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Fatah parley raises questions about Palestinian intentions, Obama’s strategy

WASHINGTON – The fiery rhetoric at last week’s Fatah meeting in Bethlehem has renewed concerns that the Obama administration is not doing enough to pressure the Palestinians.

At the first Fatah General Assembly in 20 years, participants refused to renounce violence and passed confrontational resolutions, like one blaming Yasser Arafat’s death on Israel.

Even as Jewish organizational leaders condemned the assembly, many of them acknowledged that Fatah leaders would remain Israel’s chief Palestinian interlocutors for peace talks. But they urged the Obama administration to issue a condemnation of the harsh talk at the west bank parley.

“We would like to see this administration express some disappointment on some of the rhetoric coming out” of the conference, said Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman. “It’s not in line with the American initiative to bring the parties closer together.”

But other Middle East observers, including some who have supported the Obama administration’s calls for an Israeli settlement freeze, cautioned against such an approach. While some of the language used at the Fatah meeting may have been troubling, they said, the White House might be better off if it stayed focused on the broader picture and not necessarily respond to specific rhetoric.

Thus far, the Obama administration has said nothing, with the State Department passing up a chance to make a statement. State Department spokesman Robert Wood was asked at Monday’s media briefing about the party platform Fatah adopted at the assembly, including the position that the group “maintains the right of resistance by all means possible.”

“I haven’t seen the plan” Wood said, and simply reiterated “the importance of both parties” implementing “the ‘road map’ obligations, not taking any steps that in any way prejudge the outcome of future negotiations.”

Some corners are viewing the administration’s lack of response to the conference rhetoric as another example of what some Jewish leaders have charged is an imbalance in the pressure being applied by the administration on Israel compared to the Palestinians and Arab states.

President Obama has told Jewish leaders that pressure is being placed as well on the Palestinians and Arab governments, and suggested that perceptions of an imbalance are largely created by the media. But while the administration has made repeated public demands on Israel for a settlement freeze, it has said little publicly about the necessary steps that the other side must take, though Obama has issued general calls on Palestinians to stop incitement.

Several Middle East observers said they had read only media accounts of the Fatah party platform and had not seen the full document. According to the reports, the platform reportedly reiterates “the Palestinian people’s right to resistance to occupation in all its forms in line with international law.” Fatah leaders asserted in statements that they reserved the right to “armed struggle.”

In his speech to the conference, though, newly re-elected Fatah chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did stress that the Palestinians would focus on “nonviolent” resistance.

Some Israeli officials and officials at U.S. Jewish groups also criticized what they viewed as unreasonable demands made by Fatah at the assembly, such as proclaiming it would not negotiate with Israel until the Palestinians were given all of Jerusalem. Others downplayed such positions, saying that both sides usually posture by making maximalist demands before a negotiation begins.

Another complaint: Some who have engaged in violence and terrorism were honored and spoke at the parley.

Israeli government officials have been weighing in on the congress. Before the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “The rhetoric coming from Fatah and the positions being expressed are grave and unacceptable to us.” The next day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a group of visiting Democratic U.S. Congress members that the Fatah platform, along with unrest in the west bank and Gaza Strip, “has buried any chance of coming to an agreement with the Palestinians in the next few years.”

The American Jewish Committee called the assembly “a slap in the face” to those interested in peace. Jason Isaacson, the group’s director of government and international affairs, specifically pointed to the resolution charging Israel with the death of Arafat as “a signal of the lack of seriousness” of Fatah.

“How is that acceptable in a political movement trying to operate on the world stage?” he asked, also criticizing the “wink and nod about the return to armed struggle.”

“We naturally hope the administration” would view the conference “with the same sense of concern that we have expressed in our statements, unless the bar of expectations is set so low that a disappointing conference isn’t worth commenting on,” he said.

One Middle East insider who declined to be identified was more blunt about the administration’s need to respond.

“This silence is what creates the impression of the imbalance,” the insider said. “Where is the condemnation for this kind of behavior?”

“This rhetoric impacts the street,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We’ve learned you can’t dismiss the issue of incitement.”

But other observers suggested that the administration should be more cautious about condemnation.

Nathan Brown, a political science and international affairs professor at George Washington University and an expert in Palestinian reform, had not seen the full Fatah platform. Still, he said, it should be viewed as akin to a U.S. political party platform that might contain some “red meat language” to satisfy the political factions in a “large and diverse movement” like Fatah but isn’t necessarily followed by the party leaders.

Brown said what was more important was whether the Fatah leaders elected at the assembly would form a “coherent” organization dedicated to a diplomatic solution and whether they continue to “do what the Israelis want them to be doing” on security and other issues, something that won’t be known for a few months.

Americans for Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir, whose organization has been supportive of Obama’s approach, said that while some of the “hyperbole” from the Fatah congress was “troubling,” he didn’t think “micromanagement” of inflammatory statements by Palestinians or Israelis would be helpful to peace efforts. Nir also put a positive spin on the excerpts of the party platform he had read, noting that while they were still holding out violence as an option, the platform “adheres to the peace option.”

No matter their interpretation of the Fatah assembly, there was general consensus that Fatah is still the only game in town when it comes to a peace partner for Israel — which is why the group’s actions should be taken seriously.

Not everyone agreed with that assessment, though.

“This conference made it crystal clear,” said Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein, that “peace is not possible with Hamas or Fatah.”

JTA

 
 

Jewish leaders grapple with the rough-and-tumble Internet

WASHINGTON – After the botched terror plot of the “Christmas underwear bomber,” David Harris took to the Huffington Post to argue that the United States had something to learn from Israel’s stellar record in airport security.

The argument seemed fairly innocuous as far as Israel-related matters go. But the vitriol unleashed suggested that Harris, the executive director of The American Jewish Committee, might write about the pleasant Israeli weather and still get hammered.

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American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris says, “To read some of the reactions to anything I write about Israel is sometimes to require a very strong stomach.” AJC

“israel is not on the front line of fighting Islamic radicalism it on the front line of creating Islamic radicalism,” said the second of hundreds of commenters, using the name “baffy.” “These crazy guys are trying to blow up Americans primarily because of our government’s support of israel’s illegal occupation of palestinian land as well as invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq etc.”

Off topic, like many of the comments, but not anti-Semitic.

Things became a little more questionable a few Web pages later in an entry by “jomamas”: “Jews need to get something straight: because somebody says ‘we shouldn’t be like Israel’, doesn’t mean that we want to be like Arabs or Iranians, nor does it make them anti-semitic nor Israel haters. I can’t understand how the relatively progressive and educated jewish population is so utterly and completely biased when it comes to the issue of Israel. I don’t like Israel. I am not anti-semitic. I don’t really like Iran or Syria either.”

As the response to Harris’ post demonstrates, defending Israel and Jewish interests in tweet time can be rough, anonymous, and dirty — and organizational leaders are grappling for strategies on dealing with the phenomenon of personal and anonymous attacks in the comments section.

“To read some of the reactions to anything I write about Israel is sometimes to require a very strong stomach — it can be nasty, over the top, vitriolic, and dripping,” Harris said.

Still, the AJC leader added, he enjoys access to readers unfiltered by letters-page editors.

“I welcome this new environment,” he said. “Everything I write, I write myself.”

And in the case of left-wing sites such as the Huffington Post, it is important to confront anti-Israel voices, Harris said, rejecting the view of a segment of the organized Jewish community that sees the fight for liberals as futile.

Harris, who also has a regular Jerusalem Post blog, raised some Jewish organizational eyebrows when he decided to reply with a second entry on the Huffington Post, this one commenting on his commenters.

“For some readers my last piece, posted December 31, provided a handy excuse to unleash their unbridled hostility toward Israel,” Harris wrote, and outlined his counter-arguments.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was less sanguine in describing the comments responding to the material that he has posted on the Huffington Post.

“It’s a magnet for conspiracy theorists and for haters,” Foxman said of the comments section. “I look at it and sometimes wonder why am I bothering.”

The answer, he adds quickly, is the “silent majority” — those who don’t post replies but are searching the Internet to learn and acquire the tools to defend Israel in their own communities.

Nevertheless, Foxman has his doubts.

“It’s a vehicle for educating, but it’s a vehicle for all the kooks in the world who want a platform,” he said. “I’m not sure we have the antidote.”

A spokesman for the Huffington Post, Mario Ruiz, said the blog endeavored to screen offensive comments.

“All comments made on blog posts are currently monitored by paid moderators,” Ruiz said. “While every effort is made to eliminate offensive comments, they do occasionally slip through the cracks of a process that handles nearly 2 million comments a month. But from its inception, HuffPost has taken comment moderation very seriously, and devotes a lot of energy and resources to maintaining a civil conversation, free of name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and offensive language.”

Ruiz said it was “great” that Harris was taking on his commenters.

Faulting the Huffington Post for such comments would be unfair, considering their ubiquity on pro-Israel Websites, including The Jerusalem Post, said Eric Rozenman, the Washington director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

“Look at the talkbacks at any place to any article that stirs a little controversy — the Post, Haaretz — it can be appalling and disconcerting, the kind of stuff you used to see on bathroom walls,” he said. “The technology has enabled the fringe to go mainstream, and no one knows what to do about it.”

While it’s difficult enough keeping the anti-Semitic genie in the bottle in the mainstream media, CAMERA’s most recent struggle has been with C-SPAN, the cable broadcaster dedicated to making government transparent through live broadcasts of the U.S. Congress and the executive branch.

For the last year and a half, CAMERA has tracked a cadre of diehard anti-Semites who have been abusing C-SPAN’s open-caller policy, injecting vitriol against Israel and Jews into just about any discussion, ranging from taxes to Middle East policy.

Until now, the reply from C-SPAN has been radio silence.

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who has claimed he lost work because of his anti-Israel views, was a guest Jan. 4 on the network’s “Washington Journal” program. A caller identifying himself as “John from Franklin, N.Y.” launched into an anti-Semitic tirade saying he was “sick and tired of all these Jews” who were “willing to spend the last drop of American blood and treasure to get their way in the world.”

Jews, the caller said, have “way too much power” and “jewed us into Iraq.”

In response, host Bill Scanlan turned to Scheuer and said, “Any comments?”

Scheuer appeared to approve of what John had to say.

“Yeah. I think that American foreign policy is ultimately up to the American people,” he said. “One of the big things we have not been able to discuss for the past 30 years is the Israelis.”

On Monday, in response to a JTA query, the broadcaster acknowledged that the host should have been more proactive in dealing with the caller.

“Program hosts, whose role is to facilitate the dialogue between callers and guests, are certainly permitted to step in when a caller makes ad hominem attacks or uses obscenity or obviously racist language,” C-SPAN said in a statement to JTA. “Given that this involves quick judgment during a live television production, it’s an imperfect process that didn’t work as well as it should have that day.”

Readers can judge whether the Huffington Post’s screening process worked in response to Harris’ piece on Israeli airport security.

One official at another Jewish organization who also blogs on Huffington Post wondered about Harris’ decision to engage with the commenting crowd.

“Jewish fascists and anti-Semites are the prominent animals” in the comments sections, said the official who spoke on background to avoid a contretemps with Harris. “It’s like watching pornography — who’s going to get the sickest thing in.”

The official said he enjoys Huffington Post as a platform to reach liberal cognoscenti and the current political leadership — not the commenters “banging away in their footsie pajamas in their mothers’ basements.”

“To go to the comments and take them seriously — they’re not representative, you should stay away from it,” he said.

Harris says knocking those guys off the page is the point.

Ultimately, he adds, his target is the “sophisticated consumer” who can tell the difference between the vicious and the civil — and he noted that he also earned civil critiques from those who criticize Israel.

“I rely to a large degree on the sophistication of the consumer,” Harris said, “and I think we underestimate that.”

JTA

 
 

Christian student group case poses dilemmas for Jewish groups

WASHINGTON – Is it discriminatory for government to fund some forms of discrimination and not others? And what does “funding” mean?

These questions are at the center of a case concerning the right of a Christian student group to recognition on its campus.

The Christian Legal Society’s quest for official status at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law has wound its way through the courts and now is under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court took up the case in December; it has yet to set a date for hearings.

On the Orthodox side, Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union have filed separate briefs friendly to the Christian Legal Society. So has the National Council of Young Israel, joining a brief that includes Muslim, Christian, and Sikh groups.

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Orthodox Jewish groups say a Supreme Court case dealing with a campus ban on an exclusively Christian society would adversely affect Hillel — some of its participants are shown meeting on campus — and other Jewish student organizations. Max Orenstein

The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee are planning to file separate briefs friendly to the university. The American Jewish Congress chose not to file a brief.

The Orthodox vs. secular alignment is not unusual in such church-state cases. However, subtle differences over the case’s ramifications and over strategy have emerged between groups on the same side.

The crux of the dilemma for Jewish groups is whether the greater threat to Jews is posed by groups that exclude — or by marginalizing groups that exclude. The Christian Legal Society requires a signed commitment to what it defines as Christian principles, including proscribing premarital sex and defining marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman. The society wants Hastings, which receives state and federal funds, to allocate it the same funding due other on-campus groups and it wants equal access to campus facilities.

The Orthodox Union’s brief emphasizes the threat that the law school’s lower court victories pose to the ability of OU’s student affiliates, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth and the Jewish Student Union, as well as other Jewish student associations, to control membership and leadership.

“A Jewish campus organization such as Hillel would be compelled to admit adherents of Jews for Jesus into its membership,” the OU brief says. “Not only would such requirements redefine the group, they would likely drive away members who wish to congregate with co-religionists, free from proselytizing.”

Nathan Diament, the OU’s Washington director and its counsel in this case, said the school’s refusal to recognize the Christian society violated the group’s constitutional rights.

“They are excluding this group because of a viewpoint,” he said. “This is a state university, and the state is not entitled under the First Amendment, under the free exercise of religion or freedom of association, to say these are the conditions under which to exercise your rights.”

For the ADL, the danger lies in the prospect of federal funding for a group that not only requires Christian commitment but the exclusion of gays.

“We really see this is as a discrimination case,” said Deborah Lauter, ADL’s civil rights director. “What if a club formed that said no Jews? Any organization that says they’re opposed to Jews, women, blacks, gays — if CLS succeeds, public-funded universities will have to fund it.”

The ADL and Agudah, from opposing sides, see far-reaching consequences for funding for faith groups in general. The Orthodox Union and the American Jewish Committee see the case more narrowly affecting student activities.

Lauter says the case has ramifications for the efforts by Jewish civil rights groups to get the Obama administration to make good on promises to restrict faith-based funding for social activism to groups that do not proselytize or discriminate in their hiring.

“This would open the door up for federal funds to be used to discriminate in the hiring and firing of people,” Lauter said. “It’s antithetical to democracy.”

The AJC joined the ADL in its letter this month to the White House regarding faith-based funding, but Richard Foltin, the AJC’s legislative director, said the Hastings case was unrelated.

“I wouldn’t say one motivates the other,” he said.

In fact, Foltin said, AJC was driven to file an amicus brief because the Christian society insists on receiving the same direct funding from the university that other groups receive. Had the society simply asked for the same on-campus status of other groups — access to space and facilities, Foltin said — AJC might not have joined the case.

Lauter says ADL sees any university sanction of the group as crossing a line.

“There’s no distinction — once you open the door up, it’s open,” she said, adding that the Christian society was free to meet off-campus.

Similarly, whereas the Orthodox Union’s brief focuses principally on the ramifications for student groups, Agudah tells the Supreme Court in its brief that upholding lower courts’ decisions favoring Hastings would have dire consequences for expression of faith generally.

“Applying these laws to Orthodox Jewish schools and synagogues, federal, state, or local governments could relegate Orthodox Jews and our institutions to second-class status, ineligible to participate equally in society,” the Agudah brief says. “Such a result cannot be reconciled with our nation’s foundational concept of religious freedom.”

Abba Cohen, Agudah’s Washington director, counted off the programs that could be adversely affected, including state and federal assistance for disabled students, remedial teaching, disaster relief, and homeland security assistance for securing Jewish institutions.

“So much of our religious life involves separation between the genders and services and activities that are exclusive to the Jewish faith,” he said. “This really hits at the hearts of our religious practice.”

Hastings’ inclination to protect gays from discrimination — a key factor cited repeatedly in the university’s brief — is a matter of “contemporary mores” and not law, Cohen argues.

“One would need a much, much higher level of state interest to infringe upon” the rights of religious groups, he said. “You’re dealing with association rights, free speech rights, you’re dealing with the very things which make religion what it is.”

The AJCongress’ board debated whether to file a brief, but found itself torn between the dangers each side sees and decided against, said Marc Stern, the group’s legal counsel and acting executive director.

Stern says the dilemma reflects broader Jewish community tensions.

“Does Jewish security lie in eliminating any vestige of discrimination in a public space?” he asked, “or does it lie in people drawing lines for ideological reasons to meet privately?”

JTA

 
 

Passover 1945

A controversial twist on the ‘four sons’

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Many of us recall the use of Passover themes in such Jewish political activity as the “Freedom Seders” of the 1960s Jewish student movement or the “Let My People Go” campaigns by Soviet Jewry protesters in the 1970s and 1980s.

But the appearance of Passover imagery in contemporary Jewish politics goes back much further than that. With Passover approaching in 1945, Zionist activists in the United States undertook an information offensive that used the holiday’s themes to challenge the small but influential segment of the Jewish community that opposed Zionism.

Shortly before Passover, the Jewish activists known as the Bergson Group issued a pamphlet that retold the “four sons” portion of the Haggadah with a starkly modern twist.

The booklet, titled “There Were Four Sons,” bore no author’s name, but it had all the dramatic hallmarks of the Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ben Hecht, who was the most prominent of the Bergson Group’s publicists. Hecht had previously written a series of attention-grabbing full-page newspaper ads for the group that stoked controversy by boldly criticizing Allied policy towards European Jewry.

“There Were Four Sons” was illustrated by the famed artist Arthur Szyk, who, in between drawing covers for Time and Collier’s and political cartoons for the New York Post, put his talents at the disposal of the Bergson Group.

Szyk’s “four sons” are taken straight out of the debates then raging in the American Jewish community over the future of then Palestine. The first three are different types of American Jews who opposed, or at least were uninterested in, the fight for a Jewish state.

The “Wicked Son” represents the wealthy, assimilated Jew who actively opposed Zionism. This Wicked Son asks, “What is this nonsense about a Jewish nation and an independent homeland? When all thus fuss blows over, let them return to the countries they came from....”

“Answer him,” the pamphlet continues, in the style of the traditional Haggadah, that “since he elects to hold himself aloof from a physical concern about his brother’s plight, he has disqualified himself from a voice in the life and death affairs of a foreign and persecuted people.” The Jews in Europe and Palestine fear his involvement in their affairs “more than the plotting of the anti-Semites,” since “the adverse testimony of a supposed friend can be as scriptures in the mouth of the devil.”

Szyk’s depiction of the Wicked Son looks suspiciously like Joseph Proskauer, president of the American Jewish Committee, who was one of the most prominent and influential anti-Zionists of that era. Later the AJC would change its position and support the creation of Israel, but at that point, in 1945, it argued that the existence of a Jewish state would compromise the status of Jews in the diaspora.

The second son, whom English-language Haggadahs typically call the Simple Son, is here called the “Indifferent Son.” He appears to be a middle-class Jewish businessman, wearing a fedora and chomping on a cigar. “Why don’t we leave well enough alone?,” he asks. “Aren’t we doing okay here?” He worries that paying too much attention to European Jewry might “prod anti-Semitism here in America.”

“Answer him,” the Bergson pamphlet instructs, that fighting for a Jewish state would ultimately help decrease, not increase, anti-Semitism. Achieving “freedom and safety for your less fortunate kin in the death valley of Europe will create a sound moral foundation for a world order of peace and security,” and that would include “banishing anti-Semitism.”

Szyk’s “Uninformed Son” (whom most Haggadahs call “the son who does not know to ask”), wearing a laborer’s cap, is the stereotypical Jewish workingman. He says he cannot understand why the Jews “complain against the British [administration in Palestine].” After all, “Do Jews not have freedom there to live, work, sing, play, and worship as they please?”

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The Wicked Son resembles Joseph Proskauer, president of the American Jewish Committee, who was strongly anti-Zionist at the time.

“Answer him that Palestine is far from a land of freedom today,” the pamphlet asserts. “In Palestine there are concentration camps” (meaning the detention camps where Jewish activists were held without charges), “torture chambers” (Jewish militants were often mistreated by their British captors), “ghettoes” (a reference to the curfews and other restrictions imposed on many Jewish neighborhoods), and “explicit anti-Jewish laws” (such as those prohibiting most Jewish immigration and land purchases).

The Bergson Group’s “Wise Son” contrasts sharply with the other three. He is a Jewish soldier in the U.S. Army. He asks, “How can I help my fellow men in Europe and Palestine?” The pamphlet answers him by urging him to “join this crusade [for Jewish statehood] with all his heart and all his soul” and “add his voice, his influence among friends, and every penny he can honestly spare....”

The long dark night of Nazi persecution was drawing to a close, and the struggle for a Jewish state was about to begin in earnest. It was a struggle waged in Palestine with guerrilla warfare, on the high seas with refugee ships, and in the court of public opinion with broadsides such as “There Were Four Sons,” which invoked ancient imagery to sway hearts and minds.

 
 

Poll: Obama struggling with Jews, but not on Israel

WASHINGTON – A new survey shows President Obama struggling with American Jews — but not on Israel-related matters.

The American Jewish Committee poll of U.S. Jews found that Obama’s approval rating is at 57 percent, with 38 percent disapproving. That’s down from the stratospheric 79 percent approval rating among Jews that Obama enjoyed about a year ago, in May 2009. The AJC poll was conducted March 2 to 23 and surveyed 800 self-identifying Jewish respondents selected from a consumer mail panel.

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This question, in the American Jewish Committee’s new survey, asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue?” AJC

Obama’s advantage among Jews versus the rest of the population appears to be eroding. The latest Gallup polling shows Obama with a national approval rating of 48, nine points below Jewish polling. Last May, general polling earned him 63 percent approval, 16 points below Jewish polling.

Despite the drop — and weeks of tensions with the Netanyahu government — Obama still polls solidly on foreign policy, with a steady majority backing his handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to the AJC poll.

It is on domestic issues that the president appears to be facing more unhappiness.

Jewish voters are statistically split on how Obama has handled health-care reform, with 50 percent approving and 48 disapproving. On the economy he fares slightly better. Jewish voters who favor his policies stand at 55 percent, while 42 percent disapprove.

The last AJC poll on the views of American Jews, released in September, did not address domestic issues, so there’s no measure to assess any change in support on the specific issues of health and the economy. Indeed, this is the first poll in at least 10 years in which the AJC has attempted to assess views on the economy and health care. However, Jewish voters in solid majorities describe themselves as Democrats and as liberal to moderate in their views, and traditionally list the economy and health care as their two top concerns in the voting booth.

Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the relatively low score on domestic issues underscored what he said was a steady decline in Democratic support among Jewish voters.

“This indicates a serious erosion of support,” he said. “It’s a huge drop. There’s no silver lining” for Democrats.

Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, countered that the poll did not account for Jewish voters who might be disappointed with Obama from a more liberal perspective — for instance, over his dropping from the reform bill of the so-called public option, which would have allowed for government-run health care.

Additionally, much of the AJC polling took place before Obama’s come-from-behind victory on March 21, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed health-care reform, Forman said. Since then, Democrats have said they see a turnaround in the president’s political fortunes. “The narrative was the president was in the tank,” Forman said. “This was when it was thought his initiative was dead.”

Obama fares strongly with Jews on homeland security, with 62 percent approving and 33 percent disapproving — a sign that Republican attempts to cast Obama as weak on protecting the nation have had little impact in the Jewish community.

He also scores 55 percent approval on how he handles U.S.-Israel relations, which is virtually unchanged since last September, when his handling of the relationship scored 54 percent approval. At that juncture, the tensions between Washington and Jerusalem were kept at a low bubble and were confined to U.S. insistence on a total freeze of Israeli settlement and the Netanyahu administration’s reluctance to concede.

The latest questions, however, coincided almost exactly with the period when U.S. officials accused the Netanyahu government of “insulting” the United States by announcing a new building start in eastern Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, and when the president refused to make public gestures of friendship during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s subsequent visit to Washington.

A question on Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear capability showed a statistical dead heat on the approval side between last September — 49 percent — and now, at 47 percent. However, disapproval ratings rose moderately, apparently borrowing from the “uncertain” column: Back in September 35 percent disapproved; now 42 percent give a thumbs down.

The marks compared favorably, however, with Bush administration figures. Bush scored 33 percent approval ratings on Iran in 2006, the most recent year that AJC asked the question.

Support for U.S. and Israeli attacks on Iran to keep it from making a nuclear bomb appeared to drop slightly. Asked about a U.S. strike, 53 percent said they would support one and 42 percent were opposed, as opposed to 56 percent and 36 percent in September. On an Israeli strike, 62 percent supported and 33 percent opposed, as opposed to 66 and 28 percent in September.

The only other question in the most recent survey directly addressing Obama’s foreign policy also showed strong support for the president: 62 percent of respondents agreed with Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. This contrasts with the consistently negative Jewish assessments of Bush’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, except in the period immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Approval of Obama’s foreign policies contrasts with increasing uneasiness in the Jewish establishment with the administration’s approach. Several influential pro-Israel organizations have spent months, to little avail, pleading with the administration to confine its disagreements to back rooms.

A handful of prominent Jewish backers of candidate Obama also appear to have had second thoughts. Most pointedly, in a New York Daily News column Monday, Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor and a supporter of Obama during the 2008 general election, said he was “weeping” because the president had “abandoned” Israel.

And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the most influential member of the Senate’s Jewish caucus, on Sunday pointedly avoided answering a question on ABC’s “This Week” about whether he agreed with a Netanyahu confidante who said Obama was a “strategic disaster” for Israel. Brooks, the Republican, predicted a tide of defections. “You’ll have a number of candidates” in areas with a strong Jewish presence “asking him not to campaign for them,” he said.

David Harris, AJC’s executive director, cautioned that low approval ratings did not necessarily translate into electoral losses.

Brooks said that he would advise GOP candidates to hammer Democrats hard on foreign policy, particularly in tight races in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida, where Jewish voters trended less liberal than on the coasts. “If Republican candidates are smart, they will make Democratic candidates in these races answerable to whether they support Obama’s policies of pressuring Israel,” the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition said.

Jewish Democrats are already preparing a response strategy of arguing that the relationship remains close on defense cooperation and other matters, despite heightened rhetoric on settlement differences.

Harris suggested that the polling showed that the American Jewish public would prefer to imagine a closeness rather than deal with tensions. Obama and Netanyahu scored similar solid majorities — 55 percent and 57 percent, respectively — on how they handled the relationship.

American Jews “don’t want to be forced to choose,” Harris said. “They would rather say a blessing on both your houses than a plague on both your houses.”

According to the survey, 64 percent of Jews think Israel should, as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, be willing to remove at least some of the settlements in the west bank. But 61 percent rejected the idea that Israel should be willing to “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.”

The poll had a margin of error of plus/minus 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted by the firm Synovate, formerly Market Facts.

 
 

A sorry day at the U.N.

 

White House charm offensive pays off:  Wiesel says tension ‘gone’

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President Barack Obama lunches with Elie Wiesel in the Oval Office’s private dining room on Tuesday. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

WASHINGTON – When Elie Wiesel says it’s all kosher, it’s good.

For now, anyway.

President Obama capped an intensive two weeks of administration make-nice with Israeli officials and the American Jewish community by hosting Wiesel, the Nobel peace laureate and Holocaust memoirist, for lunch at the White House.

News Analysis

“It was a good kosher lunch,” was the first thing Wiesel pronounced, emerging from the White House to a gaggle of reporters.

And not just the food.

“There were moments of tension,” Wiesel said. “But the tension I think is gone, which is good.”

That echoed Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, who a few days earlier told leaders of the American Jewish Committee that the “slight disagreements are behind us.”

The tension and the “slight” disagreements, of course, were between the United States and Israel — and by extension, the mainstream pro-Israel community — and started March 8, when Israel announced a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden rebuked Israel, but it didn’t stop there. Next came an extended phoned-in dressing down from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and claims by Clinton and other U.S. officials that Israel had “insulted” Biden.

Then, when Netanyahu arrived in Washington to address the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, Obama all but snubbed the Israeli leader, agreeing to meet him only without photo ops.

The pro-Israel community was virtually unified in its reaction: Yes, Netanyahu had screwed up, but this was piling on.

As the recriminations grew more pronounced, so did concerns about the relationship: Did this portend a major shake-up? Was Obama distancing himself from Israel?

In private, Jewish organizational leaders reached out to White House friends and said, whatever you’re selling, you need to explain it before “tensions” become a full-fledged “crisis.”

There were signs of that, with messages — some blunt, some oblique — about the dangers of pressing Israel on Jerusalem. The author of one of the messages, in the form of a full-page New York Times ad, was Wiesel.

In response to such rumblings — around the time of Israel Independence Day, mid-to-late April — the Obama administration launched its love assault. If you were a Jewish organization, no matter how particularized, you would get administration face time from Clinton (the American Jewish Committee) through Attorney General Eric Holder (the Anti-Defamation League) down to Chuck Hagel, the co-chairman of Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board (American Friends of Hebrew University.)

Clearly there was a checklist for the speakers:

• Mention that there is “no gap — no gap” (and say it like that) between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security. (Jim Jones, the national security advisor, to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; his deputy, Daniel Shapiro, to the ADL.)

• Repeat, ad infinitum, the administration’s “commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.” (Clinton to the AJC; Dennis Ross, the top White House official handling Iran policy, to the ADL and just about everyone else.

• Make it clear that while resolving the conflict would make it easier to address an array of other issues, the notion that Israel is responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers in the region is a calumny. (Robert Gates, the defense secretary, at a news conference with Barak: “No one in this department, in or out of uniform, believes that.” Shapiro to the ADL: “We do not believe this conflict endangers the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.”)

• Resolve to resolve differences “as allies” and don’t forget to criticize the Palestinians as well, for incitement and for recalcitrance in refusing to come to direct talks (proximity talks are resuming this week).

• And explain the fundaments of what is good about the relationship: defense cooperation.

The most pronounced evidence of this approach was in the ADL’s double whammy: The civil rights group got two speeches from two officials, Ross and Shapiro, who had not spoken publicly since taking their jobs in the administration. Each was in a position to go into detail about the details of the defense relationship, Ross handling the Iran perspective and Shapiro handling Israel and its neighbors.

“We have reinvigorated defense cooperation, including on missile defense, highlighted by the 1,000 U.S. service members who traveled to Israel to participate in the Juniper Cobra military exercises last fall,” Shapiro said. “We have intensive dialogues and exchanges with Israel — in political, military, and intelligence channels — on regional security issues and counterterrorism, from which we both benefit, and which enable us to coordinate our strategies whenever possible.

“We have redoubled our efforts to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, which has been publicly recognized and appreciated by numerous senior Israeli security officials. And we continue to support the development of Israeli missile defense systems, such as Arrow and David’s Sling, to upgrade Patriot missile defense systems first deployed during the Gulf War, and to work cooperatively with Israel on an advanced radar system to provide early warning of incoming missiles.”

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, was impressed, saying this was more than just rhetoric.

“We’ve heard all kinds of phraseology in the last few weeks, but this is an inventory,” he said.

Tom Neumann, who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, agreed that the defense relationship remains strong — but wondered whether the rhetoric did not portend more substantive changes.

“On a soldier-to-soldier basis it remains solid,” Neumann said. “But much of the defense relationship is ultimately dictated by the administration. Obama may yet put pressure on Israel through the transfer of arms through how to confront Iran.”

JTA

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President Barack Obama lunches with Elie Wiesel in the Oval Office’s private dining room on Tuesday. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
 
 

Elena Kagan seen as brilliant and affable — and a mystery

WASHINGTON – Rabbi David Saperstein runs through a shopping list of superlatives on Elena Kagan — “self-evidently brilliant” and “steady, strategic, and tactical” — before acknowledging that he doesn’t have much of a handle on what President Obama’s choice to fill a U.S. Supreme Court seat actually believes.

In the Jewish community Saperstein, the head of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, apparently is not alone.

Community reaction to Obama’s selection of Kagan, the U.S. solicitor general, is enthusiastic until officials consider what it is, exactly, she stands for.

Kagan, 50, has never been a judge — she would be the first Supreme Court justice without bench experience since 1974. It’s a biography the White House touts as refreshing, but also has the convenience of lacking a paper trail of opinions that could embarrass a nominee in Senate hearings.

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President Barack Obama meets with Solicitor General Elena Kagan in the Oval Office last month. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

“When someone’s a solicitor general, it is really difficult to know what is their own position and what is the position of the state they are charged to represent,” Saperstein said.

A similar murkiness haunts how Kagan handles her Jewishness — she has alluded to it, but has not explicitly stated it since her nomination.

Her interlocutors in the Jewish community say Kagan is Jewish-savvy, but they are hard pressed to come up with her own beliefs.

The White House strategy going into Senate hearings appears to be blame whatever controversy trails her on her employer, on her client — on anyone but Kagan herself.

The first such controversy to emerge since Obama announced the nomination Monday was Kagan’s defense, as dean of Harvard University’s Law School, of the campus practice of banning military recruitment through the main career office (veterans were allowed to recruit independently) because of the military’s discriminatory hiring policies on gays.

Kagan inherited the policy when she became dean in 2003, but she was not shy about agreeing with it. When the Bush administration in 2004 threatened to withdraw funding, she rescinded the ban, but wrote to the student body, according to the authoritative SCOTUS Blog, of “how much I regret making this exception to our anti-discrimination policy. I believe the military’s discriminatory employment policy is deeply wrong — both unwise and unjust. And this wrong tears at the fabric of our own community by denying an opportunity to some of our students that other of our students have.”

Such stirring defenses are absent from White House materials that have emerged on the matter. Instead, the Obama administration is distributing an opinion piece that appeared Tuesday in the conservative Wall Street Journal by her predecessor at Harvard Law, Robert Clark.

“As dean, Ms. Kagan basically followed a strategy toward military recruiting that was already in place,” Clark wrote, not mentioning her stated ideological investment in the matter.

Another debate pertains more closely to an issue that divides the Jewish community: federal funding for faith-based initiatives.

Kagan clerked for Thurgood Marshall in the late 1980s, and in a memorandum to the Supreme Court justice, she said there was no place for such funding.

In her Senate hearings last year for the solicitor general post, Kagan outright repudiated the position she had forcefully advanced in 1987.

It was “the dumbest thing I ever read,” she said. “I was a 27-year-old pipsqueak and I was working for an 80-year-old giant in the law and a person who — let us be frank — had very strong jurisprudential and legal views.”

Her defense was convenient — Marshall, of course, is long dead and unable to defend himself — and troubling to Saperstein, whose group joins the majority of Jewish organizations in opposing such funding.

“People aren’t quite sure what to make of that,” he said.

The Orthodox Union’s Washington director, Nathan Diament, on the other hand, knows just what to make of it — hay.

“As strong proponents of the ‘faith-based initiative,’ and appropriate government support for the work of religious organizations, we at the Orthodox Union find Ms. Kagan’s review and revision of her views encouraging,” he wrote on his blog Tuesday.

Saperstein noted that the Religious Action Center — along with other Jewish civil liberties groups, like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee — is preparing questions for Kagan to be submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. RAC is soliciting questions from the public as well at a Website, AskElenaKagan.com.

These groups have welcomed the nomination; the National Council of Jewish Women has endorsed it. NCJW President Nancy Ratzan cited Kagan’s affirmation during her solicitor general confirmation hearings of Roe v. Wade as established law protecting a woman’s right to an abortion, and her defense of federal campaign funding restrictions as solicitor general before the Supreme Court — a case the government lost.

“She gave us clarity as a champion for civil rights,” Ratzan said of Kagan. “We think she’s going to be a stellar justice.”

Other groups say that whatever she argued as solicitor general — or whatever she said in seeking the job representing the U.S. government before the high court — might be seen more as reflecting the will of her boss, Obama, and is not necessarily a sign of how she would function as one of the nine most unfettered deciders in the land.

“There’s a lot we have to learn,” said Richard Foltin, the AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs, even after 15 years of interacting with Kagan dating to her days as a Clinton White House counsel on domestic policy.

Foltin and others who have dealt with Kagan say she is affable and easy to get along with, simultaneously self-deprecating and brimming with confidence. She accepts with equanimity the nickname “Shorty” that Marshall conferred upon her, and charmed her Senate interlocutors at her solicitor general confirmation hearings when she said that her strengths include “the communications skills that have made me — I’m just going to say it — a famously excellent teacher.”

In addition to his interactions with Kagan during her Clinton years, Foltin — a Harvard Law alumnus — was impressed as well by her ability as dean of the school to bring conservatives and liberals together.

“This is an incredibly smart attorney who is able to reach out to people, take in diverse perspectives, and bring people together,” he said.

Obama cited Kagan’s outreach in announcing her nomination.

“At a time when many believed that the Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint, she sought to recruit prominent conservative scholars and spur a healthy debate on campus,” he said.

Saperstein, who also recalls Kagan from her Clinton White House days, says she brings the same deep understanding of all sides of a debate to the Jewish community.

“She was quite aware of where there were differences — aid to education, government funding of religious institutions,” he said.

Kagan, whose nomination is believed to be secure — Republicans have said they are not likely to filibuster over it — would bring the number of Jews and women on the highest bench in the United States to three. That’s unprecedented in both cases. She would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer as Jewish justices. Sonia Sotomayor, like Kagan a native New Yorker, is the third female justice.

Stephen Pease, whose book “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement” chronicles disproportionate Jewish representation in the law, in academe, and in the arts, said a third Jewish justice was not remarkable. Kagan would be seen as getting the job on her merits: clerking to two famous judges, teaching at the University of Chicago, advising the Clinton White House, heading Harvard Law, and then as the administration’s second most important lawyer, all by the age of 50.

“She’s done some pretty incredible stuff fairly quickly in her career,” Pease said.

Despite Kagan’s familiarity with the Jewish community, there are few clues as to her Jewish preferences. Her late father was on the board of West End Synagogue, a Reconstructionist shul in Manhattan, where she grew up on the Upper West Side. She had a bat mitzvah at the synagogue and, according to a New York Times profile, argued with the rabbi — over what it’s not clear.

Like Obama, she is close to Abner Mikva, a former federal judge and a law professor at the University of Chicago. It’s not clear, however, whether she shared Mikva’s deep involvement in the Jewish community. During her years as a lecturer at the University of Chicago, from 1991 to 1995, she was not involved with the local federation.

The White House did not shy away from Kagan’s Jewishness in making the announcement, nor did it make her faith explicit. Invitees to the announcement included the usual array of representatives from Washington offices of national Jewish groups: the AJC, ADL, NCJW, and RAC, along with the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“Elena is the granddaughter of immigrants whose mother was, for 20 years, a beloved public schoolteacher — as are her two brothers, who are here today,” Obama said.

Kagan added that “My parents’ lives and their memory remind me every day of the impact public service can have, and I pray every day that I live up to the example they set.”

JTA

 
 

Study of American Jews making its way into Israeli schools

TEL AVIV, Israel – The Jews of America may be the largest Jewish community in the diaspora, but that does not mean Israeli schoolchildren learn much about them.

Sixty-two years after Israel’s founding, its school system still largely sticks to the Zionist trope that all Jews should live in Israel and those who do not at the very least should be actively engaged in helping support the Jewish state. In turn, there is scant study of contemporary Jewish life in America.

“The bottom line is that there is very little taught, if there is anything at all,” said Daniel Gross, a Hebrew University graduate student who has researched the topic.

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If an Israeli Education Ministry pilot program to teach about American Jewry takes root, Israeli schoolchildren will learn about the diaspora’s largest Jewish community for the first time. Yossi Zamir/Flash90/JTA

But there is some change afoot.

Signaling the beginning of a shift in direction, 11th- and 12th-graders preparing for the national history matriculation exam this year for the first time were required to study a unit on American Jewry’s contribution to the Jewish people after the Holocaust.

Orna Katz-Atar, a high school history teacher who drew up the new curriculum for the Education Ministry, said that plans are under way to introduce a new unit on Israel and the diaspora, with a focus on American Jewry, probably by the fall of 2012.

“We are in the process of building the curriculum, gathering material, and teaching the teachers,” Katz-Atar said.

At a time when studies show a declining sense of kinship between American Jews and their Israeli counterparts, Israelis’ unfamiliarity with diaspora Jewry is a subject of some concern in America. This lack of familiarity only exacerbates tensions over divisive Israel-diaspora issues, such as the debate over who is a Jew. There is a feeling that the world’s two largest Jewish populations know less about each other with each passing generation.

Until this year, when and if the subject of American Jewry was taught at all in Israeli schools, it usually was within the context of the great wave of Jewish migration in the 19th century, the life of Jews in America between the world wars, and what American Jews did to try to help their brethren during the Holocaust.

Policymakers feared that “showing a successful diaspora might encourage emigration,” Gross said. “Another problem has been how the religious schools would teach about Reform or Conservative Judaism, and how the topic might hurt the Zionist agenda.”

A 2005 report by the American Jewish Committee found that only 14 percent of Israeli teachers surveyed said they taught about Reform or Conservative Judaism in their schools in the previous three years.

While Israeli students are beginning now to study more about American Jewry, the focus remains on American Jews’ connection to Israeli history. In preparation for the history matriculation exam, Israeli students are taught about the aid American Jews provided at postwar DP camps, and the role American Jews played in helping lobby the White House to support Israel’s creation.

“I tell my students all the time that we and the American Jews are brothers,” Katz-Atar said. “It’s important that students understand that we did not do everything alone, that the Zionist project was assisted by the entire Jewish world.”

One place where diaspora studies are taught differently is in Modiin, a rapidly growing city midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. For the past five years, seventh-graders have been taking a course called “Friends Across the Sea” as part of a pilot program initiated by the Education Ministry, the TALI educational fund, and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

In this new curriculum, students learn about the various Jewish religious streams, the challenges of Jewish continuity, and diaspora concerns over intermarriage. A section on Jewish feminism includes the emergence of female rabbis.

The program’s backers want to bring the curriculum to public schools across Israel — and to translate it into English for study in American Jewish schools and into other languages for other diaspora communities.

“I think it’s a result of changes in 1990s, when increasing numbers of Israelis encountered the Jewish American community through organized delegations,” said Varda Rafael, an educator who helped coordinate the project. They “realized we can learn from each other — not copy each other, but inspire one another.”

Gross says the Israeli perception of American Jewry is changing, at least in academic circles.

“In the past, Israelis would say of American Jewry that they chose not to be with us, but if they want to support us financially or politically that’s great,” he said. “But now there is the sense that maybe there is a need for greater Jewish pluralism in Israel.”

Israelis unhappy with the Orthodox monopoly on religious matters are beginning to look to American Jews for direction, Gross noted.

But among the general Israeli population, most Israelis seem to have little or no concept about the lives of their American Jewish counterparts.

Yisrael Wolman, in a scouring opnion piece last month in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, mocked his fellow Israelis for being apathetic about American Jews.

“The American Jewish leadership is aging and is frightened by surveys of assimilation and low birth rates and is putting most energies into strengthening its own community,” he wrote, “but this does not mean a parallel blind identification with Israel. The tragedy is that for the average Israeli, it is as interesting as last year’s snowfall. Tens of thousands of Israelis fly to America each year to have a great time in Times Square, gamble in Las Vegas, or hang out in Disney World. How many of them have visited a single Jewish institution or have met with American Jews of their own age?”

Rabbi Ed Rettig, acting director of the American Jewish Committee in Israel, says that American Jews do almost as bad a job of educating their children about Israel as Israel does in educating their youth about American Jews.

“We in Israel, by not learning how American Jews think, lose in our capacity to engage in deep dialogue with them,” he said. Israelis pay for this ignorance, he noted. “These are the same people from which we are asking for passionate advocacy within the American Jewish system, people whose own children we are sometimes disallowing as Jews. We are smacking around the people who love us most.”

Shlomi Ravid, co-director of the Jewish Peoplehood Hub, a start-up that seeks to be a clearinghouse for peoplehood issues, says there is one key question.

“Are we a people who has a state, or a state that has a people?” he asked. “I would say for most Israelis it’s all about Israel, and the Jewish people are supposed to be a source of personnel, support and funding. There is a loss of a sense that the real client here is the Jewish people, and the state is a very important expression of the agenda of the people, but it’s not the soul. That Jewish life matters and is important everywhere it exists.”

JTA

 
 

Passion Play continues to excite strong feelings

Play still problematic, scholars say

The 2010 Oberammergau script shows the “results of significant work to distance the Passion Play from its long history of anti-Jewish characterizations and animosity,” according to the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations. But, said the CCJR in a report issued last Friday, it also “recalls perennial demeaning depictions of Judaism.”

A network of organizations that aims to promote understanding between Jews and Christians, the CCJR, together with the Anti-Defamation League, had assembled a team of nine scholars to assess the script ahead of the May 15 premiere. (The report is also supported by the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, and the National Council of Synagogues.)

Based only on the text, which the scholars had been provided in both German and English, the report did not address production factors but it did note that, in performance, the play “will be significantly affected by casting, lighting, music, and other staging elements.”

Among the changes it viewed as positive was the representation of “Jewish society in Jesus’ day … as variegated and vibrant” and the fact that “Jesus is clearly shown to be a Jew.”

It also viewed as positive the fact that “the relationship between Caiaphas,” the Jews’ high priest, “and Pontius Pilate,” the Roman prefect, “is nuanced…. Happily missing from the script is a patent role-reversal in which Pilate is a weakling manipulated by Caiaphas into doing something that Pilate does not want,” as has been the case in Passion Plays that have depicted Jews as “Christ-killers.” That depiction has led to violence against Jews throughout history.

Nevertheless, according to the report, “Caiaphas, the script’s principal antagonist, as well as Annas,” the former high priest, “are unnecessarily and baselessly portrayed as fanatics driven to see Jesus crucified. As a result the depiction of Pilate is somewhat skewed as well. In short, Jewish opponents of Jesus are unjustifiably depicted in such extreme terms as to risk impressing on the audience a negative image of the entire Jewish community.”

Among the report’s suggestions for future scripts, perhaps most resonant for Jews is that “The Old Testament and the Jewish tradition must not be set against the New Testament in such a way that the former seems to constitute a religion of only justice, fear, and legalism, with no appeal to the love of God and neighbor.”

The report concludes: “As the Second Vatican Council declared in Nostra Aetate, 4: ‘All should see to it … that they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.’”

Meanwhile, a delegation from the ADL attended a preview of the play on May 8, concluding that, in the words of Amy-Jill Levine, ADL special consultant and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, “There have been welcome changes that emphasize that Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples were practicing Jews within a vibrant Jewish context under cruel Roman occupation. Sadly, the play continues to depict damaging stereotypes of Judaism and presents Jewish leadership as deceitful, legalistic, vindictive, and xenophobic.”

 
 
 
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