Two young girls wearing banners that read "Abolish child slavery" in English and Yiddish. Credit: Creative Commons
On the one hand, Jews are deeply grateful that America provided us with a safe haven when so many other Christianity-dominated cultures had represented us as demon Christ-killers and created the preconditions for the rise of both secular and religious anti-Semitism. American Jews rejoiced in the promise of freedom and equality before the law, and played a major role in organizing, shaping, and leading social movements that could extend that promise to all of America’s citizens. The role of the United States in defeating Nazism at the expense of so many American lives remains an enduring source of pride even for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who fought in World War II, and an enduring source of appreciation for this amazing country. And the generosity of the American people toward Jews has made it possible for us to thrive and feel the kind of safety we haven’t felt for two thousand years of exile and diaspora.
On the other hand, Jewish well-being in America came not because this society didn’t seek scapegoats, but rather because it already had a scapegoat long before most Jews arrived on these shores – African Americans, Native Americans, and other targets (most recently, feminists, homosexuals, and “illegal” immigrants). While other immigrant groups from Europe found their safety in part by identifying with the dominant culture and becoming “white” (a social construct for all light-skinned people who bought into the existing systems of privilege and power), a significant section of the Jewish people in the past 150 years of presence in the United States chose instead to identify with the oppressed – most significantly with African Americans, but also with the poor (of which we were a significant part in the years 1880-1940), the oppressed, the homeless, and the hungry.
by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on May 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »
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.”
Church Ave and State Street intersect in Knoxville, Tennessee. Credit: Creative Commons/ Wyoming_Jackrabbit
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.”
Though the Sun beats down with extreme intensity upon the countries that comprise the Middle East, the almost constant barrage of troubling and often violent incidents metaphorically eclipse the golden rays from reaching the land and its people. During my latest trip to Israel in June of this year, however, I discovered glimmers of light and warmth and the potential for a brighter tomorrow.
I had the opportunity to attend a joint meeting between members of the Israeli non-governmental organization, Kav Mashve, and a group of 14 professional women from the Cleveland, Ohio area who were on an information-gathering trip conferring with women from throughout Israel. The trip was sponsored by The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
Kav Mashve (“The Equator,” whose masthead subtitle is “Employees’ Coalition for Equality for Arab University Graduates) was founded in October 2007 by Jews and Arabs to promote equal employment opportunities and to increase substantially the number of Arab college and university graduates in the professional labor force, both public and private, within the state of Israel. My cousin and life-long friend, Larry Tishkoff, who works at the Israel office of JFNA, organized the week-long itinerary for the women who were visiting Israel under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
by: Ibrahim Sundiata on April 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off
Hirsi Ali. Credit: Creative Commons
I write this on Easter Sunday. A little less than a month from now, on May 18, 2014, Brandeis University will hold its sixty-third commencement ceremony. I shall not be there; I am south of the Equator in Brazil. Someone else also will not be there —Somali feminist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I am glad she will not be. An invitation extended to her was withdrawn by the president of the university, Fred Lawrence. Many of the faculty had signed a letter of protest and the Muslim Students Association had added its voice. Yet, the whole episode leaves me with bittersweet taste. I was left with a nagging question. Ross Douhat in the New York Times said that the university should just come out and confess its bias: “I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.” Elsewhere in the media the dustup at Brandeis was portrayed as a speed-bump in the battle over free speech. It was much more. In an age of identity politics can we criticize the formerly colonized or semi-colonized “Two-Thirds World” (in the faculty letter’s terminology)? How to address female genital mutilation in Somalia, slavery in Mauritania and the lynching of gays in Kenya? Especially when such occurrences are clothed with the authority of religion, how do we respond?
We are learning from news accounts that the alleged shooter in the murders of three people at two separate Jewish sites, a community center and a retirement village in Overland Park, Kansas just one day before the Jewish Passover, was inspired by hate.
According to Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass, “This was a hate crime.” The federal government can now prosecute the suspected perpetrator, Frazier Glenn Miller (a.k.a. Frazier Glenn Cross), 73-years old, on hate-crime charges.
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Miller as a former grand-dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a founding member of the White Patriot Party, a white supremacist group. Miller has posted approximately 12000 times on Vanguard News Network whose slogan is “No Jews, Just Right.”
So why did a self-described “white supremacist” target apparent white people at Jewish community centers? The answer is quite simple: Though Jewish people are members of every so-called “race,” even Jews of European heritage (Ashkenazim) have been and still continue to be “racially” othered by dominant Christian European-heritage communities in some quarters. For this reason, I argue that the federal and state prosecutors charge Miller with first-degree premeditated murder stemming from his religious, ethnic, and racial bigotry, even though it appears that he mistakenly targeted people who were not themselves Jewish. Anti-Jewish prejudice (a.k.a. anti-Semitism) is a form of racism.
by: Ronnie Barkan and Joshua Tartakovsky on April 4th, 2014 | 28 Comments »
A recent law obligating military service on religious Yeshiva students reveals the inherent flaw in Israel’s claim to be Jewish
An earlier version of this article has appeared on AlterNet
Prime Minister David Cameron got more than he expected at the Israeli Knesset in his last visit, receiving a cold shoulder from ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian legislators who share common interests, being the state’s most oppressed communities. Cameron’s visit to the Knesset took place on the same day that two controversial laws, the Conscription Law and the Governability Law, were finally approved following a prolonged legislative battle. As Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the guest of honour the ultra-Orthodox parliamentariansleft the plenary session in protest while their colleagues, Palestinian Members of the Knesset, refused to attend the event altogether. This was the culmination point of several months of heated protest over the Conscription Law which brought to the surface contradictions between Zionism and Judaism.
Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim) of all denominations took to the streets of Jerusalem to oppose the draft law several days before its legislation. In a mass prayer, the worshippers-protesters declared their faithfulness to Torah study rather than to the military. United under the banner declaring that “the State of Israel is fighting against the Kingdom of Heaven” they held signs stating that military draft is a spiritual suicide. The event was not merely an opposition to the law but nothing short of a battle cry against the very legitimacy of a state that encroaches upon their spiritual autonomy and poses a danger to their religious liberty.
Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?
by: Imam Abdullah T. Antepli on March 16th, 2014 | Comments Off
I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.
Abdullah Antepli (right), Duke's first Muslim chaplain, talks with Ahmad Mikell (left) after a worship service held on campus. Credit: islamophobiatoday.com.
Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.
I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.
But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.
I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?”
by: Zehra Bapir on March 6th, 2014 | 2 Comments »
It all started six months ago when my husband and I first moved to Brooklyn. We had been living in South-East Turkey surrounded by family members and friends in the same complex. I wanted to bring that sense of “neighborliness” with me when we moved to the U.S. and I also wanted the neighbors to know that even though I covered and looked like a terrorist from the desert, at least I was clean and friendly.
Credit: Creative Commons/rottnapples.
The first week we moved in, I made chocolate chip cookies. I know Americans — every one of them loves home-made chocolate chip cookies. That’s like a given. Every culture has a deep love and appreciation for something – English love chips. Turks love tea. Irish love…etcetera.
I was probably the first person to do this in the 21st century but that’s okay. I was going to be assertive in being a neighbor. My new neighbors were going to like me AND my chocolate chip cookies.
The first few doors I knocked on in the building gave me surprised but polite responses “What a nice idea, but I’m on a diet.” “Thank you so much, I’ll give these to my sons.” “This was so thoughtful! Unfortunately I have to watch my sugar intake you know because…” I had a feeling this would happen. I knew from movies a lot of New Yorkers were on diets, especially if they were old.
It wasn’t until I knocked on the last door that I realized most of them weren’t actually on diets.
Last week the U.S. District Court dismissed a long-standing case against the NYPD for their secret surveillance of Muslims in New York and New Jersey in the years after 9/11. Yet few Americans outside of the American Muslim community spoke out against the judgment, and not all newspapers carried the news. For the average American of a different faith, this wasn’t really too newsworthy. Here’s why they are wrong.