By B. J. Trotter
February 2, 2012
I hope this in-depth examination of a religious and political impasse is not construed as pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. I am merely setting forth some observations I hope you will consider.
Two days before Christians around the world celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, Gallup/USA Today released a report on the religious makeup of the United States:
“Christianity is still the most prevalent religion in the United States, with 78 percent of American adults identifying with some form of the Christian religion in 2011. Less than 2 perent are Jewish, less than 1 percent are Muslim, and 15 percent do not have a religious identity.”
Because 78 percent of American adults base religious beliefs in Judeo-Christian roots, this country supports Israel. Unquestionably, the two percent of Americans who are Jewish and the 1 percent who are Muslim, while both based in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, come from a heritage divided – a division that greatly affects both U.S. policy and world peace.
What will surprise you, though, is this: there is dissension in America’s Jewish community over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to a 2011 “Civility Statement” issued by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, in Jewish communities across America:
"The expression and exchange of views is often an uncivil, highly unpleasant experience. Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults and outrageous charges."
At the forefront of this rancor is divided opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the threat to Israel from Iran.
The following is an in-depth look at the festering sore that seemingly will not heal and its impact on both U.S. politics and world peace. It is well-researched, well-documented and written with objectivity, as I have always sought to do. I do not attempt to trace the history of the conflict as that is available online. Rather, I am relating recent observations with a bit of historical perspective.
SEPARATING A PEOPLE FROM ITS POLITICS
Like the American Jewish community itself, I think we must separate our support of Jews and Judaism and our opinion of the current Israeli government, and we should feel free to examine the latter without reprisal.
Let me state, unequivocally, that I do not like the right-wing politics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party. As for the man himself, there are things to like and dislike. I like that he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. I admire his distinguished military career. The way he hogged CNN’s cameras during Operation Desert Storm turned me off. His family tree is notable. I deeply sympathize that he lost his older brother Yoni, who at age 30 was commander of the Israeli Special Forces and was the only Israeli commando killed in the rescue raid on Entebbe. The fact that Netanyahu’s marital record mirrors that of Newt Gingrich does not appeal.
None of this, of course, makes me – or anyone of like convictions – anti-Semitic.
SERENDIPITY: TWO QUOTES
Coincidentally, while working on this article, I listened to Nelson Demille’s novel, “By the Rivers of Babylon,” a thriller pitting Palestinian terrorists against Israelis. Demille opens his 1978 book with two quotes:
“Our stuggles have barely begun, the worst is yet to come, and it is right for Europe and America to be warned, now, that there will be no peace. The prospect of triggering a third world war doesn’t bother us. The world has been using us and has forgotten us. It is time they realize we exist. Whatever the price we will continue the struggle. Without our consent the other Arabs can do nothing, and we will never agree to a peaceful settlement. We are the joker in the pack.”
- Dr. George Habash (1926-2008), Palestinian Orthodox Christian and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
“We Jews just refuse to disappear. No matter how strong and brutal and ruthless the forces against us may be, here we are. Millions of bodies broken, buried alive, burned to death, but never has anyone been able to succeed in breaking the spirit of the Jewish people.”
- Golda Meir (1898-1978), prime minister of Israel, 1969-1974, Brussels, Belgium, February 19, 1976.
Demille’s book is filled with Jewish heroes, what James Michener in “The Source” calls “the new Jew” – militaristic and no longer pacifists – the rescuers at Entebbe, the avengers of Munich. On a mission to peace talks with Palestinians, they are attacked by terroists and must defend themselves in a seemingly impssible showdown – peace negotiators turned warriors.
Made clear in the novel is that both sides were seeking peace. Extremists thwarted their efforts. So, it is and so it will ever be – until past wrongs are forgiven. And isn’t forgiveness a cornerstone of all religions?
FROM THE FIRST FLORIDA DEBATE
Audience question from a Jacksonville, Florida, man who identified himself as a Palestinian-American:
“How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian-American Republican, I'm here to tell you we do exist.”
CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer threw the question to two of the GOP candidates, whose responses brought applause from the audience:
MITT ROMNEY: Well, the reason that there's not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is -- in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas, who have as their intent the elimination of Israel. And whether it's in school books that teach how to kill Jews or whether it's in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.
There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It's the Palestinians who don't want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.
And I believe America must say -- and the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel.
This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president threw --
ROMNEY: I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the '67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel, and that has created, in my view, a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians. I will stand with our friend Israel.
NEWT GINGRICH: It (Palestine) was technically an invention of the late 1970s, and it was clearly so. Prior to that, they were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese or Egyptian, or Jordanian.
There are a couple of simple things here. There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November. Now, imagine in Duvall County that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, you know, that looks like an act of war.
You have leadership unequivocally, and Governor Romney is exactly right, the leadership of Hamas says, not a single Jew will remain. We aren't having a peace negotiation then. This is war by another form.
My goal for the Palestinian people would be to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom. and they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we're going to live side-by-side, now let's work together to create mutual prosperity.
And you could in five years dramatically improve the quality of life of every Palestinian. But the political leadership would never tolerate that. And that's why we're in a continuous state of war where Obama undermines the Israelis.
On the first day that I'm president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we're with Israel.
American presidents have sought to bring about peace talks in this ever-volatile situation, but I don’t see such headstrong stances as being conducive to furthering such negotiations.
When I told a knowledgeable friend the title of this article, she said she could shorten my article to one word: no.
Resoltution cannot come without dialogue.
First, there has been violence on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians – widely reported and well documented – two peoples who believe they are defending themselves.
Further, this is a case of arousing an audience that apparently has no idea what President Obama actually said at the United Nations on 21 September 2011. If anything, Palestinians could claim Obama threw them “under the bus.”
Here are the lead paragraphs of The New York Times report on Obama’s address to the UN that day:
“President Obama declared his opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood through the Security Council on Wednesday, throwing the weight of the United States directly in the path of the Arab democracy movement even as he hailed what he called the democratic aspirations that have taken hold throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
“'Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.,’ Mr. Obama said, in an address before world leaders at the General Assembly. ‘If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.’
“Instead, Mr. Obama said, the international community should keep pushing Israelis and Palestinians toward talks on the four intractable issues that have vexed peace negotiations since 1979: borders of a Palestinian state, security for Israel, the status of Palestinian refugees and the fate of Jerusalem, which both sides claim for their capital.”
In addition, Obama threatened to veto Palestinian membership in the UN.
Read the complete article HERE.
Finally, I might be naïve, but how can Romeny and Gingrich demand one people recognize the right of another to exist while at the same time telling those people they do not exist?
AMERICA’S JEWS DIVIDED
American Jews confront internal rancor over Israel
By Joe Sterling, CNN
January 27, 2012
Atlanta (CNN) - When the editor of a Jewish newspaper here wrote this month that the Jewish state might consider assassinating an American president, his column made national headlines and provoked a Secret Service inquiry.
The most striking criticism came from the Jewish community itself, which collectively held its nose and harshly denounced the column by Andrew Adler, who is also the owner of the weekly paper, the Atlanta Jewish Times. Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman called Adler's words "irresponsible and extremist."
Adler apologized and resigned as editor, but some see the episode as the latest example of an increase in divisive, over-the-top rhetoric within American Jewish communal life, revolving largely around the hot-button issue of Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians.
The tensions have provoked Jewish groups across the country to launch programs aimed at lowering the political temperature in their own religious communities.
Israel is not "one of the great unifying factors" that it once was in the Jewish community, said Samuel Freedman, author of "Jew vs. Jew: the Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry.”
"Since the Lebanon invasion and the First Intifada, it has become a dividing line,” he said, referring to the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation in the late 1980s. “It's probably deeper now than I've ever seen it."
Tensions within American Judaism are rising as some Jews detect an "existential threat" to Israel, with Iran's nuclear aspirations and Islamist parties coming to power during the Arab uprisings, he says.
Freedman also sees broader trends at work, including the fading line between private and public talk dissolving in the era of blogging and tweeting. The Atlanta Jewish Times incident, he says, is a reminder that words that sound bold in private will "resonate really differently when they are out in public."
Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, says emotions have been much more "intense and destructive" lately as ideological camps within the American Jewish community harden their views over the contentious U.S. presidential campaign, tensions between Israel and Iran, and issues from health care to marriage.
"This is going to be a brutal year," he says. "We're looking at a scorched earth political environment."
Felson’s group spearheads a nationwide civility initiative and held a "civility institute" last year to help Jewish leaders with conflict resolution, listening and "communicating across polarized divides."
Leaders from 15 Jewish communities across the country participated.
The council recently issued a civility statement signed by a range of prominent Jewish entities, saying the effort has "deep roots in Torah," the Jewish sacred text, and "in our community's traditions."
But the statement also spoke to a troubled Jewish landscape. "The expression and exchange of views is often an uncivil, highly unpleasant experience,” it said. “Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults, and outrageous charges."
Jane Schiff, a Jewish Council for Public Affairs board member who is also on the group’s civility task force, says she has seen the hostile atmosphere take its toll in her Atlanta community, with rabbis backing off from talking about Israel.
"They are afraid it will affect their employment. I'm seeing friends saying to each other, 'I'm not talking to you about that because I want to stay your friend,' " she said of controversial issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Judy Saks, the community relations director for the Jewish Federation of Nashville and editor of the federation-produced community newspaper, can attest to the vituperation.
In May, an online video surfaced about Muslims in Nashville that said they were fomenting pro-terrorist ideas. Called “Losing our Community,” the video was produced by a Boston-based group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance.
A video on the group’s website says one Nashville Muslim figure it regards as radical has been embraced by “self-described progressive Jewish religious leaders," including a rabbi, and is respected as an interfaith activist in the community.
Saks said that the original video blasted three Nashville rabbis but that two were removed after several weeks. Americans for Peace and Tolerance did not respond to a request for comment.
"It brought out such divisiveness in this community,” Saks said. “It pointed fingers at our rabbis for doing what rabbis do."
The organized Jewish community decided to draw up its own civility statement, which supports "robust and vigorous debate about critical issues – as long as it is civil and tolerant" and disagreement "without threats of reprisal."
"This willingness to listen to other points of view honors Nashville's spirit as an open, welcoming and friendly city, our nation's history and our Jewish heritage," it said. "We will not engage with those who threaten the safety and security of our community."
In California's San Francisco Bay Area, controversy erupted over a film about Rachel Corrie shown at a 2009 San Francisco Jewish film festival.
Corrie, an American member of the International Solidarity Movement who was killed in Gaza nine years ago by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer, symbolizes for many the battle on the left against Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.
Corrie's mother spoke at the event, angering some Jews, who said her appearance politicized what was supposed to be an artistic moment.
The reaction to the film reflected the political fissures in the Bay Area Jewish community. In response, two community leaders, Abby Michelson Porth and Rachel Eryn Kalish, co-founded Project Reconnections, which included an initiative called the Year of Civil Discourse.
The well-funded effort throughout 2011 worked to bring Jews of different political stripes together for dialogue and deliberation, study and workshops. It also focused on reconciliation in four synagogues beset by political enmity and engaged community leaders over issues such as the Middle East.
Porth, also associate director at the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, says the project helped infuse the community "with the skills and the opportunity to have a rich, meaningful and civil discourse."
She says it got people on opposite ends of the spectrum to stay at the table to understand the other person's point of view and to deliberate thoughtfully over disagreements.
Kalish, the Year of Civil Discourse project facilitator, saw people’s "fight or flight" instincts shift as they learned to communicate thoughtfully and gain a deeper understanding of issues such as Jewish settlements and the status of Jerusalem.
A healthy conversation, Kalish said, helps people think and understand that "maybe there's a third way" to approach a stubborn issue.
She recalls an interaction in one synagogue between an older man, who lived through Israel's War of Independence in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967, and a young woman who sees Israel through the prism of its criticized actions in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
The two synagogue members came to understand each other and now work side by side as dialogue "facilitators" at their congregation. Kalish cites this as an example of "pretty dramatic change" in learning how to listen and speak honestly and respectfully.
Mitch Chanin, executive director of the Jewish Dialogue Group in Philadelphia, offers dialogue programs for Jews in synagogues, colleges and other organizations and trains people as dialogue facilitators. The group formed in 2001 and has done work across North America.
Chanin, who says his group refrains from promoting political opinion, says the dialogues have included talking through the tough issues around the Middle East conflict.
"People grapple with the questions of what risks are we willing to take and what actions are ethical. Who can we trust and not trust?" Chanin said. "The likely consequences of Israeli policies. What are the intentions of Palestinian actors?
“What can we do to be safe? When is it OK to kill? When is it necessary? When is it wrong? When are there alternatives?"
IS THERE AN ANSWER?
Possibly, if “separation of church and state” were understood, but in Israel and in the Middle East this remains an eternal impasse.
Adolph Hitler killed millions while peppering his oratory with praise for the Almighty. The Ku Klux Klan murdered while hiding in white and wrapping itself in the cloak of Christianity. Jews no longer “turn the other cheek” but retaliate with violence. On Tuesday, police in Afghanistan reported a Muslim man strangled his wife to death because she gave birth to a daughter instead of a son, a man so ignorant he doesn’t know it was his sperm that determined the sex of the child – 500 years after Henry VIII.
Religious zealots have waged witch hunts, inquisitions and wars throughout history.
Many atrocities are committed in the name of religious extremism. America felt this at its very soul on 9/11. But, as a Christian I assert that whatever goodness and peace and love and compassion that exists in this world is also due, in large part, to religion. We just don’t read about it in headlines.
If there is to be peace between Jews and Palestinians, it is up to the good people of every faith, like the Jews in the article above, to be willing to talk to and understand each other.
Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who died in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in her famous diary:
"I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
I do, too, Anne. I do, too.
Gallup/USA Today: Religious makeup of the U.S.
The first GOP debate in Florida.
Obama’s address to the United Nations.
American Jews split on Israeli policies.
Afghan Muslim murders his wife.