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DPA reports on the return of the Eternal Jew to Württemberg: GetReligion, March 21, 2014 April 25, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism.
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What is legal is not always moral, a German court observed this past week, holding that an organization may dismiss an employee for conduct that the state affirms as being within the law but which the organization views as wrong.

This sort of story in an American context might generate a line or two of commentary, but little more in the wake of the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which held there was a “ministerial exception” to labor laws that forbade the state from interfering in church employment issues.

As the New York Times reported in 2012:

“The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a decision that was surprising in both its sweep and its unanimity. “But so, too, is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

The wire service agency DPA (Deutsche Presse-Agentur) reported last Friday on a similar case making its way through the German courts. In a story entitled “Kündigung von Religionslehrer wegen Bordell ist rechtens.”(Terminating a Religion Teacher over a Brothel is legal) the DPA lays out the facts of the case using an economy of words with only a modicum of comment in the lede, which states:

Schüler in Religion unterrichten und nebenbei Miete aus einem Bordell kassieren – darf das sein? Seine Arbeitgeber schmissen einen Lehrer deshalb raus. Zu recht, fand das Arbeitsgericht. Das letzte Wort ist allerdings noch nicht gesprochen.

Teach students in religion while collecting rent from a brothel – may that be? His employer threw him out. And rightly so held the Labour Court. But the last word has not been spoken.

The article reports a Hebrew School teacher employed by the Jewish Community in Baden-Baden was dismissed after an investigation into financial irregularities at the board disclosed the teacher owned two apartments which he let to a brothel. In affirming the dismissal, the court held this was:

… «einen ausreichend schweren Verstoß gegen die Loyalitätspflichten gegenüber seinem jüdischen Arbeitgeber aufgrund seiner Vorbildfunktion als Religionslehrer». Die Weiterbeschäftigung sei für den Arbeitgeber nicht zumutbar. …

(“a sufficiently serious breach of the duty of loyalty towards his Jewish employer for failing to exhibit the exemplary conduct expected of a teacher of religion.” It was not reasonable for the employer to continue his employment.)


The article  noted the man had taught at the schul for over twenty years and had cancelled the brothel lease once it had come to the notice of the Jewish community leaders. DPA reports the case is likely to be appealed.

In these days of Hobby Lobby and disputes over the Affordable Health Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), the Baden-Baden schul case speaks to the issue of religious liberty in a European setting.

Has DPA has approached this story with a set of secularist notions — assuming its audience will understand the context and worldview being presented as its own? That is how I read this article.

Would the labor court have upheld the dismissal if the applicant had worked at a bank? Would it not have been helpful to add a line or two to say that the right to dismiss someone for lawful but immoral conduct applies to commercial enterprises as well as religious ones?

Or did the decision turn on the overtly religious nature of the man’s employment? The citation from the court’s ruling is ambiguous on this point. Is the “exemplary conduct expected of a teacher of religion” the same conduct expected of others? Or is the key phrase here “religion”? What if this man taught science at a state school? Would being the landlord of a brothel be grounds for dismissal? Fleshing out this distinction for a German, as well as an American audience would have improved the story.

And, what of the elephant in the room? Judaism and modern Germany? The conduct that led to the teacher’s dismissal is the stuff of Nazi fantasies — the evil amoral Jew who proclaimed public virtue while practicing secret vice. My mind turned to the 1940 Nazi propaganda classic Jud Süß as I read the article.

How might these actions have motivated the board in dismissing a Hebrew School teacher of twenty year’s standing? What subtext would a non-Jewish German reader read in this story? Or do I have Nazis on the brain?

This may be too much to ask of a wire service story, but the religion ghosts in this article are howling to be let loose.

St James Piccadily “Wall” not anti-Semitic, Parliament told: The Church of England Newspaper, January 31, 2014 February 17, 2014

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The construction of a mock “Wall” outside St James, Piccadilly, was not an anti-Semitic act, the Second Church Estates Commissioner told Parliament, but a condemnation of Israeli government policies.

Discussion of the London replica of the separation barrier constructed by the Israeli government to keep terrorist attacks at bay arose during Oral Answers to Questions asked of Sir Tony Baldry on 9 January.

The member for Harlow, Robert Halfon (Cons.) asked Sir Tony about the Church Commissioners’ discussion with government on the “promotion of religious tolerance.”

Sir Tony responded that in “this country, we have learned through the Reformation and the counter-Reformation and beyond the essential need for religious tolerance in our nation,” which prompted Mr Halfon to ask if the Church Commissioners would discuss “religious intolerance” with “St James’ church, which has held a shockingly anti-Israel exhibition over the past couple of weeks? Far from promoting religious tolerance, it did much to undermine it.”

Sir Tony responded that this question “raises a conundrum: to what extent should the tolerant tolerate the intolerant? The demonstration at St James, Piccadilly, was not against Judaism or Jews but against the illegal occupation under international law in the west bank and some of the settlements. In this House, we must be careful about what is seen as religious tolerance and about not tolerating intolerance or breaches of international law.”

The Speaker, John Bercow encouraged Sir Tony to “prepare a detailed paper on the matter and to lodge it in the Library of the House where I feel confident it will be a well-thumbed tome.”

The Boys from Buenos Aires?: Get Religion, November 14, 2013 November 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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What is an ultra-conservative Catholic? A member of the Society of St Pius X? A faithful Sunday communicant? A Trappist monk? Or is it someone whose name appears on the subscription lists of both My Daily Visitor and The National Review?

There is nothing improper, from the perspective of good journalism, in describing someone as an ultra-conservative Catholic — newspapers make editorial assertions in their headlines and ledes all the time. It is what draws the reader into the story.

However, the main body of the story should define what the reporter means when labeling someone as an ultra-conservative Catholic. A report Tuesday in the Buenos Aires daily Clarín on disturbances at the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral illustrates the need to be precise with language and labels.

In an article entitled “Incidentes en la Catedral: un grupo ultracatólico quiso impedir un acto por el Holocausto judío”, a group of young people attempted to disrupt a service commemorating the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the night in 1938 when the Nazis burned destroyed hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish owned shops throughout Germany, arresting tens of thousands of Jews. The “night of broken glass” presaged what was to come in 1942 — the Holocaust.

Clarín reported:

Un grupo ultraconservador católico trató de impedir esta noche, a los gritos y con insultos, una ceremonia ecuménica en la Catedral metropolitana al cumplirse el 75º aniversario de la “Noche de los cristales rotos”, considerada el inicio del Holocausto judío perpetrado por el nazismo.

A group ultraconservative Catholic tonight tried to stop with shouts and insults, an ecumenical ceremony in the Metropolitan Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of the “Night of Broken Glass”, considered the beginning of the Jewish Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis.

Let’s start with the basics. Who: ultra-conservative Catholics; What: disrupted Kristallnacht ceremony; Where: Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral; When: Nov. 11, 2013, Why: That we do not know yet.

The story continues:

Según contaron testigos del episodio a la agencia oficial Télam, cuando el arzobispo de Buenos Aires, Mario Poli, intentó comenzar la liturgia de conmemoración, un grupo de feligreses se puso de pie y comenzó a rezar a los gritos para impedir el desarrollo de la ceremonia.

According to eyewitness testimony gathered by the  official Télam news agency, when the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Mario Poli, tried to start the memorial service, a group of worshipers stood and began to pray and cry out in an attempt to stop the ceremony.

Los manifestantes también repartieron volantes con las leyendas “Fuera adoradores de dioses falsos del templo santo” y “Los pastores que llevan a los hombres a confundir el Dios verdadero con dioses falsos son lobos”.

The protesters also handed out fliers with the motto “Not worshipers of false gods holy temple” and “Pastors who lead men to confuse the true God with false gods are wolves”.

El accionar intolerante del grupo, compuesto en su mayoría por jóvenes, generó de inmediato el repudio de las autoridades diplomáticas, funcionarios y representantes de la comunidad judía presentes en la Catedral, así como de miembros de organizaciones de derechos humanos y de los credos cristianos.

The intolerant actions of the group, composed mostly of young people, were immediately repudiated by diplomats, civil servants and representatives of the Jewish community in the Cathedral, as well as by members of human rights organizations and Christian denominations.

The article continues with an account of the archbishop’s reaction to the protest, the content of the service, and background on Kristallnacht. What we do not learn is who these protesters were and why they did it.

The only description given is that they were ultra-conservative Catholics. May we assume these are members of the SSPX? Their anger appears not to be racial but theological. Their protests, as evidenced by the content of their banners as reported by Clarín and in their chants shown in the video above indicate they were opposed to the participation of Jews in worship held in a Catholic Church — not in Jews being Jews, per se. (As if that were an excuse.) Leaders of the SSPX have made the news in recent years through outbursts of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

But what if were not the SSPX but Roman Catholics giving voice to views once propounded by the inquisition? Suspicion and hatred of conversos or Marranos? (Descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity but suspected of secret adherence to Judaism.)

Or, are the fair skinned and some light haired youthful protestors (Argentinians of European descent) pictured in the video Dr. Mengele’s children? Descendants of Nazi exiles to Argentina who have come out in the open? Preposterous as this sounds, if I were the editor of a British red top tabloid I would go with that explanation. Hitler and Nazis are tabloid gold in Britain.

If you are curious about this story, the Associated Press added this titbit:

The Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, the South America leader of the Society of Saint Pius X, said Wednesday that the protesters belong to his organization and that they have a right to feel outraged when rabbis preside over a ceremony in a cathedral. “I recognize the authority of the pope, but he is not infallible and in this case, does things we cannot accept,” Bouchacourt said in an interview with Radio La Red.

“This wasn’t a desire to make a rebellion, but to show our love to the Catholic Church, which was made for the Catholic faith,” Bouchacourt added. “A Mass isn’t celebrated in a synagogue, nor in a mosque. The Muslims don’t accept it. In the same way, we who are Catholics cannot accept the presence of another faith in our church.”

Would not this information been helpful — in fact necessary — for a reader to understand what was happening with this story? Using the catch all phrase “ultra-conservative” to describe what sort of Catholics were protesting tells the reader nothing.

First printed in Get Religion.

Anti-Semitism inquiry launched by Parliament: The Church of England Newspaper, February 3, 2013 p 6 February 7, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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John Mann MP

The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism (APPGAS) has launched an inquiry into electoral conduct in the U.K.

The member for Bassetlaw, John Mann (Lab.) the chairman of the APPGAS said the group would “investigate and evaluate the effectiveness of existing lines of responsibility and accountability in managing elections and specifically, charges of misconduct during elections with a particular focus on racism and discrimination.”

The member for Northeast Derbyshire, Natascha Engel (Lab), will chair the all-party inquiry. “I am convinced that in both learning from existing good practice and bringing new ideas to the fore we can change electoral conduct for the better. In doing so, we will give confidence to constituents, clarity to candidates and we will establish a British model of electoral best practice.”

The vice-chair of the group, the member for Ealing Central and Acton, Angie Bray (Cons.) said:Maintaining best practice in electoral conduct by preventing racist and anti-Semitic campaigning and literature is a crucial aspect in the fight against intolerance and I look forward to working with colleagues across many parties in both Houses to see how best we can join together to provide sensible solutions to these problems.”

Britain has come under criticism in recent months from Jewish leaders and civil rights activists for the growing culture of public anti-Semitism. The member for Bradford East, David Ward was disciplined by the Liberal Democrat Party last week after posting comments about Jews and Israel on his website to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Mr Ward wrote he had “signed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day” and describes Auschwitz as “the Nazi concentration and extermination camp which is the site of the largest mass murder in history”.

But he added: “Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

The comments have subsequently been taken down. A party spokesman told the Telegraph: “This is a matter we take extremely seriously. The Liberal Democrats deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward and his use of language which is unacceptable.”

The inquiry will not be restricted to anti-Semitism, however, and “will focus on discrimination more broadly and is being supported by the APPGs on Equalities and Race & Community,” the announcement said.

Anti-Semitism complaint filed against Surrey vicar: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2012 p 6. November 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
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The Board of Deputies of British Jews has lodged a complaint with the Diocese of Guilford accused the Vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water,with anti-Semitism.

The Rev. Stephen Sizer has been accused under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 for misconduct consisting of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

The Chief Executive of the Board, Mr. Jon Benjamin told the Church of England Newspaper they had met “with the Bishop of Guildford who noted the formal mechanism for complaints that we have followed.”

On 31 Oct 2012 the Diocese of Guilford released a statement saying “the Bishop of Guildford is considering a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure against Dr Stephen Sizer and will be following the statutory procedures provided in the Measure.”

“Nothing else can be said at present, since the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 ensures that legitimate complaints against members of Anglican clergy are dealt with appropriately.”

Mr. Sizer has not responded to requests for comments on the allegations.

In its complaint, the Board said Mr. Sizer “spends time trawling dark and extreme corners of the internet for material to add to his website. Rev Sizer re-publishes such items to support the target of his polemical writing, while at the same introducing his readers to the racist and anti-Semitic websites from where he draws his material.”

Mr. Sizer had kept some “strange company” for a “Church of England vicar,” the Board said in a statement released on its website denouncing his association with “Holocaust deniers”, Iranian government agencies and anti-Israel groups. However, its complaint lay not in politics or “his supersessionist theology.  While we view all of these with concern and distaste, Rev Sizer is entitled to his views and may travel where he wants.”

“But we draw the line at making statements that we regard as anti-Semitic and advertising the content of racist and anti-Semitic websites.  It is a matter of great regret that we are driven to make this complaint, but the Jewish community should not have to stomach material that we see as crossing the line into anti-Semitism,” the Board statement said.

“We are not seeking to have him stopped from his ministry or dismissed from his job.  We only ask one thing, which is that effective measures are taken to prevent him from publishing or re-publishing material that we find to be not merely offensive but anti-Semitic.  We don’t think that’s too much to ask,” the Board said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Polish anti-Semitism and the press: Get Religion, November 20, 2012 November 21, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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A new film that premiered last week has resurrected moral questions that some Poles hoped had been settled long ago. The 20 Nov 2012 front page of the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza was dominated by the controversy surrounding the film Poklosie (Aftermath).  The headline reads  “Poklosie under attack — but the reaction of many Poles is that they are under attack from Poklosie.

The film questions Poland’s self-identity as an innocent victim of Nazi aggression. While there is no doubt that Germany sought to destroy the Polish nation, killing  millions, destroying its cities and attempting to eradicate its culture, film director Wladyslaw Pasikowski has challenged one of the pillars its post-war identity — the country’s innocence in the Holocaust.

Poklosie is a war movie that dramatizes the 1942 massacre of 340 Jews in the village of Jebwadne. However these Jews were not killed by the Nazis, but by their Polish neighbors who herded men, women and children into a barn and set it alight. Set in the fictional village of Gorowka, the site of a war-time massacre blamed on the Germans, the film takes place shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. The movie tells the story of two brothers who in attempting to preserve Jewish tombstones arouse the ire of villagers who fear they will uncover the crimes of the past.  As they used to say in Hollywood, this is a message film, and the message is that hiding past sins results in modern evils.

Amongst the motives for the massacre of the Jews by their Polish neighbors in the film is that Jews were Christ-killers. The incidents recounted in Poklosie are based on true events. In 2003, a Polish government commission released a report saying that claims the Polish Jews of Jebwabne were killed by the Nazis was false. They had been murdered by their Polish Christian neighbors.

I have not seen reference to this story in the American or British press so far — but articles last week in the French press on this story caught my eye. Le Figaro‘s story « La Pologne confrontée à une page noire de son histoire » and Le Nouvel Observateur « Poklosie  : le film qui fait polémique en Pologne » approach the story from an entertainment angle — a film that forces Poland to confront a “black page” in its history — that sort of thing.

The Polish press has treated this not as a movie story, but as an existential question. “Who are we? Where have we come from in our history? Do we share in the sins of our ancestors? Has our faith as Catholics led us to this?”

The Associated Press last year reported that in 2001:

Poland’s bishops made an apology for the Jedwabne massacre and other crimes against Jews under the German occupation, in a special ceremony of prayers in Warsaw. It was viewed as a step toward reconciliation with Jewish groups who often accuse the Catholic Church of being too tolerant of anti-Semitism.

However, conservative and nationalist newspapers have been harshly critical of the movie. They reject the assertion that Poland shares in the collective guilt of the Nazis for the Holocaust and reject the movie’s depiction of Polish peasantry being “evil anti-Semites” roused by their priests to commit murder against the Christ-killers. In the conservative weekly Uwazam Rze, Piotr Zychowicz writes in an article entitled “Polacy, Zydzi, kolaboracja, Holokaust”:

No nation has a monopoly on being evil and no nation has a monopoly on being good. Nations are composed of millions of people, and people, it so happens, are very different.

In an interview published in the right wing news and opinion website  Niezalezna.pl, Bogdan Musial argues the historical narrative of Poklosie is a false creation of the media.

Many American Jews left Poland and their father and grandfathers became victims of Holocaust. A big part of the Jewish Diaspora considers Poles to be anti-Semites. Remember the film industry and the media have a strong influence on the intellectual environment and they impose their cultural belief in Polish anti-Semitism.  There is also in German a harmful and false belief in “Polish nationalism” while there is also a lack of historical consciousness in Poland.

Prof. Musial goes on to state there is no doubt that a crime was committed in Jebwabne, but “reactions to the accusation of anti-Semitism should be measured.” He also suggests the “discussion about the anti-Semitism is designed to draw people’s attention away from the crimes of the Communist” era.

A crime has been committed and this is a fact. But the same fact is that the [2002 book Neighbors by Jan  Gross about the Jedwabne pogrom] is unreliable and distorts the history. The problem is that the so-called forces of progress in Poland consider this distorted history to be dogma. The people who denies this are called (by the so-called forces of progress in Poland ) freaks and nationalists. … Through the Gross’ glasses Poles are greedy, primitive, murders who are jointly responsible for the Holocaust and as anti-Semitic as Nazis. Not Germans, but Nazis! … Films such as Poklosie can only strengthen this image …

However the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest circulation daily appeals for critics to stop trying to halt the “cleansing process” of the national soul by appeals to to “nationalistic ideology”. Quoting Gross’s book it states there were Poles who killed Jews simply for profit. It defends Poklosie saying it is a:

… valuable work, unique in Polish cinema, reopening an only superficially healed wound of the Polish conscience.

In my recent posts at GetReligion I have been critical of the European-style advocacy journalism practiced by the New York Times and have argued its stories are neither balanced, fair nor complete in their reporting. And, the Times appears to be blissfully unaware of this problem. Yet advocacy journalism when it is done well can produce exceptionally fine work — such as the front page of today’s Gazeta Wyborcza — because it is written from an ideological and moral perspective that is not hidden by spurious claims of being objective. While I find the views express in Niezalezna to be unpalatable, taken in conjunction with Gazeta Wyborcza they provide a better picture of the affair than any single source.

I applaud the Polish press for addressing these issues of national identity, religious bigotry, and historical memory. Well done.

First published in GetReligion.

Anti-Semitism charges laid against English Evangelical leader: Anglican Ink, November 14, 2012 November 14, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, British Jewry, Church of England, Judaism.
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The Rev Stephen Sizer

Aggressive blogging has led to the filing of misconduct charges against an Evangelical vicar in the U.K.  Last month the Board of Deputies of British Jews filed a complaint with the Diocese of Guilford charging the Rev. Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey, with anti-Semitism.

An author of works on Christian Zionism, prolific blogger and participant in the 2008 GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, Mr Sizer was the subject of a complaint brought last month under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 for misconduct consisting of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

Mr. Sizer is not being charged with being two-clicks away from objectionable material, but with publishing links directly to anti-Semitic literature.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Jewish leaders denounce anti-Semitic synod statements: The Church of England Newspaper, August 5, 2012 p 5. August 14, 2012

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British Jewish leaders have denounced anti-Semitic comments made by members of the General Synod during its vote last month on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

At last month’s meeting in York, a private member’s motion brought by John Dinnen of the Diocese of Hereford asked Synod to affirm the “vital work” of the EAPPI and encourage churches to support its work by inviting the group’s members to speak to the conflict in the region.  After the 9 July vote, the chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) Bishop Nigel McCulloch stated that he had warned Jewish leaders against “overlobbying” as Jewish interference in the synod deliberations may have “led us to vote the other way”.

The Board of Deputies responded to Bishop McCulloch’s comments stating: “The Jewish community does not need lessons from the Anglican Church in justice and peace, themes which originated in our tradition. Moreover, to hear the debate at Synod littered with references to ‘powerful lobbies’, the money expended by the Jewish community, ‘Jewish sounding names’ and the actions of the community ‘bringing shame on the memory of victims of the Holocaust’, is deeply offensive and raises serious questions about the motivation of those behind this motion.”

Jewish leaders had urged synod to reject the EAPPI motion saying it would harm Christian – Jewish relations.  EAPPI’s perspective of the conflict was “one-sided” and failed to provide its volunteers with a “full reflection” of issues, the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, told The Times before the vote.  “Minimizing Israel’s well-founded fears… will not advance the cause of peace,” he said.

The Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, had also urged rejection of the EAPPI motion saying it would strengthened the “culture of incitement against Jews and Christians” in Palestine and also failed to take into account the rocket campaign waged from Gaza against Israel.

After the vote supporters of EAPPI hailed the decision as a step towards peace.  The ACNS news service cited Helen Drewery, General Secretary of Quaker Peace and Social Witness as having applauded the vote.  “Within hours of hearing the General Synod vote, we also heard of further attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians living in the village of Yanoun, while tending their crops and flocks. We see Synod’s affirmation of EAPPI as strengthening its nonviolent efforts to bring peace to the region,” she said.

However, the Board of Deputies of British Jews – the umbrella organization representing the majority of Jewish organizations in the U.K. – released a stating saying “Justifying its decision using the views of marginal groups in Israel and the UK, the Synod has ridden rough shod over the very real and legitimate concerns of the UK Jewish community, showing a complete disregard for the importance of Anglican-Jewish relations.”

“Whilst EAPPI’s aims may appear admirable, its program lacks any kind of balance and shows nothing of the context of a hugely complex situation,” the Board of Deputies said.

“Unsurprisingly its graduates return with simplistic and radical perspectives, giving talks against Israel which do nothing to promote an understanding of the situation in the Middle East, much less promote a peaceful and viable solution to its problems. Members of Jewish communities across the country have suffered harassment and abuse at EAPPI meetings and yet Synod has completely dismissed their experiences,” the board said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Die Taz on Jews and Germany: Get Religion November 10, 2011 November 10, 2011

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„der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland sein Auge ist blau
er trifft dich mit bleierner Kugel er trifft dich genau”

(Death is a Master from Germany his eye is blue
He shoots you with shot made of lead he shoots you level and true)

From “Todesfuge” (“Death Fugue”) by Paul Celan

The Berlin alternative daily, Die Tageszeitung marked 9 Nov 2011– the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht — with three items on anti-Semitism in Germany: a front page splash, a news analysis piece on page 5, and an op-ed piece on page 14.

Founded in West Berlin in 1979 Die Taz is Germany’s newspaper for the “serious”  Left — progressive socialists, feminists, ecologists and pacifists.  While its circulation runs to about 60,000 its influence is far greater due to its prominence among the chattering classes (a phrase coined by Matthew Arnold).

The front page story (the one next to the photo of boxer Joe Frazier) entitled “The anti-Semites are among us” reports:

that an unpublished first report by a [government commissioned] Expert Committee on anti-Semitism found that [negative] Jewish stereotypes and anti-Semitic attitudes were deeply rooted in German culture and society … the mainstream of society had become used to anti-Jewish tirades … and there was an everyday exclusion, defamation, insult and boycott of Jews living in Germany. … up to 20 percent of the population in Germany was at least latently anti-Semitic, the report found.

The experts sobering conclusion was that “a comprehensive strategy to combat anti-Semitism in Germany does not exist.”

An editorial entitled “Far worse than swastika graffiti” argued that while swastikas can be washed away, the prejudices that motivate anti-Semitic hate speech were not as easily purged. When hate speech becomes acceptable it reinforces “stereotypes even further, so that the prejudices of the individual becomes the norm for  a group.”

There is no simple answer to the verbal anti-Semitism [Die Taz argued]. But one thing is certain: There is cause for excitement. And not only on Nov 9. Anti-semitism is back again and is settling down into everyday language.

The inside news-analysis story entitled “Schoolyard epithet – ‘Jude’ (Jew)” developed the front page story reporting that:

today anti-Semitism can be observed even beyond the open Jew-hating right-wing extremist milieu: in schools and football clubs, at the volunteer fire department, in the letters columns of newspapers, in comments posted on social networking sites, but also in churches and among some leftists and globalization critics, and among immigrants.

The schoolyard taunt  “Jew”  had “almost become commonplace in many places” while at German soccer games Jewish team members and their families in the stands were openly taunted.

“Sentences like ‘Jews belong in the gas chamber’, ‘Auschwitz is back” and “Synagogues must burn’ in the regional competitions are at no rarity,” says the report.

School classes that dealt with anti-Semitism focused exclusively on the Nazi period, the article found, giving students the impression that Jew-hatred was “exclusively attributable to the Nazi phenomenon, which appeared from nowhere in 1933 and then disappeared in 1945.” The newspaper reported that in addition to traditional right wing anti-Semitism in Germany, the new current of anti-Semitism arose in part from responses to the Middle East conflict and the left’s critique of capitalism with its polemics against financiers and greedy Wall Street bankers.

This is a great story and I applaud Die Taz for giving it such prominence in yesterday’s issue. November 9 marks a number of prominent events in German history: the 1918 sailor’s mutiny that precipitated the end of World War I, Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, and Kristallnacht.  On the night of 9-10 November 1938 the Nazi regime moved away from its “legal” process of depriving Jews of their rights through restrictive laws towards the open violence of an officially sanctioned pogrom. Over 1500 synagogues were burned, 30,000 Jewish men and boys were arrested and taken to Dachau and other concentration camps, approximately 100 Jews were murdered and thousands of Jewish owned businesses were ransacked by the SA, SS and Nazi party activists.

Leading with an anti-Semitism story on the anniversary was a great editorial decision by Die Taz. However, there is a religion hole in this story. While Die Taz lays out all the pieces that fit together in the reemergence of anti-Semitism — right-wing Jew-haters, left-wing anti-capitalist polemicists, anti-Israel feeling — it tip-toes around the final, and most important component: Islam. To lump the fire brigade and churches with the Muslim immigrant community as undifferentiated sources of the new anti-Semitism is disengenous indeed.

Forward, the Jerusalem Post and a host of publications have examined the part played by Islam in the resurgent European anti-Semitism, and its omission hurts this story.

However, I may need to explain for a non-German audience the significance of Die Taz bringing up the issue of anti-Semitism — and why I am happy with so much of what they have done. In a few broad brush strokes let me give some context.

On 10 November 1988 the two Germanys convened special sessions of their parliaments to mark the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass”.

In East Berlin the Volkskammer was addressed by its president, Horst Sindermann, a Communist Party leader who spent almost a decade in Nazi prison camps. The focus of his speech to the assembly was that the DDR had been a bulwark against fascism, which itself was the highest expression of capitalism’s destructive nature. Historically there had been little public discussion of anti-Semitism in the DDR as it saw the persecution of the Jews was one of the many evils of the Nazi era.

In Bonn, the Bundestag held its first official commemoration of Kristallnacht. The ceremony began with the reading of the “Death Fugue,” a poem about the Holocaust by Paul Celan — a Romanian Jew who survived the camps. The chairman of the Bundestag, CDU leader Phillip Jenninger then rose and read a speech the New York Times subsequently printed on page A5 in its 12 Nov 1988 edition. It began with:

Today we have come together in the Bundestag … because not the victims but we in whose midst the crimes took place have to remember and account for what we did; because we as Germans want to come to an understanding of our past and of its lessons for our present and future politics.

He examined the history and read extracts from official statements of the Nazi era to illustrate the beliefs and actions of the regime. But the speech caused an uproar the New York Times reported, prompting 50 left-wing deputies to walk out. Three days later he resigned and apologized for his “insensitive” words after critics charged that he had said the right things, but at the wrong place and time.

Conservatives deputies, some of whom were photographed holding their heads in their hands during the speech, stayed seated, but were unhappy. After two decades of avoiding the topic — or claiming ignorance of the deeds done in secret by the SS –by the 1980’s the Federal Republic had found that by accepting responsibility for the past, it could rejoin the world community.

The received view of Kristallnacht among Germans had been that the Nazis had committed the crimes, while Germany watched. Their sin was one of indifference. Jenninger’s words forced Germany to remember that Germans were not only indifferent to the fate of the Jews, but they were complicit in segregating and expelling Jews from German society and in carrying out the Holocaust. German memory focused on the victims and found a national identity in response to their sufferings — not to the evils done by the perpetrators.

The reasons offered for the left’s walk out were confused and many deputies stated theirs was an emotional reaction. But the use of the word “we” — admitting that all Germans were complicit in the crimes of the Nazi era and Jenninger’s focusing on the perpetrators of the crimes was too much for the political leaders of the ’68 Generation. Activists who had condemned the continuity between the Nazi past and the West German present, believing their rejection had purified them of the crimes of the Holocaust, refused to accept culpability for their country’s anti-Semitic past.

It may have been fortuitous. It may have been unintentional. Or it may have been an editorial decision by the left wing newspaper to use the anniversary of Kristallnacht — the one event of the Holocaust which no German then living could deny knowing — to chastize the country for its slide back into evil was remarkable. Thank you Die Taz.

Now if only they weren’t shy about confronting the Muslim roots of the new hate the story would have hit a home run.

Addendum: In response to readers’ emails, here are some links to the topic of anti-Semitism in Europe and Islam. I also recommend two recent books: Walter Laquer’s book  The Changing Face of anti-Semitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day(NY: OUP, 2006) and Raphael Israeli, Muslim anti-Semitism in Christian Europe: Elemental and Residual anti-Semitism (NY: Transaction Publishers, 2009). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but will help start your researches.

First published in GetReligion.

Jews as Christ Killers: GetReligion Oct 28, 2011 October 28, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) is up to his old tricks and has angered the European Council of Rabbis with his remarks about the Jews’ role in the crucifixion of Jesus. The bishop believes Jews are Christ-killers — and his latest words on the subject come as Pope Benedict XVI begins an inter-faith summit in Assisi. Among his many attributes, I must say Bishop Williamson has great timing.

The Guardian ran a story last week on the Jewish reaction to the bishop’s comments. However, the story had some problems. “Bishop’s blog raises tensions between Jews and the Vatican” misstates church history and makes assumptions about the relationship of Bishop Williamson to the Catholic Church. And like most reporting on Vatican-Jewish relations misses or misunderstands the pope’s outstretched hand to the Jews.

Let’s take a look at the story. It begins with the the author’s interpretation of events, a sentence clarifying who Williamson is, what he believes and what the Catholic Church teaches, is followed by quotes from his latest missive and the ECR’s response.

Relations between Jews and Catholics are under immense strain after a bishop made controversial remarks on his blog.

Richard Williamson, who has previously denied the existence of gas chambers and the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, accused the Jews of killing Jesus, a charge that divided the two faiths for centuries until Pope Benedict XVI declared this year that Jews could not be held responsible for Jesus’s death.

In his weekly post, Williamson wrote that “the killing of Jesus was truly ‘deicide’ ” and that “only the Jews (leaders and people) were the prime agents of the deicide because it is obvious from the gospels that the gentile most involved, Pontius Pilate, … would never have condemned Jesus to death had not the Jewish leaders roused the Jewish people to clamour for his crucifixion.”

His comments have angered Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors, who are urging Rome to cease reconciliation talks with the ultra-traditionalist splinter group to which Williamson belongs, the Society of St Pius X. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the European Council of Rabbis said: “We call upon the Catholic church to suspend negotiations with extremist Catholic tendencies until it is clear that these groups show a clear commitment to tackling antisemitism within their ranks.”

Let’s start with the obvious problem and then move back to the deeper issue of identity. The Catholic Church did not stop accusing “the Jews of killing Jesus” in 2010. On 28 Oct 1965 Pope Paul VI promulgated the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate). A product of the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate rejected the charge of deicide leveled against the Jews.

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, … [and the Church] decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

What happened in 2010 was the publication of excerpts from the pope’s latest book, Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week: From Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, which was published in March of this year. The Daily Mail reported that in his new book Benedict:

confronts the controversial text of St Matthew’s Gospel in which ‘the Jews’ demand the execution of Jesus and shout to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate: ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children.’

The passage has been described as a ‘rallying cry for anti-Semites down the centuries’.

But the Pope said when St Matthew wrote ‘the Jews’ he meant the mob in Pilate’s courtyard and not the Jewish people in general.

As such the crowd was representative of the whole of sinful humanity, he added.

In addition to the factual error, the identification of Richard Williamson in this article I also find problematic. It is possible for a man to be Roman Catholic and a bishop, but also for that same man not to be a Roman Catholic bishop. Richard Williamson is not a Roman Catholic bishop — he is a bishop of the Society of St Piux X, and his consecration as a bishop in 1988 led to his excommunication from the Catholic Church. The way the first sentence is worded implies that Williamson is a Roman Catholic bishop (and the photo caption identifies him as such.)

The SSPX and the Vatican have been engaged in talks to end the split — which is (rather confusingly) not a schism. As blogger Fr John Zuhlsdorf  notes:

In the 1988 Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta Pope John Paul used the word “schism“.  It looks like a schism, to be sure.  But officials of the [Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei] have affirmed over the last few years that while Archbishop Lefebvre’s actions in 1988 were schismatic acts, the SSPX did not in fact go into schism.

In 2009 the excommunication was lifted, but Williamson has not been permitted to function as a bishop. His denial of the Holocaust and rejection of Nostra Aetate led the Vatican to state that  “in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the Church, [Williamson] will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah, which the Holy Father was not aware of when the excommunication was lifted.”

It is not just the Vatican who is appalled. Williamson’s comments were also published in defiance of his SSPX Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who not only ordered him to stop making “any public statements on political or historical issues”, but has also denounced his anti-Semitism.

In a limited sense, Williamson is right in saying that Jews are Christ-killers. The catechism states that “All sinners were the authors of Christ’s Passion” (cf CCC 598). However this means that all Jews, all Gentiles — you, me, everyone — is responsible for the crucifixion. But that is not what Williamson is saying and while the Guardian story at its close does note that the Vatican has asked Williamson to recant, the overall tone of the story does not give a true sense of the church’s rejection of this pernicious evil.

Christianity’s relations with Jews and Judaism has been fraught with cruelty, abuse and murder. The Catholic Church should not be singled out on this point, however. Quakers aside, I am hard pressed to think of any Christian body that has not behaved badly. However, the past few decades have seen great strides in Catholic-Jewish relations. Cardinal Ratzinger, as he was then, was and is a consistent and strong voice for rapprochement — when I covered Catholic – Jewish relations in Europe for the Jerusalem Post I heard time and again from members of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and other Jewish leaders of their respect and appreciation for Joseph Ratzinger (and later Benedict XVI).

It is the absence of this underlying element, Joseph Ratzinger’s philo-Semitism, that distorts the reporting on the Vatican’s relations with Jews and Judaism. (That and factual errors.)

First printed in GetReligion.

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