Another wonderfully parochial headline from my friends at JTA:
Another wonderfully parochial headline from my friends at JTA:
That’s the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope & Peace meeting with the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani (at center, in purple shirt). Dawani hosted the group after Sunday morning services at St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem.
Dawani discussed the constructive role he and his church are trying to play as a moderating force between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs. They include a department of reconciliation, and a Kids 4 Peace interfaith program, where Christian, Jewish, and Muslim children from the Holy Land and the United States take part in summer camps in America.
“Israelis and Palestinians don’t hear each other,” he said. “We need people to be friends of the Israelis and the Palestinians. People come here as friends for only one side or the other. This is a problem. This is not justice.”
I was told later that the bishop’s predecessors were far less inclined to talk in the language of reconciliation, and that for those who believe in people-to-people diplomacy his tenure has come as a breath of fresh air. Although the Christian population in the Middle East is small and dwindling, the Nablus native hopes to be an honest broker and an intermediary between clergy on all sides of the divide.
It was no surprise that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (or eternal conflict, if you will) was barely mentioned during Monday’s Obama-Romney foreign policy debate. Although Israel came up 34 times, it did so in the context of Iran, promoting democracy in the Middle East, standing by an ally, and demonstrating who loves Israel more. Romney did manage to slip in that after four years of an Obama administration, Israel and the Palestinians are no closer to “reaching a peace agreement” (although it was Romney who told fund-raisers in September that “the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish”).
The candidates are angling for votes, not Nobel prizes and gain nothing by discussing a conflict that seems so far from resolution. Obama, like every president before him, tried to assert U.S. influence over the peace process early in his term, and it only brought him tsuris. It’s not clear what else Romney could have said on the topic that would have earned him more votes in Florida or Ohio. Like global warming and gun violence, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become an unmentionable topic on the campaign trail.
Not that Israelis or Palestinians are clamoring for such a debate. I was in Israel last week and it was the rare newspaper or broadcast that even mentioned the peace process, except to update its obituary. Dominating the headlines were Iran and January’s elections, in which the conflict barely figures. The Palestinians held municipal elections on Friday, and the big issues were a Hamas boycott and low voter turnout. Jimmy Carter met with Israeli President Shimon Peres Monday, and when Jimmy Carter is the loudest voice for peace, you just sense that it’s not going anywhere.
But you also sense the price both sides pay for not addressing this most intractable of issues. I was in Israel with a delegation from the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope & Peace. A lot of the Israelis and Palestinians who spoke to the group were still talking peace, although without much hope.
Although most of the presenters were on the Left, they rarely spoke about the conflict in terms of righting historic wrongs or resolving a human rights crisis among the Palestinians.
Instead, they spoke about Israel’s self-interest in helping to create a Palestinian state. And they suggested domino effects that defy the usual categories of Left and Right. Gershon Baskin, an American-born Israeli who codirects the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, spoke, as most two-state proponents do, of preserving Israel as a Jewish democracy. But he also imagined the effects of peace on other players in the region. Asked about Hamas rejectionism, Baskin said, “Let the people in Gaza see the opportunity for real peace.” If they did, he proposed, it wouldn’t be long before they ousted the extremists in an Arab Spring of their own.
That sort of thinking is optimist, yes, but not delusional — unlike the proposition that Israel can continue to control the lives of millions of non-citizens and still preserve both its Jewish character and democratic ideals.
I also don’t remember when optimism stopped being a Jewish ideal. You can find it everywhere you look in Israel, if you are open to voices other than those that thrive on hopelessness. One evening the interfaith coalition hosted two members of the Parents Circle Families Forum, which brings together grieving parents on both sides who lost relatives in the conflict. Ben Kfir explained, in careful, mournful detail, how his daughter Yael, an officer in the Signal Corps, was murdered in a suicide attack while waiting for a bus near her base in September 2003. Moira Jilani, a U.S. citizen, gave a dry-eyed account of the day her Palestinian husband was shot dead by Israeli police in East Jerusalem in 2010, and her efforts to reopen an investigation into what the Justice Ministry called a justifiable response to an alleged terrorist incident.
Kfir and Jilani, sitting together, don’t ask that you take sides in the conflict, only that you consider the pain and loss on both sides. Kfir remembered loading two pistols and plotting the murder of random Palestinians to avenge the murder of his daughter. And then how he realized that the only result would be more families grieving like his own. In a newspaper ad thanking those who came to the shiva, he wrote, “Bringing peace closer will be our condolence.”
Such leaps of empathy aren’t much in fashion these days, no more so than a discussion of the peace process on the campaign trail. But if you can’t talk about peace, you are endorsing its opposite.
Well, this surprised me — not at all:
Ninety-seven percent of US and Canadian college campuses report no anti-Israel or anti-Semitic events, and the campus-based anti-Israel divestment effort has failed, according to a new study.
The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise released the findings of its new study, “Israel and the Campus: The Real Story,” on Tuesday. Mitchell Bard, the AICE’s executive director, and Jeff Dawson, the private organization’s campus liaison, authored the report.
Author Mitchell Bard is no bleeding heart, having written a series of hawkish books on Israel and Judaism over the years.
I wrote about the tendency of Jewish groups to exaggerate this issue over a year ago. A number of fine institutions have been tarred as a result of this hysteria, and the Jewish community has come off as fearful of criticism, overprotective of its young, and too willing to suppress free speech rather than engage in real debate.
Today was a day for visiting each other’s holy sites in Jerusalem. A day for casual conversations about one another’s faiths and connections to Israel, and some quiet but intense dialogue about theology and “process.” There was talk late in a very long and very hot day that the participants were avoiding the “tough stuff,” but then it has only been three days.
A frequent contributor to our web site, whose use of aliases is undermined by his consistent racism and oddly anti-Semitic Orthodox chauvinism, dismissed my first account of the trip with a snide “Kumbaya?” But what’s wrong with Kumbaya exactly? Sure, group hugs and platitudes are no substitute for real peace or cooperation, but has peace or cooperation ever come about without some dramatic or symbolic gesture of outreach or understanding?
In truth, the Kumbaya critique was concerning folks on the trip, and in a debriefing session some asked what kind of tachlis — that is, concrete — followup and constructive engagement there will be at trip’s end. This is already a group that has addressed gang violence in Newark — members were confident that they could find a meaningful way to carry the lessons of the mission back to NJ.
And an encounter late in the day — between the group and representatives of Family Circle, a forum of 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones in the conflict, hinted at the possibilities of both reconciliation here and future steps back in the States.
More on that in a future post.
As a 20-something living in Israel, I paid a lot of attention to cafes, falafel stands, and 20-something women (whether they paid attention to me is another story). When I went back to live there as a family man in my 30s, I paid a lot of attention to playgrounds and ice cream stands, and when I saw a 20-something women my only thought was whether she babysat.
Israel isn’t the only place where foreground becomes background, and vice versa, depending on who you are, what you believe, and where you are in life. But few places change so drastically depending on what the visitor brings to the country.
I am realizing this yet again as an observer on an interfaith mission to Israel sponsored by the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope & Peace. The organizers include Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, and the Waris Cultural Research and Development Center, a mosque in Irvington. The 33 participants include Jews, Muslims and Christians; white folks and black folks; suburbanites and city-dwellers; first-timers to Israel and jaded returnees like me. In just two days in the North, where Israeli Arabs form a majority and the Jesus story often speaks louder than the Jewish one, I’ve already seen an Israel that I have overlooked on previous trips. Again and again I am reminded that what is foreground for one group is background for another.
That sunk in before the trip even got under way, when, leaving the plane, our group emerged into a similarly sleepy Ben-Gurion Airport. Most of us breezed through passport control and customs, ready to board the tour bus. But two of the young Muslim women with us were held back by security. And held back. Nearly three hours of anxious waiting later, they emerged from wherever they’d been held for questioning, greeted by a group flush with relief, embarrassment, and sympathy.
I’m willing and able to defend the Israeli security protocol that flagged the two travelers, but the incident showed me from the outset how the experience of Israel can be very different for different groups.
A few hours later we were in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe that Jesus preached and even stayed in the home of Peter and other apostles. The Rev. Bob Morris, executive director of the Interweave spirituality center in Summit, joked that “Jesus slept here,” but he wasn’t really joking. The extensive archaeological finds at the site line up nicely with the New Testament accounts. “This is the real thing,” said Morris, reminding a Jewish listener that Israel is Christian history, and its Christian sites are neither religious abstractions nor roadside attractions.
The next day we visited Tsippori, a site with a similarly strong historical resonance for Jews. It’s where Judah HaNasi helped compile the Mishna and where, as Rabbi Marc Rosenstein of Hebrew Union College in Israel told us, Jews fashioned a workable arrangement with the Romans – a compromise that worked until it didn’t. The group sat in a circle beneath a tree, singing a wordless niggun and then listening to Imam W. Deen Shareef of the Waris mosque talk about Abraham’s importance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark added that when the Nazareth of Jesus’ day was a hilltop backwater, Tsippori (Sephoris in the Christian tradition) was the Roman capital of the Galilee. The disparity, and the decadence, “radicalized him,” said Beckwith. “It inspired him to build bridges between the rich and the poor, between one hill and the other.”
But some bridges couldn’t be built so easily, not in the first two-days of a week-long interfaith trip anyway. In two separate conversations it became clear that there were divergent views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some members of the group sparred gently over terminology and responsibility for the fate of Palestinian refugees and the social and economic gaps among Israeli Arabs.
My foreground and background shifted abruptly in these exchanges. In discussing Israel with Jews, as I do in these pages every week, I am often the liberal in the room, urging Israel to address its civil rights challenges and celebrating the work of coexistence champions like the New Israel Fund and its grantees. But when Fathi Marshood, the Arab-Israeli co-director of NIF’s Shatil office in Haifa, began to catalogue the discrimination faced by Arab municipalities, I found myself anxious to defend Israel to those in the room for whom Israel’s failings are not just the foreground, but the entire picture.
Of course, I couldn’t know that for sure, having met most of my fellow travelers only 48 hours before. And by Tuesday night’s debriefing session, there seemed hope that those bridges could be built after all. One of the Muslim women spoke movingly about the picture we presented to the Israelis and tourists who saw us: whites and blacks, kippah-wearing Jews and Muslims in head scarfs and kufis, walking, laughing, and singing together. “We’re a picture of unity in a land that’s divided,” she said.
It’s enough to make you imagine a merging of foreground and background, and a frame within which the distinctions matter less and less.
I’m headed to Israel next week. The following news release explains all. I’ll be blogging about the trip.
NJ interfaith trip to Israel to include
Christians, Jews, and Muslims
New Jersey clergy representing the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths are joining together to lead an interfaith trip to Israel & the West Bank — Roots of Faith — this October.
The 32 participants, divided equally among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, are traveling together with the goal of promoting peace and understanding. The trip itinerary includes the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the opportunity to address the challenges to peaceful co-existence between Jews and Palestinians.
For years I had meant to pitch a story about Ideological Tourism in Israel — I mean, in what other country can you get a guided tour of political hotspots like Hebron and the West Bank, or women’s shelters and coexistence projects, all led by guides and groups with strong political agendas?
Shmuel Rosner got there first, in a piece on “Occupation Tourism” for the New York Times’ Latitude blog:
Last week, with family in tow, I took the day off to go on an organized tour of the West Bank. The trip started in Peduel, a Jewish settlement half an hour from central Tel Aviv. It’s a scenic spot. Ariel Sharon used to call it “the balcony of Israel”: located on top of a mountain in the Samaria region, Peduel reveals below the big cities of Israel that lie near the Mediterranean shore.
The view sends a clear message to most Jews: you don’t want anyone else but the state of Israel controlling this area — certainly not the Palestinians. That, of course, was the point of the panorama: the trip was put on by Mishkefet (“binoculars” in Hebrew), a large-scale PR effort by Jewish settlers and their supporters to get Jewish Israelis of all political persuasions to “know their land.”
The case of the Michigan State student who claimed he was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack heads toward its sad conclusion:
The family of Michigan State student Zachary Tennen, who said he was the victim of a hate crime following an off-campus party, has asked prosecutors to close the case.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said police investigators interviewed 50 witnesses in the Aug. 26 attack but did not turn up any evidence that the attack was due to racial or religious bias.
Tennen, 19, claimed that two suspects with shaved heads yelled “Heil Hitler” during the assault, during which his jaw was broken.
The family wrote in a Sept. 24 letter that “justice will be best served by closing this investigation at this time,” according to reports. “The Tennen family is cognizant of the fact that substantial resources were expended to investigate these allegations and that there is insufficient evidence of a hate crime to go forward with a criminal prosecution.”
A local paper has a lurid account of Tennen’s alleged behavior the night of the incident; the suspect accused of throwing the punch that decked him said he “warned Tennen in a private conversation to stop hitting on the girls” — and by “hitting on,” he meant harassing.
A Michigan blogger named Ann Nichols renders judgment:
In the end, I just feel angry, ill-used and manipulated. I still feel sorry for the kid because I think his spectacularly poor choices have probably ruined his life. I still want to hit him again for making this town look bad, for refusing to allow young women her freedom, and for abusing legislation meant to protect real, innocent victims of hate crimes.
Local hedge-fund manager and philanthropist Leon Cooperman (benefactor of the MetroWest JCC, Daughters of Israel nursing home, Jewish Community Foundation, etc., etc.) is profiled in the New Yorker, where he is described by a fellow fund manager as the “pope” of a “sleeper cell” of hedge-fund managers against Obama.
As he did in an “open letter” to Obama back in December, Cooperman accuses Obama of “class warfare” for suggesting that C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers should pay ”a little more” taxes.
The growing antagonism of the super-wealthy toward Obama can seem mystifying, since Obama has served the rich quite well. His Administration supported the seven-hundred-billion-dollar TARP rescue package for Wall Street, and resisted calls from the Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and others on the left, to nationalize the big banks in exchange for that largesse. At the end of September, the S. & P. 500, the benchmark U.S. stock index, had rebounded to just 6.9 per cent below its all-time pre-crisis high, on October 9, 2007. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty have found that ninety-three per cent of the gains during the 2009-10 recovery went to the top one per cent of earners. Those seated around the table at [a May 2012] dinner with Al Gore [including Cooperman] had done even better: the top 0.01 per cent captured thirty-seven per cent of the total recovery pie, with a rebound in their incomes of more than twenty per cent, which amounted to an additional $4.2 million each.