Israel rejects Kerry’s proposed cease-fire

Israel rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal.

“We are not announcing that it has been achieved tonight,” Kerry said in Cairo on Friday night. “The world is watching tragic moment after tragic moment unfold and wondering when both sides are going to come to their senses.”

Kerry said he wanted a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire during which the sides would discuss “fundamental” issues that could extend the truce, according to a BBC reporter covering the press conference, but did not add details.

Israeli media had earlier reported that Israel’s security Cabinet rejected the truce because it did not allow Israel adequate means to demolish Hamas’ tunnel system.

It was not clear what limits Israel rejected, because multiple reports suggested the cease-fire included an allowance for Israel to continue dismantling the tunnels.

There was no official word of Hamas’ reaction, but reports on CNN and Israel Radio said the group, which controls Gaza, rejected the cease-fire precisely because it allowed Israel to remain in the tunnels.

A U.S. official told JTA that Kerry would continue to try to achieve a cease-fire.

Israel says Hamas built the tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks inside Israel.

Israel’s army meanwhile announced the latest Israeli casualty, Sgt. Guy Levy, 21, who died in fighting on Friday.

That brings to 35 the number of Israeli soldiers killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict, which started July 8 when Israel launched air strikes after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza. Another three Israeli civilians have been killed. More than 820 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians.

The Presbyterians’ Judaism problem

The Jewish world has been shaken by the decision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from three companies that it claims “further the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

The denomination has placed itself squarely on the side of the divestment movement that seeks to hold Israel solely to blame for the plight of the Palestinian people. It did so, furthermore, over the opposition of many Presbyterian pastors and lay leaders.

Despite protests to the contrary by the denomination’s leaders, the church’s embrace of divestment is an affront to the Jewish community.

The insult is made worse by the release earlier this year by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network of a vehemently anti-Zionist congregational study guide, “Zionism Unsettled.” This ahistorical and wildly biased broadside impugned the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and the very legitimacy of this core element of Jewish identity. While the church’s recent General Assembly did pass a resolution stating that “Zionism Unsettled” does not represent the denomination’s views, the study guide remains for sale on the church’s website.

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released a study guide titled “Zionism Unsettled” with a companion DVD.

Regrettably, the church — which often has been a partner of the Jewish community on critical social justice issues — has been on a 10-year road to this moment. At the Presbyterians’ 2004 General Assembly, the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee called for a “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” Since then, within the church, Israel has often been compared to South Africa’s nefarious apartheid regime.

Even worse, these ostensibly political actions are part of a warped theological framework that delegitimizes any Jewish attachment to the land of Israel. This theological structure represents a wholesale denial of Jewish history, Jewish experience and Jewish religious strivings to live in covenant with God.

Irrespective of repeated statements by the denomination’s leaders that the church loves its Jewish friends, the real problem is what the church thinks about Judaism. The truth is that the denomination is theologically unreconciled with the Jewish community.

Whereas many other Christian denominations have grappled seriously with anti-Jewish theological traditions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has failed to do so.

In the late 1950’s, Pope John XXIII contemplated how the Catholic Church might have contributed to an atmosphere that produced the Holocaust. He reevaluated the history of church-based anti-Judaism: the historical Christian belief that the Jewish covenant with God had been broken by perfidy, and that God had chosen a new covenantal partner, the church.

The process initiated by John XXIII led to the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which made four remarkable claims: 1) that Jews are not now –and never were – collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, 2) that God’s covenant with the Jews is eternally valid, (3) that Jews should never be treated as if God had abandoned or cursed them, and (4) that anti-Semitism has no place whatsoever in Christianity.

Today, Jews and Catholics continue to work at deepening understanding and cooperation. Even when Jews have had political differences with the church, these were discussed with an attitude of respect for the fundamentals of Jewish identity — a level playing field for dialogue.

Many Protestant denominations took up the same process of theological soul-searching. The Episcopal Church dealt with the issue of with the issue of supersessionism and the validity of the Jewish covenant in a resolution in 1988; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in 1994; the United Methodist Church in 1996. These other mainline Protestant denominations have wrestled with their theological relationship to Judaism. They have developed a language of understanding and respect upon which to respectfully engage with Jews on political questions.

The Presbyterians have not done this.

True, a white paper on these questions has been circulating around the Presbyterian church since the mid-1980s, but it was never acted upon. The Presbyterian church has not resolved the question of supersessionism. It has not resolved how it teaches about the Jewish covenantal relationship with God and the biblical roots of the Jewish people’s attachment to the land of our heritage. And by denying our essential identity, the Presbyterians have now ceased to understand us as we know ourselves.

All of this became very clear when the Presbyterians’ 2014 General Assembly debated whether the church should emend those prayers and hymns that refer to Israel, or at least to footnote that the Israel of the hymn does not refer to the modern land of Israel and that Zion only refers to the “City of God,” not a physical place. True, this resolution was rejected, but an atmosphere of anti-Judaism created the opportunity for it to be debated seriously.

The Presbyterian church’s actions have not only called into question its relationship with Jews. They have highlighted a glaring issue: the church’s relationship to Judaism. Until the official church body is willing to wrestle with this theological question, we can only expect expanded efforts within the church targeting Israel and a further tearing asunder of a Jewish-Presbyterian relationship that was built upon a shared vision for a just society.

Much work lies ahead if the Presbyterians wish to repair this breach. Jews are an eternally hopeful people, and we stand ready to work with them. But to mend ties, the church must affirm our identity as a people still in covenant with God and with a legitimate attachment to both our history and our ancestral homeland.

Aly Raisman says she was for Munich 11 moment of silence [SLIDESHOW]

Slideshow highlighting Aly Raisman‘s Olympics at bottom

Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman expressed her support for a moment of silence at the Olympics for the Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Games.

Raisman was speaking to reporters Tuesday following her gold medal performance in the floor exercise.

“Having that floor music wasn’t intentional,” she said of her floor routine to the music of “Hava Nagila,” the New York Post reported Wednesday. “But the fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me. If there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported it and respected it.”

A memorial ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered in Munich was held Monday in London, organized by the Israeli Embassy in London and the National Olympic Committee of Israel along with the London Jewish community.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge held a moment of silence for the Israelis at a small ceremony in the Olympic Village late last month, but he said a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies in London would not be appropriate. He spoke at Monday’s memorial.

International politicians and public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the governments of several countries had called for an official moment of silence at the London opening.

[Aly Raisman’s results: team / all-around / balance beam / floor exercise]

Aly Raisman, after protest, wins bronze on balance beam

Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman won a bronze medal on the balance beam after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result.

Raisman had finished fourth behind Catalina Ponor of Romania, who fell off the beam in the finals on Tuesday.  Following the Americans’ protest, the rescoring put the two gymnasts in a tie. Under the tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the bronze with a higher execution score. She had lost a bronze in the all-around on the same tie-breaker.

China took the gold and silver in the event. American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around, also fell off the apparatus and finished in seventh among the eight competitors.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., helped Team USA take the women’s team gold on Tuesday—the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raisman, 18, won the floor exercise while performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila.”

[For more Olympics coverage, visit]

She will compete later Tuesday in the individual floor exercise event.

Also Tuesday, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits had problems in the final and finished in sixth place after entering the medal race in second. She was ninth in the medal round.

Team Israel likely will go home without any medals for the first time since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Korzits, 28, won world windsurfing titles in 2011 and 2012. She did not qualify to represent Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and considered retiring.

The following year she suffered a near-fatal surfing accident while working on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s tour in Hawaii. She was told by doctors that she would never surf again but she rededicated herself to the sport.

Jason Lezak likely closes Olympics career with a silver medal

Four-time gold medalist Jason Lezak, competing in what is likely his final Olympics, helped the American swim team qualify for the 4×100-meter freestyle relay finals.

Lezak swam in the morning preliminaries on July 29 but did not compete that evening in the finals, when the United States took silver.

It was Lezak’s eighth medal overall in four Olympics. His gold medals have come as a member of relay teams; he won an individual bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008.

The Americans led all the way in the July 29 final until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).

[For more Olympics coverage, visit]

The race was similar to four years ago in Beijing, when Lezak overtook the French world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters despite being nearly a full body length behind on the last lap. It was the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history, by nearly six-tenths of a second, and earned victory for the United States and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.

Lezak, who was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame in 2010, helped Lochte and Phelps qualify for the relay’s finals.

“The coaches had a tough decision to make with so many talented 100 freestylers and then the two best all-around swimmers in the world,” Lezak told late on July 29 via e-mail.

Lezak, 36, has not specifically said this is his last Olympics, but he is the oldest swimmer on the U.S. men’s squad.

Since his historic comeback at the Beijing Olympics, Lezak has participated in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, winning four gold medals last summer, and has taught swimming clinics for neighborhood kids at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Southern California.

Lezak has two children and is an active member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach.

“It’s something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them,” he said. “I really didn’t have anyone like that growing up.”

Aly Raisman, Jason Lezak shine for Team USA

While both took to the podiums in London this week to receive a medal, 18-year-old Aly Raisman’s Olympic star was rising as 36-year-old swimmer Jason Lezak’s appeared to be setting.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., helped Team USA take the women’s team gold on Tuesday—the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Also, Raisman is favored to win the all-around individual competition on Thursday, as well as the floor exercise on Aug. 7, when she will be competing in the balance beam final. She and Gabby Douglas are representing the U.S. in the individual finals.

Lezak, a four-time gold medalist likely competing in his last Olympics, helped the American men’s swimming team qualify for the 4×100-meter freestyle swimming finals. The team went on to finish second, receiving a silver medal—Lezak’s eighth medal overall in four Olympics. Lezak did not compete in the finals.

[Related: Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold]
[Related: Video of Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral]

Meanwhile, the Israeli delegation was experiencing its ups and downs early in the Games.

On Tuesday, two Israeli medal hopefuls were faring well in windsurfing. Lee Korzits was in second place in the women’s eight-day long RS:X event while Shahar Tzuberi was in 10th in the men’s competition.

The Israeli judo team was expected to do well after winning four medals in recent European matches, but judoka Alice Schlesinger was eliminated from competition early this week.

Political differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors came to London when the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to the Israeli team. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, even before the start of the Games, Iranian judo athlete Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the competition last week, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. That led to widespread speculation that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

At the Games, the American swimmers led all the way in the men’s 4×100-meter relay until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in 3 minutes 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).

The French turned the tide on the Americans from four years ago in Beijing, when Lezak overtook the French world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters despite being nearly a full body length behind him in the stretch. It was the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history by nearly six-tenths of a second, and earned victory for the U.S. and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.

Lezak, though he did not swim in the relay on Sunday night, had helped his teammates Lochte and Phelps qualify in the morning preliminaries.

“The coaches had a tough decision to make with so many talented 100 freestylers and then the two best all-around swimmers in the world,” Lezak told late Sunday via email. “Of course, I would have liked to be a part of the final. If you asked any of us who swam prelims they would have answered it the same.”

While he has not specifically said he would return for another Summer Games, Lezak, who was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame in 2010, is the oldest member of the U.S. men’s swim team.

“As the body gets older, sometimes the mind wants to go hard for a lot longer. But I’ve learned over the course of the last several years how many laps is enough, how many is too much,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Since his historic comeback at the Beijing Olympics, Lezak has participated in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, winning four gold medals last summer, and taught swimming clinics for neighborhood kids at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Southern California. He has two children and is an active member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, Calif.

“It’s something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them,” he said in 2009. “I really didn’t have anyone like that growing up.”

Raisman scored 15.300 in the floor exercise to win the event, performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila” as she did on Sunday. Raisman also had performed to “Hava Nagila” when she gained a berth on the U.S. team last year.

She is trained by Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan, the Romanian couple who coached the Israeli national team in the early 1990s. The coaches and her mother selected “Hava Nagila” after several exhaustive late-night online searches, they told JTA last year.

She is proud to be using the Jewish song “because there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there,” Raisman told JTA last year. And, she added, “I like how the crowd can clap to it.”

Raisman is a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York.

Other notable performances of Jewish athletes included U.S. fencer Timothy Morhouse, who lost to Italy’s Diego Occhiuzzi in the quarterfinals.

In tennis, Israel’s Shahar Peer was eliminated by Russia’s Maria Sharapova, one of the top-ranked players in the world. Peer is winless against Sharapova in seven matches.

In men’s gymnastics, Israel’s Alex Shatilov qualified for the finals of the floor exercise after finishing fourth overall. He also qualified for Wednesday’s all-around individual final after finishing 12th overall.

In men’s rowing, David Banks of the U.S. team finished first in the preliminaries and qualified for the finals.

For more Olympics coverage, visit

Opinion: Look between the headlines to understand the Presbyterians’ vote

The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 220th General Assembly had just cast its first vote on an anti-Israel divestment resolution when the spin began. Major news outlets and activists on each side could hardly wait for the debate to finish the next day before declaring winners and losers.

This was my fourth GA and one thing I’ve learned is that reality lies somewhere between the headlines. Here are some reality checks on the GA.

* The defeat of divestment was narrow—and it wasn’t.

The widely reported 333-331 vote earlier this month was on a motion to substitute a positive investment minority report for the main divestment resolution. This means the very first time the plenary had a chance, it shot down divestment. It was close, but in subsequent votes the positive approach passed by a much wider margin—and additional pro-divestment motions continued to fail by increasingly wider margins. The Positive Investment substitute—passed 369-290—calls for financial support for projects that include collaboration among Christians, Jews and Muslims and that will help develop viable Palestinian infrastructure, job creation and economic development.

* The PCUSA is different from other churches – and it isn’t.

Think of the most intense anti-Israel delegitimizers you’ve ever seen, heard or read. They run the show at the PCUSA.

Before the GA, the PCUSA’s coordinator of social witness policy defended divestment, attacked positive investment and said an Israel-apartheid comparison is unavoidable. An advisory committee called as its resource person before the GA’s Middle East committee a Jewish representative from an anti-Zionist group that actively favors boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Even the church’s executive council backed divestment.

But there were also several major Presbyteries, seminary presidents, former national moderators and other key leaders who opposed divestment. One group, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, successfully advocated for a balanced approach that was clearly more in keeping with the mind-set of Presbyterians.

* The targeted companies are profiteers—and they aren’t.

The PCUSA’s Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment, or MRTI—the body that originally recommended divestment—concluded that no further conversations would matter for Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. They were irredeemably and unequivocally guilty. The Methodist pension board, meanwhile, reached the exact opposite conclusion.

A close reading of the MRTI report reveals that it relied on resolutions filed by radical groups better known for harassing corporations than engaging them.

Motions filed on a broader human rights issue were presented as if they were about Israel, and corporate transgressions like a corporate officer rescheduling a conference call were submitted as conclusive proof of indifference. But companies are companies. Their jobs are making money, not playing politics—and they get attacked so often, it’s just noise to them.

* The divestment debate is really about anti-Semitism—and it isn’t.

A church leader told me that he had never heard of Israel’s security fence described as being even partially a defensive move, indicating that the silencing of Israel’s legitimate security stance isn’t just about choosing sides but about something much deeper.

More than 1,500 American rabbis representing a broad geographical and ideological range sent a letter against divestment to every PCUSA commissioner. Had women or ethnic leaders in the United States sent a letter on a topic of concern, the PCUSA leadership might have stopped dead in its tracks. Disturbingly, that didn’t happen with this letter.

Even more disturbing was a pro-BDS letter signed by fewer than two dozen rabbis and trumpeted by a PCUSA committee that said it was tantamount to racism to suggest that the Jewish community opposes divestment. That doesn’t rise to the level of anti-Semitism. Yet the church leadership’s failure to challenge this outrageous comment certainly isn’t a measure of respect either.

* The divestment debate is actually about Christian Zionism—and it isn’t.

There is an intense struggle between left and right in American churches that plays out over many issues, including sexuality and Israel. The struggle is so intense that it drowns out the real debate over issues; Israel becomes a proxy for a much wider conversation.

We are told sometimes that we need to choose between friendship with liberal or with conservative Christians. Not true. We should not be forced to choose between neighbors and friends. Peacemaking requires a path that is faithful to all who seek peace, including Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Muslims and Jews.

* The PCUSA has become irrelevant—and it hasn’t.

The membership of the PCUSA is dropping—rapidly. As with many of the “mainline” churches, it has lost half its members in 40 years, with one in five leaving in the past decade. The median age is 61 and fewer than one in 10 Presbyterians is aged 18 to 34. But there also is new life in many parts of the church—and little to celebrate in the exodus from other parts of the PCUSA. It is a major American institution and an important partner on a range of issues.

It helps no one if responsible voices bolt and leave behind a denomination less able to discern between peacemaking and radicalism.

* The debate is really about what Palestinian Christians want – and it isn’t.

The PCUSA has close connections with Palestinian Christians. They visit them, hear from them and care about them. They have skin in the game.

But there also are American denominations with sister churches in the Palestinian areas that have rejected divestment, most recently the Episcopal Church, which heard from Palestinian Christians who oppose divestment.

There are many myths about the Palestinian Christians. Some friends of Israel believe the only stresses that Palestinian Christians face are from Muslims. And many detractors of Israel have fabricated a story that the Palestinian Christian population is in free fall due to Israeli policies (it isn’t—the West Bank Christian population is actually increasing). Palestinian Christians do face stresses, as do Israelis.

* Not surprisingly, the story is far more complex than either “side” would have it. The battle continues.

Well, that is true.

The PCUSA passed a troubling boycott resolution. While there are committed Zionists who have supported a boycott of West Bank settlement groups, the effort in the PCUSA was led by groups that don’t support a Jewish state. For them it is incremental delegitimization.

Presbyterians have much to decide. Do they want their church to be positive or negative? One that understands that there are multiple narratives or just one version, with characters conveniently symbolized by American companies to reduce a painful conflict affecting real lives to a caricature of innocence and evil?

In the end, that is a Presbyterian conversation. And it isn’t.

Ethan Felson is the vice president and general counsel for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Divestment: What the Presbyterian vote could mean

In the next few days, the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), will convene in Pittsburgh. If delegates pass any one of several resolutions calling for punitive economic measures against Israel, the Church will have capitulated to one of the worst assaults on Jewish integrity coming from any church group since the Holocaust. That blow to Jewish history, belief and aspiration is contained in the Kairos Palestine Document (KPD), ironically, a document unknown to most Presbyterians.

About two-and-a-half years ago, KPD was penned by a group of Palestinian Christians. Redolent with Scriptural references, it is a powerful appeal for Christian sympathy for the plight of Palestinians.

KPD is also, however, a frontal assault on the very legitimacy of Israel, and an attack on Judaism itself. The Kairos Palestine Document justifies (but does not recommend) terrorism. It assigns all the blame to Israel for the Middle East’s problems. It acknowledges nothing about Palestinian terror, rocket attacks, or the teaching of virulent anti-Semitism in schools, on Palestinian Authority television, and in mosques.

It denies any Biblical link between the Jewish people and the Holy Land. It rewrites modern history as well, by promoting the canard that Israel was created in sin, an imposition of Western colonialists, driven by guilt for the Nazi Holocaust, on the backs of the true owners of the land. It conveniently ignores 3,500 years of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, and erases a 150 years of peaceful up-building of the land by Jews before the establishment of the state.

It gets even worse. Kairos’ appeals to Scripture take the classic form of Replacement Theology, in which all references to the Jews in the Bible, all covenants with them, are replaced, as Christians become the New Jews. The old Jews, thereby, become the discards of history. (Christians invoked Replacement Theology, together with the charge of deicide, for centuries to justify persecuting Jews). Finally, this document culminates in a core political demand of Israel’s enemies: the cessation of all US military aid to Israel, and for economic boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish state.

[Related: Church of Nativity gets Heritage status over U.S., Israel objections]

Jewish leaders voiced their dismay and outrage when a PCUSA recommended adoption of Kairos at the 2010 General Assembly. KPD made a mockery of the 1987 Presbyterian document, “A Theological Understanding of the Relationship Between Christians and Jews.” The 1987 document contained seven theological affirmations, among them that the identity of the Church “is intimately related to the continuing identity of the Jewish people”; that both “Christians that Jews are in covenant relationship with G-d”; and a pledge that they would “put an end to the teaching of contempt for the Jews.”

KPD devalued the identity of the Jewish people, denied any continuing covenant, and was contemptuous of the way Jews looked at themselves, their beliefs and the centrality of their Land.

While Kairos was not formally adopted, it was “lifted up for study,” “along with a pledge to Jewish groups that a new spirit of fairness to all sides would soon prevail.”

It never happened. A new study guide on the Middle East that was just released betrayed that promise.

While it was supposed to provide two perspectives on the Middle East, it did nothing of the sort.

At the General Assembly that begins this week, PCUSA will vote on a number of resolutions incorporating the worst influences of Kairos. A call for divestment has the backing of a prestigious standing committee of the Church. Passing any one of the anti-Israel resolutions will mean that Presbyterians have responded to the call of Palestinians with nothing less than a repudiation of the principles that governed dialogue with Church leadership for decades.

Their votes will not help a single Palestinian but will leave Jews little choice but to end all ties with Presbyterian leadership, and ignore their unfair and unfaithful pronouncements on Israel in the future.

The Jewish community has some difficult lessons to absorb from this fiasco masquerading as dialogue.

We have to clearly articulate that any group’s inability to come to terms with Israel as a Jewish state is not only a deal-breaker, but also a signal of contempt for Jews and Judaism.

It is almost beyond belief that as the ground literally burns beneath the Christian faithful in Egypt, Nigeria and Iraq that PCUSA stays fixated in aiding and abetting the de-legitimizing of Israel. All other mainline Christian denominations have either rejected or shelved divestment measures. If Presbyterians go it alone, they will have made an unnecessary but clear choice between the narratives of two people.

A huge number of ordinary Presbyterians reject the actions of their church leadership. They enjoy a mutually warm and respectful relationship with Jewish friends. Those valued friendships will continue.

But as far as PCUSA denominational leadership, the upcoming vote may bring us to the end of the road.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

This essay originally appeared at

Happy Birthday, USA! Sweet dreams with the Shema

Happy Birthday U.S.A.!

We celebrate the 232nd birthday of the United States of America on July 4. Between noshing on barbecue and watching fireworks, test how well you know early American history. Circle the right answer for the following questions but read carefully — some might be a bit tricky.

  1. Jamestown, the first English colony in America, was located here: Virginia or New York
  2. The stripes on the American Flag represent the signers of the Declaration of Independence: True or False
  3. The national anthem of the United States: “America the Beautiful” or “The Star-Spangled Banner”
  4. The first president of the United States is the man on: the $1 bill or the $5 bill
  5. The war fought for American Independence from Britain was the: Civil War or Revolutionary War

Scroll down to the bottom of the page for answers

Sweet Dreams

“You shall say these words … when you lie down and when you rise.” “The Bedtime Sh’ma: A Goodnight Book,” adapted by Sarah Gershman, combines illustrations with a sweet, gender-neutral translation of the bedtime “Shema” (excerpts from the full text are in Hebrew and English in the back of the book). The prayer teaches children to give thanks for all the blessings in their lives.
The CD version includes musical selections from the “Shema” and gives children a chance to hear the prayers as they drift off to dreamland. Goodnight dreamers everywhere! $17.95 (hardcover), $10.95 (paperback), $10.95 (CD). Available in stores and at online retailers.

In Harmony

Ever wonder what music they listen to around the world? If you head over to the

Names to Watch on Way Up, Down in ’06

Here are a handful of people to watch in the coming 12 months — some on the way up; some on the way down.

Jack Abramoff: The once-high-flying Republican lobbyist, Jewish benefactor and GOP best buddy has become the most radioactive man in Washington, thanks to controversial deals with Native American gaming interests and his cozy links with top legislators, especially the golf aficionados.

Now that he may be about to cut a deal with prosecutors, the scandal could affect some of the biggest names in politics, starting with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). And that could have an impact on the 2006 midterm congressional elections.

Ariel Sharon: The prime minister’s daring political gamble in leaving Likud and creating the centrist Kadima Party, his rumored plans for new West Bank withdrawals and his uncertain health make him the most intriguing figure in the Middle East. Many American Jewish right-wingers revile the man they once idolized, but centrist Jews here, once distrustful, are poised to support his next peace moves.

But what, exactly, will they be? And how will a fragmented Palestinian leadership react to new unilateral Israeli peace initiatives?

Sharon’s fortunes are inextricably linked to those of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who may soon find out if his decision to co-opt rather than confront Hamas will pay off — or sink his already leaking ship of state.

Benjamin Netanyahu: The former prime minister and finance minister, now leading a Sharon-less Likud Party, is at another juncture in his mercurial career. A move to the right could marginalize his party still further, but Bibi could get a boost from any resumption of widespread terrorism against Israel. Another unknown for both Netanyahu and Sharon: whether Amir Peretz, the new Labor Party leader, will be able to help right that rudderless ship.

Condoleezza Rice: Will the secretary of state, whose recent shuttle diplomacy won an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on border crossings, now take a more active role in jump starting the stalled “road map” for Palestinian statehood? And how will her possible presidential aspirations affect her diplomacy in the region? Already, “Rice ’08” bumper stickers have appeared on Washington highways.

Howard Kohr: Despite this year’s indictment of two former top American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials, AIPAC had a banner 2005.

But Kohr, the group’s executive director, will face huge new challenges as the case against Steve Rosen, former policy director, and Keith Weissman, an Iran analyst, goes to court. If it turns out badly for the defendants, there will be questions about how their improper activity could have taken place on Kohr’s watch. If they are acquitted, he will come under criticism from their supporters for firing them.

Most analysts say that so far, Kohr has kept AIPAC focused on its core mission, despite all the controversy — and even exploited the scandal to boost fundraising. But that task could get significantly harder in 2006.

Abe Foxman: Are Jewish relations with the Christian right at a turning point? The Anti-Defamation League director thinks so. His November blast against groups he says use public policy to “Christianize” the nation set off aftershocks that will reverberate into 2006.

Will a still-liberal Jewish community follow the outspoken Foxman, and will he get help from those Jewish leaders who agree with him on the substance of his charges but worry about alienating evangelicals who support Israel and who wield enormous power in Congress and the White House?

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA): Will they continue to pursue divestment against Israel while making nice with Hezbollah? That threatens a major rupture with a Jewish community that has traditionally worked closely with the Presbyterians on major domestic issues. Other mainline churches have backed off divestment. If the Presbyterians don’t, they will render themselves irrelevant in the quest for Mideast peace.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.): Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, has enjoyed a spectacular rise up the GOP leadership ladder, now serving as chief deputy whip in only his third term.

Cantor could help the party recover from a scandal-filled year in advance of the 2006 midterm elections and in the process boost his own hopes for becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House. But he could be tainted by his reputation as a DeLay loyalist, if the former majority leader goes down in flames.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.): Is the nation ready for a Jewish presidential candidate from the Dairy State? Feingold — who was in the news in December for his staunch opposition to the Patriot Act and his angry response to new revelations of government spying — thinks it is.

The quirky Feingold is a longshot, but some analysts say that if public anger about the Iraq War continues to mount and revelations about inappropriate government activity continue to wash across front pages, he could be in a position to challenge the putative front-runner for the Democratic nomination: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), now recast as a centrist who refuses to criticize the administration’s Iraq policies.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): The maverick Arizona Republican forced the administration to back down on legislation banning the torture of U.S. detainees. Political pros say McCain’s reputation for integrity and his independence could make him an attractive choice for the growing number of Jewish independents, despite his arch conservatism on domestic issues. And he could be the antidote for a party that goes into the 2006 congressional midterms wracked by scandals.

Look for McCain to dramatically increase his outreach to the Jewish community in 2006 as he cranks up his campaign machine.