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Abe Foxman Threatens to End Jewish-Christian Interfaith Dialogue Over Investigation Request

3:19 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Christian-Israel flag pin

Back on October 5th, the leaders of several American Christian churches sent a joint letter to Congress [PDF]:

We urge an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”

More broadly, we urge Congress to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.

Here’s the list of signatories:

Rev. Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA)

Mark S. Hanson Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner President, Council of Bishops United Methodist Church

Peg Birk Transitional General Secretary National Council of Churches USA

Shan Cretin General Secretary American Friends Service Committee

J Ron Byler Executive Director Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Alexander Patico North American Secretary Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Diane Randall Executive Secretary Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dr. A. Roy Medley General Secretary American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black General Minister and President United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins General Minister and President Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Division of Overseas Ministries Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)

Rev. Dr. James A. Moos Executive Minister, United Church of Christ, Wider Church Ministries Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)

Kathy McKneely Acting Director Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Eli S. McCarthy, PhD Justice and Peace Director Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)

Some of these religious leaders issued supplementary statements from the offices of their own faith.  The United Church of Christ, representing over a million peopleissued a statement:

The UCC has sought to constrain the militarization of the Middle Area after the passage of a 2005 General Synod resolution, said Dr. Peter Makari, area executive to the Middle East and Europe for Global Ministries.

“The UCC has been consistent in its condemnation of violence, regardless of its source,” Makari said.

The UCC joins its ecumenical partners “in expressing the concern that U.S. assistance to Israel has been and remains unconditional, is in violation of U.S. law on foreign assistance, and contributes toward the continuation of a military occupation of Palestinian lands, which is antithetical to efforts to promote peace between the Palestinians and Israelis,” Makari said.

The churches and religious organizations, committed to seeking a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis, also point to what they write is a “troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace. Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, representing over 3.4 million parishioners, issued a long statement regarding the letter to congress, quoting the head of the church,the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop:

“When as Lutherans we say that all the baptized will strive for justice and peace in all the earth, it means that we will be immersed in complex issues. While we do not all agree on the best way to establish justice and bring peace, we will be involved in lively, respectful, passionate conversations,” said Hanson.

“From Palestinian Lutherans, I hear discouragement about the lack of progress and questions about where the voice is of American Christians,” said Hanson. “Our letter seeks to be a partial answer to such questions, that we are clear in our resolve to continue to work for a just and lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Together, the signatory churches represent more people than live in Israel of all faiths.  Yet there were almost no news articles about the letter in the American press, outside of some Jewish community news outlets and sites, when the investigation request was sent and announced.  There were a number of them in the Israeli press.

Late this past week, though, the story gained more notice, when Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League protested the letter, and then announced he is pulling out of an upcoming National Council of Churches meeting:

The Anti-Defamation League said Thursday (Oct. 11) it has withdrawn from an Oct. 22 U.S. Jewish-Christian interfaith meeting to protest a letter from some Protestant participants that urged Congress to rethink U.S. funding to Israel.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said the signatories’ actions — without first informing Jewish groups — have “seriously damaged the foundation for mutual respect” necessary for interfaith dialogue.

Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, called the letter “a thinly veiled attempt to try to harm Israel, and U.S.-Israel relations.” The Reform movement’s Washington-based Religious Action Center said the letter “mischaracterizes” the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, “wrongly holds only Israel accountable” for regional problems “and does not advance the regional and security interests of the U.S.”

Interestingly, J Street, the lobbying group formed in April, 2008, as a liberal alternative to AIPAC (I hosted J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami here at firedoglake in 2011, for a book salon on his work, A New Voice for Israel), has condemned the Christians’ letter:

It was inevitable. Constantly under pressure from the Jewish center-right (Reform rabbis, for instance), J Street has thrown in the towel. Read its document of surrender. 

In response to the letter from Christian denominations urging that aid to Israel be compliant with U.S. law, J Street has joined Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league and the half-million a year hacks that run the other Jewish organizations to blast the Christians. (See Foxman letter).

J Street agrees with them that aid to Israel is an entitlement. It must never be questioned unless you also add ” criticism of Israel’s behavior with appropriate criticism of, for instance, rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas.” You must also  ”put the present situation into a historical or political context that might provide a fuller appreciation for the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over many decades.”

Each new month brings another Christian group to question what its relationship should be with the increasingly hostile, increasingly racist and overtly apartheid state of Israel.  And increasingly, Jewish groups in America are being asked to be openly critical of  these moves, whether it be this one, or votes to consider divesting from businesses in Israel, or with firms which enable the occupation and colonization of the West Bank.

Rather than inquire as to why these spiritually-founded religious bodies feel impelled to sanction Israel, many Jewish organizations, commentators and public figures are likening these moves to anti-Semitism, which it most certainly is not.  These Jewish protesters seem to fail to understand that these labels, thrown around like they are in such cases, not only will not stick or sting, they will further alienate Christians who are already committed to courses of action they have tied to the doctrines of their beliefs.

Marc Ellis observed the following, while covering the debate during the Presbyterian assembly vote on divestment, last summer:

When it became clear that Israel as a state wasn’t interested in justice for Palestinians and that Jewish leadership in America was only interested in silencing Christian misgivings about Israeli occupation policies, it was only a matter of time before the Jewish-Christian love fest came to an end.

Among the liberal Christian denominations, Christian support for Israel is on life support. The back-up oxygen tanks, already in use, are running empty. There isn’t any way of resurrecting the interfaith ecumenical deal. The “Christians are evil/Jews are innocent” genie is out of the bottle, never to return.

Indeed, it is out of the bottle.  Here is a comment to an article on Foxman’s announcement in Arutz Sheva:

If you really respected the other guy’s faith, you’d be practicing it. Just as is said about gays, you can hate the sin and love the person, there is nothing to love about religions that have persecuted and murdered millions of Jews for the past 2,000 years.

The bottom line is that Christian-Jewish ecumenical relations have entered a new phase over the past two years.  I expect these actions protesting Israeli and American policies will grow more acute, rather than less.

Thoughts on Abe Foxman’s Speechlessness over Fareed Zakaria’s Return of the ADL’s Humphrey Award

1:28 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The dispute between Fareed Zakaria and Abe Foxman is not over. Foxman’s faux "shock" over Zakariah’s reaction to Foxman’s efforts to stop the building of an Islamic community center a few blocks from "ground zero" may be masking efforts by Foxman to have Zakaria exit by the same route as Helen Thomas and Octavia Nasr.

In response to Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman’s statements last week, in which the latter both sought to exacerbate negative feelings 9/11 survivors irrationally hold toward Islam, and to further define Foxman’s take on Zionist exceptionalism, author and journalist Fareed Zakaria returned the Hubert H. Humphrey Award certificate and honorarium he had received five years ago from the ADL.

On August 2nd, Foxman wrote a column in which he sided with Sarah Palin and the larger neo-con community, urging the backers of the lower Manhattan community center plan to re-think their project, possibly moving it to another part of the island:

At its essence, our position is about sensitivity. Everyone — victims, opponents and proponents alike — must pay attention to the sensitivities involved without giving in to appeals to, or accusations of, bigotry. Ultimately, this was not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center would unnecessarily cause some victims more pain. And that wasn’t right.

Earlier, on July 30th, Foxman was quoted as saying:

Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational. Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.

Zakaria reacted to the perception of inconsistency in the ADL position on the mosque with what he thought the ADL had long stood for, in a personal way. Here’s his complete letter:

Dear Mr. Foxman,

Five years ago, the ADL honored me with its Hubert Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize. I was delighted and moved to have been chosen for it in good measure because of the high esteem in which I hold the ADL. I have always been impressed by the fact that your mission is broad – “to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens” – and you have interpreted it broadly over the decades. You have fought discrimination against all religions, races, and creeds and have built a well-deserved reputation.

That is why I was stunned at your decision to publicly side with those urging the relocation of the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan. You are choosing to use your immense prestige to take a side that is utterly opposed to the animating purpose of your organization. Your own statements subsequently, asserting that we must honor the feelings of victims even if irrational or bigoted, made matters worse.

This is not the place to debate the press release or your statements. Many have done this and I have written about it in Newsweek and on my television show – both of which will be out over the weekend. The purpose of this letter is more straightforward. I cannot in good conscience hold onto the award or the honorarium that came with it and am returning both. I hope that it might add to the many voices that have urged you to reconsider and reverse your position on this issue. This decision will haunt the ADL for years if not decades to come. Whether or not the center is built, what is at stake here is the integrity of the ADL and its fidelity to its mission. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain your reputation.

Foxman’s reply is also worth a complete reprint:

Dear Fareed:

I received your letter today and must say I am not only saddened but stunned and somewhat speechless by your decision to return the ADL Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize, you accepted in 2005. As someone I greatly respect for engaging in discussion and dialogue with an open mind I would have expected you to reach out to me before coming to judgment.

ADL is the same agency you held in esteem then; we have never wavered from our mission since its inception in 1913. I know you know well the work we do to fight prejudice and discrimination and promote respect and understanding among all people.

I hope you have read our statement on the proposed Islamic Center at Ground Zero and, more importantly, understand our position. We did not oppose the right for an Islamic Center or a mosque to be built. What we did was to make an appeal based solely on the issues of location and sensitivity. If the stated goal was to advance reconciliation and understanding, we believe taking into consideration the feelings of many victims and their families, of first responders and many New Yorkers, who are not bigots but still feel the pain of 9/11, would go a long way to achieving that reconciliation.

ADL has and will continue to stand up for Muslims and others where they are targets of racism and bigotry, as we have done at the request of and on behalf of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf.

I am holding on to your award and check in hope that you will come to see that ADL acted appropriately and you will want to reclaim them.

It is obvious that Foxman doesn’t get why Zakariah feels so strongly about this. Nor does Foxman understand how deeply his statements must offend supporters of the First Amendment.

As some readers here may know, I firmly back the strong belief of all the survivors of the assault on the U.S.S. Liberty by Israeli jets and torpedo boats, that the attack on their ship was as deliberate as was the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Did Foxman realize when he sided with Sarah Palin, that there has long been a mosque inside of the Pentagon? Or that, by applying his standard, one might suggest, in view of what Foxman terms "location and sensitivity," that the Jewish Chapel, located within a block or so of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, be moved further away, so as not to offend the relatives of:

LCDR Philip McCutcheon Armstrong, Jr. Navy Cross
LT James Cecil Pierce
LT Stephen Spencer Toth, Silver Star
CT3 William Bernard Allenbaugh
SN Gary Ray Blanchard
CT2 Allen Merle Blue
QM3 Francis Brown
CT2 Ronnie Jordan Campbell
CT2 Jerry Leroy Converse
CT2 Robert Burton Eisenberg
CT2 Jerry Lee Gross
CT1 Curtis Alan Graves
CTSN Lawrence Pasul Hayden
CT1 Warren Edward Hersey
CT3 Alan (NMN) Higgins
SN Carl Lewis Hoar
CT2 Richard Walter Keene, Jr.
CTSN James Lee Lenau
CTC Raymond Eugene Linn
CT1 James Mahlon Lupton
CT3 Duane Rowe Marggraf
CTSN David Walter Marlborough
CT2 Anthony Peter Mendle
CTSN Carl Christian Nygren
SGT Jack Lewis Raper, USMC
CPL Edward Emory Rehmeyer, III, USMC
IFCN David (NMN) Skolak
CT1 John Caleb Smith, Jr.
CTC Melvin Douglas Smith
PC2 John Clarence Spicher
GMG3 Alexander Neil Thompson, Jr.
CT3 Thomas Ray Thornton
CT3 Philippe Charles Tiedke
CT1 Frederick James Walton

It would be as foolish to start a movement to move the Jewish community center in Annapolis as it is to attempt to thwart construction of the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan. Neither the 9/11 attackers nor the planners of the attack on our men at sea in June 1967 represent the ideals of their faiths or the hopes of their communities.

I’m going to donate $10.00 to each project. Here are their donation pages:

Friends of the Jewish Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy

Cordoba House

Here’s Zakaria’s explanation of his return of the award: