Holder, Italian foreign minister talk to AJC


A packed week of Jewish events in Washington — from the AIPAC policy conference to Condoleezza Rice speaking at a D.C. Jewish day school — wound down Thursday night when Attorney General Eric Holder visited the American Jewish Committee’s Annual Meeting. Here’s the brief:

WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the American Jewish Committee that keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention center open "makes us less safe."

U.S. enemies "use its existence as a recruiting tool and rallying cry," and it allows them to "portray themselves as victims," Holder said in a 10-minute speech at the AJC’s annual meeting on Thursday evening in Washington.

The Obama administration has drawn some criticism from Republicans for planning to shut down the facility, opened by the Bush administration in a U.S.-controlled area of Cuba in 2002 as a means of keeping suspected terrorists from seeking relief in U.S. courts. The Supreme Court later allowed its prisoners limited access.

Holder also compared the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, with the language in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution on building a "more perfect union," and said the Justice Department is trying to "repair what is broken and try to do what we do better."

Citing "rabbinic wisdom" from Pirkei Avot that "it is not incumbent on you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from trying," Holder said, "We may not be able to repair the world fully, but we must try."

Also appearing at last night’s AJC’s event — which was downsized this year in these difficult economic times from the usual Thursday night massive dinner into a smaller "reception" with hors d’oeuvres beforehand — was Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini:

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The foreign minister of Italy said his country’s "friendship with the state of Israel and the Jewish people is a key plank of our foreign policy."

Speaking at the American Jewish Committee’s annual meeting on Thursday evening, Franco Frattini also discussed his country’s decision to boycott last month’s so-called Durban II conference on racism held in Geneva.

The Obama administration joined Jewish groups and several other countries in boycotting the U.N. sponsored Durban Review Conference because of the failure of organizers to persuasively disassociate the conference from its 2001 predecessor in Durban, South Africa, which devloved into an anti-Jewish and anti-Israel forum.

"We could not legitimize a message of hate," Frattini said. He said his country’s decision not to attend was designed to "strengthen the legitimacy" and "credibility of the United Nations."

But Frattini said the conference was a "missed opportunity" because "Europe was divided and hesitant."

"The European Union must learn to speak with one voice," he said. Frattini also said he hoped the United States’ decision to become a candidate for membership in the UN’s Human Rights Council "is a sign there could be room" for the body to improve its role and become depoliticized.

He also said Israel’s "right to security and to defend itself is strictly non-negotiable and that Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is "not acceptable."

Recommended from JTA