Pittsburgh surprised many: But not those who repeatedly reported rising American anti-Semitism

Pittsburgh surprised many: But not those who repeatedly reported rising American anti-Semitism

Some 15 years ago I wrote a piece on anti-Semitism for an online Jewish publication that began as follows: “It is an irony of Jewish life that it took the Holocaust to give anti-Semitism a bad name. So widespread was international revulsion over the annihilation of six million Jews that following World War II anti-Semitism, even of the polite variety, became the hatred one dared not publicly express. But only for a time.”

Saturday’s synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh underscored how anti-Semitism is no longer the hatred one dares not publicly express — though that’s been obvious for some time to all who cared to recognize it. I've tried to make the point in numerous GetReligion posts.

The details of what happened in Pittsburg, on the Jewish Sabbath, are by now well known, thanks to the wall-to-wall coverage, much of it sympathetic, detailed and excellent — including their understanding of the Jewish religious and communal aspects.

The extensive coverage is entirely appropriate, I’d say. Because more than just a display of vicious anti-Semitism, what happened in Pittsburg was an American tragedy. It underscored how threatened the nation is today by our corrosive political environment.

That’s likely to continue, if not intensify, regardless of the outcome of next week’s midterm elections.

The coverage I’ve found most worthwhile has not been the breaking news stories, though the facts of the story are certainly critical. Instead, it's the "explainers" that have actually repeated what I've read over and over in Jewish, Israeli and even mainstream American and European media for years now. And which I believe is what the vast majority of self-aware diaspora Jews have long known and feared — that Pittsburgh was only a matter of time.

I highlight them here to underscore what I believe is a critical point. That Jews or any other minority can only be safe in a pluralistic society that tolerates — no, embraces — diversity, be it religious, ethnic, racial or opinion (the last within broad reason; no yelling fire in crowded theaters).

One news backgrounder I liked is this comprehensive story from The Washington Post that ran Sunday. Here’s its lede:

This is what they had long been fearing. As the threats increased, as the online abuse grew increasingly vicious, as the defacing of synagogues and community centers with swastikas became more commonplace, the possibility of a violent attack loomed over America’s Jewish communities.

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Is Israeli TV drama Fauda a harbinger of the news industry's coming iteration?

Is Israeli TV drama Fauda a harbinger of the news industry's coming iteration?

The cable television and online streaming explosion has produced a golden age of visual, fictionalized, but ripped-from-the-headlines story telling. Some religious and political conservatives may disdain the liberal-leaning views that many of the shows unabashedly embrace, but for those who create the programming it's an unprecedented era of opportunities.

It's also an era of unprecedented, and often confusing, crossover between news and entertainment. From shows dramatizing or spoofing Washington politics, to those cherry-picking storylines from current international intrigues, it’s often hard to tell the two apart, where fact takes leave and artful fiction enters.

As traditional news platforms continue to implode -- and loose their ability to devote adequate resources to in-depth, reporting-based investigative journalism -- it’s a trend that, for the foreseeable future, is likely to continue, for better or worse, but more likely the worse for informed civic debate.

Personally, I find great artistic merit in many of these shows. I also appreciate their willingness to highlight some of the social ills that plague our -- and virtually every other -- nation. That and because I relish a well-written and well-acted product. It helps to remember that I'm an ex-Los Angeles reporter who spent time on the Hollywood TV and film beats, and who also briefly worked in the feature film industry.

Still, I limit my watching because, well, because the shows are binge-watching addictive and I don't want to spend too much time watching TV, no matter how good and entertaining it may be. I’m old-fashioned. I’d rather waste time reading non-fiction, which my reactive mind argues is somehow healthier for me. But that may just be my generational snob appeal.

In a sense, all the fictional dramas I’m drawn to are some writer’s fantasy, but I tend to be drawn to the show's based on the possible, meaning that while I have little interest in a “Game of Thrones,” a series such as “Big Love,” the departed HBO show about polygamy-practicing, fringe Mormons, quickly sucked me in because of my interest in religious groups and the show’s artistic mastery (and a fantastic cast).

Likewise, my deep interest in Israel’s fate and that of the Middle East in general, has drawn me to the Netflix (in the U.S., anyway) show “Fauda,” which I have allowed myself to devour in binge-size bites.

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At United Methodist conference, media highlight LGBT issues yet again

At United Methodist conference, media highlight LGBT issues yet again

The United Methodist Church's quadrennial conference opened this week, and once again, mainstream media are making it mainly into an LGBT debate. As the largest mainline Protestant body that doesn't ordain gays or perform weddings for them, the UMC has faced growing pressure over the last three decades.

Much of the coverage thus far has been restrained and respectful, but subtle word choices favoring the LGBT side often creep in. And as the 10-day conference in Portland, Ore., continues, we can expect more of the same.

A good example is the Religion News Service, which yesterday reported on the assembly turning back a proposal to send gay matters to small groups for discussion. RNS gives some space to a statesmanlike quote by a top UMC official:

The tension over LGBT inclusion during the meeting, which draws delegates from across the globe, was evident from the beginning. In a sermon at the conference’s opening worship, Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, reminded delegates: "As we discuss our different opinions about same-gender relationships, may we remember our dueling points of view are anchored in our desire to be faithful.
"We hold our respective positions as firmly as our conscience and experience dictates, but can we not also seek the path of unity among Christians with different views on this issue as we have on other disputed matters?"

The general tone of the article is respectful of both sides like that. But it twice uses the concept of the "inclusion" of LGBT people in the denomination.  They are not, in fact, excluded; as the group's Book of Discipline says, all persons have "sacred worth" and may "attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection." But the book also classifies homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."

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Flashback 2015: Jewish news, an all-pope Top 10 list and trends on evangelical left

Flashback 2015: Jewish news, an all-pope Top 10 list and trends on evangelical left

OK, here is one final set of some Top 10 religion stories lists for the now distant 2015. If you have missed the previous installments, click here and then here to back up a post or two and catch up. There was also an end of the year "Crossroads" podcast.

One of the reasons that journalists dig into these kinds of lists, especially those prepared by leaders in specific religious flocks, is to learn about stories that may not have made headlines at mainstream news sites -- yet.

So here are three lists of this kind. Once again, please put any 2015 Top 10 lists that I missed in our comments pages.

We will start with A. James Rudin, a name familiar to all journalists who cover events and trends among Jews in North America and elsewhere. This Top 10 Jewish news events list was prepared for Religion News Service, but the link is to The Washington Post. You have Bernie Sanders, Nostra Aetate and a rabbi scandal or two. However, his top story is one that has been growing in importance for more than a decade, one sure to grow in importance with the rise of the Islamic State.

1. Anti-Semitic attacks escalate across Europe.
In January an Islamic terrorist killed four Jews inside a Paris kosher market, and in February a terrorist killed a synagogue guard in Copenhagen. The number of French Jews moving to Israel grew during the year.

Then there was this story, which our own Ira Rifkin flagged early on:

3. The BDS campaign gathers force.

In June, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ approved a resolution calling for the denomination to divest and boycott certain companies doing business with Israel.

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United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

Hello almost elderly GetReligion readers: How many of you out there remember the Ed Sullivan Show? Well, you may recall that his variety-show broadcasts always opened -- even if the top act consisted of people spinning plates on tall sticks -- when the host's pledge that he would be offering viewers a "really, really big show," with that final word sounding rather like "shoe."

In a strange way, that's kind of like the annual parade of summer meetings by America's various religious denominations. The agenda always looks like a big deal -- especially when arguments about sex are on the docket, as they have been for decades.

One way or another, religious leaders always manage to find a way to coat their actions in doctrinal fog, allowing the show to continue the following summer. This frustrates editors no end, especially in this age of tight travel budgets, a squeeze that for religion-beat pros began back in the mid-1980s. I'm not joking about that.

America's liberal Christian denominations have also been known to make headlines -- especially in The New York Times -- by taking prophetic actions on another hot-button issue. That would be economic or political sanctions against Israel.

One of the cutting-edge crews on this issue is the leadership of the United Church of Christ, the bleeding-edge liberal flock (remember those famous and very edgy television ads?) that includes, in its membership, President Barack Obama.

This brings us to another Times report about the ongoing debates about Israel. Read the top of this 850-word story carefully:

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