Editorial Cartoon: Interfaith Roundtable


Why the Wiesenthal Center left the interfaith roundtable

This article first appeared in The Jewish Press

Sometimes, only a period of separation will save a troubled marriage. That is why the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish groups are pulling out of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable. Fifteen liberal Protestant leaders, including those of the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist denominations, chose the Jewish High Holiday season to urge Congress to curtail U.S. aid to Israel.

We were expecting a different initiative from our dialogue partners, one focusing on the tens of millions of Christians under siege from Nigeria to Afghanistan. The oldest Christian communities on earth in the Assyrian Triangle of Iraq have been all but ethnically cleaned. More than ten million Coptic Christians in Egypt live in perpetual fear of a government controlled by the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. Practicing Christians in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are incarcerated on charges of blasphemy; in North Korea, they languish in huge concentration camps. As for the plight of the Palestinians–more have been killed in Syria in the past few weeks than in almost four years of conflict with Israel, since the end of the Gaza War.

After decades of breaking bread together, we would have expected these church groups to ask us to join with them to shake the rafters with a prophetic scream on behalf of a religious minority under siege – Christians.

Instead, these groups stand mute while their own brothers and sisters are persecuted, and seek to invoke the wrath of Heaven and Congress on the Jewish state.

We’re not happy about the breakup of a relationship forged with optimism and sincerity. After WW 2, many Christians felt some responsibility for the theological anti-Semitism that set the stage for the racial anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Germany. For many, in the wake of images of Auschwitz, building bridges of understanding and respect to the Jewish world became a priority. At the same time, Jews saw the need to begin a new chapter in Jewish history, one in which Christian friends and neighbors were able to look to their own theology to find the dignity and validity of the Jewish experience. Decades of fruitful conversation and education followed.

There were always bumps in the road, particularly regarding the Jewish State. Unlike Evangelicals who were enthusiastic in their support, liberal denominations had a hard time fully accepting Israel and understanding its centrality to Jews. When Arab armies threatened Israel’s existence in 1948, ’67, and ’73, these denominations did not speak up, to the deep consternation of their Jewish partners. Both parties, however, remained in a less-than-perfect relationship, believing that a core mutual understanding could guide future dialogue. In the case of some signatories of the letter,there never was a relationship. The Mennonite “peace” church has never had anything but unvarnished contempt for Israel; the Quakers may be friends tomany, but not to the Jewish people.

Now, with the latest threat to vaporize Israel still ringing in our ears from Ahmadinejad's soon-to-be nuclearized Iran, with millions of Israelis livingwithin the target range of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets—these erstwhile friends choose this moment to call upon the U.S. to cut into Israel’s defensecapabilities.

Why the slap in the face? Thank God, their call to Congress will fall on deaf ears. Americans’ support for Israel remains bipartisan and strong. Did these church elite believe their initiative would lead to more scrutiny of foreign aid? Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt and the Palestinians would likely lose more from calls for greater transparency, not the Jewish state. Israel provides U.S. with vital intelligence, technological and military cooperation, and military aid to Israel creates American jobs.

If peace is these churches’ sole objective, shouldn’t they also criticize the PA’s corruption that led to losing the trust of their own people?

Why else release such a letter? Some suggest that the signatories are seeking to placate the entrenched, vocal anti-Israel extremists in their own churches. Those activists were incensed when the rank and file of several denominations adopted a policy not of divestment but of investment, a strategy that actually produces tangible benefits for the Palestinians.

Alas, we sense there is also a more basic reason at play. Some at this table really don’t like us. How else can we account for such a selective moral outrage, pounding the Jewish State for real and imagined sins, but yet to demand that the U.S. take action when their co-religionists face murder andethnic cleansing? Only a deep-seated hatred could turn these leaders deaf to all the other urgent issues raging around them.

We are in no need of staying in an abusive relationship. There are other voices in the Christian world, and other roundtables – with Catholics, with Evangelicals – that have been productive and mutually satisfying. Moreover, we will maintain our affection for the majority of churchgoers in these very same denominations whose table we are leaving. They, too, are being served poorly by the same people who misuse their mantle of leadership.

Why does it all matter? Because, in the past, Christians and Jews working cooperatively helped change the world. Only a few decades ago, Rev. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walked arm in arm in the Deep South, helping the civil rights struggle to reach new heights. An injured world awaits all the good that could come from the positive power of collective religious conviction. When others are ready for a genuine relationship, we will be there.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

© 2012 JewishPress. All rights reserved.

Study Points to Big Church-State Shift

A new study reveals that the Bush administration is succeeding beyond the most optimistic projections of supporters — and the most pessimistic fears of critics — in funneling government social service dollars to religious groups, despite the refusal of Congress to pass most of its faith-based initiative.

Last week the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy issued an exhaustive report indicated that religious groups “are now involved in government-encouraged activities ranging from building strip malls for economic improvement to promoting child car seats.”

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, according to the report, has set up offices in 10 federal agencies designed to facilitate grants to religious groups.

The report also highlights new policies implemented by executive order that allow “faith-based groups receiving federal funds to consider religion when employing staff, and to build and renovate structures used for both social services and religious worship.”

Jewish groups, divided on the “charitable choice” question, reacted predictably.

Nathan Diament, Washington director for the Orthodox Union, said that “all the administration has done is create an environment in which faith-based groups can be treated as equals in the grant process. So more of these groups are getting funds — and that’s the correct result.”

He pointed to a recent grant from the Compassion Capital Fund to the New York Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty as an example of how the Jewish community could benefit.

But another Orthodox activist said he has been disappointed by the fact that few Jewish groups have gotten any money under the faith-based push.

“They’ve been stringing us along on several programs we’ve very interested in,” this source said. “And there’s no question Christian groups have gotten the vast majority of grants. Maybe there’s resentment in the administration that so many Jewish groups have been opposed.”

The administration’s charitable choice actions may anger liberal Jewish groups, but don’t look for much action on the issue in this year’s presidential campaigns.

Unlike some of his rivals in the Democratic primaries, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the Democratic nominee, has tried to straddle the issue. Kerry has indicated strong support for a faith-based approach to fighting social problems, although he also signaled he opposes giving religious groups that get federal money the right to discriminate in hiring.

He has not revealed what he would do about dozens of Bush executive orders that have resulted in thousands of religious groups getting government grants without the traditional church-state restrictions.

The reasons aren’t hard to fathom.

African American churches — key players in the effort to turn out core Democratic voters — hope to be major beneficiaries of these programs, especially in troubled inner-city neighborhoods.

And Kerry has been trying to close the “God gap” — the perception, actively encouraged by the Republicans, that the Democrats are anti-religion.

Liberal Jewish leaders, wary of putting a candidate they regard as a friend on church-state issues in an awkward political spot, are not pressing Kerry on the faith-based issue.

“We think he’ll be fine, if he’s elected,” said an official with a Jewish group adamantly opposed to government money for sectarian institutions. “But it would be a big mistake for us to push the campaign on this, given today’s political realities. We just have to trust he’ll do the right thing.”

ADL: U.S. Election Spurs Arab

This year’s presidential election is already shaping up as one of the ugliest in recent memory. But that’s nothing compared to the venomous response in other parts of the world.

According to a new study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), newspapers across the Arab world have combined legitimate coverage of the contest with a “darker underbelly of hatred and anti-Semitism.”

Even mainstream papers in countries supposedly allied with the United States — including Jordan and Saudi Arabia — depict a U.S. government manipulated by sinister Jewish puppet masters.

The ADL has compiled an online gallery of offensive images and articles –including numerous political cartoons depicting President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as pawns of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In one cartoon featured in a Saudi newspaper, black hats and coats –representing Orthodox Jews — are shown hanging from hooks outside a door labeled “Democratic Convention.” In another, from the United Arab Emirates, both presidential candidates are shown stuffing stars of David into ballot boxes.

In an image from a Saudi newspaper, a gross caricature of a Jew is riding Uncle Sam’s shoulders, dangling a ballot box, while a slumping Arab reaches in vain for the dove of peace. In another from the same country, a grossly stereotyped Jew is using a radio control device to make Congress dance to his tune.

Foxman called on Arab leaders to condemn the new wave of anti-Semitism focused on the U.S. election.

Community Briefs

Rally for Freedom

“Avadim hayenu, ata bnei horin.” We were slaves, but now we are free. Pesach’s refrain is not true for many. For years, Charles Jacobs, along with many others, fulminated in print and in person against slavery, and particularly against those states, most notably Sudan, where slavery, slave raids and outright genocide, are major tools of a generations-old civil war pitting southern Sudanese tribal peoples against an Islamicized-Arabized central government in Khartoum. With the attack on the United States, Jacob’s call gains added poignancy: many of the organizations and states that profit from Sudan’s slavery have ties, direct and otherwise, with Islamo-fascism’s shadowy international movement. The American Anti-Slavery Group and iAbolish.com, in cooperation with the Museum of Tolerance and Standwithus.com, presented both Charles Jacobs and Francis Bok on March 14 speaking about slavery in Sudan and many international efforts to redeem Sudanese slaves from captivity. The story of Bok’s travails — abduction as a child, years of slavery and subsequent escape — give this great tragedy a personal face. Other events include: Saturday, March 16, 10:30 am, Beth Am (1055 S. La Cienega Blvd.); Saturday, March 16, 4:30 pm, B’nai David-Judea Congregation at Pico and Livonia. Rally for Freedom on Sunday, March 17, 4:00 pm, at the First AME Church at Adams and La Salle. — Dennis Gura, Contributing Writer

L.A. Armenians Protest

An Armenian rally was held in front of the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard to protest what they allege is Israel’s refusal to recognize the Ottoman massacres as a “genocide” and a cultural tragedy akin to the Jewish Holocaust. About 70 people protested peacefully for two hours on March 7. According to Yuval Rotem, Israel consul general in Los Angeles, the anger is based on a misinterpretation of some comments Rifka Cohen, the Israeli ambassador to Armenia, made earlier this year. The rally left officials at the Israeli Consulate baffled. They believe that the anger is misplaced. “Some elements want to use it as a vehicle against Israel,” Rotem said, “which is unfortunate.”

“I understand it’s a very sensitive issue for them. It’s a horrifying thing that happened,” said Zvi Vapni, deputy consul general in Los Angeles. “But generally, Israelis have a close relationship with the Armenian people.” Vapni noted that one of the oldest quarters in Jerusalem is an Armenian community. Rotem added that after a major earthquake hit Turkey several years ago, “we were the first to go and assist them.” Vapni added, “We are not historians. We do not deny anything. They must understand that the Consulate are not the ones that make any decisions or comments on this matter.” — Staff Report

Holocaust Scholars Hold Roundtable

The Directors Roundtable is holding the Los Angeles leg of its worldwide conference at UCLA on March 20. The conference topic: “What Remembrance of the Holocaust Is Doing For Mankind.”

The Roundtable will hold parallel events in London, Paris,
Berlin, Rome, Moscow, Buenos Aires, New York, Washington D.C., Florida, and
Israel. Speakers at the conference will include a who’s who of the Holocaust
scholarship community, including Darlene Basch, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, professor
Mark Jonathan Harris, Gregory Laemmle, Curt Lowens, Dr. Gary Schiller, professor
Cornelius Schnauber, Dr. M. Mitchell Serels, the Rev. Alexei Smith (retired) and
Nick Strimple. To register, call (323) 655-7001 or e-mail your reservation to mlakediroundtbl@aol.com . — Staff Report

An ‘Open Orthodox’ Rabbinical School

Rabbi Avi Weiss visited Los Angeles last week to promote his new “open Orthodox” rabbinical school, “Yeshivat Chovivei Torah,” now in its second year in Manhattan. Weiss spoke at Temple B’nai David-Judea, the shul of his former assistant rabbi, Yosef Kanefsky. The rabbinical school offers a four-year program for men who only plan to serve as pulpit rabbis, and each student must commit to three years of community service work. (One rabbinical student might intern in Los Angeles next year.)

“Openness in Orthodoxy means the preparedness to discuss openly some of the critical issues related to the role of women, a dignified and respectful dialogue with the Conservative and Reform,” Weiss said. “We believe we can transform the Modern Orthodox community if there are rabbis open to dialogue with Jews of all backgrounds — this could be phenomenally impactful. Weiss, a longtime activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry and Israel, called this project “the highlight of my life.” — Staff Report

Culver City Peace Debate

More than 100 people attended a lecture “Is an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Treaty Possible?” at Culver City’s Temple Akiba on March 10. A spirited debate took place between David Pine, western regional director of Americans for Peace Now, and Jerry Blume, spokesperson for Americans for a Safe Israel.

The audience at the Reform temple, most over the age of 50, expressed anger over suicide bombings, and disappointment with both Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. While both advocates strongly support Israel, they presented different solutions to the current crisis.

“Jews argue,” concluded Rabbi Allen S. Maller, who moderated the debate. “That’s what we do best.” — Eric H. Roth, Contributing Writer