(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by Rae Abileah)

Remember that montage in Love, Actually when all the couples and families are reuniting at the airport arrivals gate? That montage turned my heart to mush. And that scene in real life has the same effect. Since I was a kid I can recall loving to pick people up at the airport, or be picked up after a long flight; greeted by my mom beaming with smiles as I returned from a faraway trip or my boyfriend holding a bouquet of flowers and wearing a suit and top hat for the occasion.

My high school friends were in the marching band and we used to go to the SFO arrivals gate and play welcome music for random strangers just for fun. Throw in some free carnation flower handouts and we had ourselves an amusing night out. That moment of reuniting after a trip hasn't lost it's charm after all these years. In Love, Actually, the British Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, says:

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."

Of course, since 9/11, security protocols have pushed arrivals gate greetings out to the baggage claim area. Nonetheless, the ritual continues.Earlier today, when I arrived in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion Airport I had a cheerful feeling. Arriving in the country of my family heritage on the eve of a major Jewish holiday, Shavuot, and taking part in an interfaith delegation to meet with peace groups and nonviolent change-makers, despite grave concerns about Israeli politics, I felt grateful and excited to be arriving. But between me and the "Promised Land" loomed the passport control area. I filed into line with the rest of the bleary-eyed, jet-lagged passengers and waited my turn. I approached the passport authorities window and flashed a toothy smile, as my silver Star of David necklace glistened in the fluorescent lights. I spoke a short and cheery "Hello! Shalom!" and slid my passport to the girl on the other side of the glass. She asked why I was there and I replied tourism. She asked if I had relatives in Israel. "Yes." I added how excited I was to celebrate Shavuot in Jerusalem, where I would be staying for the week. She printed out my entry card and wished me a "Chag sameach!" Happy holidays! And off I went. If there was a hashtag for this brief, easy experience, it would be #whitejewishprivilege.

Of our 26-person delegation (that's 25 adults plus one adorable baby), not all were so fortunate. Seven were initially pulled into "The Room" for more screening. After a brief time, five were released and two remained. Minutes passed. Then an hour. I went back to "The Room" to wait with these two and started pulling distraction tricks out of my bag: Vogue, crossword puzzles, chocolate. I was thinking about the segregation of the Jim Crow South, whites one way, blacks another, as I glanced around the detention waiting room and noticed most people appeared to be people of color. Another hour passes and I'm asked to leave repeatedly. I am finally escorted out and told that, even though I'm an American escort with the delegation, I'm not allowed to be there. Off to baggage claim I go, where I'm greeted by a SMILE representative. SMILE is an Israeli private tour greeting company that welcomes groups and helps them get their bags and go. Their main client is Taglit-Birthright, and, many hours later, a SMILE representative offers me some chocolate chip cookie cake left over from an earlier Birthright trip arrival, and since I've hardly eaten all day, I take a few bites. Heck, if you can't have peace, you might as well have a piece of chocolate cake, right?!

 

In the baggage claim area, I watched streams of Birthright kids and 'black hats' and 'bubbies' flow through customs effortlessly.

I recalled my first trip to Israel in the summer of 1998, with the Jewish Israeli organizations, Young Judeah and Haddasah. I was one of those carefree kids in shorts and a t-shirt laughing and prancing my way through customs with a big suitcase and an even bigger smile. Back in those days (listen to me sounding so old!), when planes landed on the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac they often deplaned with stairs. I remember walking down those stairs and kneeling to feel the asphalt runway meet my palms and cheek, feeling like I had finally set foot on my ancestral soil. Now, 16 years later, I'm ever more aware that while my ancestors walked these holy grounds, so too did the ancestors of many people - Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and most historically recent, the soles of my Palestinian brothers and sisters, many of whom were forcefully pushed out of their homes and farm land by Israeli military invasion and occupation. In 1948. In 1967. And in recent years ongoing...

I remember back then having this feeling that if I was every persecuted as a Jew I could be safe here in Israel from persecution. But now, understanding how that safety is built on the persecution of others, I can't rationalize how my life and safety could be more important than another human being's. And so it is that I find myself returning to a place of "homeliness" while holding an acute realization of how this sense of place identity was born on the backs of oppression.

It's an irreconcilable paradox, and I'm holding all the emotions jettisoning out from it like an octopus. (Incidentally, my friend, Sariyah Idan, wrote a one-woman play about this very feeling called "Homeless in Homeland".

Sitting in baggage claim just beyond the passport security barriers for one hour- and then two, and then four- I remembered Hugh Grant's quote, and began to look for "love, actually," even here -in this fluorescent-lit giant baggage claim area. The love I felt was for the Palestinian people who have to live daily under this kind of police state oppression and who engage in bold acts of resistance by simply living. And I felt love for the world of change making that is happening all around the planet to stop occupation and promote a more just and equitable solution to the conflict here. And, yes, also for the SMILE representative, who went out of his way to deliver notes and chocolate bars to the detained delegates for me, and continuously expressed his remorse at the terrible situation. Sometimes resistance is small acts of support and simple acts of generosity and kindness.

After nearly nine hours of waiting, I'm informed that the two delegates I'm traveling with are being transferred to be deported. With no specific rhyme or reason given other than "Security". My heart sinks. I think of these two brilliant people and all they have to offer on this delegation, and all they could have had to offer to their communities back home after witnessing, listening, and learning on this meeting-packed trip. I think of their goals and aspirations for coming and how hard they have both worked to get here, only to be turned away now. But my heart is also buoyed by the resolve that I know these two activists have. As the old civil rights song says, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around..." They may be flying back home, but their courage at understanding the truth of what's going on in the Middle East, and taking action for a just peace, is unwavering. And as we know, there is no visa required to work for justice.

I also think about the hundreds of Palestinians who are denied entry into Israel, who were stripped of their homes and identities. Yes, it's heartbreaking that two American friends can't get into Israel. But the real tragedy is that of the masses of Palestinian refugees who can't return. (While, of course, the Israeli Law of Return extends entry and even citizenship to Jews regardless of whether they or their ancestors have ever stepped foot in the "Holy Land".)

There was some baggage that I didn't wish to claim as I left Ben Gurion airport tonight. This was the baggage of ancestral trauma, from generations of persecution, most recently the Holocaust, which, unhealed, helps ferment an ongoing cycle of violence. The gnawing awareness of all I have seen tonight and in the past several years of exploring this conflict in more detail - wouldn't it be easier to keep the blinders on as they were when I first came on that whirlwind 'Disneylandesque,' young Judea trip here 16 years ago? But I will pick up my laptop and my carry-on bag and also this "Invisible Backpack"and I will use my privilege to stand up in the face of this outrageousness.

In the midnight hours I finally take a cab from the airport up through the winding hills and arrive in Jerusalem to join the 22 members (and one now sleeping baby!) of the Interfaith Peace Builders delegation. My hotel room has a balcony view of the Old City, a very sacred and special place in my heart and for my faith, as for many others. Tonight, on Shavuot, I imagine that this ancient city and Mt. Olives rising behind it will be filled with Jews staying up all night to learn, inspired by the holiday's origin: Moses' receipt of the Ten Commandments on this day in the Hebrew calendar. And as I fall asleep, I am thinking about one of those commandments in particular: "Love thy neighbor." Yes, even at the arrivals gate.

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(Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Alfred Gluecksmann)

Credit: Creative Commons

This spring, an obscure, right-wing extremist, organization which oxymoronically characterizes itself as the "American Freedom Defense Initiative" (AFDI), has managed to force Washington DC's transit authority to be misused for the purpose of the posting of their odious speech and imagery, not necessarily protected by the First Amendment according to the 1942 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. It wasn't the first time: this happened once before, in September of 2013, as well.

The ads currently being displayed on buses of our transit system, state "Islamic Jew-Hatred: It's in The Quran" and next to an image of Hitler is the caption which states that a Palestinian he is talking to is "His Staunch Ally (and) The Leader of the Muslim World."

The ads displayed in September of 2013 at the subway stations of the Washington Metropolitan Area transit system in essence suggested that Arabs are "savages" and stated that " In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savages, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel."

The AFDI​ and the "Stop Islamization of America" organizations were founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. The Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as the United Kingdom, have labeled these organizations as hate groups and Pamela Geller was barred entry into the United Kingdom in 2013. It is noteworthy that Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer co-authored the book which is inflammatorily titled "The Post-American Presidency : The Obama Administration's War on America"

When the first set of ads​ was submitted to our transit system (referred to as the Metro System), its Managing Director to his credit refused to accept such dishonest and inflammatory languages ads. The AFDI then claimed that its so-called "freedom of speech"- which essentially really is an abuse of speech - was violated and incredibly a judge ruled in their favor so the Metro System was forced to accept these egregious ads.

The words used by the AFDI​ however constitute clearly incendiary "fighting words"​, and such "fighting words" have been ruled by a​ 1942​ Supreme Court decision ​as not protected by the First Amendment, so that now​ our Metro system has no pretext to accept these obscene ads, which disgrace our transportation system and by extension our city.​

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, U.S. 568​ ​(1942), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court articulated the fighting words doctrine​, a limitation of the First Amendment's ​guarantee of the freedom of speech.​

Writing the decision for the Court, Justice Frank Murphy​ advanced a "two-tier theory" of the First Amendment. Certain "well-defined and narrowly limited" categories of speech fall outside the bounds of constitutional protection. Thus, "the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous," and (in this case) insulting or "fighting" words neither contributed to the expression of ideas nor possessed any "social value" in the search for truth.

Murphy wrote:

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the ​insulting​ or"fighting" words those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

​​Our nation's capital must not tolerate this kind of hate and fear mongering nonsense to be displayed publicly which, to boot, is dishonestly dis-informative, in its flagrant way of de-contextualizing and thereby distorting, factual history.

Violence generates violence. Our buses and trains must not be vehicles to promote destructive and odious speech, and particularly not in the capital of the United States where to visitors come to be inspired and not shocked and intimidated by hate mongering on nonsensical grounds as they walk and are motorized through our beautiful city.

Decent conservatives and liberals and progressives can and must ​come together on this issue. Let us therefore come together to have this shameful message and image removed immediately.

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Cross-posted from TikkunDaily

By Saadia Faruqi

Last week, the famed 9/11 memorial museum opened with a host of items salvaged from that fateful day in American history. About the same time, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative burst onto our collective consciousness by once again using the image of the burning twin towers on Washington, D.C. buses to malign an entire religion. It seems that almost thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we still have an antagonistic, feral response to this defining moment in modern history.

Both events have spurred protests, but thankfully not just by Muslims. Although the 9/11 memorial museum itself has remained out of controversy’s way, the accompanying seven-minute film called “The Rise of Al-Qaeda” is fast becoming a cause for concern for many New Yorkers regardless of religion. Rather than Muslims screaming themselves hoarse about Islamophobia to no avail, the film is being protested by an interfaith group as one that used specifically Islamic terminology in a way that many viewers may associate Islam with terrorism. While no-one is disputing the religion of the terrorists involved in 9/11, many feel that more should be done to differentiate between Islam as an ideology and the extremist interpretations of some Muslim groups. While it doesn’t seem that that the authorities are listening, at least we’re thinking and talking about it as a society, and deciding that demonizing an entire religion due to the actions of a few thousands, even millions, is just not fair.

Another important demonizing attempt is Pamela Geller’s new bus ad in the D.C. area. I say important because it again has led to objections, not just by Muslims but by other faiths as well, and many different groups and individuals have acknowledged their distaste. The Anti-Defamation League protested the use of Hitler’s picture for the sake of sensationalism, going as far as to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry in terms of Israel and Zionism:

Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim, and support for Israel cannot be built on bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.

-David C. Friedman, the ADL’s Washington, D.C. regional director.

Strong and unusual words for the ADL, whose defense of Islam in recent years has been lukewarm at best. But it underscores the point that when a religion is painted with a heavy brush, all people of all faiths should sit up and take notice because that same brush could be taken to their religion next. It is satisfying to see Jews and Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, even atheists, coming together to protect Muslims, and I hope the same occurs if Judaism or any other religion is maligned.

So what is the best way to respond to people and films that incite hatred? Qasim Rashid in Time Magazine debunks some common myths about the “Islamic Jew hatred” Geller talks about, but it seems as if such discussions fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, Mira Sucharov at the Jewish Daily Forward claims that these ads, by a group acknowledged as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, could actually do some good. By bringing people of different faiths together to discuss issues that divide them, the ads could actually result in better understanding and even a healing of sorts. I agree with her rather radical idea as one that could just work:

The discussion would start as a conversation about scripture, values and religion – with lots of talk about how terms like “infidels” and “jihad” are used and heard; what the legacy of phrases like “People of the Book” are now that Jewish communities have mostly left Muslim countries; and how different belief systems understand concepts like war, peace, force and negotiation. It would then likely meander over to the areas of politics and foreign policy. These issues would include U.S. diplomatic and military actions in the Muslim world, the legacy of 9/11, and Israeli and Palestinian policies towards one another.

So is there a right way to commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 and the resulting Islamophobia we have seen in the United States as well as abroad? I think that as long as we are respectful, and can work together to humanize the “other”, there is hope for our nation, our world. We will see many other instances of bigotry, sometimes against Muslims, at other times against Jews or other groups, but at the end of the day we must stand up for each other, and always remember that those who promote hate and intolerance are faith-less terrorists, whether they belong to the Al-Qaeda or the Geller camp.

 

Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily's free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails, or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Cross-posted from TikkunDaily

By Saadia Faruqi

Last week, the famed 9/11 memorial museum opened with a host of items salvaged from that fateful day in American history. About the same time, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative burst onto our collective consciousness by once again using the image of the burning twin towers on Washington, D.C. buses to malign an entire religion. It seems that almost thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we still have an antagonistic, feral response to this defining moment in modern history.

Both events have spurred protests, but thankfully not just by Muslims. Although the 9/11 memorial museum itself has remained out of controversy’s way, the accompanying seven-minute film called “The Rise of Al-Qaeda” is fast becoming a cause for concern for many New Yorkers regardless of religion. Rather than Muslims screaming themselves hoarse about Islamophobia to no avail, the film is being protested by an interfaith group as one that used specifically Islamic terminology in a way that many viewers may associate Islam with terrorism. While no-one is disputing the religion of the terrorists involved in 9/11, many feel that more should be done to differentiate between Islam as an ideology and the extremist interpretations of some Muslim groups. While it doesn’t seem that that the authorities are listening, at least we’re thinking and talking about it as a society, and deciding that demonizing an entire religion due to the actions of a few thousands, even millions, is just not fair.

Another important demonizing attempt is Pamela Geller’s new bus ad in the D.C. area. I say important because it again has led to objections, not just by Muslims but by other faiths as well, and many different groups and individuals have acknowledged their distaste. The Anti-Defamation League protested the use of Hitler’s picture for the sake of sensationalism, going as far as to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry in terms of Israel and Zionism:

Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim, and support for Israel cannot be built on bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.

-David C. Friedman, the ADL’s Washington, D.C. regional director.

Strong and unusual words for the ADL, whose defense of Islam in recent years has been lukewarm at best. But it underscores the point that when a religion is painted with a heavy brush, all people of all faiths should sit up and take notice because that same brush could be taken to their religion next. It is satisfying to see Jews and Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, even atheists, coming together to protect Muslims, and I hope the same occurs if Judaism or any other religion is maligned.

So what is the best way to respond to people and films that incite hatred? Qasim Rashid in Time Magazine debunks some common myths about the “Islamic Jew hatred” Geller talks about, but it seems as if such discussions fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, Mira Sucharov at the Jewish Daily Forward claims that these ads, by a group acknowledged as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, could actually do some good. By bringing people of different faiths together to discuss issues that divide them, the ads could actually result in better understanding and even a healing of sorts. I agree with her rather radical idea as one that could just work:

The discussion would start as a conversation about scripture, values and religion – with lots of talk about how terms like “infidels” and “jihad” are used and heard; what the legacy of phrases like “People of the Book” are now that Jewish communities have mostly left Muslim countries; and how different belief systems understand concepts like war, peace, force and negotiation. It would then likely meander over to the areas of politics and foreign policy. These issues would include U.S. diplomatic and military actions in the Muslim world, the legacy of 9/11, and Israeli and Palestinian policies towards one another.

So is there a right way to commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 and the resulting Islamophobia we have seen in the United States as well as abroad? I think that as long as we are respectful, and can work together to humanize the “other”, there is hope for our nation, our world. We will see many other instances of bigotry, sometimes against Muslims, at other times against Jews or other groups, but at the end of the day we must stand up for each other, and always remember that those who promote hate and intolerance are faith-less terrorists, whether they belong to the Al-Qaeda or the Geller camp.

 

Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily's free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails, or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Cross-posted from TikkunDaily

By Dylan Kaufman-Obstler

Last week the Anti-Defamation League came out with a report on anti-semitism conducted in 100 different countries, calling it “The largest survey ever of anti-semitic attitudes.” In the survey, participants were given 11 statements of Jewish stereotypes and were then asked whether they were “probably true” or “probably false.” Participants who answered “probably true” to 6 or more of the stereotypes were categorized as harboring anti-semitic attitudes. Of the 11 statements, the study found that the one most widely believed is that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries in which they live.

This finding raises an interesting question: why does the ADL treat the belief that Jews are more loyal to Israel as an anti-semitic stereotype when the ADL has worked so hard to promote pro-Israel sentiment in Jews living outside Israel?

The mission of the ADL prioritizes Israel advocacy as its weapon of choice in the fight against anti-semitism. The ADL monitors what it calls the “anti-Israel movement” and “anti-Israel groups,” essentially using criticism of Israel as the litmus test to determine whether an organization or individual is anti-semitic. This is especially apparent when it comes to Jewish organizations that disapprove of Israeli policies. In the page on the ADL’s website devoted to Jewish Voice for Peace – an organization that calls for the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctioning of Israel (BDS) – the ADL states, “JVP, like other prominent Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and groups, uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility.”A central aspect of the ADL’s work is to equate anti-zionism with anti-semitism and discredit any Jewish organizing that criticizes the state of Israel, naming their Jewish identity as a “shield” rather than a legitimate basis for their criticisms.

The ADL survey’s findings are not surprising given that impressing feelings of loyalty towards Israel is a primary interest for many Jewish organizations and institutions. One example of this is the high proportion of funds in American Jewish philanthropy directed towards Israel-focused initiatives. According to the 2012 annual report from the Jewish Federation and United Jewish Endowment Fund, of its over $24 million granted to Jewish agencies and programs, 34% was spent on “Israel and Overseas.” This does not account for the 56% spent on its “Local” or “National” funding, which includes programs such as “Israel at 65,” “Israel Engagement,” “Israel Quest,” “Masa Israel Journey,” and “Birthright Israel.” Positioning loyalty towards Israel as an essential aspect of Jewish identity has been a well-funded and unrelenting campaign within Jewish institutional life.

This issue of “loyalty” – and anti-semitic attitudes that question Jewish loyalty to their nations of residence–has particular relevance to the history of the Zionist movement and its presentation of a Jewish nation-state as the solution to anti-semitism. A foundational ethos behind the making of a Jewish state was the belief that Jews will never be fully accepted as citizens in their own countries, and therefore must place Jewish political and national loyalty in a Jewish state. Once the State of Israel was established, Jewish institutions around the world mobilized to make the State of Israel a primary concern for Jewish communities. Today we are able to see the affects of political Zionism’s logic in both the results of the ADL’s survey as well as the way the ADL puts Israel at the center of its work against anti-semitism.

The long history of contentious debate on whether Zionism would be an effective or appropriate solution for anti-semitism in Europe has seemingly been forgotten as contemporary Jewish communities become evermore fixated on anti-semitism as a way of legitimizing and necessitating the existence of a Jewish state. This view is unsustainable and harmful to Jewish communities. The ADL is not incorrect in naming the assumption of Jewish loyalty towards Israel is an anti-semitic attitude. The Jewish community’s Israel obsession, and its role shaping Jewish institutional life, is indeed a product of anti-semitism.

What this finding in the ADL survey tells us, however, is that the work of Jewish liberation from anti-semitism is larger than Israel. Jewish liberation cannot be found in the nation-state, nor can anti-semitism be solved or mitigated through a Jewish nation-state. We must rather move towards a vision of a post-national Jewish Liberation: the idea that Jewish liberation is tied in with the struggles of all those whom are oppressed, and that true liberation is found in the work we do on both personal and collective levels.

While the ADL claims its mission is to “combat hate,” it has used its survey to further propagate stereotypes. When ADL’s National Director, Abraham Foxman, spoke at a press conference upon the survey’s release, he stated that “Muslims overall have more highly anti-semitic attitudes than other religions.” The ADL’s survey in its naming of other groups as the agents of anti-semitism, focuses on anti-semitism as an external issue. While the ADL survey was certainly the most extensive of its kind, it does not address the most pressing effect of anti-semitism today: the anti-semitism Jews have internalized and how it is affecting Jewish communities. We see this most strikingly in the way Jewish institutions and organizations, such as the ADL, censor discussion about Zionism and the State of Israel. The effects of anti-semitism – the manifestation of paranoia and sense of isolation, have perpetuated McCarthyist attitudes towards Israel criticism and created toxic dynamics within our own institutions.

While naming anti-semitism is important, the work of healing our communities compels us to look towards a different framework that does not further entrench suspicious and bigoted attitudes. Anti-semitism is an internal issue as much as an external one, and it will not transform or fade by proving any kind of national loyalty. “Combating hate” does not look like conducting a survey and naming other religious and ethnic groups as the problem; it is thinking more deeply about the impacts of oppression on the health of our communities. The misuse of anti-semitism by Jewish nationalist interests is itself a propagator of anti-semitism and is the greatest stumbling block for Jewish liberation.

 

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Cross-posted from TikkunDaily
By Warren J. Blumenfeld

American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.

Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”

While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, "The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents."  

Going even further, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia wrote that even any "subtle pressure" that local citizens might feel would not be enough to ban such prayers. This ruling follows the precedent-setting case thirty years ago in Marsh v. Chambers, upholding Nebraska legislature's funding of a chaplain who delivered daily prayers.

The court’s majority (Scalia) Law further codifies de facto practices into de jure policies.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing the minority opinion, asserted: "When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines." She argued assertively that: “No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece's town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian – constantly and exclusively so. The prayers betray no understanding that the American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths."

By expressing the majority view asserting tradition as justification, Kennedy steps in the grease tracking and smearing it across the legislative landscape. The high court’s decision is less about protecting religious freedom as it is about maintaining and expanding Christian supremacy and the furtherance of Christian privilege. In reality, the First Amendment’s “non-establishment” of religion clause applies to all faiths except Christian denominations, even though Kennedy asserted that these (Christian) prayers were “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the nation’s heritage, that are long-established by Congress and state legislatures.

Though I am disappointed, I am not surprised by the court’s (re)inscription of a Christian religious imposition and imperative in the public square by maintaining a long-standing tradition.

I often hear criticism against nations founded upon an “official” religion, denomination, or sect like England, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, India, and many others across the globe, and how these countries restrict religious freedom to those who fall outside the mainstream religiously. I argue, nonetheless, that we must include the United States on this list.

Alexis de Tocqueville, French political scientist and diplomat, traveled across the United States for nine months between 1831-1832 conducting research for his epic work, Democracy in America. He was astounded to find a certain paradox: on one hand, he observed that the United States promoted itself around the world as a country separating “church and state,” where religious freedom and tolerance were among its defining tenets, but on the other hand, he witnessed that: “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”

He answered this apparent contradiction by proposing that in this country with no officially sanctioned governmental religion, denominations were compelled to compete with one another and promote themselves in order to attract and keep parishioners, thereby making religion even stronger. While the government was not technically supporting Christian denominations and churches, per se, religion to Tocqueville should be considered as the first of their political institutions since he observed the enormous influence churches had on the political process.

Though he favored U.S. style democracy, he found its major limitation to be in its stifling of independent thought and independent beliefs. In a country that promoted the notion that the majority rules, this effectively silenced minorities by what Tocqueville termed the “tyranny of the majority.” This is a crucial point because in a democracy, without specific guarantees of minority rights — in this case minority religious rights — there is a danger of religious domination or tyranny over religious minorities and non-believers. The majority, in religious matters, have historically been adherents to mainline Protestant Christian denominations who often imposed their values and standards upon those who believed otherwise.

We witness this in the phrases “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency and Annuit Coeptis (He [God] (or Providence) has favored our undertakings) on the Great Seal of the United States and printed on the back of the one-dollar bill. These constitute examples of Christian cultural imperialism and Christian hegemony.

Just moments before the opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway was announced from the Supreme Court bench, the court began its public session as it has for decades with the marshal citing a traditional statement ending, "God save the United States and this honorable court."

The First Congress voted to appoint and pay official chaplains shortly after approving language for the First Amendment, and both Houses have maintained the office virtually uninterrupted since then.

"Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion," Governor Rick Perry declared at the Texas State Capitol building in Austin before signing HB 308 in 2013, which allows public schools to display scenes and symbols of "traditional winter holidays."

I take issues with Perry. As residents of this country, we must ensure both freedom of as well as freedom from religion in the public square. While having the guaranteed right to worship in our private lives and spaces, we must ensure that religion stay out of our public spaces, which I believe is characteristically coercive.

The Jewish immigrant and sociologist of Polish and Latvian heritage, Horace Kallen coined and proposed the concept of “cultural pluralism” to challenge the image of the so-called “melting pot,” which he considered inherently undemocratic. Kallen envisioned a United States in the image of a great symphony orchestra, not sounding in unison (the “melting pot” enforced by dominant group hegemony), but rather one in which all the disparate cultures play in harmony and retain their unique and distinctive tones and timbres. He imagined an inclusive model, one that ensures individuals’ and groups’ freedom of as well as freedom from religion as a national goal: freedom to live and practice religion in the private sphere, and freedom from religion in the public realm.

A student enrolled in my Multicultural Foundation in Schools and Society class, however, wrote on his final paper for the course:

“[A]s a Christian I am called to not be tolerant. I am not called to be violent, but am called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). When I look through all of the information I have been given in my life…I come to the conclusion that America was founded as a Christian nation…Separation of church and state was created to keep the state out of changing the church, not to keep the church out of the state.”

This student’s response represents the majority of U.S.-Americans who believe that the United States was created as a Christian nation, with 51% agreeing with this view and only 25% disagreeing. The Supreme Court apparently validated this tyrannical perspective this week.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Permission to forward, print, or publish: warrenblumenfeld@gmail.com

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Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Jen Marlowe

It was September 21, 2011. I stood on the grounds of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison, holding Troy Davis’s younger sister on one side and his teen-aged nephew on the other, with other supporters wrapping us all in a tight circle of prayer, as we waited in agonizing tension to learn whether Troy Anthony Davis would be killed by the state of Georgia that night.

He was.

Troy Davis, an African American man, had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of white off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, GA. His conviction was based almost entirely on testimonies from eyewitnesses and jailhouse informants, the vast majority of whom later recanted or changed their testimony, many stating that police had coerced them to initially implicate Troy. Others stepped forward to identify another perpetrator. Yet, despite a growing mountain of evidence pointing to Troy’s innocence, and nearly a million people worldwide calling for clemency, Troy Davis was executed with a three-drug lethal injection cocktail. The time of death was 11:08pm.

Troy’s execution and the by-turns-heart-breaking, by-turns-inspiring journey that led to it are documented in my new book, I Am Troy Davis. I Am Troy Davis is Troy’s story, and that of the Davis family, primarily Troy’s older sister Martina Davis-Correia, who was Troy’s fiercest advocate and with whom I co-authored the book. From Troy’s childhood in racially charged Savannah; to the night of Officer MacPhail’s murder; to the man-hunt for Troy which ended when he turned himself in, believing if he told the truth that everything would be alright; to the subsequent two-decade fight waged by Martina to prove his innocence, who was simultaneously fighting to survive an aggressive form of breast cancer; I Am Troy Davis takes us inside a broken criminal justice system where life and death hang in the balance, and where finality is too often prioritized over fairness.

While on book tour with Troy’s family, I have been asked how I came to be involved in Troy’s and the Davis’s story. Though the specifics of my answer include learning about Troy’s case after he survived his first execution date in 2007, and a subsequent correspondence that led to a close friendship, the deeper response is rooted in the years I was immersed in the Reform Jewish youth movement. For as far back as I can remember myself, I was drawn to Judaism’s focus on social action. My understanding of injustice was interpreted through the lens of Tikkun Olam, a commitment to repair the world. Among my strongest memories from my teenaged years are marching with fellow youth group members against apartheid in South Africa, and boycotting Nestle over the company’s unethical marketing of baby formula in impoverished nations. Simply put: I equated Judaism with taking action for social justice. My youth group’s social action projects were the training ground which led me in adulthood to Israeli/Palestinian peace work, then to human rights documentation and activism in Israel/Palestine, Sudan, Bahrain, and beyond; it is also what propelled me to stand with the Davis family during their struggle for Troy. The commitment to human rights that was nurtured in Jewish youth group now compels me to work to abolish the death penalty.

I believe that capital punishment is one of the critical social justice issues in our country today, and is, in many ways, the sharp edge of a broken criminal justice system. With 144 convicted death row inmates exonerated to date, an increasing awareness of how race, poverty and geography determine who is sent to death row, and a growing number of states repealing death penalty laws or imposing execution moratoriums, it has become clear that people are fundamentally questioning the draconian punishment and its biased and arbitrary application.

Through the intimate telling of one family’s story, I Am Troy Davis is intended to widen and deepen the conversation about capital punishment, and provoke discussion about the impact that these state-sanctioned killings leave on scores of human lives. The concentric circles of those personally affected who have expressed opposition to the death penalty may be surprising to some. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many members of organizations such as Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, who expressed how the death penalty process, rather than providing the elusive closure so sought-after, only served to prolong their anguish. Those who have been tasked with carrying out executions have also spoken out against the practice. Frank Thompson, a retired Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, spoke powerfully at our recent I Am Troy Davis event in Portland, describing how executing prisoners emotionally harmed him and his staff, leading him to now ardently oppose the death penalty and describing it as failed public policy. The night of Troy’s execution, in fact, six former wardens of death row institutions appealed for clemency for Troy, partially on the basis of the trauma that those participating in the execution might experience. And, as evidenced by the recent horrific botched execution in Oklahoma, that trauma can extend to media and other witnesses as well.

And, of course, there is the suffering caused to the condemned prisoner and those who love him/her – for even in the cases where the guilt of the prisoner is not in question, his/her family is innocent. As Bill Babbitt (whose brother Manny was executed) said, “The death penalty compounds the tragedy of murder by harming another set of families.”

Standing with Troy’s family the night their brother and uncle was killed, I witnessed that harm first hand. Though we did not see Troy being strapped onto the gurney or the needles being injected into his veins, nor did we hear Troy speak his final words, or draw his final breath, the violence of what took place in the execution chamber was done not only to Troy, but to the entire Davis family, and was experienced at some level by all of us who stood with them in protest and in prayer.

My deepest hope is that I Am Troy Davis will reveal the extent to which our justice system is broken and will prompt readers to reflect on the human cost of Troy’s execution, and all executions.

May the legacy of Troy Davis inspire all who are committed to Tikkun Olam (in all its manifestations, faith-based or otherwise) to commit themselves to ensuring that no more lives be taken in the name of justice.

For more information about how to participate in the I Am Troy Davis Community Book Club, marking the 3rd year anniversary of Troy’s execution, click here.

Jen Marlowe is an award-winning author, documentary filmmaker and human rights activist. Her books include I Am Troy Davis, The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey From Prisoner to Peacemaker and Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival. Her films include One Family in Gaza, Rebuilding Hope: Sudan’s Lost Boys Return Home, and Darfur Diaries: Message from Home. She is the founder of donkeysaddle projects. You can follower her on Twitter at @donkeysaddleorg, or via her blog, View from the donkey’s saddle.

 

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Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)

One of Israel’s most influential journalists, Nahum Barnea, has written a groundbreaking interview in which U.S. officials blame the Israeli government for the recent, and expected, collapse of peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Larry Derfner at +972 Magazine, who translated portions of Barnea’s interview, encapsulated it in this way:

This interview is a comprehensive indictment by the Obama administration of Israel’s handling of the peace talks, and an exoneration of the Palestinians’ conduct. The Americans won’t act on it, of course, but they have set the record straight, they’ve injected a megadose of truth into the story of Israel’s domination over the Palestinians, and thus strengthened the fight to end it.

Indeed, the interview is historic. For unnamed U.S. officials have articulated, in ways never previously before seen, how Israel’s actions and geo-political policies are primary impediments to achieving peace in the region. It is also historic because U.S. officials transparently deflect the blame they know America must own, saying, If only we would have known, we would have done things differently.

This is a really big deal. Witness what U.S. officials say about America dropping its demand that Israel freeze settlement construction:

“We didn’t understand that Netanyahu uses these announcements of settlement construction plans to ensure the survival of his government. We didn’t understand that the continuation of settlement construction allows his cabinet ministers to very effectively sabotage the negotiations. There are a lot of other reasons for the failure of the effort, but people in Israel must not avoid seeing the bitter truth – the biggest land mine was the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel genuinely intends to let them create a state when it is building settlements on the land earmarked for that state.”

During the Kerry-led peace talks, Israel doubled the pace of its settlement construction, and Kerry himself stated in early April that this effectively sank the peace talks. However, what Kerry didn’t say is that the Netanyahu government used such construction to intentionally sabotage the peace negotiations.

Now, U.S. officials’ supposed naivete should not be believed, nor taken at face value here. Of course those close to the talks understood the reasons for, and the effects of, continued settlement construction. What they really mean to say is this: there’s nothing we could have done, because our political hands were tied by an Obama administration unwilling to force a settlement freeze.

This is code by those who were close to, and invested in, the peace talks: an admittance that the U.S. royally screwed up by “not understanding” that the settlements would sabotage the talks.

This is a big deal.

Barnea’s piece also has American officials being quite blunt about how Israel’s domination of, and disregard for, Palestinians continues to be an impediment to peace:

“In the 20 years since Oslo, a number of facts and rules of the game have become deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for the Palestinians and very comfortable for Israel. … One of the Palestinians in the talks said to one of the Israelis: ‘You don’t see us. We’re invisible, we’re hollow.’ There was something to that. After the second intifada ended and the separation barrier was completed, the Palestinians became ghosts as far as Israelis are concerned – they don’t see them anymore.”

Barnea’s interview goes on to cover a number of areas, from Palestinian concessions and frustrations to Israeli intransigence. But one takeaway is this: U.S. officials have publicly noted that Israel’s culpability is real, and that this culpability must be confronted by the Israeli public and the U.S. community.

Another takeaway: U.S. officials also blamed American naivete, meaning American policy, meaning America.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, now out from Oneworld Publications. Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

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Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Ayana Nir

On the eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Israel’s streets experience a virtual shutdown. Restaurants, bars, and cafes lock their doors and the streets grow eerily quiet as inhabitants venture home to pay their respects; Israeli TV and radio channels limit their programming to Holocaust documentaries and related talk shows, while viewers, in turn, flip to international networks for comedic escape from the steady stream of grisly footage and repetitive slogans their TVs emit annually; schools hold large ceremonies to further instill in students the collective memory of a now distant trauma they have never really known, and at 10AM on the 27th of Nisan the country is frozen still for two minutes while a siren disrupts the monotony of everyday life and commuters stop in their tracks to hang their heads in a gesture of silent collective sorrow.

The memorialization of the Holocaust has been the topic of debate since Israel’s founding, and changing trends in its representation shape its significance within the context of national identity and politics. It is easy to overlook the political power presented in the production of educational texts, but the influence of educational curricula is indisputable in shaping public perspective for political gain.

That is why Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron’s plan to introduce Holocaust education to Israeli public schools starting as early as the first grade has been so controversial. Alongside the concern voiced by many parents about traumatizing young children with gruesome details of systematic ethnic cleansing, many begin to question how the continued rehashing of communal wounds shape the development of national identity and what political interests the perpetuation of historical trauma might serve.

An Early Indoctrination Into Trauma

Growing up in a suburb outside of Tel Aviv, I can’t recall the earliest moment I learned about the Holocaust. It was a constant presence in my upbringing and early education. The sound of the tzfira on Yom Hashoah was hard to ignore, and the lengthy memorial ceremonies each year instilled in me a highly politicized understanding of this historical event. The overwhelming message was that the presence of a strong Israeli state was the one and only deterrent preventing this tragedy from occurring again, and the focus on the lengthy history of European anti-Semitism, with common references to its contemporary manifestations, led my peers and me to develop worldviews shaped by a fear of persistent victimization outside the sheltering boundaries of our isolated Jewish state.

In my attempt to conjure up my earliest memories of Holocaust education, I contacted a friend-of-a-friend, Roni Tal, an education student born and raised in Israel. Like me, he struggled when asked to pin down the earliest time he was formally taught about the Holocaust. As a student in training to become a teacher, he said he is well aware that discussion of the Holocaust already begins as early as kindergarten, even without formal legislative intervention in the manner.

Tal also talked about how, like most young Israelis, he attended an organized school trip as a teenager to visit the death camps in Poland. According to Tal, each day on the trip was concluded with an in-depth discussion among the students and educators about their experiences that day. He and his friends would often point out thoughts and conclusions that varied from the predominant Zionist narrative put forth by the educators and guides overseeing the trip. Tal and his friends wanted to talk instead about racism and ethno-nationalism, sentiments that gave ideological justification to genocide. He said discussion of these topics was discouraged, and educators persistently shifted dialogue and focus back to nationalist discourse and Zionist imperatives.

According to Yarden Skop’s article in Haaretz, “What I learned in kindergarten today about the Holocaust,” Israel’s education ministry insists that the new Holocaust education curriculum it drew up this year for younger children will not focus on deaths and atrocities, instead discussing the personal stories of young survivors. Still, the children will learn about the yellow star, and other historical concepts deemed significant by the ministry, textbook writers, and Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.

Though the new proposed Holocaust curriculum, which has not yet been released for public review, is described in disarming terms that present it as a kid-friendly children’s book about genocide, it’s important to understand that this legislation mandates the early indoctrination of children into a narrative of historical trauma that will, at the very least later on in their education, be presented in highly politicized contexts that encourage ultra-nationalist identification.

Historical Transformations in Israeli Holocaust Education

Israel’s education ministry publishes a new national curriculum periodically, dictating the objectives and content of education for all of Israel’s public schools. As a result, textbook representations of the Holocaust and the role it has played in the Israeli educational system have changed dramatically throughout the years.

Education scholar Dan Porat, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has documented these shifts in detail in his Journal of Contemporary History article, “From the Scandal to the Holocaust in Israeli Education.” Israel of the 1950s, Porat explains, seemed to carefully avoid nearly any mention of the Holocaust in its educational texts. At a time when Israelis sought to define their national identity with power and confidence, the Holocaust was seen as a representation of former surrender. Textbooks focused their attention on Jewish revolt rather than killing methods and casualties. At this time the personal stories of survivors were kept private and the communal trauma of the young state swept under the rug in a futile attempt to ignore its festering wounds. Porat shows how it was the decision by prosecutors of the Eichmann trial to focus on personal stories rather than documented evidence that exposed many Israelis to formally highly private narratives of trauma now widely disseminated in radio broadcastings of court proceedings.

In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, when threat of annihilation reared its head once more, the ministry of education published new curricula. According to Porat, the new textbooks published at that moment represented the Holocaust as an event divorced from the context of World War II and reflected an empathetic emphasis on the individuality of the victims. Still, throughout the 1970s the Holocaust was an elective topic in public schools. It wasn’t until 1982 that a law was passed making Holocaust education mandatory. This new legislation aimed at educating students on the “consciousness of the memory of the Holocaust,” not just the documented details of the historical event itself, and added the subject of the Holocaust to the Matriculation Exams, meaning students were to be tested on it as a prerequisite to receiving their diplomas.

Zevulun Hammer, Minister of Education under Menachem Begin, commissioned and approved a single Holocaust textbook for all Israeli public high schools. This text was aptly named “The Holocaust and its Significance” and presented the extermination of the Jewish people as a self-contained event, covering the events of World War II in a meager 2.5 percent of the text. According to Porat’s research, that textbook included an entire chapter devoted to Holocaust deniers and those who minimize the enormity of the genocide and its unique historical nature. And, in order to ensure that Israel’s increasingly heterogenous population had some way of establishing roots in its painful defining past, a great deal of text focused on Jewish casualties in North Africa, which were considerably lower than certain regions of Eastern Europe that textbook writers virtually ignored. According to “Bearing Witness Ever More; Remembering the Holocaust” (an August 2013 article from the Economist), coverage of the Holocaust in Israel’s general history textbooks increased from 20 pages in the 1960s to 450 pages in the 1990s.

The Effects of Trauma-Oriented Education

Most young Israelis today have strong emotional ties to the Holocaust and it’s no wonder – their educational system has emphasized its study and skewed its significance toward a deep personal identification that hinders its potential in teaching universal values. This trend doesn’t seem to be changing either. A study by Bar-Ilan University featured last year in Haaretz found that 78 percent of principals and 67 percent of teachers feel that Holocaust education should emphasize Zionist values, compared to 57 percent of principals and 60 percent of teachers who think it should emphasize universal values.

Visits to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, have been an educational standard for years and, more recently, organized school trips to visit the death camps have become widespread routine. A recent study by the education ministry has determined that these trips, which take place in high school’s final years, result in a more positive opinion of the IDF. And so Israel’s high school students might return from their visit to the death camps with a heightened sense of their historical victimization to find their first draft notice arrived in the mail. Recent IDF draftees are also often taken to Yad Vashem before beginning their military training. The timeliness of these visits is undoubtedly propitious to Israel’s ruling right wing, and its politicians, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, readily exploit the collective trauma of Israeli citizens for political gain.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s use of Holocaust terminology to describe the conflict with Iran has come under fire both in Israel and internationally. The strategic references to Jewish extinction made by the Israeli Prime Minister are transparent exploitations and their efficacy can be confirmed both by a historical examination of Israeli public opinion when compared to trends in Holocaust memorialization and by a series of experiments conducted by Michael Wohl and Nyla Branscombe in 2008. Branscombe and Wohl’s study “Remembering Historical Victimization: Collective Guilt for Current Ingroup Transgressions,” found that Jewish Canadians who were reminded of the Holocaust accepted less collective guilt for the oppression of Palestinians in comparison with those who were not reminded of past victimization. Further, Jewish Canadians who were reminded of the Holocaust experienced less collective guilt for current transgressions than those who were reminded of genocide committed against other ethnic groups.

Now, imagine a lifetime of references to historical victimization, a childhood that is permeated with the mandated memorialization of trauma, and an early education that perpetuates this trauma as a vital component of one’s national identity. The effects of Israel’s increasingly nationalistic educational system, with the Holocaust presented as a foundational element of Israeli identity, are already felt today: public polls indicate an increasingly separatist and militaristic younger generation.

A recent survey found that 46 percent of Jewish Israelis aged 15-18 feel Arabs should not be represented in the Knesset and 50 percent would be opposed to Arabs living in their neighborhood. Shai Piron’s legislation, mandating Holocaust education starting in first grade, requires teachers to school Israeli children in their historical trauma before these children can learn basic math. A set curriculum by this right-wing ministry will constrain discourse and set historical and political identification early on for an entire generation of children. Israel’s educational system could be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of Middle Eastern peace today, and with public opinion growing increasingly extreme alongside an educational system that is progressively politicized, what hope is there for future resolution?

 

Ayana Nir is a freelance writer and web editorial intern at Tikkun.

Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)

On February 6, my inbox was inundated with messages from people I did not know. I’m so disgusted, they read; You’re going to hear from us again, they read; We’re going to fight this, they read.

As someone who has grown accustomed to sporadic bits of hate mail for my progressive views on Israel, I was prepared for the worst.

However, these emails, largely from residents of the D.C. metro area, were messages of support, messages of defiance. They were messages from those who had just learned that the D.C. Jewish Community Center, already under pressure from right-wing organizations and influences on a number of fronts, had quietly cancelled my high-profile book event, at which I was to speak about the themes of reconciliation and dialogue contained in my memior, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

The story of how my event came to be cancelled is a story being played out repeatedly in America today, a story representing all that is wrong with American political discourse on Israel. It is also the story of how the D.C. community rallied to my side, rallied to create a new book event on April 30 at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library – not for me, but for the sake of dialogue, for the sake of combating efforts to tamp down discussion on issues we must confront in the Jewish community, issues we must confront as a nation.

–§–

William Daroff is one of America’s most powerful Jewish institutional leaders. As Senior Vice President for Public Policy & Director of the Washington, D.C. office of The Jewish Federations of North America, a multi-billion dollar organization, his words and influence matter.

When it comes to Israel, Daroff’s views lean right-wing, much different than my own. Despite our differences, though, we have both committed our professional lives to the Jewish community. As a Jewish day school teacher myself and a progressive Zionist who champions the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suspect we share common ground on some issues.

Which is why I was surprised when, on January 28, Daroff wrote that Jewish institutions in America should ban me from speaking, and that my views on Israel placed me outside the Jewish communal tent.

What views are those? My belief that Palestinians have a legitimate right to use economic sanctions against Israel – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) – as a nonviolent form of opposition. My view that such nonviolent opposition is exactly the type of peaceful resistance Americans have been clamoring for Palestinians to use.

In response to this view, Daroff wrote:

“I just do not support giving communal hecsher to those who are outside the bounds of legitimate discourse … Your refusal to state your categorical opposition to the BDS movement place you outside our communal tent.”

He also suggested that I send my calendar of book events to Noah Pollak at the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) so that he could take care of things. For those who don’t know, ECI is a Bill Kristol creation, claims to be the most ‘pro-Israel’ group around, and spends untold amounts of money to smear and combat anyone who might critique Israel.

Two days later, on January 30, I received an email from Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the DCJCC, that my book event had been cancelled. She cited my political views as reason for axing a book event which was supposed to be about the importance of dialogue amongst those who have different frames of reference.

–§–

A week after this decision, communal frustration in the District reached a cacophonous pitch when a local D.C. journalist, Sharon Jacobs, sharply critiqued the DCJCC in a Washington Post op-ed.

As her op-ed spread virally in D.C. and in the American Jewish community, and as my voicemail and inbox filled, I got a message from J Street, offering to create an alternate event. Soon, the MLK Jr. Memorial Library joined them in supporting the creation of a new book event. As did Peace Now. As did Politics & Prose, one of the most important political bookstores in the country.

In a matter of days, the progressive D.C. community had rallied together to create an alternate event that will take place on April 30.

I don’t believe that this effort, which spanned multiple progressive communities in D.C., was made for me personally. Nor do I believe I had anything to do with the communal movement which swiftly gathered momentum to combat those right-wing, ‘pro-Israel’ influences which certainly led to the cancellation of my event.

I believe that American Jews, and particularly American Jews in the District, are growing tired of conservative influences trying to dictate what can, and cannot, be discussed in relation to Israel. They are tired of such influences which do not represent the greater American Jewish community. They are tired of seeing right-wing smear campaigns force theater programs to constrict, speaking gigs by respected academics to be cancelled, musical performances to be axed.

They are tired of institutional leaders who want Americans to put their collective heads in the sand and be blind to, much less discuss, precisely those issues we must confront if we have any chance of helping to solve them: Israel’s settlements, the occupation, the denial of Palestinian human rights, the growing Palestinian and international responses to these geo-political issues.

Those of us who are tired, or some of us, at least, will gather together on April 30 in D.C. Yes, I’ll have the microphone for some of the time, but I won’t be the most important person in the room. The most important people will be those who worked to make this event happen, those who are fighting to make dialogue on Israel in America more open, more honest.

Despite canceling the DCJCC event, I invited Zawatsky to join us on April 30. She declined, citing prior obligations. I invited Daroff to join us, but never heard back. I invited ECI’s Pollak, which he took as sarcasm.

While they likely won’t show up, I have surprisingly heard from representatives who will be in attendance from organizations which disagree with my politics. They won’t be there to picket or protest, but to respectfully engage and see what I have to say.

Progress may be slow, but it’s happening. One cancelled event at a time.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, now out from Oneworld Publications. Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

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