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JCRC reaches out to evangelicals

Evangelical Christians have a record of showing support for Israel, but many Jews question their motives.

To promote better communication and understanding, the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has arranged a series of meetings between some of its members and representatives of an area evangelical church.

The relationship between JCRC and the evangelical community, however, is nothing new. The Rev. Bill Fritzky from In My Father’s House in Wayne has led several groups from Christians United For Israel on JCRC-sponsored buses to pro-Israel rallies in New York in recent years.

“They’ve been very supportive of us with all kinds of Israel matters,” said Joy Kurland, director of the Regional CRC, which is an agency of UJA-NNJ, UJC of Metrowest, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.

About a year ago, members of the JCRC created a PowerPoint presentation, Hope For Peace, to create a better understanding of Israel for non-Jewish audiences. They took it to In My Father’s House, and that led to what Kurland called a “desire on the part of the evangelical clergy to foster greater relationships with the Jewish community.”

The result was a four-month study group of JCRC members and evangelicals, which began in January.

“A lot of people approach the evangelical community with skepticism,” said Rabbi Steven Sirbu, religious leader of Temple Emeth in Teaneck and vice chair of the JCRC’s intergroup relations committee. “You can’t tell if your skepticism is founded or not until you engage in dialogue. That’s the reason I found this so rewarding.”

Sirbu leads the eight-member delegation from the JCRC, while the Rev. John Diomede of the House of Bread in Park Ridge leads the eight-member evangelical delegation.

“We’re approaching this as an opportunity to really learn from one another,” Sirbu said. “We know we have a really strong common bond in our love for Israel. We haven’t explored the details, and we’re bound to find some differences in why we love Israel.”

The House of Bread, also known as Beth-Lehem, is not a messianic Jewish congregation, Diomede said, but its congregants do believe their heritage comes from the Tanach and Israel. As a result, Diomede said, the church is “Jewish friendly” and “Israel friendly.”

“The JCRC invited us because they wanted to know why we were Israel friendly,” he said. “These sessions became a dialogue that helped them understand why.”

The sessions, Sirbu emphasized, are about building trust and understanding, which is why they are not open to the public. How participants will funnel what they have learned about each other to the wider community has not yet been discussed, but Sirbu appeared open to continuing cooperation beyond the four sessions.

The first session focused on a part of the Bible Jews and evangelicals share: the Ten Commandments. After discussing how each side viewed them, the groups debated whether they should be displayed publicly. Sirbu argued they should not be, while Diomede took the pro side.

“The point was not for either one to win but to hear the differences in how we perceive the Ten Commandments, and, second of all, how we perceive the First Amendment,” Sirbu said. “If we’re going to learn from each other as people in such a diverse country, it’s important for us to not only study each other’s interpretations of the Ten Commandments but of the First Amendment as well.”

Sirbu learned from his counterpart that for Christians, the Ten Commandments represent a symbol of “a certain societal order” and the role God plays in society.

“They’re not necessarily in favor of displaying the Ten Commandments as rules, but they’re interested in displaying the Ten Commandments as symbols of what a civilized society stands for,” the rabbi said.

Conversely, he said, when most Jews see the Ten Commandments displayed publicly, in a classroom or courthouse for example, they see it as an intrusion of religion into what ought to be a secular space.

The second session, earlier this month, focused on misunderstood concepts within Judaism and Christianity. Sirbu discussed the idea of Jews as the chosen people, while Diomede focused on Jesus.

“He argued that the figure we have come to understand as Jesus has been distorted over the centuries,” Sirbu said.

“Part of the problem with Christianity is that historically it has become something different than what it started out to be,” Diomede said. “Our goal is to reach back to our roots and look at the messianic writing and see that cohesiveness with Tanach.”

The next session, in April, will focus on chapter 56 of Isaiah, which includes the verse, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” According to Sirbu, the group interprets this verse as a mandate for interfaith work. The last session, in May, will focus on why each side loves Israel.

“We felt it had to be discussed but we had to build up to it — we had to understand each other in these other ways first,” Sirbu said.

The study groups have given Sirbu and other JCRC members a new understanding of their evangelical allies, the rabbi said. On the flip side, said Diomede, the evangelicals are happy to clear up misconceptions the Jewish community may have about them.

“What these sessions are bringing out is we’re able to represent ourselves to the Jewish people as a friend and a supporter, as opposed to a different religion,” he said.

 
 

Multiple battlegrounds in fights over eastern Jerusalem

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Israelis and Palestinians protest the eviction of Palestinian families from a pair of Jewish-owned buildings in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah on March 26. David Vaaknin/Flash 90/JTA

JERUSALEM – The day that Zacharia Zigelman, 26, moved into a home in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in eastern Jerusalem, he got beaten up, he says.

“You get used to it,” Zigelman said of the incident, which occurred about six months ago.

Zigelman, his wife, and 5-month-old son are one of seven Jewish families living in two buildings from which members of an extended Palestinian family were evicted last summer after Israel’s Supreme Court determined that the property was owned by a Jewish group called Nachalat Shimon. Several members of the al-Kurd family continue to live in a wing of one of the homes, which has only added to the tension.

The home is one of several in the neighborhood that Jews and Arabs are fighting over.

So far, three Palestinian families have been evicted from their homes there, and Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that four other Arab families must vacate their homes. Six other cases are under deliberation, and two additional claims were filed last week by Nachalat Shimon, which purchased title to the 4.5-acre property from its original Jewish owners several years ago.

Protesters have staged frequent demonstrations in front of the homes now occupied by the Jews. At times, violent riots have erupted, leading to the arrests of Palestinian and left-wing demonstrators. The new Jewish residents and counter-demonstrators have also been accused of incitement; in one case, Jewish teenagers tore down a courtyard fence erected by the al-Kurds.

The dispute in Sheik Jarrah is one of many pitting Arab against Jew in the battle over eastern Jerusalem. Increasingly, this battle is the subject of international scrutiny and — when it comes to Jews moving into eastern Jerusalem — widespread condemnation.

In Israel, it is the projects to settle Jews in predominantly Arab neighborhoods like Sheik Jarrah that have proven most contentious. Overseas, any effort to house Jews across the Green Line — the line that divided Israel from Jordan between 1948 and 1967 — has proven controversial lately.

Tensions between the Obama administration and Israel reached an all-time high last month following an announcement during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden that Israel planned to build 1,600 new housing units in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

Home to approximately 18,000 residents, Ramat Shlomo is one of many Jerusalem neighborhoods that today are fully Jewish but were built on vacant land Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in 1980. Most Israelis believe in Israel’s right to build on this land without restriction, considering it distinct from Jewish settlements in the west bank, which Israel never annexed. But U.S. officials and others around the world do not recognize that distinction, calling Jewish neighborhoods built in the 27 square miles of eastern Jerusalem — including Gilo, East Talpiyot, Pisgat Ze’ev, and Ramot, where Ramat Shlomo is — settlements. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not include the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem in the 10-month settlement construction freeze he began last November.

Perhaps the most controversial method by which Jews have moved into eastern Jerusalem has been through the use of the 1950 Absentee Property Law, which allowed Israel to seize the property of Arabs who fled Palestine to enemy countries during Israel’s War of Independence and did not return by Sept. 1, 1948. After Israel captured eastern Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, this law was also applied to Palestinian property there — meaning that properties in the area owned by Arab families living elsewhere could be subject to seizure without compensation.

Meanwhile, the Absentee Property Law bars Palestinians from making claims on their former dwellings inside Israel. Arab rights groups say the law is discriminatory.

Application of the law in eastern Jerusalem “opens a Pandora’s box of the Palestinian and Israeli property issue,” says Tali Nir, an attorney for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). “This is a huge violation of their basic rights for shelter and dignity, and of their property rights.”

Since annexing eastern Jerusalem, the Israeli government has expropriated more than 6,000 acres of property privately owned by Arabs — more than a third of eastern Jerusalem, according to ACRI.

According to Ir Amim, an Israeli group that advocates for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, the Absentee Law also has been used to expropriate sizable parts of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, which were then given over for construction of the City of David, a Jewish archeological site and visitors’ center. Located downhill from the Old City, some 2,600 Palestinian families and about 70 Jewish families live in the 30-acre area.

The dispute over the homes in Sheik Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted for non-payment of rent to the properties’ Jewish owners, has proven no less contentious.

The homes under dispute sit on a 4.5-acre parcel owned by Jews during the Ottoman era that came under Jordanian rule when eastern Jerusalem fell to Transjordan during the 1948 war. Between 1948 and 1967, 28 Palestinian refugee families that fled Israel during the 1948 war were settled on the property in exchange for paying a symbolic rental fee and ceding their refugee status.

In the early 1980s, years after the area was captured by Israel in the 1967 war, two Jewish organizations came forward with Ottoman-era documents showing the property belonged to them. Israeli courts upheld the authenticity of the documents, which Arab groups maintain are forgeries. In 1982, an attorney for the Palestinian families living on the property inked a deal with the Jewish owners under which the Palestinian families would remain protected tenants as long as they continued to pay rent.

But most of the families refused to pay the rent, in part because it would recognize the Jewish groups as the rightful owners of the property and because the families believed the United Nations had promised the land would be registered in their names after a certain number of years, according to Orly Noy, spokeswoman for Ir Amim.

Then, more recently, a group of investors formed Nachalat Shimon to develop the property for Jewish housing. The group purchased the property from the two original Jewish groups that owned it and, eventually, began eviction proceedings against the Palestinian tenants who failed to pay their rent. No action has been taken against those who continue to pay their rent.

Chaim Silberstein, who helped bring together the Nachalat Shimon investors, said the case is one of Palestinian families “living illegally on property that does not belong to them.” Before eviction proceedings began, he said, Nachalat Shimon offered all of the Palestinian families currently facing eviction compensation to leave voluntarily.

Nachalat Shimon reportedly plans to raze the existing buildings and create a 200-apartment enclave for Jewish families in the Arab neighborhood.

It’s not the only property in Sheik Jarrah owned by Jews. American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz purchased the Shepherd’s Hotel area with the intention of turning it into about 20 apartments for Jewish families. That plan has been approved by Jerusalem municipality housing and planning committees.

Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, told JTA that City Hall does not get involved in issues of ownership. These disputes, he said, “are addressed in the courts of law, not by politicians.”

JTA

 
 

Kyrgyz shul attacked amid upheaval

Anna Rudnitskaya World
Published: 16 April 2010

MOSCOW – As the capital of Kyrgyzstan erupted in violence last week, members of the Central Asian nation’s small Jewish community held their breaths and sat tight.

The ORT school in the capital, Bishkek, shuttered its doors, sending students home just as they were returning from their Passover break on April 7. With public transportation suspended and the city in disarray, only three people made it to morning services at the local synagogue that day. Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders exchanged frantic phone calls, updating each other about the situation on the street.

In the most frightening incident for the Jewish community, Bishkek’s synagogue was attacked, with assailants hurling Molotov cocktails at the one-story building and trying to set it aflame. Muslims are in the majority in Kyrgyzstan, but it is not known for anti-Semitism.

An anti-Semitic banner was also unfurled near the presidential palace at a central gathering area for protesters. In another incident, a journalist in the country told JTA about an encounter with a group of drunken young people demanding to know if the journalist was Jewish. The leader of the group made a disparaging remark about Jews.

“It’s the first time in the history of our community here that we see such clear signs of anti-Semitism,” the country’s chief rabbi, Arieh Reichman, told Reuters after the synagogue attack. “Kyrgyzstan has always been hospitable. During Soviet times and under its later leaders, it has always been tolerant. So what is happening right now is very alarming.”

In last week’s revolution, opposition protesters stormed the presidential compound, overwhelmed the police, and took control of the government. The president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, fled, and more than 40 people were killed. A former foreign minister announced she was leading a new, transitional government, which would last six months.

It’s still not clear where this speedy revolution will leave the country — or its estimated 1,500 Jews, most of whom live in Bishkek.

Local Jews speculated that the outburst of anti-Semitism that accompanied the revolution was prompted by resentment toward Evgeny Gurevich, a 33-year-old American Jew with close ties to the deposed president. Founder of the MGN Consulting Group, Gurevich had been a powerful financial backer of the president and his family. Kyrgyz blogs and media outlets had been buzzing about the connection between the two men for the last month or so, since a Rome court issued an arrest warrant for Gurevich in March on suspicion of money laundering and fraud. Opponents of the Kyrgyz regime had used this news to blame the country’s president for consorting with criminals. Gurevich had no known ties with the Jewish community in Kyrgzstan.

The Jews of Kyrgyzstan are composed largely of the second- and third-generation descendants of Jews from Ukraine, Belarus, and central Russia who fled there to escape the Nazis during World War II. Most returned home after the war, but enough remained to make an impression in Kyrgyzstan, where many of the Jews went into health care. Even during the era of Soviet state-sponsored anti-Semitism, there was little hostility toward Jews in this remote republic, local Jews said. When the country became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Jewish security remained good. Though three-quarters of Kyrgyzstan’s 5.5 million people are Muslim, radical Islam has not really gained a foothold in the country.

Last Friday, the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s FSU region, Alex Katz, arrived in Kyrgyzstan to assess the situation. He said the streets were calm, that a nighttime curfew was in effect, and that the country’s airports were operational. The Jewish Agency said it is in contact with the Jews there who are in various stages of their aliyah process and has extended assistance to others interested in immigrating to Israel.

“The situation in the city remains unstable,” Reichman told JTA last week. “All the community leaders keep in touch with each other and with the community members, mostly by phone. I have been contacted by an Israeli foundation that could provide us with humanitarian aid.”

More than half of Bishkek’s Jews are on community welfare, receiving aid through the local Hesed center, which is sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Asher Ostrin, the executive director of JDC’s operations in the former Soviet Union, said the community was working to ensure that its Jewish welfare clients experience no disruption during the unrest.

“When the rioting spread earlier in the week, and then escalated into a full-scale revolution, we established immediate and ongoing contact with our sources in the community,” Ostrin said in a dispatch to JDC officials last week. “There were no reported injuries among the Jewish population. Critically, we were told that services to elderly clients were not interrupted.”

After shuttering early on April 7, all the city’s Jewish institutions stayed closed for the remainder of the week, reported Vladimir Katsman, director of Bishkek’s ORT school.

“Yesterday we had to finish the lessons earlier than usual and to close the school until the situation gets more foreseeable. We even called the parents to come and take the children, because we were not sure the school bus that usually takes the children home could be safe enough,” Katsman said on April 8. “Our ORT school is under surveillance. It became more difficult and expensive to keep the security men on duty these days, but we managed to solve the problem.”

The closest Israeli embassy, in neighboring Kazakhstan, said it was tracking events closely.

The ousted government, while widely considered repressive, was also pro-Western, and the United States has a large air base in Kyrgyzstan that’s critical to the NATO campaign in nearby Afghanistan. It’s not clear whether or not the U.S. friendliness toward the former regime — which the opposition denounced and which U.S. observers described as a stance born of pragmatism — will cost the West in its relationship with the new Kyrgyz government, which has close ties to Moscow. For the time being, the new government announced it would continue to allow U.S. planes to fly over the nation en route to Afghanistan. Opposition members who took control last week said they were interested in creating a government based on “justice and democracy.”

JTA

 
 

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.

 
 
Anti-semitism: the disease that won’t go away

An enduring mystery: Why is America somewhat immune?

One of the mysteries about anti-Semitism is: Why has the United States of America been relatively immune? Despite occasional anti-Semitic episodes here (think of Henry Ford and Mel Gibson), Jews have thrived in America as in no other country — excepting Israel itself.

An authority on anti-Semitism, Alvin H. Rosenfeld answers that intriguing question, as well as others — such as whether there is a fundamental anti-Semitic personality. He is professor of English and holds the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he has taught since 1968. He is also the director of the university’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism.

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Alvin H. Rosenfeld is the director of Indiana University’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism.

The founder of the university’s Borns Jewish Studies Program, he served as its director for 30 years and is the author of numerous articles on American poetry, Jewish writers, and the literature of the Holocaust. His most recent study, “The End of the Holocaust,” is to be published in 2011.

Below are excerpts from a recent telephone interview.

Jewish Standard: Why has the United States of America been relatively immune to the disease of anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: America seems to be an exceptional country, in many respects. What makes it so?

One, we are genuinely diverse. Unlike many European countries, which have had a hard time absorbing mixed populations, America by and large has succeeded. We’re not free of problems, but by and large our record is good in that respect. The Jews have been integrated in America in ways that were not possible over the longest stretch of history in Europe.

Another reason is that Jews are well-known in this country. Lots of people have Jewish friends, colleagues, and business partners. Some have Jewish family members by now. So we’re not as strange as we used to be.

Also, Jews are in many respects an accomplished people, and while some may envy and resent us, a lot of other people admire and respect Jews.

Then there is the question of Christianity. This can cut both ways, but in contrast to most European countries, and, certainly most west European countries today (which have entered a kind of post-Christian phase), Christianity in America is a part of social reality. Many Christians in America have an appreciation of Judaism. They find the roots of their own faith in Jewish scripture, and they respect Jews, especially Jews who are faithful to their own religion.

Add one more thing: America doesn’t have a medieval past — we’re too new a country for that — so we don’t have the legacy of medieval Christian anti-Semitism that Europe has had.

J.S.: Like the “blood libel” — the medieval myth that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh?

Rosenfeld: That’s part of it, yes. American Jews have not had to contend with such myths in any chronic way here.

In addition, America has no history of respectable political anti-Semitism. Sometimes political figures arise, usually on the margin, who are openly anti-Semitic — David Duke [of the Ku Klux Klan], for instance, is such a figure. But some European countries have a history of politics that has included parties with explicitly anti-Semitic planks in their platforms. We’ve never had that in this country. On the evidence to date, we could expect people to speak out immediately and harshly against political anti-Semitism — and that is something that we as Americans can be proud of.

At the same time, it makes sense for Jews to continue to be watchful. At is most extreme, anti-Semitism is a tenacious and obsessive passion. It is less an idea than an ideology fed by an array of strongly negative feelings, such as envy, resentment, hostility, hatred, and fear, which people in this country, as in every other country, are vulnerable to.

America has done a much better job of keeping the lid on outbreaks of anti-Semitic hostility than other countries. But if we think back, say, to the time of Father Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh, we can easily recall that there have been prominent figures in America who have been outspoken anti-Semites.

J.S.: Are there puzzles, mysteries, that scholarly research into anti-Semitism could solve? For example, whether there’s a typical anti-Semitic personality?

Rosenfeld: The biggest puzzle has to do with the persistence of anti-Semitism. Racial hatreds and social prejudices appear in many cultures, but they wax and wane. Anti-Semitism does, too, but its presence is more constant, and it dates back millennia. Why? What accounts for its persistence? There are no certain answers.

Scholars also struggle to clarify the forms that anti-Semitism takes — it doesn’t always look the same.

Over the longest run, in the Western world, for instance, the origins of anti-Semitism are located within the church. Hostility to Jews and Judaism has been deeply rooted in church teachings that have conveyed a whole set of prejudiced messages directed against Jews and Judaism. This inherited complex of anti-Jewish biases, sometimes held in check, at other times activated, persisted within Christendom for a long time. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, some major church reforms have helped to ameliorate the destructive power of Christian biases against Judaism and the Jews, but it is too soon to say that church-based anti-Semitism is altogether a thing of the past. It is not.

At the same time, scholars of anti-Semitism recognize that in the latter decades of the 19th century, Christian anti-Semitism, while not gone, was eclipsed or augmented by a relatively new kind of anti-Semitism, rooted in notions that Jews were both a racially inferior and racially threatening presence. Thus, while some might still accuse the Jews of being Christ-killers and condemn them for rejecting the religious claims in the Christian gospel, others embraced newer forms of anti-Jewish prejudice that were race-based. To these Europeans, it was not the religion of the Jews that was faulty and menacing but Jewish blood. Racial stereotyping took hold. But by and large, race-based anti-Semitism was not as prevalent a factor over the centuries as was religious, specifically Christian, anti-Semitism.

When, as happened in Europe in the 19th century, religious anti-Semitism was joined by racial anti-Semitism, what the Jews faced was profoundly lethal. It culminated in Nazi Germany’s determination to institute a “final solution to the Jewish problem”: genocide.

While there’s still some residual Christian prejudice against Jews and Judaism today, it’s not nearly as potent as it was before. And in post-Holocaust Europe, race-based anti-Semitism is considered to be not just out of fashion but beyond the pale. Most anti-Semites in today’s Europe are not going to accuse the Jews of being a racially inferior people — for Europeans know where such views lead: to Auschwitz. Nevertheless, Europe’s long and shameful history of Jew-hatred is hardly over. Rather, it has changed shape. We are seeing today the emergence of powerful strains of ideological and political anti-Semitism, which target not so much the individual Jew as the Jewish state. That’s a story unto itself, and very troubling.

J.S.: Is anti-Semitism increasing today? And if so, why?

Rosenfeld: Compared with 10 years ago, yes indeed, it is. Explanations vary, but some recent books by first-rate scholars are helpful. I strongly recommend “The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism” by a British scholar, Bernard Harrison.

As for the reasons, some intense and important debates are now under way. And it’s high time that they are, for anti-Semitism has been picking up force over the past 10 or 11 years and requires serious attention if it is to be understood and combated. Before 2000 it was not so robust. What happened? A number of milestone events. They probably began with the breakdown of peace talks at Camp David, and on the heels of that diplomatic failure, the unleashing of the so-called second intifada, which unleashed angry, murderous passions against the Israelis and Jews elsewhere.

Shortly afterwards, 9/11 brought the ferocious attacks on this country by al Qaeda terrorists. Weirdly, and in no time at all, throughout the Muslim world and also in parts of the West, that aggression was blamed on the Mossad. Some also blamed elements within America itself. Both charges are ridiculous; nonetheless, these notions caught on, and large numbers of people evidently believe them to be true.

Because anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism often go hand in hand, the attack on America almost immediately had anti-Semitic ramifications. People who think in these distorted terms believe either that Jews control America, and therefore hitting America is hitting the Jews, or — vice versa — that America uses Israel to suppress freedoms elsewhere. Both notions are preposterous, but they evidently have appeal and persist.

Shortly after these events, America went to war in Iraq. We are also fighting in Afghanistan. The result of all these things — the intifada, coming on the breakdown of the Camp David talks, the 9/11 attacks and terrorist attacks in Spain, London, and elsewhere, America’s entry by force into two major Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan — all of this helped to increase angry and aggressive passions already present within the Muslim world, much of which focused hostility against America, the Jews, and Israel.

J.S.: Have recent economic troubles — the stock market’s bloodbath, persistent joblessness — contributed to anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: It used to be thought — with good reason — that whenever the economy turns down, anti-Semitism turns up. And at the time of the Madoff affair, there was a good deal of concern in the Jewish community, given the prominence of Madoff’s crimes, that there might be a backlash against Jews, numbers of whom work in the financial industry. But in fact no such reaction emerged to any appreciable degree in this country.

J.S.: Is there any correlation between the rise and fall of anti-Semitism and war, economic crises, or widespread unemployment?

Rosenfeld: Whenever society becomes destabilized, in all the ways you’ve mentioned — socially, economically, as a result of wars — people look around to blame somebody. Who’s responsible for all these troubles? Jews traditionally have been a favorite scapegoat. Are such accusations observable today? Yes. There are weird conspiracy theories rising again, so we are seeing some scapegoating. It becomes troubling, for instance, to witness prominent voices in Washington, D.C., implying that the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan may be at risk because of the impasse in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, an impasse largely attributed to Israeli intransigence or bad faith. That’s a serious charge, and also a mistaken one. If it persists, it has the potential to bring forth trouble. But most Americans are fair-minded people, admire and support Israel, and are unlikely to follow the lead of erroneous charges, I believe. Depending on developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these more benign reactions could change, but to date it has been our good fortune not to be broadly scapegoated.

J.S.: What can we do to lessen anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: A few things. One is legal. Countries need good laws against the public display of hatred, especially hatred that leads to violence, including anti-Semitic violence.

Effective education also is a must. Lots of people just don’t know very much about Jew-hatred. They’re not familiar with the history of anti-Semitism. It’s incumbent upon us to help them learn.

In the public sphere, whenever anti-Semitic voices speak in an ugly and threatening fashion against Jews, Judaism, or the Jewish state, they need to be called to task and, if warranted, to be decisively rebuked. One should never be quiet in the face of openly expressed anti-Semitism. Once Jew-hatred is allowed to become an acceptable part of normative speech, no end of troubles are likely to follow.

J.S.: Anti-Semites seem to have disappeared from the earth. But the number of anti-Semites who have vanished seems roughly equal to the number of people in the world who are ferociously, close-mindedly, and unalterably opposed to the State of Israel.

Rosenfeld: I don’t think they’ve vanished so much as that they’ve taken on a certain camouflage — that’s probably what you meant. What passes today as anti-Zionism often has nothing to do with Zionism as such and is just openly expressed hatred of Israel, and you can usually detect that by listening not just to the words of the arguments against Israel but to the tone of the arguments. People get worked up — they get angry, belligerent, intemperate, sometimes enraged. At that point, what you’re encountering is not a reasonable argument that might be critical (and maybe even properly critical) of a particular Israeli policy or action but outright defamation or vilification of Israel as such. The resort to hyperbole is often the tip-off. When people begin making arguments about Israel that liken it to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany, when they accuse Israel of crimes of ethnic cleansing and even genocide, then you know what you’re dealing with are not people who may have good reason to object to a particular Israeli policy or a particular Israeli action. They just don’t like Israel, period; some of them would like to see it gone. Their quarrel is with the existence of the Jewish state as a Jewish state. They believe it has no legitimacy and should cease to be. The passions that fuel such death-wish fantasies are unambiguously anti-Semitic.

J.S.: Why are certain Jews anti-Israel?

Rosenfeld: I wish I could give you an answer to that question. Do you know such people yourself?

J.S.: Yes. My theory is they’re desperate for attention.

Rosenfeld: Some of it is exactly what you said — the need for attention reflects a kind of narcissism. I, I, I — the personal pronoun gets endlessly repeated, indicating a penchant for self-aggrandizement. Politics, in other words, becomes a form of self-indulgence, even self-love. Might we, in some instances, also be looking at Jewish self-hatred? You have to consider each case person-by-person. In some strongly pathological cases, Jewish self-hatred could be on exhibit. In other cases, the extreme behavior may be a function of a particular political stance. The further left or right you go, the more likely you are to find attitudes towards Israel that may begin as legitimate criticism but quickly escalate to angry and unreasonable accusations — and before you know it, end up in these analogies to Nazi Germany and South Africa. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s often the case that Jews are involved, and sometimes even in the forefront, of extreme anti-Israel movements. What drives these people? Probably a number of things. You pointed to one, the narcissistic need for attention. Self-hatred can also sometimes be involved. Political allegiances of an extreme leftist nature are often tied in. How so? Just as someone on the hard left is supposed to be anti-capitalist and anti-American and anti-globalization, he or she is also supposed to be anti-Zionist or anti-Israel. So it’s part of the whole political/cultural package, a perverse form of identity affirmation: one becomes a “good” Jew by stridently opposing the Jewish state.

Some of what I have been describing calls out for analysis by mental health specialists. I am not one. I can recommend an interesting book on this subject by a psychiatrist who is also a historian, Kenneth Levin. It’s called “The Oslo Syndrome.”

These are complicated matters and are being hotly, even bitterly, debated. What we know for sure is this: Israel’s enemies, including hardcore anti-Semites who are not Jewish, often showcase the words of Jews like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and any of a number of Israeli Israel-defamers and say, “See, it’s not just I who think Israel is an abomination, but I can quote lots of Jews who are saying exactly the same thing.” Sadly, they can.

J.S.: Is there a fundamental anti-Semitic personality?

Rosenfeld: We know a good deal about anti-Semitism and those who are drawn to it. But it’s hard to go from what we know to definitive analysis of anything like anti-Semitic personalities, let alone the implementation of programs that will lead to prevention. You can figure out time and again what angers and unnerves some people about the Jews, but it’s difficult to know what you can do to prevent them from being troubled in these ways and becoming anti-Semitic. And once the animus spreads beyond individuals and infects the culture as such, it becomes still harder to deal with. Even if one cannot fully understand what animates Jew-hatred, it’s critical to keep it in check, so it doesn’t become ultimately damaging on a large scale. We know it has the potential to do just that.

J.S.: Most anti-Semites, it seems to me, are closed-minded and simple-minded. They don’t engage in complex thinking; the word “nuance” is not in their vocabulary. And if Jews and if Israel are responsible for all or much of the evil in the world, life is easier for them to understand.

Rosenfeld: What you have just described is accurate and points to stereotyping and scapegoating. People who revert to such thinking have actually stopped thinking; they concoct and then remain within the closed bubble of their simple-minded explanations. Bogus though these arguments may be, such people will usually hold onto them passionately. “Jews are guilty as such and that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in” — so says the anti-Semite.

J.S.: Have you ever even a victim of anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: Not in any serious way. Every once in a while I receive hate mail, but at least to date I have not run up against serious anti-Semitic hostility directed at me personally. I’ve been occasionally insulted and defamed by some cranky people, but episodically, not chronically. God willing, I’ll continue to be spared.

J.S.: Maybe your being spared is a result of your growing up in America?

Rosenfeld: No doubt, and I regard it as a blessing. My parents were both from Podolia, in the Ukraine, and knew anti-Semitism from their earliest years until they immigrated to this country. It was my mazel that my parents got out in time. I grew up in south Philadelphia — at a time when that part of the city was a bit like the lower east side of New York. There were lots of immigrant Jews, Italians, Irish, and others. It was a relatively poor, working-class end of town, but by no means a bad place, and, at least in my experience, it was not polluted by anti-Semitism.

Things have changed. We’re living now in an overheated time, a sour, divisive time. The economic turndown is far from over, American forces are engaged in two wars, terror threatens, and the hostility to Israel continues to intensify. The year 2009 saw a dramatic spike in anti-Semitic incidents on a global scale. In these circumstances, it is prudent to be vigilant.

Indiana University’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and the institute at Yale can be helpful in alerting people to what’s afoot. Of course I acknowledge the important work being done elsewhere, especially at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, and, in this country, by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In a time of resurgent anti-Semitism, even more attention is needed. If, as a result of our academic work, we can help educate people about anti-Semitism, open their eyes to its character, longevity, gravity, and threats, we will be doing something both needful and positive.

It’s also important that we let people know that while anti-Semitism initially targets the Jews, the hostility it unleashes doesn’t stop with the Jews. If this hatred goes unchecked, a large number of other people will end up being hurt, if not directly by anti-Semitism, then because of the damage to society that anti-Semitism inevitably brings with it. It’s always a toxic force and has the potential to spread widely and be hugely harmful. We probably cannot eradicate it, but we need to do what we can to lessen its destructive force.

J.S.: Thank you for an enlightening interview.

 
 

Immigration overhaul is a job for the U.S. Congress

 

Puffin Preserving culture, one artist at a time

Tackling Jewish issues through art

While the Puffin Cultural Forum — under the direction of Marc Lambert — prides itself on creating programming for every segment of the local community, Jewish-themed subjects form a substantial part of its offerings.

From annual exhibits highlighting efforts to bring about peace between Jews and Arabs to shows and concerts by and in memory of Holocaust survivors, the Jewish experience is well represented.

Jewish concerns appear in a variety of contexts. For example, reflecting the Rosensteins’ particular interest in progressive causes in New York City, the center last year featured a show based on the story of Dr. Adele Sicular, a Russian immigrant branded by the FBI as a suspected subversive for her membership in the Citizens’ Committee for the Upper West Side and progressive stances on racial integration and socialized health care.

The multimedia presentation, “J. Edgar Klezmer: Songs from My Grandmother’s FBI Files,” was written by Sicular’s granddaughter, Eve. Drummer/bandleader for the musical groups Metropolitan Klezmer and Isle of Klezbos, Eve Sicular is a former curator of the film and photography archives at the YIVO Institute.

The Puffin’s passion for international music also has Jewish ramifications, since, as Miller-Rosenstein pointed out, Jews can be found among the musicians of many countries — Russia, for example, and, of course, Israel. In September, the center featured Israeli musicians exploring the musical tradition of Eastern European Jews. Among other genres, they highlighted Yiddish folk songs and music from the ghetto.

Puffin Holocaust programming has been both plentiful and varied, focusing not only on the past and present experience of survivors but on the struggle of their children and grandchildren to come to terms with their family history.

Spurred in part by Rosenstein’s personal friendship with fellow Teaneck resident Carl Hausman, this past year the Puffin launched a major program on the subject of hidden children.

Interviewed by The Jewish Standard, Hausman, author of “Rescued: The Story of A Child Survivor of the Holocaust in France,” noted that long before the printed version of his book became a reality, he approached Rosenstein for help.

“I said, ‘Do you think there is something here that you can help me put together?’” Hausman recalled. Subsequently, Rosenstein put Hausman in touch with writer/translator Ross Benjamin, and the two worked together to produce the book.

In addition to sponsoring a panel discussion featuring Hausman and other local survivors, the Puffin Foundation presented the world premiere of “Hidden Children: Memoirs of Child Survivors of the Holocaust,” based on the personal stories of these individuals.

Miller-Rosenstein said the foundation is also committed to keeping alive the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

“This is a time and situation that shouldn’t be forgotten,” she said, discussing a 2007 exhibit called “The Righteous: Resistance during the Holocaust.” “We want to keep that flame of resistance alive.”

She pointed out that the Puffin Cultural Forum began to look more closely at this subject about a decade ago, working with the group One By One, which hosts a dialogue between children of survivors and children of perpetrators.

Puffin has also used grants to help further Holocaust education. For example, the center gave money to Ars Choralis, which last year performed “Music in Desperate Times: Remembering the Women’s Orchestra of Birkenau.”

In an interesting twist, Jewish religious life has benefitted — indirectly — from the Puffin’s commitment to restore the Teaneck Creek area.

Several years ago, Dr. Beth Ravit — a member of Cong. Adas Emuno in Leonia and executive director of the Rutgers University Environmental Research Clinic — devised a plan to benefit local Jewish institutions while simultaneously enhancing the 46-acre patch of urban wetlands.

Combining her expertise in wetlands restoration with her belief that “part of Jewish tradition is stewardship of the earth, and we have a responsibility to make the earth a better place,” Ravit, who is also a member of the Teaneck Creek Conservancy’s ecological art committee, invited regional Jewish institutions to harvest invasive reeds on Conservancy property, with the purpose of using the reeds to decorate their sukkahs.

The response was “amazing,” she said, and groups have continued to come each year.

According to the Rosensteins, some synagogues send volunteers to the nature sanctuary on a regular basis, and high school students have also come to help out. Volunteers have also come as part of Mitzvah Day, coordinated by the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Fostering peaceful relations through the medium of art is a Puffin priority.

Each year, photographer Rachel Banai — whose work has appeared in this newspaper and who has taught a weekend photography class at Puffin for about seven years — helps curate a cross-cultural photo exhibit displaying the work of Arab and Israeli students participating in the “Through the Others’ Eyes” project.

As part of this venture, students are assigned to visit and photograph each other’s homes and communities.

“It’s getting to peace through kids, not guns,” said Banai, pointing out that some of the participants have formed lasting friendships.

The students take part in a summer program at Camp Shomria, in upstate New York, supported in part by the Puffin Foundation. Banai has been the camp’s art director for more than 10 years.

For more information about the Puffin Foundation, visit www.puffinfoundation.org.

 
 

And her little dog, too

 

Facing confrontation on Israel, Presbyterian Church manages a compromise

WASHINGTON – U.S. Jews and Presbyterians say they have salvaged a fragile unity of purpose from an assembly that was poised to create a rift between the two faiths.

The outcome of last week’s General Assembly in Minneapolis of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was remarkable in that all sides in the contentious debate — Jewish groups and the authors of a controversial report on the Middle East that had alarmed the Jews — agreed that the outcome was better than any side had expected.

Rather than adopt the report’s recommendations, including sanctions against Israel and divestment, the assembly revised the report’s recommendations and adopted an amended resolution that both camps applauded as evenhanded.

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Katharine Henderson, the president of the Presbyterian Church USA’s Auburn Theological Seminary, was key to facilitating a compromise resolution on the Middle East July 9 at the church’s assembly. Courtesy of Auburn Theological Seminary

Ron Shive, who chaired the Middle East Study Committee, released a letter to the assembly prior to the vote urging endorsement of the changes that incorporated some of the concerns raised by Jewish groups.

“A week ago, it looked as if the Presbyterian Church (USA) was going to enact a version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within its own body, so divided were we on all sides,” the letter began. “Today, we still have disagreements on items in the report, on methods we should pursue, on arguments we should make. But today, by God’s grace, we have discovered that together, we may actually be more faithful and effective in seeking peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis than separately.”

The president of the church’s Auburn Theological Seminary, Katharine Henderson, who was key to facilitating the dialogue on the resolution, said the Presbyterians who favored the Palestinian cause had been unaware of the prominence within the Jewish and Israeli communities of groups that took Palestinian needs into consideration.

Conversely, Jewish groups had not internalized the degree to which Presbyterians, and other Christians, are moved by the plight of the diminishing numbers of Palestinian Christians who have been squeezed out because of the conflict. Those sympathies often lead to broader sympathies for the Palestinians.

“I think that people came from very polarized places supporting the narrative that they had been persuaded by, so there was a pro-Palestinian camp and a pro-Israel camp,” she said.

She co-authored the letter Shive sent before the vote. The letter anticipated a more healthy dialogue.

“Beyond any expectation, we find ourselves discovering a new model of ministry together, a model committed to seeking, hearing, and responding to the fullness of narratives and commitments with the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” it said.

The culmination was that in votes last Friday in Minneapolis, the assembly rejected sanctions and divestment as a means of protesting Israel’s Jewish settlements in the west bank and its blockade of the Gaza Strip, as well as theological critiques of Zionism that Jewish groups said bordered on the anti-Semitic.

The assembly resolution that eventually passed recognized both Israeli and Palestinian claims in the conflict.

The consensus encompassed the church’s most strident critics of Israeli policy and an array of Jewish groups including organizations that often lean conservative on pro-Israel issues, such as CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. It was critical to maintain that consensus in the coming months, the sides said, in order to keep positions from hardening down the road.

Ethan Felson, the director of domestic concerns for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish public policy umbrella organization, credited Henderson for facilitating dialogue rather than confrontation between the two sides.

“Many people who are passionate on all sides live in echo chambers,” Felson told JTA on Monday after hosting Henderson on a conference call with JCPA constituent groups. “When you develop genuine relationships with people with contrasting views, oftentimes you recognize that it’s possible for our narratives to overlap rather than conflict.” Felson also attended the assembly.

Henderson said the challenge was the devolution of the argument into pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian camps within the church. At an assembly with the sides setting up competing booths, she and others endeavored to get the sides to communicate.

“Over the course of the General Assembly, as people began to listen to each other, they realized the importance of the other narrative and really began to learn why people felt the way they did,” she told JTA.

A coalition of 12 national Jewish groups signed a JCPA statement welcoming the rejections of the problematic recommendations on Israel prepared by the church’s Middle East Study Committee.

“Rejection of overtures calling for the use of divestment and labeling Israeli policy as apartheid demonstrate a desire for broader understanding in the quest for peace,” the statement said. “The General Assembly has modeled a more inclusive voice on the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

There were qualifications: The JCPA statement noted with disappointment that the assembly deferred for further consideration a paper recommending improvements in Presbyterian-Jewish relations that has been long in preparation.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a separate statement that was sharper in its disappointment. Though the ADL credited the assembly for actions that “averted a rupture,” it slammed the conference’s recommendation that the U.S. government consider withholding aid as a means of pressuring Israel.

What made the outcome extraordinary, participants said, was that the drafters of the report saw its effective rejection as an improvement as well. The assembly endorsed the positive elements of the report — promoting hope, love, and reconciliation. But instead of disseminating the report, the assembly tasked the committee with coming up with eight representative, authentic narratives — four Israeli, four Palestinian — for consideration.

Shive told the Los Angeles Times that he did not see the changes to the recommendations arising out of the report as weakening the Middle East Study Committee’s argument pressing for greater consideration of the Palestinians.

“I don’t think that’s watering down,” he said, referring to language recognizing Israel’s security needs. “I think that’s listening to our Jewish partners and saying, ‘This is something that needs to be in the report.’”

Dexter Van Zile, the Christian media analyst for CAMERA, a pro-Israel monitoring group that often sharply hits back at Israel criticism, said it was incumbent on Jewish groups to recognize the depth among Christians of sympathy for the Palestinians.

“One of the things I have learned in the past few years is that there really is a genuine concern on the part of the activists; it’s genuine,” said Van Zile, who attended the assembly. “People who ignore that concern and dismiss it aren’t going to get anywhere.”

Conversing with pro-Palestinian activists has the potential of introducing pro-Israel concerns about burgeoning anti-Semitism in the Middle East, he noted.

“You have to address Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and you have to talk about some of the underlying causes of hostility to Israel.”

Henderson pressed the case for follow-up at the local level, perhaps extending to joint Jewish-Presbyterian projects such as investment in the west bank economy, and face-to-face encounters between Jews and Palestinians such as those organized by her seminary.

Letting the good will engendered by the dialogue at the assembly lapse, she warned, might harden positions two years from now at the next assembly.

“It’s incumbent upon those of us who were there, myself included, and all of us in this coalition,” Henderson said, “that we are accountable to each other to continue the work with each other in the church and with our Jewish and Palestinian partners.”

JTA

 
 
 
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