Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, provoked international controversy for his April 2 remarks comparing recent criticism of the Church to the “collective violence” suffered by Jews. Towards the conclusion of his Good Friday homily in St. Peter’s Basilica, Father Cantalamessa preached:
By a rare coincidence, this year our Easter falls on the same week of the Jewish Passover which is the ancestor and matrix within which it was formed. This pushes us to direct a thought to our Jewish brothers. They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms. I received in this week the letter of a Jewish friend and, with his permission, I share here a part of it.
One year after an emotional incident in which city building inspectors sought to halt Kol Nidrei services for Orthodox worshippers at a Hancock Park service, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has followed up with a report with recommendations designed to increase sensitivity and prevent future problems.
Triggering the incident was a series of anonymous phone calls from a neighbor of Yavneh, alerting the city Department of Building and Safety (DBS) to a probable violation, on Yom Kippur, of restriction governing the hours that Yavneh could use the facilities.
At 8 p.m., while Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was conducting Kol Nidrei services for some 200 worshippers, two inspectors walked into the lobby and told startled congregants that they had to vacate the premises immediately.
When told that worshippers would leave only if carried out by force, the inspectors left and the services continued.
The roots of the incident lay in a contentious nine-year feud between some residents of the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood and an influx of strict Orthodox families.
Villaraigosa, together with city councilmen, felt the heat from both sides and the mayor asked the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom “to independently review, pro bono, the events that occurred on Sept. 21, 2007…and to make recommendations.”
In a letter yesterday (Sept. 23) to DBS general manager Andrew A. Adelman, obtained exclusively by The Journal, Villaraigosa cited 12 findings and recommendations by the law firm and asked for a response by Nov. 7.
In general, the report found that DBS had not singled out the Orthodox community as such, but called for an improved inspection process within DBS, and better communications with the city planning department and with institutions, such as Yavneh, operating with certain restrictions under a conditional use permit.
Specifically, the report recommended continued “awareness seminars” for inspectors at the Museum of Tolerance, supplemented by a “cultural diversity” program, in addition to the following points.
Training to avoid conflicts while conducting building inspections.
Review of the policy under which DBS accepts anonymous complaints.
Avoid interrupting cultural or religious events.
Institutions operating under conditional use permits to appoint community liaisons, who would be notified of complaints before city officials take action.
Korobkin, the Yavneh spiritual leader, said he was very pleased with the mayor’s recommendations and that the fault for last year’s incident lay mainly in the way DBS was structured, as well as a certain lack ofsensitivity.
There is no chance that last year’s incident will be repeated, he said. For one, Kol Nidrei falls on a weekday this year, which allows for extended operating hours.
Korobkin also asserted that relations between Yavneh and its neighbors had improved over the last 12 months and that complaints came mainly from a hard core of seven to eight residents.
But future relations between Yavneh and the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which includes a fair number of Jewish families, will bear watching.
No spokesperson for the homeowners was immediately available, but in the past they have persistently accused Yavneh of violating the terms of its conditional use permit and have initiated a number of court actions.
Although Yavneh is not located within his district, City Councilman Jack Weiss has been a vocal champion of the religious school.
He said that in the dispute, “justice is on the side of Yavneh – it’s not even close.”
I took a break from the hood the other night to speak to a large Conservative synagogue in Palos Verdes called Congregation Ner Tamid — and I used a word that got me in trouble. The occasion was a showing of “Obsession” — a documentary on the rise of radical Islam and the worldwide terror that has accompanied it — and it was sponsored by CAMERA, an organization that counteracts anti-Israel bias in the mainstream media.
“Obsession” assaults you with the hatred that fuels the fire of radical Islam.
The film points out that the majority of Muslims are not radical Islamists, but when it hones in on the radicals, the words and images make your skin crawl.
You see an old sheik, speaking to what looks like 100,000 people, pulling out a sword and exhorting his screaming flock to kill every Jew they can find. One radical Muslim after another is shown giving motivational speeches on the fine art of Jew-hatred. And Jew-killing. Lots and lots of Jew-killing.
But here’s the crazy part: There’s not a word from the Jew-haters about the dreaded Occupation. Not a peep about roadblocks or fences or the oppressive policies of the Zionist occupier, which, as we are so often reminded, lie “at the heart” of our enemies’ discontent. The Jew-haters are honest: they want Jews dead. All Jews. Roadblocks or no roadblocks. West Bank or no West Bank.
Talk about an inconvenient truth.
When you see all this Jew-hatred, it’s tempting to be dismissive and say “These are only the radicals; there are many more moderates.” Or to get all cynical because “The radicals will always want to kill us. So what’s new?” These are great coping mechanisms that help us maintain our composure. But here’s what’s new: The radicals aren’t just getting bigger and bolder on the battlefield, they’re also, amazingly, winning the PR war.
Who would have figured that two years after our heart-wrenching evacuation of Gaza — two years of continued relentless attacks from an enemy that brazenly calls for our destruction — we’d be the target of a boycott from British professors? Again, it’s tempting to get all blasé and say “Been there, done that.”
But this blasé attitude is a reason why we are losing the PR battle: We assume that getting all worked up about stuff doesn’t really make a difference, or that it’s not very becoming of Jews. The practical thing to do is to stay composed and look for solutions.
Well, here’s a practical idea: Let’s all take a time-out from “solutions” and get a little worked up. Let’s stop being so composed and start being outraged. Because if we continue like this, the whole world, except for America and Micronesia, will be boycotting Israel.
Israel needs the Diaspora to get more emotional right now — because emotional outrage wins PR battles. Our enemy understands that a lot better than we do. The most effective TV interview I ever saw happened about five years ago on a major network, while Israel was in the midst of numerous suicide bombings. The anchorman asked Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, a very composed and sophisticated man, why Israel could not arrest these suicide bombers. Well, you should have seen the outrage on Mr. Burg’s face.
With clenched fists and an almost growling voice, he said something like: “But how do you expect us to do that when they can blow up in one second?”
It was visceral, it was sincere and it didn’t come from talking points. It came from his heart, and I guarantee you it played well in Wisconsin.
After seeing the Jew-hatred in “Obsession,” it was hard not to get worked up when I spoke at the Palos Verdes synagogue. I wanted the Jew-haters of the world to know that we have as much passion to defend Jewish lives as they have passion to destroy us.
But I got a little carried away. I said that we need to have our own Jihad — a Jihad for life — and to show the enemy that we believe in it as much as they believe in their “Jihad for death.”
A fellow Jew rose up in indignation. My clever twist did not amuse him. No matter how much I tried to explain the subtleties of turning our enemy’s word on its head to convey our own “noble struggle,” the word went too far for him.
I understood his discomfort, but maybe that’s precisely why we need to go there.
Our PR timidity has backfired on us. I’m not saying we should emulate “Wrestlemania” announcers (how sincere do they look?), but I am saying that we need to get bolder and more emotional. It makes us more human.
For example, when the bombs fall on Sderot, instead of empty clichés like “no terrorist is immune” and “this is unacceptable” and so forth, we should have the guts to run ads all over the world and get on CNN and the BBC and say things like: “We gave them land, and they gave us war.” “This proves that the occupation was never the key problem,” and “How would England respond if the same amount of bombs fell on Manchester?”
These are not think-tank words, they’re real words. If we can deliver them with the same intensity Mr. Burg used five years ago, the world will better understand the justness of our cause.
The amazing thing about the PR battle is that it’s probably the only area right now where we can win. The political, military and diplomatic landscapes are a mess, but the PR landscape is wide open. Especially post-disengagement, there are numerous PR victories that are ours for the taking.
In a brilliant article in Haaretz, Moshe Arens explains why you can’t deter terrorists, you can only fight them. It’s time for Jews of all stripes to get their mojo back, and join the PR fight.
Even if your only weapon is your PC, and your mouth.
World Cup viewers were confronted with more than one big surprise on Saturday when Ghana defeated the Czech Republic 2-0 in what was perhaps the greatest upset of the tournament so far. The second shocker came when Ghanaian defender John Pantsil pulled an Israeli flag out of his sock during Ghana’s celebrations of its two goals.
The gesture has been greeted by an array of reactions all over the world. While some call Pantsil, a religious Christian, a hero, others say he acted with na?veté and foolishness.
But Pantsil, who isn’t Israeli, told one Israeli sports Web site that his actions were motivated by good-hearted intentions: “I love the fans in Israel. I have played at Hapoel [Haifa] and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and the fans always made me happy so I wanted to make them happy.”
Pantsil is one of three Ghanaian players who play in the Israeli Premier League.
The Ghanaian Football Association issued an apology on Monday in response to outrage in the Arab world caused by Pantsil’s action: “He is obviously unaware of the implications of what he did. He’s unaware of international politics,” Randy Abbey, spokesman of the Ghanaian FA, said at a press conference.
“We apologize to anybody who was offended and we promise that it will never happen again. He did not act out of malice for the Arab people or in support of Israel. He was naïve.”
But FIFA, the organization that runs the World Cup, said that it had no problem with Pantsil’s actions.
Meanwhile, Israeli Sports Minister Ofir Pines-Paz has been quoted as saying, “We have an Israeli at the World Cup. Pantsil’s gesture has warmed our hearts and many Israelis have now become supporters of Ghana.”
The Rev. Pat Robertson has long preached as though God is on his side — including when he recently cast the stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as God’s punishment for “dividing” the Holy Land by pulling Israel out of Gaza.
But last week, Robertson apparently decided that he’d better have the government of Israel on his side, too, especially if he wants to build a sprawling evangelical center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
In a letter to Sharon’s sons, Robertson asked forgiveness for his comments.
“My zeal, my love of Israel, and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father’s illness,” Robertson wrote.
He also mentioned his concern over the danger to Israel posed by two terrorist groups — Hamas and Hezbollah — as well as by Iran and international anti-Semitism.
In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said he believed that Robertson had taken to heart the outrage over his comments.
“I felt he was very sincere. He is a great friend of Israel,” Ayalon said.
Ayalon added that he expected that Robertson will again be allowed to participate in the evangelical project. Plans for the site include an auditorium, a broadcast center and a chapel, as well as paths to connect holy sites, according to the Associated Press.
Robertson’s contrition did not arrive in time to head off a rebuke by David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
“Robertson’s comment,” he said, “reflects the height of insensitivity and is also a perfect example of what happens when theological fanaticism clouds good judgment.”
And there was this from fellow evangelical Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: “I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, were the judgments of God.”
On the other hand, the episode does suggest a name for Robertson’s proposed theme park: Holier-Than-Thou Land.
Israelis are outraged by a picture of a Palestinian baby dressed as a suicide bomber. The baby was photographed wearing a mock suicide bomber’s uniform, complete with sticks of fake explosives and a red headband that read Hamas. Israeli newspapers published the photograph, seized in a raid on a suspected terrorist’s home in Hebron, on June 27. The baby’s family described the costume as a "joke," but a Palestinian journalist said such costumes were common among Palestinians. A Palestinian Authority official said Israel distributed the picture to "tell the world that the Palestinians are teaching their children how to hate Israel and how to act against Israel — and I just want to say this is correct," Ha’aretz reported. — Jewish Telegraphic Agency