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Post-Zionism Baffles Washington Post: The Media Project, November 28, 2014 November 28, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Islam, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Soldiers_Western_Wall_1967It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for the Washington Post to believe it, too?

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classical model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem”. My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete, or lacking in context. Could it have been written from a mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here? The Post appears to be ignorant of the change of religious Zionist sentiment in Israel. Could the Temple Mount be a flashpoint between Muslim Arab and Israeli Jews in 2014 because Judaism has changed?

The story with a dateline of Amman opens with the Jordanian perspective on the recent clashes over the Temple Mount. The lede states:

Jordan’s king and his people are bristling with anger over Israeli actions at a sacred site for Muslims in Jerusalem, threatening to turn a cold peace between Israel and Jordan into a deep freeze.

After defining the issue from the Jordanian perspective, the second sentence states why this is of consequence.

The rising animosity between Jordan and Israel, whose governments are tethered by a peace treaty, could undermine U.S.-led efforts to fight Islamist extremists. It also threatens a multibillion-dollar natural gas deal that is important to both countries.

The story continues with analysis, ending with the line: “A king who cannot protect the mosque or that delicate arrangement may lose the support of his people.”

A quotation from a Jordanian official closes out this section, placing the blame on the changing “status quo” on the Israelis.

“The Israeli extremists are playing with fire.”

A counterpoint from unidentified Israeli officials is offered that serves to identify the actions in question.

Israeli officials say they were forced to temporarily restrict access to the mosque in response to rioting, after a Palestinian’s recent attempt to assassinate a prominent activist who agitates for Jews to have the right to pray at the site. The first and second Jewish temples once stood at the site, a spot considered the holiest in Judaism.

If the article ended at this point, the lack of balance would not be as problematic. Written from Amman, the parameters of the piece could have been set as the view from that country. However, at this stage of the story we are only a third of the way into the piece, and the article now opens up with further commentary and analysis from the Jordanian perspective.

The problem for the Jordanians — and from the tone of the story up to this point for theWashington Post, too — is the Israeli response to terrorist attacks launched by Palestinians against Jews who seek to pray at the Temple Mount.

Half a dozen descriptive paragraphs follow developing these arguments before we hear an Israeli voice — who speaks not to the issues raised by the Jordanians, or to the cause of the alleged change of the status quo — but to the problems instability brings to the region. This is followed — 23 paragraphs into the story — by a denial by the Israelis of any change in the status of the Temple Mount.

Immediately afterward, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel had no intention of changing a delicate “status quo” agreement that grants Abdullah custodial rights over al-Aqsa and other holy sites in Jerusalem, most prominently the raised esplanade known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The next day, Israeli police lifted age restrictions and allowed all Muslim men to attend Friday prayers at the mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

The article closes out with further Jordanian claims. A reader unencumbered with knowledge of the region or the religions involved, might well scratch his head and ask “what was all the fuss about?”

A terrorist attack led to the short term closing of the Noble Sanctuary. It has since been reopened and the Israeli government has reaffirmed the status quo. Why are the Palestinians and Jordanians so exercised about this?

If all one knew was what one read in the Post, it would not be unreasonable to conclude the Jordanians and Palestinians are a childish excitable people — full of bluster, quick to take offense, and slow to reason.

The story dances round the religious element in this story that provides the necessary context. There has been a shift in Israeli sentiment about the Temple Mount in recent years. As a detailed article in Ha’aretz pointed out last week, religious Zionists have a new attitude about the Temple Mount.

[B]efore 1967 – and afterward – all the leading poskim (rabbis who issue halakhic rulings), both ultra-Orthodox and from the religious-Zionist movement, decreed as one voice that it is forbidden to visit the Temple Mount, for the same halakhic reasons. … Indeed, in January 1991, Rabbi Menachem Froman could still allay the fears of the Palestinians by informing them (in the form of an article he published in Haaretz, “To Wait in Silence for Grace”) that, “In the perception of the national-religious public [… there is] opposition to any ascent to the walls of the Temple Mount… The attitude of sanctity toward the Temple Mount is expressed not by bursting into it but by abstinence from it.”

Ha’aretz reports that in 2014 this school has lost ground.

No longer. If in the past, yearning for the Temple Mount was the preserve of a marginal, ostracized minority within the religious-Zionist public, today it has become one of the most significant voices within that movement. In a survey conducted this past May among the religious-Zionist public, 75.4 percent said they favor “the ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount,” compared to only 24.6 percent against. In addition, 19.6 percent said they had already visited the site and 35.7 percent that they had not yet gone there, but intended to visit.

The growing number of visits to the mount by the religious-Zionist public signifies not only a turning away from the state-oriented approach of Rabbi Kook, but also active rebellion against the tradition of the halakha. We are witnessing a tremendous transformation among sections of this public: Before our eyes they are becoming post-Kook-ist and post-Orthodox. Ethnic nationalism is supplanting not only mamlakhtiyut (state consciousness) but faithfulness to the halakha. Their identity is now based more on mythic ethnocentrism than on Torah study, and the Temple Mount serves them, … as an exalted totem embodying the essence of sovereignty over the Land of Israel.

The religious element is missing from the Post’s report. Could not an awareness of the change in Israeli society, a shifting center of religious-Zionism from halakha to ethnic-nationalism which if successful would see the restoration of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount motivate Muslim fears?

Without the context of religion to explain these currents, the article leaves itself open to charges of paternalism. By not rising above a parochial American mindset, the paints Arabs (Jordanians and Palestinians) as an immature and excitable people that cannot be held accountable for their actions.

Even if the Post is allergic to mentioning the topic of religion, there is the problem of context. The article tells us little about the Israeli side of the story. Why is the Temple Mount a source of controversy now? Since Israel defeated Jordan Arabs in the 1967 Six-Day War and took possession of the Noble Sanctuary, as it is called by Muslims, what has changed?

The answer given by Jordan, and unquestioned by the Post, is that some Israeli officials are thuggish bully boys, engaged in loutish behavior for short term political gain. I have no doubt that some politicians fit the bill, but as an explanation for recent events, it is unconvincing.

First printed at The Media Project

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.

Haaretz and Jewish resistance to the Holocaust: Get Religion, December 31, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Do you remember Tom Lehrer, the composer/comedian/mathematician? I have long loved his music, which I discovered as a young boy when exploring my parent’s record collection.

A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz set spinning in my head one of Lehrer’s LPs this Christmas and to the embarrassment of my children I broke into song, serenading them with the refrain from Lehrer’s satiric gem National Brotherhood Week (1965).

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.

My fertile mind however, added an additional line — “And Haaretz does too!”

Hates the Jews that is.

How else can one explain this article, “The Myth of the Warsaw Ghetto” published last week in the leftist Israeli daily? Writing on the website of Commentary magazine, Eugene Kontorovich summarized the article’s thesis, stating that Haaretz believed that if:

the fighters had not been so uppity, if they had not made a fuss–then the Nazis, who had already murdered 500,000 Jews of Warsaw, might have let the remaining 50,000 live. Maybe! It is not a new argument. Rather, the author amazingly resurrects and endorses the arguments of the Judernat, the Jewish collaboration government of the Ghetto. With every new deportation, they urged restrain with increasing urgency–maybe they will let the rest of us live, and if you fight, all the past deportations would be a sacrifice in vain.

Haaretz’ story discusses the controversy over the number of Jews who fought and the number of Nazis killed, and also offers its view of the political and national symbolism of the Warsaw uprising for modern-day Israel. The article concludes:

The 50,000 or so Jews who remained in the Warsaw Ghetto after the transports of 1942 had survived, as in other ghettos in occupied Poland, largely because they worked in factories for Germany. Many of these factories were owned and managed by Germans, who negotiated with the German authorities and the SS to hold on to their workers.

In light of all this, the Jews’ belief grew that somehow they could survive. They had two bad options: Flee the ghetto to the hostile Polish side or continue working in the German factories. Both options meant living day to day in the hope the war would end quickly.

At the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews survived in Poland and Germany. In Warsaw alone the number of survivors is estimated at about 25,000. Death in battle, as the ghetto fighters planned, did not keep with the intentions of the vast majority of Jews remaining. … Thus the question has never been raised: What right did a small group of young people have to decide the fate of the 50,000 Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto?

Commentary was scathing in its response. Haaretz had:

shown that it exists in a world entirely divorced from any Jewish consensus, and cannot claim the title of loyal opposition. It has crossed all prior bounds of decency and published a criticism of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, calling it a “myth,” and accusing its heroes of being responsible for the ultimate liquidation of the Ghetto. Despite disagreements on diplomatic, territorial, and religious issues, the memory of the Holocaust–its heroes and victims–had been the great unifying porch in post-War Jewish consciousness. Now the Holocaust is fair game too.

It concluded:

There can be no more terrible case of “blaming the victim” than laying any responsibility for the liquidation of the Ghetto at the feet of the fighters. It is true, the Jewish “communal leadership”–and the rabbis–opposed the uprising. That is what made it brave. The Judenrat had no right to decide if residents of the Ghetto died in gas chambers or fighting for their freedom.

Fascinating stuff — but where is the Get Religion hook? It comes in the absence of any mention of religion in the Haaretz story, ascribing all of the symbolism and memory evoked by the Uprising in political and ideological terms. No faith component to this story is offered. And, the Holocaust I would argue was one of the most profound events in terms of its impact of Judaism and Christianity in the modern era.

Commentary‘s statements too are incomplete on this point. Was it true that all Jewish religious leaders supported the Judenrat in opposing the Uprising? This thesis is challenged by a recent article in the Jerusalem Post.

The last rabbi in the Warsaw Ghetto” states that the campaign of extermination by Nazis prompted a rethinking of traditional Jewish responses to persecution.

In a meeting of the Warsaw Jewish leadership in January 1943, Rabbi [Menachem] Ziemba declared that traditional martyrdom in the face of persecution was no longer a viable response. He argued that “sanctification of the Divine Name” must manifest itself in resistance to the enemy. “In the present,” Ziemba told the ghetto leaders, “we are faced by an arch foe, whose unparalleled ruthlessness and total annihilation purposes know no bounds.

Halachah [Jewish law] demands that we fight and resist to the very end with unequaled determination and valor for the sake of Sanctification of the Divine Name.”

My impression from the Haaretz article of Jewish self-hatred is given a political twist by Commentary.

Ultimately, the article’s target is not really the Holocaust. The author objects to the glorification of the glorified by the Zionist movement in the early years of the state. Perhaps the fighters should have awaited deportation and seen themselves as “sacrifices for peace,” to use the buzzword of the Second Intifada.

No doubt this is why Haaretz has, somewhat oddly for a newspaper, chosen to revisit the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The newspaper has long tried to persuade Jews in Israel that they need no longer fight–they can trust someone to save them. John Kerry is coming to Jerusalem next month with just such a pitch. In order to advance their political agenda, the newspaper does not stop at besmirching one of the proudest pages of our history, nor at aligning themselves with the most shameful, the Judenrat.

The sanctified memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not based on its military significance, its size–or its conformity to the Zionist ethos. Rather, it is the considered, consensus judgment of Jewish history that the fighters were right.

While I would not go so far as Commentary in calling this article “vile”, it is deeply problematic. Here I speak not of the questions of how many Jews fought, how many Nazis died, and how the Uprising shaped the new state of Israel’s psyche — the problems laid out by the Commentary piece. Rather it is the question of historical revisionism and journalism.

Viewing one of the seminal events of the modern era in political/secular terms, ignoring facts and views that challenge a thesis renders the story incomplete.

First printed in Get Religion.

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.

Intended Consequences–The Times & Jewish Jerusalem: Get Religion, September 20, 2013. September 20, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Choosing determines all human decisions. In making his choice man chooses not only between various material things and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another. Nothing that men aim at or want to avoid remains outside of this arrangement into a unique scale of gradation and preference.

Ludwig von Mises, On Human Action. (San Francisco: Fox  Wilkes, 1996 4th rev. ed.) p 3.

Newspaper writing is about making choices. They range from choosing a topic and its parameters to the style of writing, the story’s length and the degree of context down to the language used. Choices are conscious and unconscious. While I should think about the framing of a story — being aware of the worldview I bring to an issue — before I write. I do not do it as often as I should.

But the preconceived notions and assumption I bring add value as I can stories in their historical/political context. I am able to discern if issue X is important, urgent or tired. Spin from PR flacks seldom moves me. Yet I have never written a sports story and can draw upon no well of knowledge to make an informed choice.

The conscious and unconscious choice applies to language. When I write “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage” I am making a political choice with my vocabulary that signals the editorial stance of the publication or my personal views. This was especially true when I wrote for the Jerusalem Post. Through my upbringing and culture I knew to write “Jerusalem” as it would not have occurred to me to write “Al Quds”. But I learned to say “Judea and Samaria” not the “Occupied Territories” and “separation barrier” not “the wall” in line with the newspaper’s editorial policies. The vocabulary I brought to a story, whether innate to my worldview or learned from my employers, framed the article.

Choice results in consequences, whether intended or not. Let me draw your attention to the work of The Times foreign correspondent Michael Binyon to illustrate this point.

Binyon has penned a superior piece on one of the major under reported stories from the Arab Spring — the plight of Arab Christians. Taking as its news peg a report on a conference of church leaders in Amman hosted by King Abdullah of Jordan The Times article entitled “Middle East Christians face a bleak future” takes an indirect, but highly effective route in telling its story. It is a master class lesson in the craft of newspaper writing.

Yet this story also rang alarm bells within the Jewish community in Britain. “Did conference speakers call for the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem?”, a prominent Jewish activist asked me after she read the article. “Had the Church of England gone over to the replacement theology camp?” This did not appear in a surface reading of the paper, but I immediately grasped her concern when I read the story again through her eyes.

The Times lede is beautifully written.

Their churches have been bombed, burnt and ransacked. Thousands flee their homes to seek safety in exile, as ­Islamist extremists incite mobs to ­attack the dwindling communities that remain. Christians in the Middle East are today facing the ­greatest dangers they have known for centuries.

Moving from a strong opening, the article succinctly gives the who, what, when and where — before moving into an extended treatment of the why. Again, this is nicely and professionally done — you see the hand of a professional at work here.

The article then passes to a serious of comments and observations from participants, that give substance to the theme articulated in the lede. And at the end we hear from Church of England (hurrah!).

The Anglicans were well represented. The Episcopal bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem were joined by the Rev. Toby Howarth from Lambeth Palace and former Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter representing the Archbishop of Canterbury. Mr Howarth made the point that Western Christians too often had a skewed assumption that Christianity was an import to the Middle East rather than an export from it. And he underlined the importance of intra-Christian and intra-Muslim dialogue.

He was also one of the few speakers to note the importance of women in faith issues. Only two nuns joined the panel of 80 male clerics. One male speaker said that if faith issues were left to women half the problems would disappear immediately.

Aside from the male cleric’s patronizing comment about women — and what did he mean by saying that if half the people (men) left you would have half the problems you now have? — there seemed little objectionable in these comments, and nothing that would suggest an anti-Jewish attack from the CoE.

But further up in the article, we read that Arab Christians

had taken a full part in the wars against Israel and were in the forefront in the fight to maintain the Arab presence in Jerusalem and prevent its judiacisation.

In the worldview of my British Jewish friend the “judiacisation” reference prompted concerns that at this conference Christian Arabs had called for a Judenfrei Jerusalem. Though former Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs of Iran are the best known proponents of driving the Jews into the sea, the expulsion of Jews from the Arab world — from Morocco to Iran — in the years since 1948 is an open wound in the Israeli psyche. If some Christian Arabs had made this call — echoing their political leaders in the Palestinian Authority or other Arab states — had the Church of England and the bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem remained silent. By their silence were Anglicans implying consent to the calls to de-Judiaze Jerusalem?

If true, this was quite a story. “Church silence on Jew bating” would have been a fun headline, while the church journals would take a story on Anglican Replacement Theology.

To find out, I thought I would ask. A checked with Canon Toby Howarth from Lambeth Palace (the shorthand way to refer to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff). Dr, Howarth told me he had no knowledge of any calls from conference speakers to expel the Jews. I also raised the issue with the Bishop of Egypt at breakfast on Thursday — we were both attending conference at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. He had no memory of any anti-Semitic comments from the conference podium, but added that from the perspective of the Christian Arab, the judiacisation controversy was not about expelling Jews from Jerusalem, but Jews expelling Arab from Jerusalem.

The last patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem had been removed from office after he had been accused in acquiescing to the sale of church lands to Jewish businessmen. The gentrification of Jerusalem was forcing Arabs out of the city by pricing them out of the housing market or removing housing available to Arabs from the market, the bishop said.

Which perception is true? Both, none, one?

Had The Times intended to press this button in their story about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. I think it most unlikely. But the use of “judiacisation” without explanation prompted some readers hear things that other readers did not.

First printed in Get Religion.

IRS targeting Jews too?: Get Religion, May 13, 2013 May 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Politics, Press criticism.
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Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks  a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase it this way for your editor: the IRS has created a religious test defining what it means to be a loyal Jew.

On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.

The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Callerreported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.

Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”

Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”

“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.

… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  …

Breitbart developed this story, adding historical context and suggesting  there was a “common thread: opposition to Obama, and instigation or support of these IRS inquiries by left-wing groups and mainstream media institutions devoted to defending the administration.”

What has not been developed yet is this paragraph in The Jewish Press story:

And at least one purely religious Jewish organization, one not focused on Israel, was the recipient of bizarre and highly inappropriate questions about Israel.  Those questions also came from the same non-profit division of the IRS at issue for inappropriately targeting politically conservative groups. The IRS required that Jewish organization to state “whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,” and also demanded the organization “[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

The implications of this paragraph are profound. Is the state seeking to control religious doctrine for political ends through the coercive power of its tax authority?  There are some red flags in The Jewish Press story. Though it is characterized as a news story, the article is a one-sided advocacy piece written by an individual closely associated with one of the organizations under IRS scrutiny. No names, dates or details are given though a powerful quote is supplied. Absent a name, it is difficult to judge its veracity.

But … Here is an opportunity for religion reporters to add their expertise to the IRS audit scandal. Let it not be said that religion reporting is a cul-de-sac – – the hints inThe Jewish Press story open the door for an energetic reporter to explore allegations of political malfeasance and corruption, separation of church and state issues, foreign policy, and perhaps a dose of good old-fashioned anti-Semitism. This is going to be fun.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Jewish Identity and the Western Wall: Get Religion, April 14, 2013 April 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Civil Rights, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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You couldn’t, he thought, find three Jews in the world who would agree on what it meant to be Jewish, yet there were apparently fifty million of these people who knew exactly what it meant to be German, though many of those on deck have never set foot in Germany.

Alan Furst, Dark Star, (1991), p. 380.

Who is a Jew? What is a Jew? Who decides who is a Jew? These questions lie beneath the surface of a Washington Post story that reports on the controversy of women worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The article entitled “Women challenge Orthodox practice at Israel’s Western Wall” links the political dynamics of the pressure being brought by American Jews upon the Israeli government to accommodate non-Orthodox Jewish worship at what the Post calls “Judaism’s holiest shrine” with an Israeli local news item. Yet the story could have fleshed out the religion ghosts — telling a non-Jewish, non-Israeli audience why this is the something more than a turf battle over worship space.

Because this article is written from an American secular Jewish perspective  — the Post states its support of the protesters in its lede — only half the story is told. The presuppositions of the author — call them biases or perspectives or relative truths — prevents a reader from understanding the political and religious calculus here. It begins:

JERUSALEM — A long-running battle over worship at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest shrine, was rejoined Thursday as Israeli police arrested five Jewish women who wore prayer shawls at a morning service, contrary to Orthodox practice enforced at the site. The arrests came two days after disclosure of a potentially groundbreaking plan that could allow for non-Orthodox services to be held in the area on an equal footing with those conducted according to Orthodox tradition.

Note the verb being used in second clause of the lede sentence: “enforced”. The Post is characterizing the dispute as one of power — he who has power can enforce his will. What trajectory would the story have taken it different verb were used stating that Orthodox practice is not merely enforced but required by law? The story then moves to quotes from the women activists and an “ultra-Orthodox heckler”, before moving to the political, summarizing the history of the dispute, taking it up to recent discussions in the cabinet:

[Prime Minister] Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to come up with a plan for worship at the Western Wall that would accommodate the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism that are dominant overseas. The move signaled an increasing awareness in the Israeli government that the confrontations over ritual at the Western Wall are driving a wedge between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.<

Sharansky’s solution presented to American Jewish leaders was to build a platform “south of the main prayer plaza; men and women could pray together there, and women could lead services.”

The article closes with a quote from the Western Wall Orthodox rabbi who said he was in favor of the separate facilities and an Israeli reform rabbi who is given free reign to sound off on his views on the Orthodox hegemony of Judaism in Israel.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that Women of the Wall had succeeded in making religious pluralism at the shrine a major issue of Jewish concern. “The Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue,” Kariv said, adding that Thursday’s arrests sent a signal that undermined Sharansky’s proposal. “You can’t make a serious attempt to reach a compromise while maintaining a situation where the rights of one side are seriously breached,” he said.

Still, Kariv predicted that if the proposal is implemented, the area set aside for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall “will become the main platform for the vast majority of Israelis and Jews.”

I am not a Jew and have no dog in the fight between the traditional and progressive strands of Judaism. I am concerned with good journalism, though, and find this story unbalanced and incomplete.

Unbalanced because there is no explanation as to why the Orthodox object to bare-headed women leading prayers (as the accompanying photo from the Post shows) next to a gathering of Haredi men praying. While supporters of change have their say in this story supporters of tradition do not. I should say that I know the Talmud rejects the practice — but I do not know if other non-Jews know this. Without an explanation of the religious issues a casual reader might well assume that this is an issue of power.

It was an issue of power in 1928. On the Day of Atonement that year, 28 September 1928, a riot erupted when British police torn down wooden barriers separating male and female worshipers at the Wall. Protests from Jewish communities around the world greeted this action which in turn were followed by protests from Arabs in Palestine against Jews worshiping at the Wall. The British ban on sex segregation barriers became a ban on Jews at the Wall from 1948 1967 when it was under the control of Jordan.

When Israel took control of the Temple Mount area the Wall came under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. In the 1980s American and English emigrants to Israel began the Women at the Wall movement which sparked a riot by Haredi men at the wall in 1989. In 2003 Israel’s Supreme Court disallowed women from reading publicly from the Torah or wearing traditional prayer shawls at the plaza built by the Ministry in front of the Wall. However, it held the government must build a second area for women and mixed sex groups — as well as non-Orthodox Jews — on the site of Robinson’s Arch.  Sharansky’s solution is to expand this site — which is not under the control of the Ministry.

Without explaining the religious elements — the objections of the Orthodox or the determination of Jewish women to worship at the wall rather than near — the story is incomplete. Without touching upon the history behind this section, it’s context, a casual reader might well suppose this is just about power.

What does the wall symbolize for the religious Jew or the secular Israeli? Is this a continuing chapter in the saga of who is a Jew, what does it mean to be a Jew, and who gets to say who is a Jew? Written for an American or Diaspora audience — the story is incomplete.

First published in Get Religion.

Is Christian Zionism off the radar for the NY Times?: Get Religion, January 24, 2013 January 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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Comments given to an American church audience in 2011 by an Israeli rabbi, who stood for election this week to the Knesset on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) ticket were a one-day wonder over the weekend in the Israeli press. Atlanta-native Jeremy Gimpel was lambasted by the liberal press in Israel for allegedly calling for the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim mosque built atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to be destroyed and replaced with a new Temple.

The controversy was also an example of the importance of fleshing out religious ghosts in a story. The American and Israeli press that picked up this issue focused on the political angle. If they had developed the religious elements of the story they would have turned a campaign “gotcha” story about one politician into a better story about the links between Christian Zionists in the U.S. and conservative religious political parties in Israel. Looking into the faith element would have made this a better political story.

Let’s run through the coverage first then ask the faith questions that were left unasked.

On Saturday Ha’aretz’s English language website ran a profile of Gimpel following a broadcast the previous day on Channel 2 of comments made by the rabbi in 2011 to a church in Florida.

The Times of Israel summarized the controversy this way:

Fending off a frenzy of political criticism over a 2011 speech in which he appeared to speak with relish of the theoretical prospect of the Dome of Rock being “blown up” and a new Jewish Temple being built in its stead, prospective MK Jeremy Gimpel claimed in a TV interview on Sunday that he had actually been telling a joke meant to “parody” the extremists who want to destroy the 1,300-year-old Muslim shrine.

Statements Gimpel has made in the past, examined by The Times of Israel, indeed show no record of him explicitly calling for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock. They do indicate that he considers the golden dome atop the Temple Mount an alien element which he wishes would be replaced by the third Jewish temple.

A candidate for the Orthodox, right-wing Jewish Home party, Gimpel also sports a long history of hard-line statements that would raise eyebrows in many circles in Israel and large parts of the Jewish world, including calling the Jewish outlook of non-Orthodox Jewish movements “nonsense” and questioning whether Israel is truly a democracy because it forbids freedom of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount.

The Israeli political left jumped on Gimpel, with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s  liberal Hatnua party calling for his disqualification from the election for allegedly having uttered hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League’s Israel office weighed in also, saying they were appalled a rabbi would condone terrorism, Forward reported.

The New York Times‘ Israel correspondent picked up the story and it appeared in Monday’s edition on page A9 under the headline: “Rightist Israeli Candidate’s Remarks Cause Stir”. I imagine the American angle — Gimpel is a dual Israeli-American citizen and the Florida setting of the speech — prompted the editors to give the story space. The Times‘ article repeated the basic facts of the story of the speech and fleshed out the Israeli political context. It also carried the incendiary quotes that raised the ire of the left.

During a November 2011 lecture about biblical prophecies at the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs, Fla., Jeremy Gimpel, who is now a Jewish Home candidate, told the audience: “Imagine today if the dome, the Golden Dome — I’m being recorded so I can’t say blown up — but let’s say the dome was blown up, right, and we laid the cornerstone of the temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? I mean, none of you would be here, you’d all be like, I’m going to Israel, right? No one would be here. It would be incredible!”

After this mention of religion, the Times moves back into politics. This was unfortunate for if they had done some simple internet searching they would have learned some interesting things about the Florida church that calls into question Gimpel’s explanation.

A look through the website of the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs shows it to be a non-denominational Protestant Church that identifies itself as being part of the Christian Zionist movement. Among its outreach projects are the Temple Mount Faithful, whose mission according to its website is:

The goal of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement is the building of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in our lifetime in accordance with the Word of G-d and all the Hebrew prophets and the liberation of the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation so that it may be consecrated to the Name of G-d.

How credible is Gimpel’s explanation that he was making a joke that satirizes the views of those who want to destroy the Dome of the Rock and replace it with the Third Temple?

There are also questions that were left unasked as to what Gimpel meant when he told the Christian audience that if the Third Temple were rebuilt they would all “going to Israel.”

The question “why” a group of Central Florida Christians would go to Israel is not examined. Perhaps this statement from the Temple Mount Faithful website provides context for Gimpel’s words.

It is the view of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful that the redemption will proceed in an orderly fashion according to G-d’s plan.

  • First is the foundation of the modern state of Israel and the miraculous victories that G-d gave the people of Israel in the wars against 22 Arab enemy states.
  • Second is the regathering of the people of Israel from all over the world to the Promised Land.
  • Third is the liberation and consecration of the Temple Mount and fourth is the building of the Third Temple.
  • The final step is the coming of the King of Israel, Messiah Ben David.

The existence of the state of Israel and the return of the people of G-d to the Promised Land is the biggest G-dly event and miracle in the history of mankind – ever. This was predicted by the prophets of Israel. We are calling all the nations to link arms in support of this people and the State of Israel to help her complete this process of redemption. We are not allowed to forget that the redemption of the people of Israel is a condition for the redemption of the earth. Also, we remember what G-d said over 4,000 years ago to Abraham, the father of the Israelites: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”.

The articles note that Gimpel states he was conducting a Bible study on prophecy — but again does not ask what prophecies and why they would be of interest to a non-Jewish audience? By not exploring the religious angle the Times is missing the story. Politicians say dumb things all the time. Leaving the story on that plane makes it old news the moment the it is printed. Exploring the faith angle opens up far more interesting and important questions.

Did the Times simply play follow my lead and not bother with the religion angle? Did they choose not to follow it, or just did not see it? And does the reason for the omission matter? Did ignoring the faith element in this political story leave this incomplete? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

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.

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.

Newcastle bishop pulls out of EAPPI meeting following Jewish protests: The Church of England Newspaper, November 4, 2012 p 7. November 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Judaism.
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The Bishop of Newcastle has withdrawn from a conference organized by the north-eastern branch of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine (EAPPI) after leaders of the Newcastle Jewish community warned Bishop Martin Wharton that his participating in the two-day meeting in Gateshead next month would end inter-faith relations.

The controversial motion had been a focus of discussion at this summer’s meeting of the Anglican-Jewish Commission of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel which stated the vote had “caused much distress within the Jewish community in Britain and also within the Christian community as well as in Israel and beyond.”

The presidents of the Representative Council of North-East Jewry, Brian Mark and Eric Joseph, also wrote to Bishop Wharton about his vote in favour of the EAPPI motion.  They were perturbed he had endorsed EAPPI “despite…our grave concerns about that proposal, especially that it would encourage anti-Semitism.”

The bishop also aroused their ire by agreeing to attend a meeting sponsored by EAPPI “in Gateshead in November, which plans to include a session on boycotts and divestment by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.”

These actions make “any further contact with the Jewish community in the North-East impossible,” they said.

Last week, Bishop Wharton said he would withdraw from the meeting “for the sake of good relations between all the faith communities in Newcastle”.

The Jewish Chronicle reported that Bishop Seamus Cunningham, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle had also withdrawn from the meeting.  A spokesman said that “after becoming aware that many Jewish people in the north-east were angry and upset. They feel that EAPPI speaks for only one side of a complex situation and that, as the conference is to be held on a Saturday, they could not attend and present an alternative view.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Newcastle inter-faith talks ended over EAPPI vote: The Church of England Newspaper, August 19, 2012 p 6. August 20, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Judaism.
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While formal relations between the Anglican Communion and Judaism appear unaffected by last month’s General Synod vote to endorse the work of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the 9 July vote has seen a breakdown in some local ecumenical relationships with the Church of England.

The Representative Council of North-East Jewry has broken off relations with Bishop Martin Wharton of the Diocese of Newcastle in response to his support for the EAPPI motion.  However, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office reports that a two-day meeting held after the synod vote of the Anglican-Jewish Commission of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel  had been cordial.

Meeting from 31 July to 1 August at Mansfield College, Oxford, the Anglican-Jewish Commission received papers Dr Jane Clements on “Anglicanism and the Secular State” and Rabbi Rasson Arousi on “Democracy in Judaism’s Political Vision”.

A communique from the gathering stated the commission also discussed “various matters of concern, including the recent Private Member’s Motion that related to Israel/Palestine at the Church of England’s General Synod.”

The commission acknowledged the strain imposed on Anglican-Jewish relations by the Synod vote stating “there was acknowledgement that this had caused much distress within the Jewish community in Britain and also within the Christian community as well as in Israel and beyond.”

However, it also noted there was “appreciation” for the “efforts of all those who were engaged on the issue to introduce greater understanding and a wider perspective. The Commission discussed steps that could be taken to address the complexities of the challenges raised.”

Last week the Jewish Chronicle reported that the presidents of the Representative Council of North-East Jewry, Brian Mark and Eric Joseph, had written to Bishop Wharton about his vote in favour of the EAPPI motion.  They were perturbed he had endorsed EAPPI “despite…our grave concerns about that proposal, especially that it would encourage anti-Semitism.”

The bishop also aroused their ire by agreeing to attend a meeting sponsored by EAPPI “in Gateshead in November, which plans to include a session on boycotts and divestment by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.”

These actions make “any further contact with the Jewish community in the North-East impossible,” they said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Who determines who is a Jew?: Get Religion, August 17, 2012 August 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism.
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In his 2008 Atlantic review of  Gregor von Rezzori’s Memoirs of an Anti-Semite Christopher Hitchens retells a “sour old joke” from the Nazi era.

Two elderly Jews [are] sitting in a Berlin park, with one of them reading a Yiddish paper and the other one scanning the pages of Der Stürmer. The latter Jew is laughing. This proves too much for the former Jew, who says: “It’s not enough you read that Nazi rag, but you find it funny?”

“Look,” replies the other. “If I read your paper, what do I see? Jews deported, Jews assaulted, Jews insulted, Jewish property confiscated. But I read Der Stürmer, and there’s finally some good news. It seems that we Jews own and control the whole world!”

Change the setting, transform Der Stürmer to any one of a number of Arab-language newspapers or television broadcasts, move the date to 2012 and the same joke would be fresh and relevant today. While the Muslim world today may be the most vocal source of Jew hatred, European anti-Semitism is alive and well too. And it takes a surprising number of forms: from the Church of England to 68′ers, in the salons of the chattering classes and amongst pro-Palestinian activists. Anti-Semites can be found from left and right.

Anti-Semites have also risen to prominence in some political parties including Hungary’s Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom). Jobbik leaders have accused Jews of buying up the country’s lands, taking over the banks and newspapers, and exercising a fell hand over the affairs of state.Into this mix comes an Associated Press story about one of Jobbik’s leaders, Csanad Szegedi. The lede begins:

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY — As a rising star in Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of “buying up” the country, railed about the “Jewishness” of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.

Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.

Following weeks of Internet rumours, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother’s side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn’t practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labour camps.

Since then, the 30-year-old has become a pariah in Jobbik and his political career is on the brink of collapse. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Szegedi is reported as being shocked by these revelations. However, his fierce xenophobic politics and his Presbyterian faith appear not to be enough to prevent his Jobbik allies from cutting him dead. A Jew is a Jew by blood — not by faith or self-identification it appears for the fascists in Hungary, who seem perturbed at having a Jew in their midst.

The odious Mr. Szeged has sought the counsel of Rabbi Slomo Koves of Hungary’s Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch community to help him through this trauma of learning he is Jewish.

“As a rabbi … it is my duty to receive every person who is in a situation of crisis and especially a Jew who has just now faced his heritage,” Koves said.

…”Csanad Szegedi is in the middle of a difficult process of reparation, self-knowledge, re-evaluation and learning, which according to our hopes and interests, should conclude in a positive manner,” Koves said. “Whether this will occur or not is first and foremost up to him.”

The Szegedi controversy reminds me of a passage from Alan Furst’s 2001 book  Kingdom of Shadows: “Morath didn’t mention Bethlen’s well-known definition of the anti-Semite as ‘one who detests the Jews more than necessary’.”

Though this wonderful novel may be the non-specialist’s introduction to the aphorism, it is none the less a true statement made by Hungary’s pre-war Prime Minister Count István Bethlen.

The article goes into further detail as to why Szegedi is considered to be a Jew.

Judaism is traced from mother to child, meaning that under Jewish law Szegedi is Jewish. Szegedi said he defines himself as someone with “ancestry of Jewish origin — because I declare myself 100 per cent Hungarian.”

Under the traditional definition of “who is a Jew”, this definition is correct and is the criteria used by Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. Yet Reform Judaism in 1983 recognized patrilineal Jews—those born of a Jewish father and a Gentile mother—as full Jews, provided they followed the Jewish faith.

A further twist in this debate is Israel. Reform Judaism’s position is not accepted by the Israeli rabbinate, which takes matrilinealism as the criterion for Jewish descent. Most Conservative rabbis and almost all Orthodox rabbis would also decline to recognize conversions performed by Reform rabbis for converts to Judaism on halachic grounds.

How should journalists decide who is a Jew? In this story the conservative/orthodox matrilineal definition is used. This may be appropriate as the Jewish community in Hungary follows this line. Yet the AP’s readers are found in the Angl0sphere, where the majority of Jews follow the Reform view of Jewish identity. Should it not interpret events according to the lights of its readers?

Nazi race ideology would classify Szegedi as a mischling — a half Jew. A German mischling was subject to severe restrictions under the Nazi race laws, but mischlinge in the Eastern territories occupied by the Nazis were classified as full Jews and exterminated. Szegedi appears not to want to accept his Jewish ancestry — and protests that he is a Christian and 100 per cent Hungarian.

Distasteful as this topic may be, has Szegedi the right to construct himself? Is he a Jew? Should he be a Jew? Who gets to say?

What say you GetReligion readers? Who has the right to decide — and how should the press approach such situations?

First printed at Get Religion.

Romney on the Palestinian work ethic: Get Religion, July 31, 2012 July 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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The elected Christian is in the world only to increase this glory of God by fulfilling His commandments to the best of his ability. … Brotherly love, … is expressed in the first place in the fulfillment of the daily tasks given. … This makes labor in the service of impersonal social usefulness appear to promote the glory of God and hence to be willed by him.

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism (1905/2002),pp. 108-9.

Reporters on the campaign trail have a difficult task. They must report faithfully on the words and actions of their subject — while at the same time rendering these words and actions interesting and intelligible to their readers. The two do not always go hand in hand as campaign handlers works very hard to make sure their candidate does not stray from a script, keeping “on message” at all times. It is a good day then, when a candidate says something new, interesting or controversial for it allows a good reporter to show his command of the craft.

The presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate has been taking some hits for comments made on his latest overseas tour. Some members of the press corp have been putting a bit of stick about in their coverage of Mitt Romney, characterizing his latest comments as insensitive gaffes. Romney is not ready for prime time is the song playing on the campaign radio right now.

A 30 July 2012 story in the Washington Post entitled “Romney faces Palestinian criticism for Jerusalem remarks as he heads to Poland” is representative of this style of reporting. But in their zeal to play gotcha with the Mittster and focus the criticisms, the five WaPo reporters credited on the story have overlooked ethical and religious ghosts that might well have made this a better piece. And what is better? Better is an article that peals away on campaign cant giving a fresh look into the mind of Mitt Romney.

Let me walk you through this story and show you what I mean. The lede begins:

JERUSALEM — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy has outpaced that of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.”

Palestinians said that Romney was ignoring long-running Israeli restrictions on crossings from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which are an enormous drag on commerce.

“All I can say is that this man needs a lot of education. He doesn’t know the region, he doesn’t know Israelis, he doesn’t know Palestinians, and to talk about the Palestinians as an inferior culture is really a racist statement,” Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview.

Though this appears in the domestic politics section of the Washington Post, the Post’s reporters have written a story about the opinions of second-tier Palestinian government officials. An accusation of racism is leveled at the top of the story by a Palestinian official in response to Romney’s comments on culture.

The article notes Romney’s  comments on the sharp economic disparity between Israel and Palestine and recounts the words that led to the racism charge. Citing a 1998 book by Harvard economics professor David Landes entitled “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Romney said:

“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from the book, by David Landes. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

A decision was made by the authors of this narrative to enter the story through the door of response to comments. Why? As we go deeper into the article there are signs the Romney campaign were unhelpful. It moves to denials by the Romney campaign of any “attempt to slight the Palestinians.” The article did note that Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, pushed his boss deeper into the mire: “Reporters pressed him to explain what Romney meant by ‘culture,’ but he declined to do so.”

The action shifts to Washington with comments from the Obama campaign and World Bank officials before it moves on to the next leg of Mitt’s overseas adventure. A diagram of the article’s content and perspective would be: Key Sentence: Romney is a racist Palestinian official claims — Palestinian quote — Romney quote — Romney campaign non-explanation — Obama response critical of Romney — Expert voice critical of Romney — Close as scene moves to Poland.

The Romney campaign appears to have been unhelpful and their man comes off badly from their actions. Yet what is also missing is an inquiry by the Post into Prof. David Landes and his book — which would go a long way toward answering the question of “what is culture?”.

And it is here was have the ethical and religious ghosts to this story for Landes’ book places great stress on the role of religion in economic development.

Two avenues of inquiry immediately present themselves — corruption and Islam. Is Mitt Romney saying that the Muslim culture of the Palestinian Authority is less conducive to economic advancement than the Jewish culture of Israel? Sociologists have been debating the role of religion and economic growth for over a century — most famously we have Max Weber’s “Protestant work ethic” thesis. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper last year entitled “Religious Identity and Economic Behavior” that found in the U.S. there were differences between the faith groups/denominations on their attitudes toward work.

We randomly vary religious identity salience in laboratory subjects to test how identity salience contributes to six hypothesized links from prior literature between religious identity and economic behavior. We find that religious identity salience makes Protestants increase contributions to public goods. Catholics decrease contributions to public goods, expect others to contribute less to public goods, and become less risk averse. Jews more strongly reciprocate as an employee in a bilateral labor market gift-exchange game.

While Islam did not play a part in this study, recent academic studies have sought to include the attitudes toward work in the Muslim world and define an  Islamic work ethic. Is the economic success of Israel due to its Jewish culture — and are the economic failures of the surrounding states tied to their Muslim cultures?

And then there is corruption. It is odd the Washington Post article would stress the economic disadvantages of the security check points and trot out an expert to say this is a cause of the problem — some commentators have taken this idea and rather foolishly run with it even further. Why I saw it is odd is that the World section of the Post has featured articles discussing the problem of corruption for the economic, social and political development of the Palestinian Authority. A March 2012 Palestine Public Opinion Poll identified corruption as a significant problem in the PA.

73% say there is corruption in the PA institutions in the West Bank while only 62% say there is corruption in the institutions of the dismissed government in the Gaza Strip. These percentages are similar to those obtained three months ago. In the context of the recent step by the PA in the West Bank to submit corruption cases to courts, we asked the public if it thinks the PA is serious about fighting corruption: 53% said it was serious and 43% said it was not serious.

Is corruption a Muslim problem or a Palestinian problem? I don’t think so. In my own work I have reported on the problems of corruption within the Christian churches of the Palestinian Authority, and have written dozens of stories over the years about corrupt and crooked bishops from the U.S. to Africa.

Also, please hear what I am not saying — I am not saying Israeli security measures do not have some degree of harm for the Palestinian Authority’s economy — I am saying that there are other factors involved that may play as great or a greater role.

And, I am also saying the Washington Post story missed an opportunity to tell us more about Mitt Romney. There is a hundred years of sharply contested scholarship on the intersection of religion and economic advancement. Given Romney’s Mormon faith and its pronounced views on this topic I would have thought that this area would be explored in any story on culture and the economy emanating from the campaign. What we have is a rather tired and predictable story that advances a silly claim by a Palestinian functionary and partisan campaign officials. It is not really worth the time it takes to read.

What say you Get Religion readers? Did the Post miss the story? Was it justified in playing “gotcha” in light of the apparent unhelpful Romney campaign? With five reporters on the story should it have cracked open the covers of the book that formed Romney’s thinking on nations and culture? Or, because I write about religion, do I see it everywhere? Was this really just a Romney gaffe story? Or, has the press decided the trip was a failure and hence everything that arose from it must be deemed a failure?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. First published in Get Religion.

Jewish leaders urge Synod to reject Palestine motion: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2012 p 7. June 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Judaism.
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The Board of Deputies of British Jews has urged General Synod to reject a private member’s motion to endorse the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

The chief executive of the Board of Deputies, Jon Benjamin told The Church of England Newspaper “there are many programmes and organisations seeking to promote tolerance and understanding, bringing both sides of the conflict together. EAPPI doesn’t claim to try to do that, but just focuses on the perceived iniquities of the Israelis — and by implication Jews abroad who support Israel.”

The first clause of the motion “Palestine and Israel” brought by Dr. John Drinnen of the Diocese of Hereford will ask synod to “affirm its support for: (a) The vital work of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), encouraging parishioners to volunteer for the programme and asking churches and synods to make use of the experience of returning participants.”

General Synod Paper 1874a states the EAPPI programme was established in 2002 at the request of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and its volunteers “spend about 3 months in Israel and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.”

“In Hebron they escort Palestinian girls to Cordoba School which lies between two Israeli settlements in the heart of this Palestinian town and the girls often suffer threats and attacks by extremist settlers on their way to and from school. Across the West Bank they monitor checkpoints at the separation barrier, where people queue for up to four hours every morning in order to get to work, school or hospital. The International Red Cross and UN humanitarian and human rights agencies rely on the statistical data and eyewitness accounts collected by the EAs at check points or house demolitions. Local people, say they feel safer, and that the world is watching, when they see EAs at work,” the paper said.

In a letter published in the Jewish Chronicle, Mr. Benjamin said Synod would be mistaken if it assumed the EAPPI was the “gold standard in dispassionate and fair reporting from the Holy Land.”

EAPPI’s “lack of balance” was “no mere oversight”, he argued. “The stated purpose of the EAPPI programme is to bear witness to hardships faced by Palestinians at checkpoints or caused by the security barrier,” but “to hear only those voices, and to compound these views further by meeting only Israelis on the political fringes, no effort is made to engage with ordinary Israelis or to appreciate their own aspirations for peace. Instead, they become inclined to a view that there can be no dialogue with Israel, except through boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

Dr. Drinnen did not respond to our request for comments but Ben White writing in the Electronic Intifada denounced the board’s comments as a “misrepresentation” and “smear” of the EAPPI. A spokesman for EAPPI told Mr. White that “EAPPI is surprised and disappointed at being described as ‘anti-Israel’ when we work closely with many respected Israeli NGOs.”

However, the independent Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor last year stated EAPPI was a “biased” organization that “presents a one-sided Palestinian narrative, participating in activities commemorating the Palestinian ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe) and promoting the ‘right of return’. The organization ignores terror attacks against Israelis and blames Israel for the conflict.”

“EAPPI consistently demonizes Israel, making accusations of ‘apartheid,’ ‘war crimes,’ and ‘Bantustans’.” NGO Monitor said, and was active in the boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel.

Mr. Benjamin told CEN there “clearly are hardships faced by Palestinians and they should be addressed,” but to “blame Israel alone is clearly absurd. The EAPPI methodology cannot fail to promote bias.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pray for conversion of the Middle East, Jerusalem conference urges: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2012 p 6. June 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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The Altar of Christ Church, Jerusalem

A conference of Middle Eastern Christians and Messianic Jews meeting in Jerusalem has pledged to work and pray for  the conversion of the Middle East through building the “kingdom of God” in the Middle East and fostering peace and harmony amongst Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Meeting from 7-12 May 2012 at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem with a grant of support from the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church – a ministry of the CMJ — the “At the Crossroads” conference brought together more than seventy delegates from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Palestinian Authority, Cyprus, Armenia, Turkey, Europe and North America with worship and presentations in Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Hebrew and English.

While the bulk of the conference was closed due to security concerns over Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) protests, two talks were opened to the public.

The Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White and Pastor Ali Pektash spoke to the power of conversion and reconciliation.   Pastor Pektash shared his conversion story also, stating that he had been a Muslim and while on pilgrimage to Mecca he had a dream where Jesus spoke to him – sparking his conversion to Christianity and a road that led to the ordained ministry.

The second public address was given by Taysir Abu Saada, author of Once an Arafat Man, who spoke to the power of Christ to reconcile enemies.  The love of God, he told the conference, allowed believers to rake risks crossing ethnic, political and religious divides “to work together to expand God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in this troubled and unstable region,” a statement from the conference reported.

Delegates adopted a six point statement that sought to evangelize the region, work towards piece between Christians, Muslims and Jews, to protect and advocate for persecuted Christian groups, to foster communications amongst the churches, and to “proclaim that ‘Egypt my people, Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’ will indeed become a blessing in the midst of the earth.”

“It is all too easy for Christians in the Middle East to become ghettoized due to their minority status and the many ethnic and political divisions,” one conference organizer noted in an email to The Church of England Newspaper.

“Consequently we often fail to see how God is working in our midst. Our focus must extend beyond these conflicts and only the survival of existing Christian communities. Without ignoring the suffering and injustice in so many parts of our region, we should focus on the call of Jesus to expand God’s sovereignty by making disciples, recognizing the crucial role Jewish believers in Israel have in the Great Commission to bless their neighbors with the Good News,” the organizer said.

“ And equally so, the followers of Jesus in the surrounding nations have a unique role in helping Israel become part of the blessing that God intends for this region,” he added.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

New trial for Holocaust denial bishop: The Church of England Newspaper, March 2, 2012, p 4. March 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church.
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SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson

A German court has overturned the guilty verdict of Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X and ordered a new trial for the controversial 71-year old cleric.

On 22 Feb 2012 the Nuremberg Regional Court of Appeals threw out the Holocaust denial conviction of Bishop Williamson, finding the trial court had failed to show when and how the bishop’s remarks were publicly disseminated.

A one-time Anglican, the 71 year old Englishman entered the Catholic Church and joined the traditionalist SSPX.  In 1988 he was consecrated bishop without the mandate of the Vatican by the leader of the SSPX, Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre. This led to his excommunication by Pope John Paul II.

In 2009, Benedict XVI revoked the excommunication in a gesture of reconciliation towards the SSPX, which has no formal status within the Catholic Church.  However, the pope’s overture towards the SSPX generated sharp criticism from Jewish leaders and within the Catholic Church after Bishop Williamson’s statements on the Holocaust became known.

In an interview given in 2008 to SVT, the Swedish state television corporation, while on a visit to Regensburg, Germany, Bishop Williamson said the it waslies, lies, lies” to say that Jews were killed in gas chambers by the Nazis.  He denied there was a Holocaust or an organized plan to exterminate the Jews, and said that no more than 300,000 European Jews were killed by the Nazis.

In 2010, the Regensburg court found him guilty of incitement to hated and fined him approximately £9000.  The sum was reduced on appeal last July, and last week the conviction was tossed out by the appeals court after it held the formal prerequisites for prosecution had not been met.

The Vatican requested the bishop retract his statement, and in 2009 the bishop published a letter on the Panorama Católico Internacional website expressing his “regret” to the Vatican for the controversy caused by his “careless comments”.

However in a note posted on his personal blog, Bishop Williamson said he had apologized out of respect for the office of the Pope rather than in adherence to “Divine Truth”.  The apology did not satisfy the bishop’s critics, and Jewish leaders were further incensed when he stated that Jews were Christ killers, guilty of “deicide.”

Jews were “continuing to act collectively as enemies of the Messiah,” he wrote in his newsletter Eleison Comments, and further asked,How can the Pope abandon these truths that are so ancient?”

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, told JTA the appeals court decision was “a slap in the face” for Holocaust survivors.  Prosecutors are expected to refile their charges against the controversial bishop next month.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Does the Holocaust belong to Jews?: Get Religion, January 19, 2012 January 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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““The canonization of the SS” is the front page headline for the 11 January issue of  the Tageszeitung, the left-liberal Berlin daily.

Illustrated by a photo of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler inspecting members of the Estonian division of the Waffen-SS, the TAZ story reports that a bill before the Estonian parliament seeks to grant Estonian members of the SS the status of “freedom fighters.”

While similar bills failed in 2006 and 2010, “majority support appears to guaranteed” during this legislative session, the TAZ reports. A second article appears on page 4 and reports the Russian embassy in Tallinn has described the bill as “blasphemous,” while the German Green Party has criticized a “retrospective justification of the atrocities perpetrated by Hitler’s henchmen in the Soviet Union.”

Die Welt has the story also. On 12 Jan in “Estland denkt über Ehrung der Waffen-SS nach” it reported on the details — and provided a very good history of the Estonian division of the SS.  Worldcrunch offers a summary in English of the article here.

As an aside, Worldcrunch paraphrases stories, it does not translate them in a strict sense. This can lead to differences of meaning and shading. For example the Die Welt title in Worldcrunch is “Push To Honor Estonian SS Nazi Unit Sparks Outrage.” The Die Welt title in German I would translate as “Estonia is thinking about honoring the Waffen-SS after [70 years].” No “outrage” in the German title, nor does “push to honor” have the same meaning as “thinking of honoring” while the German title has “after” tagged on at the end, to which I would add “70 years” or “further tries in parliament.” Do bookmark Worldcrunch as it is a great source for overseas reporting.

Die Welt offers this additional history (my translation):

The Holocaust began in the Baltic states at the same time as Estonia was occupied by German troops. Jews had to flee the country, but as Estonia is the northernmost and easternmost of the three small states, they had the best chance to escape. Approximately three-quarters of the small Jewish population either left with the retreating Red Army or fled to Finland.

The remaining thousand who were classified as Jews according to Nazi racial criteria were killed — mainly by Einsatzkommando 1a under the command of Martin Sandberger, who until his death in late March 2010 was the last living top SS leader. At the Wannsee Conference [held on 20 Jan 1942] Estonia was declared judenfrei [free of Jews] by the Nazis after the murder of 963 people. …

In addition to the approximately one thousand Estonian Jews, at least 250 Roma and six to seven thousand Christian Estonians were killed during the German occupation. Tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners of wars as well as Jews from other states were also killed during the occupation in internment caps built on Estonian soil during the war.

Die Welt examines the Estonian SS involvement in the Holocaust and in anti-partisan campaigns, but notes:

Unfortunately all that remains of the records of this unit are three meager files in the German federal archives. There is a book about Estonians in the Waffen-SS, but it was written by an admirer of the military arm of the SS and was published by a small, far-right-leaning publisher. Its contents should clearly be viewed with caution.

However, the campaign to honor SS men as freedom fighters, supported mainly by nationalist parties in Estonia, comes from their role in trying to hold back the tide of the Red Army in the first six months of 1944. The daft legislation is expected to come before parliament in Tallinn in March.

Both newspapers do a good job in bringing this story to light. While Die Welt gives a great overview to this corner of history, the TAZ is more forthright in its condemnation. It warns against “beatifying the SS,” and reminds readers that the Simon Wiesenthal Center described the Baltic SS units as being part of the Nazi “structure of blood and death.”

There are enough religion and ethical ghosts in this story to keep me occupied for weeks. However, I want to raise a few surface items as well as a deeper issue that is being played out in Europe — who owns the Holocaust?

“Provide both sides of the story” is a mantra each journalist learns early in his career. One of the most frequent criticisms offered by GetReligion is the lack of balance in a story — of providing only one set of facts. However, is this criticism valid when dealing with Nazis? Neither paper offers space to neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers or right-wing nationalists to defend the pro-SS legislation. Die Welt offers the history, as does the TAZ to a lesser extent, that would explain motivation, but Mr. A. Hitler is not given a platform. And I believe the papers were correct in this decision.

The TAZ use of the language of religion is significant. Religion is almost always absent from the left-wing TAZ’s pages, but its use here is more than that of an arch or facile description. To my mind it symbolizes the moral and psychological uneasiness Germans (and Estonians) feel with this issue. The SS is being beautified, being canonized as modern saints by Estonian nationalists in their crusade against the Russians and the Communist past. While the vocabulary is used, there remains strong tie here between nationalism and religion that is left unaddressed in the stories.

To my ears, the story also raises the vexed question of who owns the Holocaust? Die Welt reports that almost ten times as many Christian Estonians as Jewish Estonians were murdered by the Nazis. Yet all of the Jews were killed. Is there an equivalence of suffering here? Because more Christians died than Jews — and because the Soviets killed more Estonians than the Germans, does that give moral ownership of this issue to Estonian nationalists?  Where can the line be drawn between wholesale murder of innocents and the unique evil that was the Nazi’s Final Solution?

This episode reminds me of the “War of the Crosses” that began at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1979. Following Pope John Paul II’s mass at the Nazi death camp, which he described as being the “Golgotha of the modern world,” local Catholics erected a small cross by Bunker 2 to honor Edith Stein — a converted Jew who had become a Carmelite nun before her death in the gas chambers.

In 1984 the controversy escalated when Carmelite nuns opened a convent in a brick building that had been used by the Nazis to store Zyklon-B gas crystals. The 26-foot cross used in John Paul II’s 1979 service was then moved by the nuns to a spot just outside the Auschwitz I wall where more than one hundred Polish partisans had been shot. Jewish leaders complained of the impropriety of Christianizing the site of the extermination of European Jewry, but the nuns refused to go.

Jewish complaints prompted a response by Polish nationalists who erected a further three hundred crosses.  The Polish parliament then ordered the extra crosses to be removed but allowed the papal cross to remain. John Paul II resolved the issue in 1993 by ordering the nuns to leave Auschwitz.

Can one be human and be impartial when writing a story about the SS? Is it wrong for Christians to dispossess Jews of the Holocaust? Who owns history and how should faith groups handle public expressions of faith in a pluralistic society? (Does the World Trade Center mosque controversy spring to mind to anyone?) How should reporters handle this issue when writing about the Holocaust and the SS? Is it even possible?

What say you GetReligion readers on this point?

First printed 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.

Holy Cow Batman!, The Guardian on Hinduism: Get Religion Oct 16, 2011 October 17, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Get Religion, Islam, Judaism, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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After me everybody … “Hindus do not worship cows.”

Repeat please … “Hindus do not worship cows.”

One more time like you really mean it … “Hindus do not worship cows.”

It is the caped crusader’s sidekick who cries “Holy Cow”, not the sadhu.

Hindus venerate cows. There is a difference.

The Observer — the Sunday edition of the Guardian newspaper in London — doesn’t appreciate the distinction. Nor does it appear to be fully on board about a number of religious dietary laws. But it does have an excruciatingly hip article in its lifestyle section entitled “Religion and food: Lord knows, they don’t mix.”

Written in a jocular, off-hand style this article offers the philosophical musings of a food writer on the dietary laws and food customs of some of the world’s major faiths. It is also a silly little piece whose treatment of religion is puerile, offensive and profoundly ignorant of the subjects it seeks to address. I am not complaining mind you. Critics need stories like this. When a quality newspaper like the Guardian is willing to throw a slow pitch down the center of the plate it is churlish of me to complain. Let’s take our place at the plate.

There are lots of good reasons for cutting down on meat; Jesus really isn’t one of them. Not that the Catholic Church would agree. A few weeks ago the UK’s bishops declared that they would be encouraging their congregations to give up flesh on Fridays as a way to “deepen… the spiritual aspects of their lives”. Organised religions have form where this sort of thing is concerned. This summer also saw the publication of Kosher Modern, a cookbook designed to make the stringent dietary rules of observant Jews – no pork, no shellfish, no mixing of milk and meat – an opportunity rather than a constraint. A few years ago, a Welsh Hindu community went to court (unsuccessfully) to save a bull called Shambo, marked down for slaughter because he had tested positive for bovine tuberculosis. Hindus don’t eat beef. They worship the animals. The Muslims don’t eat pork. The Buddhists are vegetarians and the Jains are strict vegans who won’t even touch root vegetables because of the damage it does to the plants.

From this I can reach only one conclusion: God is a seriously picky eater. And yes, I know, the Jains and the Buddhists don’t have an overarching deity per se, but you get the point. The divine is marked by a palate that would shame a three-year-old brought up on crisps and Sunny Delight.

From this point forward in the article the author provides his interpretation of these dietary laws, noting that he is a “head-banging atheist” and consequently a “Very Bad Jew”. I am not concerned with the author’s views on the merits of religion or dietary laws. His sentiment: “Worship however and whatever you wish, but don’t expect me to respect you for it,” is not the subject of this critique. What concerns me are the statements of fact.

Let’s go through these one by one in order of veracity.

“Muslims don’t eat pork.” Yes.

“Jews – no pork, no shellfish, no mixing of milk and meat.” Yes … but.

The author’s interpretation as to why Jews keep kosher: “Because it defines difference. It sets them apart” — would not meet with universal approval amongst all rabbinic scholars.

England’s Catholic “bishops declared that they would be encouraging their congregations to give up flesh on Fridays as a way to “deepen… the spiritual aspects of their lives”.  Yes and no.

Effective 16 Sept 2011, Roman Catholics in England and Wales are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays as an act of penance. Those who do not eat meat normally should abstain from some other food. The bishops stated:

“Every Friday is set aside by the Church as a special day of penance, for it is the day of the death of our Lord” …  the Bishops’ Conference wishes to remind all Catholics in England and Wales of the obligation of Friday Penance. The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat.

The Catholic Church in Britain is going back to meatless Friday’s as a mark of penance. No the bishops are not “encouraging their congregations to give up flesh”, it is an obligation. And they are not to give up “flesh”, but meat.

“Jains are strict vegans.” No.

Jains are “strict” vegetarians but not all Jains are vegans. Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition, do not consume animal by-products such as eggs, dairy products,  or honey. Guided by the principle of ahimsa (non-harm) some Jains in the Indian diaspora have adopted a vegan lifestyle out of an ethical concern over Western factory farming practices. Their holy texts do not prohibit the consumption of dairy products and Jains may consume milk, curds and clarified butter (ghee).

“Buddhists are vegetarians.” No.

Not all Buddhists are vegetarians. The Buddha was not a vegetarian, and he did not prohibit eating meat. Some schools of Buddhism interpret his ethical strictures so as to discourage meat eating. Roughly speaking among the two major Buddhist traditions, the Mahayanists are vegetarian and the Theravadins are not. There are exceptions to this dictum. Ceylonese monks of the Theravadin school are often strict Buddhists, whilst amongst Tibetan and Japanese Buddhists of the Mabayanist school vegetarianism is rare.

“Hindus don’t eat beef. They worship the animals.” No.

Taking as my guide, What is Hinduism? published by Hinduism Today:

Hindus don’t worship cows. We respect, honor and adore the cow. By honoring this gentle creature, who gives more than she takes, we honor all creation … Gandhi once said, “One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world.”

Looking at the box score, 2.5 answers rights, 3.5 answers wrong. This would have prompted a Holy Cow! out of Harry Caray.

I appreciate the audience for this article is the home team Guardian reader. But it does help not to be infantile when posing as l’enfant terrible. When you mock the religious sensibilities of others in a superior tone it helps to know what you are talking about. The Guardian doesn’t.

Zionism is Satanic, Greek bishop declares: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 7, 2011 p 5 January 10, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Greek Orthodox, Judaism.
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Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus

published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Jews are to blame for a host of the world’s ills, from homosexuality to the Holocaust, a Greek Orthodox Church leader told an Athens television programme last month.

In a Dec 20 interview broadcast on the MEGA television network, Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus laid the blame for Greece’s financial meltdown on an international Zionist conspiracy and a cabal of Jewish bankers who sought to “enslave Greece and Christian Orthodoxy.”

International Zionism was also behind the push for same-sex marriage and one-parent families the bishop revealed.  Asked how he would distinguish his views from those of Adolf Hitler, Metropolitan Seraphim stated that Hitler was actually an agent of the Jewish conspiracy.

“Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire,” the bishop said according to a translation of his comments reported by the JTA.

Jewish bankers like “Rockefeller, Rothschild and Soros control the international banking system that controls globalization,” the bishop added.

Church and state leaders in Greece were quick to condemn Seraphim’s remarks.  On Dec 23, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America condemned the “anti-Semitic rhetoric” of Metropolitan Seraphim, and “expresses its sadness that these hurtful words should have been spoken at all.”

It added that it “considers the remarks to be gravely offensive and totally unacceptable.”

A Greek government spokesman stated his government was “obliged to condemn the language of hatred, regardless of who uses it. We are obliged to characterize language denying the holocaust – the greatest crime against humanity – as unacceptable.”

In response to the controversy, on Dec 23, Metropolitan Seraphim posted a statement on his website saying the views he expressed on the programme were his personal opinions and not those of the Greek Orthodox Church.  The bishop said he loved the Jews, but disliked Zionists.

“My public vehement opposition against International Zionism refers to the organ that is the successor of the ‘Sanhedrin’ which altered the faith of the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Righteous of the Jewish nation through the Talmud, the Rabbinical writings and the Kabbalah into Satanism, and always strives vigorously toward an economic empire set up throughout the world with headquarters in the great land beyond the Atlantic for the prevalence of world government and pan-religion,” the bishop explained.

In addition to Jews, Metropolitan Seraphim does not care for Elton John.  In March 2010, the Kathimerini newspaper of Athens reported that Seraphim had written to the Queen, asking her to rescind Elton John’s knighthood following the pop-singer’s comments to Parade Magazine that Jesus was a “compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.”

The bishop called upon the members of his diocese to write to Buckingham Palace and to the British ambassador in Athens to make their views known concerning the performer’s “unacceptable and absurd” comments.

Al Azhar opens doors for Muslim dialogue with Judaism: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 3, 2010 p 7. December 6, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Judaism.
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Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Sunni Islamic world’s leading university, the Al-Azhar in Cairo, has lifted the ban on inter-faith talks between Muslims and Jews.

In a statement released last week at a meeting of religious and political leaders at the House of Lords, Sheikh Fawzi Al-Zifzaf, the head of Al-Azhar’s Permanent Committee for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions, said interfaith dialogue should be “founded upon equality, mutual respect and valuing of the opinions of one another.”

Islam seeks “brotherhood and mutual understanding and the strengthening of bonds between Muslims and followers of the other religions, and the establishment of bridges of dialogue with scholarly institutions in Europe and America,” the statement said.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress called the Nov 23 statement a “landmark decision, and Al-Azhar deserves praise for it. Coming from the leading centre of Islamic thinking in the world, it will be enormously helpful for all moderate forces within Islam. This declaration rightly emphasises the importance of inter-faith relations. Leaders from both sides should now seize the opportunity and take Jewish-Muslim relations to the next level.”

In the 1990’s the Al Azhar and the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion initiated a series of conversations, designed to foster inter-faith relations.  The Anglican-Muslim dialogue committee met in Cairo from Oct 27-28 under the leadership of Sheikh Ali Abdel Baki Shehata of the Al Azhar and Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore.

The participants received a number of presentations on inter-faith relations focusing on “how recent global developments had made positive engagement and dialogue between Muslims and Christians absolutely vital.”

Melbourne Archbishop’s Khatami invite enrages Jews: CEN 3.27.09 March 27, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Iran, Islam, Judaism.
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A reception for the former president of Iran Mohammad Khatami hosted by the Archbishop of Melbourne has sparked protests from Jewish leaders. 

In a March 13 letter declining an invitation to tea at the home of Archbishop Philip Freier to meet President Khatami, the leader of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, John Searle urged the archbishop to cancel the reception, saying it was “inconceivable that the Anglican diocese would choose to host such a man or even to meet with him.”

However, Dr. Freier urged Jewish leaders to attend the reception, saying it would be an opportunity for dialogue between Jews and Muslims.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Melbourne Archbishop’s Khatami invite enrages Jews

Rowan and the Rabbis September 25, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Archbishop of Canterbury, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Judaism.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop in Jerusalem with the Chief Rabbis of Israel in the garden of Lambeth Palace on Sept 9, 2008.

Archbishop denounces Iranian president as threat to peace: CEN 9.26.08 p 6. September 25, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Iran, Judaism.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury has joined the Chief Rabbis of Israel in denouncing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel rhetoric, saying the Iranian leader’s calls for the destruction of the Jewish state were serious threat to world peace.

On Sept 10, Dr. Williams released a joint statement with Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger of Israel following a meeting at Lambeth Palace saying they were “distressed to note that the President of Iran continues to use threatening and derogatory language towards Israel.”

The Anglican and Jewish leaders called upon political, social and religious leaders to combat “religious or racial hatred.” Religious leaders had a “particular burden” to teach the “faithful to show respect and understanding towards other Faiths and their holy sites.”

The joint statement came at the close of the third meeting of the Anglican-Jewish Commission, an inter-faith dialogue organized by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Joining Dr. Williams were the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani and the Bishop of Clogher, the Rt. Rev. Michael Jackson—the Anglican co-chairman of the commission.

“Holy sites” must be “universally recognised as places that are free from violence, whether this is from external threats to security and access or from the use within them of language which incites violence,” Dr. Williams and the rabbis said.

President Ahmadinejad’s calls to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth” and for the destruction of the Jewish state, were an unbecoming example of sectarian hatred, they said.

Last week, the Iranian leader added to his repertoire of anti-Semitic comments, accusing Jews of secretly controlling international finance. Some 2000 Zionist atheists dominated the world’s financial centres and sought to suck dry the wealth of the world for their own nefarious purposes.

The Anglican-Jewish statement arose from the commission’s talks on “holy places”, and it was
“in this context” the critique of the Iranian leader was levelled.

Following the meetings at Lambeth Palace, the Bishop in Jerusalem met with representatives from the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Sept 11. Bisihop Dawani spoke to the good relations the Anglican Church in Jerusalem has with the other churches and faiths in Israel, noting that this interfaith work “creates special foundations for the peace process”.

Bishop Suheil stated he was optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East, and endorsed British Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks’ idea of a “new covenant of trust and friendship” that could bring a society together.

Jon Benjamin, the Board of Deputies chief executive, said that “it is important that these peace initiatives should be better publicised as they are so valuable and worthwhile. They provide hope and are a practical means of fostering reconciliation which all of those who genuinely want peace should want to support.”

Sacks becomes first rabbi to address Anglican bishops’ conference: JPost 8.02.08 August 2, 2008

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Jerusalem Post, Judaism, Lambeth 2008.
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British Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks extended a hand of friendship and word of forgiveness to the world’s Anglican bishops last week, calling upon Jews and Christians to be agents of hope in a violent world.

The 670 bishops greeted the first speech by a rabbi in the 140-year history of the Lambeth Conference, the decennial gathering of Anglican bishops from around the world, with two standing ovations, marking a rapprochement between the two faiths that in recent years had been hurt by calls for divestment from Israel from the Church of England.

Sacks urged the Anglican Communion to hold together, and find a way to work through its theological divisions. His words came as welcome relief to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, providing the first words of support for the embattled Anglican leader from outside the church during the course of the 22-day gathering.

Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.

Religious leaders tackle core issues at Qatar talks: CEN 5.20.08 May 20, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Judaism.
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In a rare sign of inter-faith friendship, the Sheik of Qatar has hosted a conference of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Doha.

The May 13-14 Doha inter-faith conference brought together 155 rabbis, mullahs, imams, Christian clergy and theologians under the theme of “Religious Values Between Peace and Life Respect”. The Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, the Rt Rev Michael Lewis attended as a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, while the former Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Rev Riah Abu al-Assal also attended the gathering.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Lebanese leaders tackle core issues at Qatar talks

Jewish leaders disappointed over Good Friday prayers: CEN 2.06.08 February 6, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Hymnody/Liturgy, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church.
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THE RETENTION of prayers calling for the conversion of the Jews in the Roman Catholic Church’s Good Friday prayers is a matter of grave disappointment, Jewish leaders tell Religious Intelligence.

On Tuesday the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published on its front page the Latin text of the revised Good Friday liturgy for congregations using the traditional “Tridentine” Latin-language rite, reauthorized for use in July by Pope Benedict XVI.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Jewish leaders disappointed over Good Friday prayers

Jews welcome Catholic liturgy reforms: CEN 2.04.08 February 4, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Hymnody/Liturgy, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church.
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POPE Benedict XVI will reformulate the Roman Catholic Church’s Good Friday liturgy, removing statements deemed offensive by the Jewish Community.

The new prayer will drop all reference to the “blindness” and “darkness” of the Jews in refusing Christ as saviour, the Milan newspaper Il Giornale, reported on Jan. 18. It stated the Pope had prepared a draft version of the new prayer, which would be released in time for Holy Week celebrations in March.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Jews welcome Catholic liturgy reforms

Pope rewrites prayer following Jewish protest: JP 2.03.08 February 3, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Hymnody/Liturgy, Jerusalem Post, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Jewish leaders have welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to reformulate the Catholic Church’s traditional Good Friday prayers.

The removal of references to the “darkness” and “blindness” of the Jews for their refusal to recognize Jesus as the messiah was a sign the pope was “deeply committed to advancing the relationship with the Jewish Community,” Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, told The Jerusalem Post.

The new text will drop all reference to the “blindness” of the Jews, Milan’s Il Giornale newspaper reported on January 18. The pope has prepared a draft version of the new prayer, which will be released in time for Holy Week celebrations in March, the report said.

Read it all in The Jerusalem Post.

Views differ on abortion rulings: CEN 1.25.08 January 25, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Judaism.
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Religious leaders of the Jewish and Muslim world have released contradictory rulings on the morality of abortion.

Last month the Chief Rabbinate of Israel held that under Jewish law abortion was a sin, while the grand council of the al-Azhar in Cairo ruled that under Islamic law a woman who had become pregnant through rape must have an abortion.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Views differ on abortion rulings

‘Sambi criticism of Knesset was his own’: JP 11.21.07 November 22, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Israel, Jerusalem Post, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Pietro Sambi.

The Vatican has distanced itself from comments made by its former ambassador to Israel, who last week charged the Knesset with lacking the political will to make the hard political decisions necessary if it means to honor Israel’s international commitments.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi (pictured) accused Israel of dragging its heels over implementing the terms of the 1993 treaty that established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Jewish state. However, the Vatican quickly distanced itself from the comments, saying they were the archbishop’s personal views, not church policy.


Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.

Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski

Cherie Booth attacks religion for subordinating women: CEN 11.16.07 p 8 November 14, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, Islam, Judaism.
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THE DRIVE for the equality of women in society has not gone far enough, civil rights lawyer Cherie Booth QC said in a lecture delivered last week to the Royal Institute of International Affairs: Chatham House.

Ms Booth, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, told Chatham House that religion and tradition were being used to justify the subordination of women. However, in an interview with the Today programme she declined to condemn the veiling of women, saying it was not worth getting ‘hung up’ over.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Further work to do on women’s equality, says Cherie Booth

Dr. Williams and the Rabbis November 9, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Judaism.
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Archbishop Rowan Williams and Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger at Lambeth Palace on Sept 26, 2006.

Jim Rosenthal photo

Inter-faith response to Muslims: CEN 11.09.07 p 5. November 9, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Iran, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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The Anglican Communion’s response to last month’s overtures from world Muslim leaders will be made in consultation with the leaders of Orthodox Judaism, a joint statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbis of Israel said last week.

The announcement came at the close of Dr. Williams’ Oct 31 flying visit to Israel and marks a significant opening toward cooperation and collaboration between the two faiths.

Joined by the Church of Ireland’s Bishop of Clogher, Dr. Williams met with Israel’s Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger and the Chief Rabbi of Haifa Shear Yashuv Cohen in the second of a series of inter faith dialogues initiated last year.

“These conversations are an invaluable opportunity to cement the relationship between our communities,” Dr. Williams said, and “build on the opportunities that inter religious cooperation provides. Our shared scriptural understanding led us to reaffirm our understanding of the Sanctity of Life. Dialogue and mutual respect are the seed beds within which understanding and common cause can flourish, sometimes, by the grace of God, in the most unpromising of circumstances.”

In a joint statement, Dr. Williams and the Jewish leaders expressed concern over the plight of Iraq’s Christian community and the “wellbeing of the ever increasing numbers of refugees from Iraq.”

They issued a call to Islamist terrorists to release kidnapped Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, and Gilad Shalit, and denounced the “continuing use of aggressive language by President Ahmedinajad of Iran towards Israel” saying his rhetoric was “wholly unacceptable.”

The two sides noted that although the “recent letter from Muslim scholars and religious leaders”, a “Common Word” had been addressed to the churches, it “also makes clear its respect for Hebrew scripture in citing directly from the Book of Deuteronomy and in acknowledging the inspiration that this provided for their understanding of the Quranic teachings on the unity and love of God and of neighbour.”

“In promoting these values we commit ourselves and encourage all religious leaders to ensure that no materials are disseminated by our communities that work against this vision,” the Anglican and Jewish leaders said.

“We have agreed that in responding to the Common Word, it will be important to consider carefully together how the perspectives of Christians and Jews are properly held together,” the communiqué said.

Members of both Dr. Williams and the Chief Rabbis’ teams told The Church of England Newspaper they were pleased with the tone and content of the talks.

Chief Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, told CEN, “the purpose of the “reciprocal visit between the principals is above all simply deepening the relationship and trust between them. Symbolically it is an important demonstration of the Archbishop’s dedication to dialogue and deepening the relationship with the Jewish People and his commitment to Israel’s wellbeing and desire to live in peace and security.”

Archbishop’s visit aims to repair ties after divestment vote: JP 10.29.07 p 6. October 31, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Israel, Jerusalem Post, Judaism.
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Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams arrives in Jerusalem on Tuesday for two days of meetings with the Chief Rabbinate in a bid to improve relations damaged by the Church of England’s 2006 decision to back divestment from Israel.

An outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, Williams denounced American neoconservatives last month for advocating preemptive action against Iranian and Syrian nuclear stockpiles. A military strike, he said, would be a “criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly.”

“I can’t understand what planet such persons are living on, when you see the conditions that are already there,” Williams told the BBC upon his return to London following a September 27 meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The spiritual head of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion has also been a vocal critic of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and at the meeting of the Church of England’s parliament last year endorsed a call for divestment from “companies profiting from the illegal occupation” of the territories.

Fallout from the 2006 divestment vote, which led former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to say he was “ashamed to be an Anglican,” prompted a formal dialogue between the Chief Rabbinate and Williams to heal the rift.

On September 5, 2006, Williams and Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger endorsed a joint declaration in London creating a dialogue commission between Anglicans and Jews to “advance interfaith relations” and foster “trust and cooperation.”

A spokesman for the archbishop told The Jerusalem Post Williams hoped this week’s meeting would build upon that first encounter and “deepen their friendship.”

Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, said the trip to Jerusalem was “an important demonstration of the archbishop’s dedication to dialogue and deepening the relationship with the Jewish people, and his commitment to Israel’s well-being and desire to live in peace and security.”

There were signs of “real seriousness” on the part of the Anglicans, which boded well for future relations, he said.

Williams’s staff has also denied the veracity of accounts printed by the official Syrian news agency, SANA, of his September 27 trip to Damascus to meet Assad and Syrian religious leaders. SANA reported that in talks with Williams, the grand mufti of Syria “pointed out the Israeli suppressive practices in the occupied Palestinian territories, which violated all religious laws and international norms.”

Williams’s office denied this, saying his talks with the grand mufti “concerned issues internal to Syria and focused on the secular character of the Syrian constitution.”

(This article is not on line, but appears in the print edition only)

UK Palestinians put heat on Brown over JNF patronage: JP 10.14.07 October 15, 2007

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, British Jewry, Israel, Jerusalem Post.
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Palestinian activists in Britain are pressuring Prime Minister Gordon Brown to step down as patron of the Jewish National Fund UK, claiming the JNF’s refusal to sell land in Israel to Arabs is a discriminatory practice that taints the prime minister.

“Scottish public opinion, if made aware of the true nature of the JNF, would join us in condemning your association with such an organization,” the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign said in an October 13 letter to the prime minister.

Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.

Peres to meet with Pope, Italian PM next month: JP 8.25.07 August 25, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Diplomatic & Foreign Affairs, Israel, Jerusalem Post, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Peace in the Middle East and the resolution of property and tax disputes with the Roman Catholic Church will top the agenda of President Shimon Peres’s September 6 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

On Friday, Vatican Radio announced the two will meet next month at Castel Gandalfo, the Pope’s summer palace outside Rome.

Peres will travel to Italy on September 5 and will also meet with his counterpart, President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.


Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd during his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday.
Photo: AP

Christians and Jews in New Summit: CEN 8.17.07 p 5 August 16, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Judaism.
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THE COMMISSION of Anglican and Jewish leaders, organised as a joint project of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, held its first meeting last month in Jerusalem.Led by the Bishop of Clogher, the Rt Rev Michael Jackson and Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen of Haifa, the Commission met in Jerusalem from July 1-2 to define the parameters of dialogue between Anglicans and Jews, and to help ease tensions inflamed by decisions taken by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and General Synod in recent years.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christians and Jews in new summit

Row over Coptic Leaders Anti-Semitic Call: CEN 5.18.07 p 6. May 20, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Coptic Orthodox, Interfaith, Judaism.
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The leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria told Egyptian television last month the Western Churches were wrong to exonerate Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and criticized recent statements apologizing for Christian anti-Semitism.

In an interview with Dream 2 TV broadcast on April 8, Shenouda was asked if the Coptic Church would modify follow the lead of the Western Christian churches. Shenouda responded that the Christian Churches had “done nothing that warrants an apology,” adding he believed the apologies were being “done for appearance’s sake.”

Asked whether Jews were “Christ-killers”, responsible for the crucifixion, Shenouda stated, “The New Testament says that they are,” and asked rhetorically whether the Vatican was “against the teachings of the New Testament?”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

UK Jews – “We’re not tools of the Israeli gov’t”: JP 2.06.07 February 6, 2007

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Israel, Jerusalem Post.
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The Board of Deputies of British Jews has disputed claims levelled by the “Independent Jewish Voices” coalition that it is a tool of the Israeli government.

“The overwhelming view” of British Jewry is “one of support for Israel; not necessarily every action of its government, but its right to exist, the right all of its citizens of whatever faith to live in peace and security and, as a corollary of that, the right of Israel to defend itself,” the statement given to the Jerusalem Post by Board chief executive Jon Benjamin said.

Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.

UK Jews push for ‘different voices’: JP 2.05.07 February 5, 2007

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Israel, Jerusalem Post.
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A coalition of prominent British Jews has attacked the country’s Jewish establishment, claiming it puts loyalty to Israel before the human rights of Palestinians.

An open letter entitled “A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices” was published in Monday’s issue of the Times and in the Internet edition of the Guardian newspaper. It marks a growing division within the Jewish community over the nature of its ties to Israel.

Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.

Catholic-Jewish summit in Cape Town leads to pledge to fight fanaticism: JP 11.14.06 November 14, 2006

Posted by geoconger in Interfaith, Jerusalem Post, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church.
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A four-day summit in Cape Town between the Vatican and world Jewish leaders including a delegation from the chief rabbinate of Israel has led to the endorsement of a statement condemning Holocaust denial and pledging cooperation in the fight against anti-Semitism and religious fanaticism.

“We again recall the words of Pope John Paul II that anti-Semitism is a sin against God and humanity,” the 19th International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee stated at the conclusion of its Nov 4-7 meeting.

Read it all in The Jerusalem Post.

Lambeth Announces Jewish-Anglican Dialogue: TLC 8.09.06 August 9, 2006

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Judaism.
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Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has announced that the Chief Rabbis of Israel have been invited to London on Sept. 5 to inaugurate talks between the Anglican Communion and Judaism.In a statement released last week, Lambeth Palace stated Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger would meet Archbishop Williams to establish a new joint dialogue process between Judaism and the Anglican Communion.

“I am delighted that we are now able to establish this important dialogue which enables religious leaders to discuss matters of concern,” Archbishop Williams stated. “The more we are able to develop ways of listening to one another’s concerns and interest, the better our understanding will be of one another’s hopes and fears.”

Anglican relations with Judaism have been strained in recent years, reaching a low point following the Feb. 6 vote by the General Synod of the Church of England to “to disinvest from companies profiting” from Israel’s “illegal occupation” of the occupied territories. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey denounced the divestment decision, telling the Jerusalem Post it made him “ashamed to be an Anglican.” The vote also prompted the postponement of a May meeting between the Chief Rabbis and Archbishop Williams.

Archbishop Williams quickly apologized for the distress caused by General Synod. Writing to the Chief Rabbis on Feb. 10, he said the vote was “emphatically not to commend a boycott, or to question the legitimacy of Israel and its rights to self-defense.”

Theological views of the relationship of Christianity and Judaism vary across the Anglican Communion. In 1992, Lord Carey declined to be named patron of the CMJ, the Church’s Ministry Among the Jews, questioning the propriety of proselytizing Jews.

In April, the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu al-Assal, told Israel Radio that Christians have replaced Jews in God’s economy of salvation. God’s gift of the Law to Moses at Sinai was “conditional,” Bishop Riah explained to the Israeli audience.

“It was not only given to the Jews. God does not favor one party against another,” Bishop Riah said, citing the Apostle Paul in support of his proposition that Christians “are the new Israel. We are the chosen people. We are fulfilling the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. And that is a statement of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”

Archbishop Williams’ new Anglican-Jewish dialogue will entail a process of “careful listening” that “will take note of such common experience and current situations that can form the basis for further discussion and reflection” between the faiths. “The hope is that this dialogue will model ways in which mutual concern for peace, security and respect can be openly demonstrated,” Lambeth Palace stated.

First published in The Living Church.

UK Top Rabbi takes on Angican Church: JP 2.19.06 February 19, 2006

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, British Jewry, Church of England, Interfaith, Israel, Jerusalem Post.
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British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks’s charge that the Church of England’s stance on Israel had grossly damaged Jewish-Christian relations has drawn a muted response from church leaders.

In an article printed in the Jewish Chronicle of London on Thursday, Sacks denounced the vote by the General Synod, the Church of England’s legislature, to disinvest from companies whose products are used by the Israeli government in the territories.

Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.