Europe’s Jews Caught in Cartoon Furor


European Jews have expressed a mixture of anger and frustration as the furor over a Muslim cartoon erupted into violence in Europe and the Middle East.

As frequent targets of anti-Semitic cartoons — many of them in the Arab press — Jews on one hand sympathized with the Muslim outrage over depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which is considered by Muslims to be blasphemous.

But Jews joined many others in expressing shock at the level of violence the controversy sparked.

“Of course, we condemn all forms of propaganda that carry prejudice toward any faith. But people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress.

In Denmark, Jews felt solidarity with their country as it came under attack after a Danish newspaper printed the controversial cartoons, including one that depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed as wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

“Usually the Jews are always in the center of things, but here we feel we are part of the Danish population,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, Denmark’s chief rabbi.

Other newspapers across the world — in France, in Australia and in the United States — printed one or more of the cartoons. In France, the editorial director of France Soir, was fired after running at least one of the cartoons. At least one Israeli paper, the Jerusalem Post, also reprinted the cartoons. A German Jewish Web site, haGalil, was hacked after it posted some of the Danish cartoons.

The fallout took on specific Jewish overtones as the Muslim reaction intensified. As Muslims rioted across the Middle East, the Web site of the Arab European League printed anti-Semitic cartoons and Iran’s largest newspaper requested cartoon submissions that question the Holocaust.

“The cartoon was made by a Danish newspaper, not a Jewish one. But once again, someone does something and we as Jews are guilty,” said Petr Kadlcek, the head of Poland’s Union of Religious Jewish Communities.

Most European Jews, led by France’s chief rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, saw the original cartoons as a needless provocation.

Following a meeting with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Sitruk said, “We win nothing by disparaging religions, humiliating them by making caricatures of them.”

Jews are no strangers to racism dressed up as humor, said David Ruzie, a French university professor and international law specialist.

“There is humor, and there is humor,” Ruzie said. “It was through derision that Germany, and in France as well, before World War II, began to attack Jews.”

There was widespread condemnation of the Muslim reaction, which in addition to the anti-Semitic cartoons, included Muslim violence, throwing rocks at Danish and other European institutions abroad and, in some cases, setting buildings ablaze.

“I don’t believe in absolute freedom of expression,” said journalist Jean-Claude Baboulin, writing in Guysen Israel News, a news service, “but I certainly don’t defend the Muslims who believe they have a right to forbid others what their religion forbids them,” he wrote, referring to the Muslim prohibition to depict Mohammed.

This is not the first example of religious slander in the European media, but the reactions are exaggerated, said Jean-Michel Rosenfeld, a Paris official.

“There is something to be angry over, just like when Catholics were furious over caricatures of the Holy Trinity in the French press,” he said, “but the Catholics did not go out and burn buildings.”

Others reacted with more equanimity.

People of all faiths must work to defuse the situation, said Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, complementing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her call “for prudence and de-escalation.”

For some elderly Danish Jews, the violence brought back some historical nightmares, said Lexner, the Danish chief rabbi.

“I think that there are some kinds of fear, especially of those people who have seen this burning of flags and violence in the many countries, and they compare” that to the 1940s, fretting that “things are repeating themselves,” he said.

In England, both lawmakers and Muslim leaders condemned a demonstration last Friday in front of the country’s largest mosque, during which some Muslims threatened terrorism and another “7/7,” referring to the July subway and bus bombings that left 56 dead.

Most Muslim protests in Europe were peaceful, however.

Many European and American Jewish observers noted the irony of Muslims and Arabs objecting to an offensive characterization of Mohammed when anti-Jewish characterizations are rampant in the Arab world.

Some in the secular French Jewish community revealed bitterness at the anger expressed against France, particularly concerning demonstrations that took place in Gaza.

Ruzie wrote on the Web site desinfos.com: “The traditionally welcoming attitude of France toward the Palestinians” has not exactly “paid off.”

Underlying much of the reaction was an anger that efforts at tolerance and dialogue could now be jeopardized.

“Some people have worked for trying to integrate the Muslim community in the Danish society, and I think that, in that way, many years of work were destroyed,” Lexner said.

JTA staff writer Chanan Tigay in New York and correspondents Dinah A. Spritzer in Prague, Lauren Elkin and Brett Kline in Paris and Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.

 

Air Force Flies New Tolerance Guidelines


Just in time for the High Holidays, U.S. Air Force officials are disseminating new guidelines for religious tolerance, in hopes of improving an atmosphere that some airmen say is unwelcoming to religious minorities.

However, while some are calling the new regulations a good first step, others remain concerned that little will change at the Air Force Academy and bases around the country.

The guidelines, issued last month by the Pentagon, say Air Force commanders should try to comply with religious accommodations, and need to be sensitive to the fact that personal expressions of faith might be viewed as official statements.

The new regulations come amid reports from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., that religious minorities felt pressure to prioritize their military duties over religious observance, and that they felt they were obliged to perform their duties in an overtly Christian atmosphere. Chaplains at the school reportedly spoke of evangelizing to the “unchurched,” and the football coach made references to Jesus.

The new regulations are for the entire Air Force, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said recently that they could be replicated throughout the military.

“It’s one piece of a broader initiative that will, I hope, allow for a real clarification of the real vision in the military,” said Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, a retired military chaplain who was hired by the Air Force in August to oversee implementation of “values and vision.”

The regulations focus on the need for sensitivity toward people of all faiths or no faith. Chaplains are reminded that they’re obligated to minister to people of other faiths and those without religion.

“They must be as sensitive to those who do not welcome offerings of faith, as they are generous in sharing their faith with those who do,” the guidelines say. “In addition, they must remain sensitive to the responsibilities of superior rank, and they should respect professional settings where mandatory participation may make expressions of religious faith inappropriate.”

Resnicoff said the message was clear to chaplains that they have to respect the rights of all in the military.

“A chaplain has to understand that he or she cannot do certain things as a chaplain that a clergy person can,” he said. “We give power to people in uniform to accomplish a mission. We do not give them power to change the religious beliefs of others.”

The guidelines say all requests for religious accommodation should be approved, unless precluded by military necessity, and commanders should try to avoid scheduling conflicts with major religious observances, including presumably the Jewish High Holidays, but also Muslim observances, as well. Public prayers are outlawed outside of volunteer worship services, but nonsectarian prayers are allowed during “nonroutine military ceremonies and events of special importance.”

Resnicoff said the guidelines would be incorporated in all Air Force training, and he expects changes to be seen imminently. Already, he said, time has been set aside on Fridays and Saturdays for religious services. Previously, services were scheduled only on Sundays, and Jews and others had to seek special permission to attend services on other days.

Some members of the armed services are underwhelmed by the new guidelines. Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran who has two children in the service, said he believes they contain “very nice language” but would do little to end religious hostilities at the academy — which his son attends — and elsewhere in the service.

“They’re making this up as they go along,” Weinstein said. “They’re just pretty words that mean nothing.”

He would like to see the Air Force Academy call on one chaplain to recant recent comments suggesting that he still intends to evangelize to the “unchurched.”

Others are encouraged by the changes. Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, called the guidelines a “huge step forward.”

“Given the opposition the Air Force takes to any restrictions, it is even a larger step forward,” Stern said. “But there are some places where they have glossed over some problems.”

The rules also were welcomed by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and by Reps. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who have been critical of the military on this issue.

“Obviously, the real test of these regulations will be their implementation,” Capps said. “It is absolutely critical that the Air Force leadership ensure that these regulations are well understood and strictly enforced, especially at the Air Force Academy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Circuit


Boxer Praises FOUNDATION

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recently recognized Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in Washington, D.C., by bestowing on it the Boxer Excellence in Education Award.

“I am pleased to present my Excellence in Education Award to the Shoah Foundation,” Boxer said. “The Shoah Foundation has done an outstanding job of educating people about the tragedy of the Holocaust. Through the use of video testimony, they are teaching the next generation about the importance of working for justice and tolerance around the world.”

Accepting the award, Shoah Foundation President and CEO Douglas Greenberg said, “We are pleased and honored to receive this award. Sen. Boxer’s dedication to fostering social justice and cross-cultural understanding among Californians and all Americans, strengthens and reaffirms the mission of the Shoah Foundation. Her recognition — through this award — of the potential of education to defeat prejudice, intolerance and bigotry helps us face the task ahead with renewed confidence.”

The Shoah Foundation was established in 1994 by Spielberg to tape and preserve video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. After recording almost 52,000 video testimonies in 56 countries and 32 languages, the Shoah Foundation’s mission today is to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry — and the suffering they cause — through the educational use of the foundation’s testimonies.

Hadassah Happenings

Andrea Silagi of Encino was elected to her first term as a national vice president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, at the organization’s 91st annual convention, which just concluded in Washington, D.C. She will also serve as the chair of foundations.

Also elected were: June Walker, of Rockaway, N.J., to her third term as the 23rd national president of Hadassah; Ruth B. Hurwitz, as national treasurer, and Mona Wood, as national secretary, both of Baltimore, Md.

Some 1,500 Hadassah members from 37 states held 150 meetings with their local congressional representatives, both in the House and Senate to discuss Hadassah’s positions on foreign aid for Israel, stem cell research and genetic discrimination and the Iran Freedom Support Act.

This year’s Henrietta Szold Award, Hadassah’s highest honor, was awarded to a husband-and-wife team: Daniel C. Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, and his wife, Sheila Kurtzer. In awarding them this honor, former Hadassah National President Bonnie Lipton announced that Hadassah was establishing an annual scholarship for Young Judaea’s Year Course in the Kurtzers’ name.

For complete information about Hadassah, visit www.hadassah.org.

Programming award

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) has announced that B’nai Tikvah Congregation of Westchester has been selected to receive the Solomon Schechter Award for Excellence in Synagogue Programming. This award is presented to congregations affiliated with the United Synagogue that have distinguished themselves during the preceding two years in aspects of congregational life.

Ileene Morris was honored for her work with Hazak, whose chapters were developed to successfully reach out to the senior population.

“Ileene is a blessing. Her hard work and devotion are appreciated by all members of the congregation, especially the seniors it benefits,” Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen said.

The award will be presented in a ceremony at the USCJ International Biennial Convention to be held at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, Mass., from Dec. 4-8.

Social Justice for All

Eighteen Reform Jews from across North America traveled to Israel to participate in 10 days’ worth of social justice service learning as part of Tzevet Mitzvot: Israel Mitzvah Corps. Sponsored by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, the July 3-14 trip engaged participants with hands-on projects, study and discussion with religious and political leaders and the hospitality of Israeli Reform Jews.

“As Reform Jews, we are driven by our vision of a world redeemed by justice, mercy and peace, and our role in making that a reality,” said Evelyn Laser Shlensky, leader of the mission and immediate past chair of the URJ Commission on Social Action.

Participants worked on a variety of projects throughout the land of Israel. In Tel Aviv, they explored the plight of Israel’s foreign workers at the Workers’ Hotline; in Jaffa, they learned about the realms in which the Israeli Reform Movement is involved in social action and awareness; outside Jerusalem, they discussed the ramifications of Israel’s security fence with members of Rabbis for Human Rights, and inside the capital, they met with a member of the Knesset to talk about social justice and visited Yad Lakashish Project, a multifaceted workshop for senior citizens and the disabled.

 

Ethics and Ironies


At least Ann Landers admitted when she was wrong.

And while she may have used a pseudonym, Esther Pauline "Eppie" Lederer claimed only to offer one woman’s point of view — no more, no less.

Times, alas, have changed, and along with them, The New York Times, whose Sunday Magazine’s readers are offered the judgments of "The Ethicist." The bearer of that grandiose title also has a name — Randy Cohen — but his designation is clearly meant to imply gravitas.

Cohen is generally sensible and very often quite funny. On Oct. 27, though, he goofed badly. And, what is worse, he seems unwilling to own up to his error, not an encouraging sign for any honorable man, much less still The Ethicist.

The question in question came from a woman who had closed a deal with an Orthodox Jewish real estate agent. She became offended, though, when the otherwise "courteous and competent" man declined to shake her hand, explaining that touching a woman other than his wife violated his religious code of conduct. The offendee wanted to tear up the contract they had signed, and sought the columnist’s advice.

"Sexism is sexism," Cohen responded, "even when motivated by religious convictions." And, invoking Brown vs. Board of Education to argue that "separate is by its very nature unequal," he advised his supplicant to rip away.

Had he bothered to inquire, The Ethicist would have discovered that the Jewish religious prohibition at issue in no way "render[s] a class of people untouchable," to use his words; it rather disapproves of a behavior. And it does so in a decidedly egalitarian manner. Both men and women are equally bound by Jewish law to refrain from affectionate physical contact with members of the other gender to whom they are not married. Many Orthodox authorities consider even a handshake to be included in the prohibition.

With that stricture, halacha expresses not sexism, but rather respect for both men and women — respect, that is, for the power of sexuality that Judaism reminds us is an integral part of the human condition.

That power, according to Jewish thought, when properly used is a deeply holy thing. Allowed free reign, though, it is an equally destructive one.

In our sex-saturated — and in fact, as a result, sexist — society, men and women eschewing handshakes to avoid any semblance of misplaced sexuality might seem a bit much to many. But that says something only about our base and cynical times, not about deeper, timeless truths. And a good case could in fact be made that the morally confused times in which we live require us to exercise more caution than ever in the realm of physical contact between the sexes. A cursory familiarity with current events should suffice to reveal how easily "casual" interactions can devolve into less innocent, even abusive, ones.

Cohen, of course, may not see things that way. But even he, one imagines, would admit that imposing unwanted physical contact is wrong. And so, as one reader of Cohen’s column wryly noted: "’Touch me or you’re fired’" would seem "a perfect example of sexual harassment" — hardly ethical by any measure.

While hope springs eternal, The Ethicist, at least so far, refuses to budge. Responding to some who contacted him, he pronounced: "That the origins of [the halachic prohibition] seem benign make it no less sexist and no less contrary to the values of an egalitarian society." Creating "separate spheres for women and men," he insists, remains "a manifestation of sexism."

Asked if his gender-blindness extended to endorsement of unisex restrooms and dressing rooms, he admitted that "there are a few cases where gender distinctions might be justified."

In other words, according to The Ethicist, it all depends on what he happens to feel is ethical.

Cohen makes no claim to speak for Judaism — he was raised Reform but takes a "resolutely secular approach to ethics," as he explained in an interview — and indeed does not. But an ethical ideal to which he clearly subscribes is tolerance. And that should include tolerance of others who choose to subscribe to Torah, not Cohen.

Just imagine The Ethicist’s ideal society. Men and women who, out of religious principle, eschew physical contact with members of the opposite sex would effectively be barred from pursuing their livelihoods. But society would be purged of sexism, real or imagined, and all would be well with the world — at least in Cohen’s eyes.

And so we are left with the irony of an intolerant Ethicist. And one, in fact, who embraces decidedly unethical behavior.

For in his quest for some illusory absolute egalitarianism, Cohen did, after all, counsel a questioner to tear up a contract she and her business partner had just signed.


Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America .