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What We Are Up Against

By Ed Koch

On September 23, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I attended services at the Park East Synagogue as I have for the last forty years. Since I left the mayoralty seventeen years ago, Rabbi Arthur Schneier has called on me during that morning service to address the congregation observing the start of the Jewish New Year, in this case 5767.

I never prepare formal remarks for this occasion, preferring to listen carefully to the Rabbi's sermon and to amplify his themes. When he introduced me he said, "We normally blow the shofar (a ram's horn) on Rosh Hashanah but not when the holiday falls on the Sabbath as it does this year. The horn is blown to introduce an important message, and this year the symbolic ram's horn providing that message is Ed Koch."

I thought to myself, "Thank you Rabbi, but you are setting the bar too high for me."

I will now try to reconstruct the message that I delivered and, on reflection, add to it as well.

Dear Friends:

During the service this morning an elderly man came over to me and said, "Tell the Jews how foolish they are not to appreciate how good and supportive the President has been to the Jewish community. When I look back on the Nazis and remember what they did, I know how important it is for the President to stand up for Jews and others who are being terrorized throughout the world."

I replied, "I have and I will."

When I addressed the congregation I said that our prayer book contains a special prayer for the good health of our President and Vice President. That prayer now has more meaning for me, and I ask God to take good care of them in these difficult times when we are at war. President Bush needs continued strength and courage to protect our country from the Islamic terrorists who want to kill us. Their goal, as clearly stated in the words of Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq before he was killed by an American bomb, is "Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute." The infidels alluded to are you and I as well as other Jews, Christians (called Crusaders), Hindus and dissenting Muslims who disagree with them on religious or political issues.

I admire the strength and intelligence of Pope Benedict XVI. He understands the Muslim threats of violence against people unwilling to convert to Islam. He has called for a dialogue with the Muslim world.

The Pope's recent statement that aroused the fury of the Islamic world, according to The New York Times, "recount[ed] a conversation on the truths of Christianity and Islam that took place between a 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus, and a Persian scholar. 'He [the emperor] said, I quote, 'Show me just what Muhammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,' the Pope said. While making clear that he was quoting someone else, Benedict did not say whether he agreed or not. He also briefly discussed the Islamic concept of jihad which he defined as 'holy war,' and said that violence in the name of religion is contrary to God's nature and to reason."

Pope Benedict expressed no judgment on the truth or falsity of the emperor's statement, but he raised the need for dialogue. In response Muslims throughout the world, including many Muslim leaders and clergy, called for angry marches and the burning of churches, and urged the murder of the Pope.

In a fatuous editorial, The Times lectured the Pope. It stated: "A doctrinal conservative, his greatest fear appears to be the loss of a uniform Catholic identity, not exactly the best jumping-off point for tolerance or interfaith dialogue. The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal."

What wrong did the Pope commit? Quoting a 14th-century emperor? Condemning violence as a religious tactic and urging a dialogue? We should be applauding the Pope for his bravery and supporting his call for dialogue. Has The Times ever acknowledged that we are now engaged in a war with Islamic terrorists worldwide who have clearly stated that their desire is to convert or kill the infidels who they believe we are?

Now let's turn to the United Nations and what took place when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addressed the General Assembly. He vilified President Bush, referring to him as "the devil," and stated that he could still smell the scent of sulfur on the speaker's podium from President Bush's earlier address to the Assembly. He mockingly crossed himself for protection and went on at length with his vilification of President Bush and the United States.

What offended me even more than Chavez's ludicrous remarks were the responses of the U.N. delegates. No one stood up and told Chavez that he was out of order and demanded that he stop or sit down. They should have told him he was a disgrace to the U.N. Instead they are reported to have applauded this monster and laughed with him, instead of at him. The Times reported: "So while there was official outrage over Mr. Chavez calling Mr. Bush 'the devil,' there was also a lot of applause and giggling, from dignitaries including the president of the General Assembly herself, Haya Rashed al-Khalifa of Bahrain, who was caught chuckling from her seat on the dais behind Mr. Chavez."

Where was the official outrage, and why was Chavez not rebuked while he held the platform? Many of the countries whose delegates were amused by his vitriol receive their sustenance from the U.S. We feed their people and provide much of their medical care. Many expect the U.S. to protect them from attacks from other countries, and some of them are even formal allies. Yet none of them walked out to show solidarity with us. The two nations not in the chamber when Chavez took the dais were the U.S. and Israel. We should forever remember the craven behavior of those who stayed and cheered.

Imagine if the United Nations meeting had taken place in Caracas, Venezuela, and President Bush in his address had viciously attacked President Chavez. What do you think would have happened? There would have been riots in the streets and Americans in Venezuela might have been assaulted and possibly murdered.

What was the reaction in the U.S. to Chavez's speech? While I am certain that most Americans were affronted, others invited Chavez to the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Harlem. He was applauded when he referred to George W. Bush as an "alcoholic," a "tyrant," and a "sick man." To his credit the district congressman Charlie Rangel denounced those who applauded Chavez and his attacks on the United States.

Finally, do you remember the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl who was taken hostage by the terrorists in Pakistan? They paraded him on television and forced him to say, "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish." Then they slit his throat and decapitated him with the world watching the video of the murder.

The Rabbi told us this morning that we recite very important prayers today, and we should be conscious of their special significance. I hope that some day soon we will add Daniel Pearl's words to a special prayer to be said today, as I say it now, "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish." And I am proud.

Thank you.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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