may be less available on the giving side in any give-and-take to resolve the Palestinian issue. If the Arabs again wash their hands of the Palestinians, Qatar and Oman are less likely to feel the pain than Israel will. If anything, getting Arabs MORE worried about the Palestinian issue could be useful to Israel’s long-term goal of finalizing its borders and normalizing its status within the region. 

November 28, 2010

Wikileaks, #cablegate, and a new dictatorship of information

What to make of the latest document dump via Wikileaks? The information is very interesting, partly because of which diplomat or world leader is saying what. 

Perhaps this level of detail isn’t necessary to drawing intelligent conclusions about international developments and policies. Most likely, the fact of who said what about whom will undermine some relationships going forward. Clearly, few if any crimes of note have been revealed thus far in the release of U.S. diplomatic cables. 

For some of us who fancy ourselves to be in the know, some of these revelations reduce the advantage of our “inside information”. I have heard from Arab officials of their sympathy for a U.S. or Israeli air strike on Iran, for example, but now that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is quoted to that effect in an official U.S. document, any account I can give seems both obvious and minor by comparison.

For those diplomats still serving in the posts from which they faithfully sent these leaked cables, their ability to continue performing their duties may face new barriers. How does one pass through a receiving line when everyone knows you reported to Washington on rumors about the hostess? 

The long-term danger is that cable traffic might get dumbed down to “just the facts”, eliminating the nuance that makes diplomatic decisions and the eventual history files so rich and sophisticated. With email, Twitter and blogs, however the sharing of information and opinions has already erased a certain level of privacy and thoughtfulness in ways that are probably irreversible. “Crowd-sourcing” may be great for many things, but it does not drive the powers of human imagination and creativity. 

Without denigrating or demonizing the Wikileaks team, who have definitely tapped into a fascinating set of documents, it is difficult to see justification for the wholesale dissemination of privileged communications. Will a military crisis or natural disaster be averted by this? Will democracy and freedom triumph over evil? Was this really done for the public good? 

In trying to stop a few would-be terrorists (which the evidence suggests it has failed to do), the Transportation Security Administration proposes to body-scan or feel-search every single airline passenger -- hoarding assets that could otherwise be devoted to actually catching terrorists. Is the Wikileaks "no more secrets" approach any less of a distraction from the real crimes of state taking place around the world, under our noses, while we immerse ourselves in mountains of cables?

Wikileaks is literally self-appointed and answerable to no one, so its leaders cannot claim to be acting in anyone’s interests but their own -- unless they purport to be virtual dictators. A dictatorship of information? And from the noise of thousands upon thousands of cables and revelations, will we be any wiser? Will our policymakers become any more sober, or less? Time to reach for my Bose noise-canceling head phones...

November 23, 2010

Almost a Manifesto

Just because something is inevitable doesn’t mean it will come to pass, and just because something is unthinkable is no guarantee it won’t happen. 
Israeli-Palestinian peace seems to be a no-brainer, especially 17 years after Oslo. And yet, most Israelis are convinced that Oslo “failed”. What failed was the U.S. Congress, among others, to support the process politically and financially when the two adversaries were ready to move forward. Rabin knew that Israelis and Palestinians couldn't live together, so he sought to separate as quickly as possible under some diplomatic cover of night. The window of opportunity was wasted once Rabin was assassinated, demonstrating that at certain points in history it really can’t be bigger than one or a handful of individuals.
Reflecting on the 47th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination (which happened a bit before I was born), Cold War brinkmanship could so easily have led to full-scale nuclear war, if not for a few cool heads. Even for those of us old enough to remember just the 1970s and 1980s, the blanket of nuclear terror and the despair of Soviet-bloc police states are inconceivable in hindsight. One must travel to North Korea to grasp what I experienced as a young boy during one long summer in Ceaucescu’s Romania. 
The idea that things can get out of hand and that leaders and followers can lose touch with reality seems preposterous, and yet this happens with frightening regularity right here in the United States -- fear, paranoia, suspicion, hatred, willing suspension of disbelief. In ever-widening circles, the subversion of basic liberties and freedom masquerades as a triumph of American values. The Cold War may have ended, but history continues and our intellectual and spiritual struggle for genuine democracy and enlightenment is a daily challenge, even when we choose (yes, it is a choice) to ignore it.
Even as the cult of self-enrichment and self-absorption metastasizes throughout our political culture, many Americans stubbornly and proudly maintain the ethic of self-sacrifice and common good which JFK tapped, celebrated, and sanctified. For those of us, the purpose of government is to make America and the world a better place, because we have a purpose that must go beyond ourselves. At no other time in nearly a century has this assumption been so tested and demeaned. And yet, at no other time has it been as meaningful or critical.
President Kennedy famously said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
We have been to the moon, but we should still avoid the easy answers and the convenient black-and-white analysis, or the obvious path of polarization. We do these things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard...” Otherwise, we humans are wasting some valuable space back here on Earth.

November 18, 2010

Why not caring about peace may be good for Israel

A few months, ago, many pro-Israel voices were raised against Time Magazine for its cover story, "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace." How was this article anti-Israel? How did it hurt Israel? 

In fact, it raised the bar for what Americans, Europeans and ultimately Palestinians might feel they need to offer in exchange for a deal worthy of Israel's interest. If the perception is that Israelis don't feel any urgency about peace, doesn't this strengthen the bargaining position of any Israeli government?

Given their own public and private skepticism, why should Israelis expect the media to look the other way? These days, Time may not represent the highest class of journalism, but for anyone who's been in Israel lately, they seem to have gotten this story right. Israelis are moving on with their lives and reaching new milestones every day.

With the U.S. offer now being finalized to secure a 90-day -- non-renewable -- Israeli settlement freeze, including a $3 billion F-35 deal, perhaps the Israeli Government owes Time a fat commission.

November 17, 2010

CWB quote of the day

"Jewish continuity" isn't a good enough reason to promote Jewish continuity.

November 15, 2010

Stop trying to convince Iran - just focus on stopping it

Especially since this month's midterm election gains by Republicans in Congress, President Obama has been getting much public advice to make sure Iran understands that a military strike against it is a credible threat. That can't hurt, but it misses the point.

My friend Nir Boms published a new piece on Iran, showing how Iran's economy is starting to go critical. Whether by sanctions or domestic policies, Iran's decline points up an important reality about that country's illicit nuclear program (and one with which Nir may or may not agree).

As much as Americans and Israelis may hope for a military strike that miraculously takes out Iran's far-flung and dug-in facilities, this would actually be the best boost for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his clerical backers. Iranian public opinion is clearly slanted against him, which is why he had to rig last year's election. Following his crackdown on post-election demonstrators and opposition leaders, and with daily life impacted by economic misery, a "Zionist" attack would be his deus ex machina.

If Iran does get too close to achieving a dangerous nuclear capability, a military strike may be unavoidable, given the costs of inaction. In the meantime, though, the Iranian regime is unlikely to abandon the nuclear program on its own (nor will it allow open inspections). The sanctions will not convince the regime, but they are definitely depriving the regime of capital and public support.

Whether the Islamic Republic runs out of money first, or is somehow overthrown (which wouldn't by itself end Iran's nuclear program), our default strategy should be to DEPRIVE the regime of its capacity to continue, not to CONVINCE it.

Iran is not the Soviet Union, and not only because it is not a rational, predictable actor. The existential threat Soviet ICBMs once posed to the United States was two orders of magnitude above the hypothetical threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. Mutually Assured Destruction and nuclear deterrence theory are poor guides to dealing with today's Islamic Republic and its opportunistic regional ambitions.

In the end, Iran will not be deterred by the threat of a military strike, no matter how credible or severe. Iran's quest can only be denied, whether by the impact of economic weapons or by an actual military strike.

The most important mission of the military planning on Iran is to mean business, not to "look" like we mean business.

November 14, 2010

Israel gets paid to advance its own interests

Congratulations are owed to the Government of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu got a $3 billion U.S. fighter jet deal, plus more, just for a three-month, non-renewable settlement freeze. Whether it works or not, the freeze is meant to advance Israel's long-term security under the assumption that peace with the Palestinians is both possible and useful to the State of Israel.

Actually, Israel gets already $3 billion a year in U.S. assistance anyway, because they gave up Sinai 30 years ago and made peace with Egypt. Netanyahu can declare victory here, and Israelis can continue without a serious peace process for as long as they don't think it's worth it (or until they believe it's real). Maybe if Israel had a credible and robust left wing, there would be something to disagree with - instead of an irrelevant bunch of has-beens (ie, exactly what most people assumed Likid would have been by now). Their biggest asset remains the visionary and eloquent President of Israel, Shimon Peres, who must be 90 years old. He's the oldest of the bunch, and the most creative by far.

When countries must be bribed into making peace, that's bad enough. When they must be bribed just to return to the negotiating table, one has to wonder if the stars are properly aligned for such diplomacy. The Obama administration deserves credit for trying, and for maintaining the one key ingredient for superpower peace diplomacy - the will to believe.

Shai's Quote of the Day

On days when I don't have a full-fledged blog post, I'll be putting out one of my own one-liners. Here's the first one:

In this economy, the thought of living on fixed income sounds very appealing.

November 12, 2010

Has Obama stopped beating his Israeli wife? Or, How I learned to stop worrying and love Obama

I've just been asked whether President Obama will continue making life difficult for Israel as a result of last week’s Republican victory in the midterm elections to the U.S. House of Representatives. My first response was that it’s a bit like asking whether he’s stopped beating his wife -- how does one answer such a loaded question?
The very premise is unsubstantiated. Whatever the Israeli public thinks of Barack Obama, the fact is that his only friction with Israel has involved some personal interactions with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Aside from tactical and strategic miscalculations (or worse) over the priority of Israeli construction over the Green Line, the man has been objectively “good for Israel”. President Clinton is still highly regarded in Israel, despite his famous tarmac standoff with then-Prime Minister Netanyahu at LAX, and all sorts of arm-twisting. 
There may never be a U.S. President with as much gut feeling for Israel as George W. Bush. Yet for all his love, empathy and resolve, Israel’s diplomatic and strategic position eroded during his eight years in the White House -- even after 9/11, with the wind at his back. My point here is not to point fingers, just to point out that what Israel really needs in an American President is neither a lover nor a cheerleader, but a provider.
And just what has President Obama provided for Israel? The week after last summer’s Flotilla fiasco (not Israel’s fault, but definitely not helpful), the Obama administration went to the mat in the United Nations Security Council and extracted new sanctions against Iran -- it’s doubtful President Bush would have had the wherewithal to get any new measures past the Russian and Chinese vetoes. The President has also implemented additional unilateral measures -- or tightened the enforcement of existing rules -- against Iran’s nuclear program.

November 10, 2010

Build in the West Bank, just don't call it "Jerusalem".

This week's announcement that Israel will construct hundreds of new apartments in "East Jerusalem" was obviously not helpful to advancing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but it was not intended to be. It's also doubtful that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was looking for such a development at this time.

A look at any accurate map of the region, however, reveals that the "East Jerusalem neighborhood" of Har Homa is neither east nor Jerusalem (hint: it's the summit adjacent to Rachel's Tomb and labeled "Jabal Abu Ghunaym"). It's Bethlehem, and would have been packed with Palestinian homes had the Arab population been allowed natural expansion. 

I remember emerging from an all-night consultation over 20 years ago at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, at Jerusalem's southern tip, and gazing further south in the crisp morning light to the deserted high ground dividing us from Bethlehem. Little did I realize, that high ground was none other than Har Choma.

Israelis may choose to build in integral parts of Jerusalem that are beyond the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice lines), they may decide to build in areas that are clearly the West Bank, and they may need to limit Palestinian construction for security or political reasons. And the Tomb of Rachel, which (judging by the map) catches morning shade from Har Homa, is irrevocably a Jewish and not a Palestinian shrine. But there is no way I can call Har Homa "Jerusalem" without contradicting the Torah account that Rachel was buried in Bethlehem.

Historically, geographically, geologically, Har Homa is not Jerusalem. Getting Israel's supporters to believe that it is only undermines our credibility and our capacity to advance Israel's case in Washington, at the United Nations, and with governments that might otherwise be helpful on a variety of issues -- including the effort to counter Iran's rogue nuclear program. If it's really so important to make a stand on Har Homa, it should be worth braving the truth.

November 8, 2010

Republicans - not Russian into anything in lame-duck session

If Republicans are looking to close off foreign policy as a post-midterm political outlet for President Obama, their renewed toughness on START and other U.S.-Russia issues may be about more than long-running suspicions against the Kremlin. 

The best way to humble the Administration could be to withhold cooperation on the very issues it has identified as its own priorities. In this case, that means pouring cold water on this President's "reset" strategy, even as an enhanced bilateral relationship has begun to bear fruit for such bipartisan U.S. goals as Mideast peace talks, Iran sanctions, counter-terrorism, and civilian nuclear cooperation.

President Bush also experienced pushback on Russia ties, from some Republicans as well as Democrats, notably on his efforts to expand trade. But it's doubtful either political party would have held up the new START teaty, a reasonably straightforward replacement for the recently expired -- and demonstrably effective -- START II. 

The "123" agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation will proceed despite the partisan positioning within Congress, entering into effect this month unless somehow a deadlocked Senate adopts a Resolution of Disapproval. That's the advantage of an "agreement" over a "treaty" (which would require affirmative Senate ratification). 

November 2, 2010

Child porn reveals the gap in human dignity

Another story out today about an otherwise upstanding community leader, who downloaded nine hours of child pornography out of "curiosity". NINE HOURS. How can we talk about women's empowerment and professionalism when this kind of stuff is just scratching the surface? How much filth is floating around out there, while we expect everyone to behave ethically and fairly.

One under-reported finding from the Volcker Commission's investigation into the "Oil for Food" scandal five years ago: the overwhelming volume of porn found on the office computers of United Nations staff. Porn on one's home computer is one thing, but it has no place on an official computer and should be grounds for immediate dismissal. Child porn is simply and absolutely unacceptable on this planet. Human trafficking and workplace discrimination are inversely and perversely connected. Human dignity begins at home.

November 1, 2010

Government Actions to Combat Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region (delivered at U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing, June 16, 2004)

Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Commission. I also wish to recognize Representative Cardin as the Ranking Member, and your fellow Commissioners from the Senate and House. Although this is my first time testifying personally, NCSJ’s relationship with the Commission goes back to before the Commission’s founding. Mark Levin, NCSJ’s Executive Director, wanted to be here today, but is at this moment participating in a celebration in New York marking 40 years of activity on behalf of Soviet Jewry. Just as the Soviet Jewry movement – yourselves included – changed the nature of U.S. foreign policy and European diplomacy, and motivated the establishment of the OSCE, it also profoundly affected the American Jewish community. Our latest challenge has been to marshal European leaders and institutions to defeat the monster of anti-Semitism on the European continent – the first serious effort in history, 60 years after World War II.

The Commission’s leadership has been instrumental in pulling together the multi-disciplinal U.S. team. I could easily spend my allotted time describing the important role that the Commission and each of you, and your staff members have played, but fortunately NCSJ has had many opportunities to do just that. However, I will note that the Commission effectively launched the OSCE track on anti-Semitism through a similar hearing over two years ago, just before the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly met in Berlin. It was the leadership of the Commissioners that mobilized your colleagues from European parliaments to adopt the OSCE’s first stand-alone document on anti-Semitism, which was used as a model for the 2003 Maastricht Ministerial Declaration and – ultimately – for the April 2004 Berlin Declaration. At every step, and in every consultation and strategy meeting, your role has been pivotal.

Remarks at International Conference on "The Legacy of World War II and the Holocaust"(delivered Dec. 16, 2009)

When I first visited East Berlin in 1971, as a small child, it never occurred to me that I would live to see the Wall collapse and with it the Soviet Union. Even more remote was the concept that I might return here three decades later to participate in an international conference where 55 governments joined in a declaration to combat anti-Semitism, or that yesterday I would participate in a wreath-laying by Jewish leaders at the monument to Soviet liberators of World War II. And here, I stand before you, those same community leaders, including many of the survivors, liberators and heroes. Thank you for this honor.

History is surprising, and yet not so strange as it might seem. Jews were instrumental in winning the World War, and also in defeating the excesses of Soviet tyranny decades later. Jews are leading the way for a religious, cultural and social renaissance in Russia and other successor states, indeed, across Europe and in the United States and Israel.

Memorial Tribute to Alan Senitt (delivered July 17, 2006)

Before I begin, I want to express my appreciation, to Shelley Rood of Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz’s office and to the Forward Together team, for arranging this evening’s sad commemoration. I also apologize that I have nothing original to say. But some thoughts bear repeating.

There is no consolation. There is no compensation. Not in this realm.

Until a week ago, I was part of a fortunate group of people Alan had contacted to get together with in Washington. Aside from the pure joy of spending time with Alan, he was a thinker and a doer. The Union of Jewish Students, Board of Deputies, Coexistence Trust, International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians – politics. And always for a purpose.

Alan was not just a “young leader” or a potential leader. He was a leader. Alan was not a participant or a bystander. He made things happen. He didn’t show up. He showed how.

Alan took on one of the greatest challenges of a leader: creating something new and impactful. More than once. Every day.

Each tragedy is severe. But in every generation, we may lose a small number of individuals whose absence is felt even more deeply as time goes forward. I can think of a handful of people during my own lifetime whose vision and commitment were unique and irreplaceable. Whatever their age.

As much as Alan deserved to realize the full potential of his gifts and his spirit, we as a community needed him with us. To those of us who continue in these causes, Alan’s sacrifice will be a growing void as we face new struggles and new opportunities that Alan would have seen through – even years from now. Years from now.

It will be our burden, our task, to fill this void with our own deeds, inspired by Alan’s example and by his memory. Alan did so much to improve and repair the world, and his work was far from complete. May our own efforts be worthy of his name and his friendship.

Then Why Be Jewish? (originally posted July 21, 2009)

In Natan Sharansky's first interview as Jewish Agency head, he seems to say that instilling strong Jewish identity among young Jews in the West is important for aliyah. U.S. community leaders think Jewish identity is important for demographics.
I still believe Israel is important for Jewish identity and Jewish identity is important for... Jewish identity. Why else have Jews in the first place? If we are indeed the "chosen people", we weren't chosen for numerical superiority (barely 13 million today) and it wasn't because they needed to fill empty tents in Canaan. Maybe there was a higher purpose, and living in Israel is the logical fulfillment of that purpose, but is it the purpose?
If we don't all move to Israel, is Jewish identity primarily useful to ensure we'll marry other Jews, and raise Jewish kids who will marry other Jews, etc.? That doesn't seem worth all the trouble. So, I disagree with that line of thinking.
I believe we need to stop making excuses and justifications for Jewish education and Jewish content. It is what it is, and that should be enough.

All Jews share responsibility for Rabin's death (originally published Nov. 10, 1995)

I helped kill Yitzhak Rabin.

Not only Yigal Amir or the movements that helped motivate him played a role. Not only the rabbis who called on Israeli soldiers to disobey orders, and not just those who ruled it a halachic imperative to kill Rabin.

Not only the Likud opposition, which neglected to renounce its support for extremist anti-peace activists. Not only the Israeli expatriates who physically attacked Israeli officials overseas, nor the American activists who applauded such violence. Not only the leading rabbis who carried the flag of American Jewry to Jerusalem and proclaimed that Rabin was violating God's laws -- and not the nominal leaders who failed to restrain them.

No. We all share responsibility.

Read full op-ed at JWeekly.

Back to the Future: Celebrating Refuseniks, Activists, and 'Ordinary' People (orginally posted mid-2002)

Not all the community leaders I get to meet in the successor states were once dissidents — most 'refuseniks' as soon as they had the chance. I have had the opportunity to tell some of these veterans, however, how strange it feels to fly over and teach or inform them of organizational and political issues, representing the gargantuan Organized American Jewish Community, when these are the champions I rallied and campaigned for as a child and a college student. Who am I to instruct them?

50 years after the Night of the Murdered Poets (originally published Aug. 12, 2002)

Fifty years ago, on August 12, 1952, 13 prominent Jewish intellectuals were murdered in Moscow on orders from Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Although the world learned of this travesty in March 1956, reports had filtered out during the prisoners’ extended incarceration that something was amiss. The Jewish world, and no less the world at large, did little at the time to investigate their status or protest their incarceration.

The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, created by the Soviets to promote U.S. support during World War II, was a group of Jews loyal to the Soviet cause and was by all accounts a success. Two of the Committee’s organizers – Isaac Fefer and Solomon Mikhoels – conducted a seven-month American tour in 1943, speaking to mass audiences including a packed rally in New York’s Polo Grounds, and gaining warm receptions from leading politicians, entertainers, and intellectuals. Later, as the aging Stalin consolidated his post-war power, he saw the Committee’s international work as a threat, and its Jewish flavor offered a prototype and pretext for stepped up persecution of Soviet Jews. Fifteen Soviet Jews were arrested in connection with the Committee from 1948 to 1949, with their interrogation and trial lasting until July 1952.

Fifty years ago, the lessons of the Holocaust were still raw and the lessons of the Soviet Jewry movement were yet to be claimed. Yet Itzik Fefer, in the chilling transcript of the secret trial [reprinted in Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir Naumov, editors, Stalin’s Secret Pogrom, Yale 2001] answered the presiding officer’s challenges with no expectation of reward – quite the opposite. When asked, “Were the Jews really the only ones to suffer during the Great Patriotic War?” he replied unapologetically, “Yes, you will not find another people that has suffered as much as the Jewish people. Six million Jews were destroyed out of a total of 18 million – one-third. This was a great sacrifice. We had a right to our tears, and we fought against fascism.”

U.S. Elections Countdown: 4 Weeks (originally published Oct. 13, 2008)

[Here's what I wrote to my European colleagues two years ago...]


The elections and all other aspects of U.S. life are now overshadowed by the financial crisis. The Jewish community, centered in New York City, is even more overwhelmed. During the past two weeks, Senator John McCain’s uneven and “maverick” response has done little to reassure many voters - Republicans or Democrats - that he would oversee the U.S. economy effectively as President of the United States. At a time of extreme volatility, voters and investors are seeking constancy and stability rather than boldness.

Although Senator Barack Obama was boosted in the primary campaign by his pledges to accept the constraints of federal funding, his subsequent decision to “opt out” has allowed him to dwarf McCain’s rapidly eroding campaign account using online and other innovative fundraising strategies. With only four weeks remaining until Election Day, Obama is able to take the fight to states that voted for George W. Bush in 2004, leaving McCain to make some difficult last-minute decisions rather than launch his own initiatives.

Israel, a fall guy unto the nations? (originally published Sept. 22, 2010)

Let’s not be fooled.

The opening weeks of the United Nations General Assembly feature numerous side meetings between Jewish organizations and dozens of visiting dignitaries. Many of the Europeans, and possibly some Arab delegates as well, will be expressing sympathy if not encouragement for Israel’s potential need to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

One prominent Western leader has looked me in the face and said that if the rest of the world does not succeed in halting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, we must all accept that Israel will act on its own. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States recently said publicly that an Israeli strike would be preferable to a nuclear Iran. Wow.

As governments increasingly support international sanctions to punish Iran or prevent it from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon, they also believe that a direct military strike may ultimately be the only way to stop a resolute, and resourceful, rogue regime. And they are all praying that Israel will avoid involving them in any strike it may carry out -- entirely on its own initiative, of course.

Read full op-ed at

Beyond rallies, how you can stop Iran (originally published Sept. 2, 2009)

(with Micah D. Hapern)

Alongside many heads of state and prime ministers, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly later this month in New York. Jews will turn out across the street to raise voices in protest. Jews have a legitimate concern about Iran. So should everyone else in the world. Iran’s nuclear program and ongoing support for terrorism are a threat to most nations.

One of the most effective vehicles for countering Iran is getting non-Jews and non-Americans to take public positions.

Read full op-ed at

Khatami Or Not, Don't Count on Iran to Change (originally posted Feb. 8, 2009)

Mohammad Khatami, the reputed modernist reformer, has announced his candidacy for President of Iran. A former president himself, he will make a formidable challenger to the incumbent, firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Ironically, had the more presentable Khatami been president during the past few years, Iran would probably be considerably further along in its quest for nuclear weapons, it would have wrested greater diplomatic advantage from the toxic U.S. presence in Iraq, and he would have more wisely invested Iran’s windfall from the transitory spike in oil revenues.

Kahatami definitely knows how to talk the multicultural talk of the West. Yet, even if he does “walk the walk” as well (a big “if”), it will not be enough to alter Iran’s substantive behavior and core interests.  Iran has never been ruled by its President. The ultimate voice on national direction and Grand Strategy is the Supreme Leader, beginning with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 and continuing with Ayatollah Khamenei since Khomeini’s death. Neither leader has stepped far from the radical inversion of classical Shia submission, favoring confrontation and national struggle in the aftermath of the ancient defeat of Imam Hussein.  Terrorism, opposition to Arab-Israeli reconciliation, regional gamesmanship and the quest for nuclear weapons – all have continued regardless of who sits in the president’s office, which faction dominates in parliament, what the proverbial journalistic “mood on the street” may be, or whether new terms of dialogue are proffered to Washington.

On "Ground Zero mosque," religious freedom is... simple (originally posted Aug. 6, 2010)

(with Joseph K. Grieboski)

The motto atop the Anti-Defamation League’s website reads, “To stop the defamation of the Jewish people… to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”What could compel such a venerable institution to set this aside and oppose an Islamic coexistence center and mosque located two blocks from the World Trade Center site?

According to ADL’s National Director, the anguish of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 “entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.” America is a free country, where everyone and anyone is entitled to a bigoted position. But the rest of us need not follow or even pre-empt those positions.

While it is difficult to measure how much an organization like the Anti-Defamation League represents American Jews, it is fairly easy to judge whether it is true to its own prime directive.

"The potential implications of this decision for general religious practice in this country are significant and disturbing." – This 1997 statement by the Anti-Defamation League reacted to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was unconstitutional. In the same statement, the ADL leadership said, "We are particularly disappointed with this decision since RFRA merely sought to restore the 30-year-old standard requiring states to show a 'compelling interest' in order to justify a restriction on an individual's free exercise of religion." Subsequent legislation has been found constitutional, so the ADL got its wish.

It remains difficult to imagine how any human rights or religious-oriented organization could find the time to come out against a religious facility devoted to coexistence. Many of those politicians opposing the Cordoba House would usually insist that outsiders allow local government to decide matters from abortion and gun rights to the delineating of electoral districts. Religious freedom is no less of a right under the U.S. Constitution. ADL's National Director told The Jerusalem Post, “The fact that there are bigots who espouse a position that you have doesn’t mean you’re a bigot.” But it does impose a responsibility to recognize that "nuanced" messages work to bolster the bigots at the expense of their targets. The first step in promoting reconciliation is calling on the bigots and those reinforcing them to stand down. Full stop. No nuance. Loud and clear.

October 31, 2010

IPC and the Upper-Middle Class Aspen (originally posted Dec. 8, 2008)

The IPC [Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom] has now been held in Brussels, Rome, Washington, and Scranton – the upper-middle-class Aspen (who knew that Real America was full of Democrats??). Scranton could also become New York’s answer to such Washington-centric retreats as Greenbrier and Wye Plantation. The IPC has its own mission, but Northeast Pennsylvania seems wise enough to benefit as well as contribute.

On a very tight budget, the IPC has proven itself to be an important forum, and not just for parliamentarians. Diplomats, academics, journalists and business and religious leaders all have a voice, since the solutions must be found and implemented collectively. The combination of issues discussed and the tenor of debate is unique among international gatherings. The Interparliamentary Union is a vital and necessary organization, yet it connects the chairs speakers of parliaments rather than those who are literally the “movers” and “shakers”. Also, it hardly addresses religious sensibilities, spiritual inspiration, or controversial and imperative human rights challenges. There really was no IPC before, so Joe Grieboski had to invent it.

This year’s deliberations generated not only their own buzz, addressing head-on a number of “hot spots” and perennial international dilemmas, but also provided critical data for achieving the IPC’s natural global mandate. The formal panels are useful, and next year might offer an opportunity to try variations including one or two sessions using more interactive, talk-show formats. The Ethiopian First Lady and the Palestinian Deputy Foreign Minister lent some prestige to the proceedings, and their role was not limited to formal speeches. There is a growing constituency of IPC veterans who are already changing the face of their regions and countries as a result.

As last week’s attacks in Mumbai demonstrated – on multiple levels – religion is too often abused or blamed for crimes of violence and assaults on universal values and fundamental humanity. It is past due that religions be allowed to contribute their genius and their billions of followers to resolving these and other conflicts, and to tell some of the success stories from alleviating suffering and advancing human fulfillment. Scranton, a city of industrious immigrants still arriving from every corner of the globe, is well poised.

Although the Far East, Latin America and Western Europe were under-represented this year, as were certain Islamic streams, but each annual session faces its own circumstances. If next year’s session convenes again in the same location, which provided flawless facilities and administration, the turnout should be even better.

With the United Nations’ New York headquarters entering dry dock for the next several years, Scranton offers most governments an attractive, growth-oriented market for investment and trade, and only two hours’ drive from New York and a bit further from Washington.

Saudi Interfaith Initiative at the UN - Who Better (originally published Nov. 14, 2008)

This week’s high-level meeting at the United Nations in New York, devoted to the interfaith dialogue initiated by Saudi King Abdullah, has attracted some skepticism as well as outright rebuke from human rights organizations. Am I the only one who gets bored by the obvious?

News Flash: Saudi Arabia persecutes minorities, subjugates women, and denies most forms of rudimentary democracy. And, like many fellow members of the Islamic Conference, the Kingdom has been pushing for international limits on the defamation of religion, which is code for limiting freedom of expression.

Deep breath, count to ten.

In its six decades, the United Nations has never hosted a gathering where serious leaders with any real power or influence addressed issues of religion and mutual respect head-on. The UN, based in the “separation of Church and State” capital New York and dominated by secular diplomats trained in the post-Enlightenment academies of Western Europe, has been almost pathologically uncomfortable with the physical presence of religion.

Counter-Terrorism, Extremism, and Dialogue (originally delivered Nov. 24, 2008)


The United States is a notable venue for a conference on religious freedom and for a panel entitled “Counter-Terrorism, Extremism and Dialogue,” especially when some of the panelists have focused on Muslim persecution and terrorism against Christian minorities in various countries around the world. Ironically, the United States has just endured seven years of heightened suspicion of Muslims and Islam.

The winning candidate in our recent presidential election was the target of rumors and accusations that he is a Muslim. It may be a sign of progress, that some Americans used this as an excuse to vote against Barack Obama, since not so long ago the color of his skin would have been the issue. Yet, the United States still has a way to travel on the road to inclusive pluralism and mutual respect. As Senator Gordon Smith has emphasized, rather than disqualifying the United States from championing religious freedom around the world, our mixed history at home only obligates us further.

And, if anyone has trouble naming non-Muslim contemporary extremist movements, history abounds with significant examples.

Insulza's Insults? Please Wait Your Turn (originally posted Jan. 6, 2009

Apparently the Secretary General of the Organization of American States is not content with trying to keep 34 Western Hemisphere nations peaceful, secure, and prosperous. Jose Miguel Insulza, former (ie, not currently) Foreign Minister of Chile, in an official OAS press release, has blasted Israel for massacring "hundreds of innocent civilians". 

Full disclosure: I just spent the last few years -- in my spare time -- trying to inject a constructive respect for religious diversity and dialogue within the OAS. I had thought we were making progress.

Aside from the fact that not all the recent victims can be considered "innocent civilians" -- and most victims and all the intended targets appear to be militants at best, terrorist thugs at worst -- I'm trying to figure out what claim the OAS has over an issue already being addressed by the European Union, the United Nations, the Arab League and other international institutions with... some semblance of a relevant mandate?

As a humble student of diplomacy (I grant myself a B+ average), I understood that professional diplomats were supposed to effect a lessening of tensions and to make statements that will open new pathways to resolving conflicts. I fail to see how the OAS or its Secretary General can now follow up on what he himself labels his "absolute rejection" -- for its part, the United States has not always been so even-handed on the Palestinian issue,!

It may be mere coincidence that Chile has just hosted an international conference under UN auspices, devoted to supporting the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli occupation (but unrelated to the current hostilities).

Note to leaders of international institutions: please refrain from transparent promotion of national or partisan passions on company letterhead. Also, while I do not expect anyone to be "even-handed" on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, at least try not to appear completely one-handed; if you really want to hurt Israel diplomatically, don't squander all your credibility in the first paragraph. Even if Israel were the cruelest regime in the history of civilization, leave some dots for us to connect ourselves.

There have been too many truly innocent victims of Israel's current offensive, as there have been far too many on both or all sides in this longstanding toxic confrontation. It seems a mockery to suggest that all the victims of the past week have been innocent civilians, and undermines the legitimate concern about the dozens or scores who were not willing participants in the cynical and amoral attacks on Israeli population centers.

There are too many ongoing violations of human dignity in the Western Hemisphere for the OAS Secretary General to start calling plays for the Middle East. Unless, like the rest of us residing along the East Coast, he's hoping to get an appointment in the new Obama administration, in which case he may need to rethink his approach.

Whose Holocaust Is It, Anyway? (originally posted Oct. 5, 2009)

Q: Who owns the "Holocaust" brand? Who owns the right (or better, legitimacy) to apply the term "Holocaust" to any policy, social or religious issue?

A: No one

I call a moratorium. Nearly 65 years after the end of World War II, it is time to remove the "H" word from our political lexicons and leave it to the realm of history and thought. Ahh...whatever happened to thought?

Extremists on the right and left alternately use the term to characterize everything from abortion to lack of health insurance within the United States, to Israeli policies against the Palestinians, to anything that anyone wants to portray negatively.

World Leaders Address UNGA (originally posted Sep. 24, 2009)

It was farcical and almost amusing to hear Libya’s Col. Muammar Qaddafi remind the delegations to the United Nations that New York is a terrorist target and so out of the way that most of the guests still have jet lag when they give their speeches.

I remember the day 20 years ago when I learned of Pan Am 103 and heard over the radio the mothers shrieking in agony upon learning that their children would not be stepping off the plane at JFK. I was horrified, and still am. So it was at best ironic to hear Qaddafi suggest New York has outlived its usefulness as a host city for the UN Headquarters.

Separately, he got a healthy laugh from the delegates when he said the Security Council should be renamed the “Terror Council” – even he seemed amused.

I imagine Qaddafi will refrain from accusing Israel and the United States of violating the UN Charter, a document he pretended to tear in half during his 96-minute stream of consciousness lecture. If he were truly committed to abandoning the UN status quo – which he claims is based on original sin – he could have led a permanent walkout by all the African delegations, in his capacity as chair of the African Union. That would have made an impression, and would probably reduce the UN to a catering hall. For better or worse, he clearly intended no real changes, just a rhetorical advantage. (Note: sometimes, less is more.)

Better late than never for U.S. on rights council (originally published May 17, 2009)

Durban II has concluded and nearly everyone has gone home. Next month, however, brings an event far more significant and substantive than any racism review document or yet another outrageous speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: The United States will formally join the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Unlike the one-shot Durban Review Conference known as Durban II, the Human Rights Council meets several times a year in Geneva in regular session, and includes special sessions (usually to condemn Israel) and the ongoing multi-year review of every country’s human rights record. Its first three years, without benefit of U.S. membership, have been no picnic. The council emerged from the detritus of the former Human Rights Commission, which had earned its reputation as a shamelessly ineffective institution obsessively focused on condemning Israel.

U.S. membership on the council comes none too soon. Canada, the first nation to announce it would boycott Durban II, will soon rotate off as a member of the council. The European Union members on the council are generally well meaning, which is part of the problem. Negotiating a compromise resolution sounds worthwhile, but toning down a blatantly one-sided and unfair anti-Israel resolution to the point where it is only implicitly one-sided does no favors for Israel or the credibility of universal human rights. It only allows European governments to avoid voting “no” on what is objectively an anti-Israel resolution.

Read full op-ed at

New administration brings chance to redeem U.N. (originally published Feb. 18, 2009)

In allowing U.S. representatives to attend consultations this week in Geneva, in a serious attempt to detoxify the Durban Review Conference in April, President Obama has taken one of his first concrete steps to show the world that the United States is not afraid to engage and on our own terms.

Rather than immediately recasting the confrontational image perceived by so many during most of the Bush years, the new administration may take advantage of the lingering resentment and apprehension as well as Barack Obama's credibility as an agent of progress and change.

The world and the United Nations have been optimistically curious about Obama's internationalist agenda and his new team. As those preparing the new U.S. strategy know well, "new politics" has not overtaken the United Nations or many of the regimes represented at its headquarters in New York and Geneva. The U.N.'s notoriously cynical human rights agenda is no exception.

By exacting a price for joining the Durban process and other high-profile human rights mechanisms, and possibly even giving a second chance to the International Criminal Court, the post-Bush United States might be able to strike a better deal if it does so before the diplomatic swords are turned into ploughshares. The American Jewish community should be a natural advocate for this approach.

Read full op-ed at

Obama at the UN: International Operators Are Standing By (originally posted November 10, 2008)

On January 20, rather than immediately retracting the confrontational image perceived by so many during most of the Bush years, the new Administration may take advantage of the unpleasant status quo and of Barack Obamas credibility as an agent of progress.

As the Obama-Biden transition team takes over its temporary office space across from the White House, the world and the United Nations are optimistically curious about the internationalist agenda of the next U.S. President. As those preparing the new U.S. strategy know well, new politics has not overtaken the UN or many of the regimes represented at UN headquarters in New York and Geneva.

Perhaps the United States should be engaged in the Human Rights Council, or even the pre-flawed Durban anti-racism Review Conference scheduled for April 2009, or challenging Russia and China to admit their own national interest that
s release of U.S. hostages on the day of his inauguration, one more opportunity for Ayatollah Khomeini to punish Jimmy Carter, but it was clearly a good thing for the United States.

By exacting a price for joining the high-profile human rights mechanisms, and possibly even giving a second chance to the International Criminal Court, the post-Bush United States might be able to strike a better deal if it does so before the diplomatic swords are turned into ploughshares.
sticking it to George W. Bush is no longer on the menu. Ronald Reagan was not directly responsible for Iran

Genocide, Another Name For Murder (originally published Dec. 15, 2008)

The recent horrific events in Mumbai are still too raw for me to react with fairness and reason, but I cannot wait any longer. The Jewish center that was viciously attacked did not exist when I was living uptown by Byculla Bridge many years ago, but I have known the Chabad-Lubavitch movement for much longer than that. I also learned so much from the people of Mumbai and from its ancient Jewish community. Byculla is a crossroads of minority faiths, central to Jews, Catholics and Muslims, and no small number of Hindus.

The absence of inidigenous anti-Semitism is partly the result of the minuscule Jewish existence there compared to hundreds of millions of Hindus and nearly 100 million Muslims. The deep hatred and mistrust of Muslims was exacerbated by the creation of a separate Pakistani state from the remnants of India's Raj borders, and perhaps this (reciprocated) enmity fills the psychological and political void filled by anti-Semitism in many other societies, with or without the presence of actual Jews. The saltwater pool at Breach Candy Swim Trust is still shaped in the outline of oldtime Greater India, as a constant reminder of the power of a pencil and the limits of an idea. Truth be told, most Indians and Pakistanis do not come near Gandhi's pacifist and universalist tendencies. In other words, this attack could have happened in any real-world city.

The Chabad movement follows a strict code of religious practice, and its followers wear black hats and coats. Yet it is a paragon of informed faith and intellectual enlightenment, or openness to the outside world. The Chabad emissaries engage the outside world and are critical participants in general society, without losing their religious identity or their principles of faith. Their love and commitment for fellow Jews do not come at the expense of their responsibility to all humanity in the image of God. One American Jewish friend related to me that her shock was compounded by the notion that any Chabad emissary could be killed, because their pure and holy mission has always seemed to inoculate against physical harm.

Having just heard a speech from Francis Deng, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide, I have a few additional reflections. Genocide as a legal principle offers an elusive threshold. While we may not wish to see an entire people or nation disappear (or be the target of such an effort), I also have a hidden agenda in fighting genocide, and not just as a Jew whose family arrived in the United States decades before the Holocaust plunged Europe into a human hell. My hidden agenda is to prevent murder or individuals, and to preserve the hope of our place here on Earth. If criminalizing genocide can motivate nations and leaders to take action, then the Genocide Convention is a step forward. But even if mass murder is being perpetrated NOT on the basis of ethnicity or religion, we need to speak out against it.

Human rights begin with individual humans, and worthy arguments about fighting genocide do not preclude us from condemning and halting mass murder. The attacks in Mumbai were criminal. Despite the "global war on terrorism," they may not constitute war crimes, but they are no less criminal and outrageous. Our hearts still ache and the blood of the innocent still cries out. All of us, including my colleagues in the UN Secretariat, must continue doing what we can. And we must continue asking what more we can do. And we must continue to call evil by its name.