Editorial: Kudos to Castro

Israel should rejoice in Castro’s holiday gift of a positive message on Israel, which might just mark the beginning of a trend.

Fidel Castro 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Fidel Castro 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A belief in the capacity inherent in every individual to fundamentally change for the better is one of Judaism’s most important and redeeming tenets.
The recent Day of Atonement is the annual apex of that notion, and penitents are welcomed into society and revered as bearing more rights than virtuous people.
It is tempting to view former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro as now being repentant of his longtime sin of backing those who act toward the eradication of Israel, following the support of the Zionist entity he expressed in a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in which the aging revolutionary also criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his repeated Holocaust denial.
“Yes, without a doubt,” was Castro’s unambiguous answer to Goldberg’s inquiry as to whether he thought Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish State. The Cuban leader, who passed over the presidency to his brother Raul in 2008 but remains First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, also expressed understanding of how the history of persecution of Jews, most notably the Holocaust, would influence Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision-making process, and even noted his desire to meet with the premier’s father Ben-Zion, the leading historian of the Spanish Inquisition.
President Shimon Peres issued a warm letter to Castro over the weekend with gratitude for the “moving” and “unexpected” words that bore “an original and unique intellectual depth.” And a Prime Minister’s Office’s statement defined what Castro had said as a testimony to his “deep understanding of the history of the Jewish people and Israel.”
ONE NEED not be a great historian like Netanyahu Sr., however, to recall Cuba’s anti-Israel track-record under Castro. In 1967, Cuba’s ambassador to the UN described Israel’s preemptive attack against the onslaught of Arab armies in the Six Day War as “a surprise attack in the Nazi manner,” and Havana’s military advisers provided instruction to PLO terrorists both in Cuba and in southern Lebanon in the seventies and early eighties. Diplomatic relations with Israel were cut in 1973 after Castro sent Cuban tank commanders to join Syrian forces in the Yom Kippur War, and Cuba remains on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
In fact, one needn’t be a historian at all to encounter a revolting diatribe the same Castro, still idolized by the extreme Left in Europe and Latin America that often does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, published on June 10 on his CubaDebate website.
“The state of Israel’s hatred of the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send one and a half million men, women and children from that country to the gas chambers in which millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis,” he wrote just a few weeks before his interview with The Atlantic, following the IDF raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. “The Führer’s swastika would seem to be Israel’s banner today. This opinion is not born of hatred,” Castro continued, noting his country’s history of absorbing Jews during “the harsh days of World War II.” (Cuba’s Jewish community has since dwindled, from an estimated 15,000 in 1959 to a current 1,000 or so.) Interpreting the inner workings of the mind of this 84-year-old, who might or might not be rethinking his long-time stance on Israel, may be beyond us at this stage. But whatever his motivations, the very day after the initial segment of the interview was published on The Atlantic’s website on September 7, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared he’d be meeting with the leaders of his country’s Jewish community.
Chavez, who considers Castro an influence and has close ties with Ahmadinejad, a week later indeed heard the Jewish leaders’ concerns over anti-Semitism in the state media and their desire to see diplomatic ties with Israel, which Chavez cut in 2009, reinstated.
Castro’s standing as the radical Left’s elderly statesman puts him in a unique position to generate a move toward making pro-Israel sentiment somewhat fashionable, or at least to help distance anti-Semitism from the realms of the political discourse. Without forgetting his problematic past, and accordingly without attributing uncritical weight to this refreshing draft from the Caribbean, Israel should rejoice in Castro’s holiday gift of a positive message on Israel, which might just mark the beginning of a trend.