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Fidel and the Jews

What should we make of Castro’s charm offensive?

2:10 PM, Sep 27, 2010 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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Last month, according to a Reuters report, Havana allowed Judy Gross to visit her husband, Alan, who has been sitting in a Cuban prison since late 2009. Alan Gross is a USAID contractor who was working with Cuban civil-society activists at the time of his arrest. The Castro regime insists, ridiculously, that he was engaged in espionage. The Grosses are both American citizens, and Alan’s incarceration has prevented greater progress in U.S.-Cuba relations. Permitting a spousal visit was a small gesture. But the fact that Gross is still being held indicates that Cuba wants to use him as diplomatic leverage. 

Many U.S. lawmakers, unfortunately, seem relatively unconcerned that one of their countrymen is being unjustly detained. Indeed, calls to abolish the Cuba travel ban have grown louder since it was reported that Havana would lay off around 500,000 state workers and take small steps toward expanding private enterprise. But has the Communist government really changed? There is no evidence that it will soon implement the type of far-reaching reforms that would deliver real economic and political freedoms to the Cuban people.

“Fundamental changes of U.S. policy toward Cuba should await fundamental reforms by the regime,” the Washington Post argued in a recent editorial. “When average Cubans are allowed the right to free speech and free assembly, along with that to cut hair and trim palm trees, it will be time for American tourists and business executives to return to the island.” That sounds like the correct strategy to me.

A final point about Castro and the Jews: While his remarks to Jeffrey Goldberg appeared to be a harsh critique of anti-Semitism, they were actually an example of anti-Semitism in disguise. Fidel was motivated to make those remarks by a conspiratorial belief that Jews are an all-powerful lobby in the United States. The whole episode reminded me of Erich Honecker’s attempts to boost his image with American Jews in the late 1980s, at a time when his East German regime was hoping to establish warmer relations with the United States. In 1988, Honecker restored a synagogue in East Berlin and visited with World Jewish Congress leader Edgar Bronfman, assuming that Bronfman could arrange a meeting with President Reagan. Needless to say, the Honecker-Reagan meeting never happened, and the Berlin Wall soon collapsed. But Honecker’s outreach to Bronfman reflected his belief that Jews control the American government.

Castro apparently harbors the same illusions. Don’t be misled by his comments to Goldberg. In his clumsy attempt to ingratiate himself with American Jews, Fidel revealed the deeply ingrained anti-Semitism that continues to shape his worldview.

Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

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