The real reason for Israel’s existence

I write in response to Sam Lasman’s elegant column (“Poetry, not politics,” April 17) in which he takes up the paradoxical struggle that goes back at least to Plato regarding the role of poetry in the realm of politics.

Mr. Lasman’s attention to language moves me to note and question one phrase he deploys to clarify what he sees as the special responsibility of German writer, Gunter Grass, to the State of Israel. Having noted Grass’s Nazi background, Lasman writes, “As a participant in the unconscionable evil that necessitated Israel’s creation, Grass is uniquely responsible for ensuring that the nation survives by listening to the better angels of its nature.”

While scholars argue about the impact of the Holocaust upon the creation of the State of Israel, let the record show that the State of Israel was not the creation of international morality, a universal recognition of the evil perpetrated against the Jew. The 1947 United Nations vote notwithstanding, the State of Israel was tragically born in war and has been sustained by war. Were it not for the brilliant effectiveness of Israel’s civilian militia there would be no State of Israel. Not moral necessity but flawed human will brought a real flawed Jewish state into geopolitical reality.

I further note that the majestic poetic summons to listen “to the better angels our natures” was crafted by Abraham Lincoln in his first Inaugural address, 1861, a magnificent rhetorical effort to preclude and elude civil war. Does Mr. Lasman think that if a state, say the State of Israel, fails to live in conformity to the better angels of its nature that it loses its right or capacity to survive? I doubt it, but his language allows the inference, an instance perhaps of confusing poetry with politics.

James Ponet

April 18

The writer is the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish chaplain.

Bring back syringe exchange funding

As the News reported (“Walkers raise AIDS awareness,” April 16), Sunday marked the eighth annual AIDS Walk New Haven, which benefits the organizations of the New Haven Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS (MTFA). While the reporters covered the event itself, they missed a key theme of the Walk: funding for syringe exchange programs. This is a critical point to note, especially now, because of the Congressional ban on funding for syringe exchange efforts, which eliminates approximately thirty percent of funding for this public health measure.

In Connecticut, thirty-six percent of all HIV infections are caused by injection drug use, nearly double the national average. Before the federal ban, Connecticut programs also received more federal funding for syringe exchange than almost all other states because of this severe infection burden.

This issue matters to Connecticut, and a number of speakers at Sunday’s Walk were also integral players in Elm City’s battle against HIV/AIDS in this respect. The MTFA itself was critical in starting up New Haven’s syringe exchange program in 1990, which was one of the nation’s first efforts of its kind and also the first legal program in Connecticut.

State Representative Patricia Dillon is also an enthusiastic supporter of syringe exchange efforts. At the Walk, she emphasized in her speech that we “must not be discouraged despite setbacks in Washington,” and that syringe exchange programs “grew out of the commitment of people in this community,” and will only last with the same grassroots and state-level support.

While the Walk is fundamentally a community event, it is not solely about raising money and awareness. It is about supporting and protecting evidence-based public health efforts that save people’s lives.

Sheila Enamandram

April 17

The writer is a junior in Calhoun College

No Yale support for African ambassador

We were very surprised and disappointed that no Yale professors or students associated with the African Studies department, the Yale Anthropology department, the Yale Afro-American Cultural Society or representatives from the Peabody or Yale Art Gallery (where there is an important African collection) could mange to be present to greet the Namibian Ambassador to the United Nations, Wilfried Emvula, at the reception for the photo exhibit, “The Amazing Himba people of Namibia,” at the New Haven Public Library this past Saturday.

He is obviously a very important representative from an African country, and it seems the Yale community, which was informed in advance, could not make the effort to walk over to the library for a thirty-minute visit that afternoon to turn out for him. This doesn’t say much for Yale and indeed reflects badly on the institution. There were some people who came from far away, including a Harvard faculty member. Yale’s unfortunate absence was embarrassing for us, for the library, and for the Ambassador.

Barbara Paul

April 16

The writer is the photographer whose work was exhibited.