The Forward

Political and religious fallout from Rep. Omar's AIPAC remark won't fade, nor will social media let it

Political and religious fallout from Rep. Omar's AIPAC remark won't fade, nor will social media let it

Let’s start with the political bottom line — or at least how it stands as of this writing.

The furor kicked up in recent days by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar will not — I repeat, will not — turn the Democratic Party into the American equivalent of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party, which has a clear and significant anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic problem.

At least not for the foreseeable future. Or to be more precise, at least not as I perceive the immediate future unfolding.

For this, the Democrats, the majority of American Jews and Israel can thank President Donald Trump. As long as the Republican Party remains in his firm control and that of his morally and culturally conservative congressional enablers, American Jewish voters are more than likely to stay firmly Democratic.

Too many of them are just too liberal in their social outlook to vote Republican as the party is currently configured. Period.

This, and because of the substantial Christian Zionist support for Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politically expedient bromance with this president.

Both Christian Zionism, which tends to back the most right-wing elements in Israeli political society, and the aforementioned bromance are, again, anathema to the majority of American Jews.

Christian Zionism, regardless of how well it is actually understood by the rank-and-file, is a complete turn off for the preponderance of American Jews because it sounds to them like Christians wanting to control Jews simply to foster their own theological beliefs and yearnings. And when has that ever turned out well for Jews?

As for the bromance, well, need I say anything more than if Trump’s for it most folks on the American center-left, Jewish or not, find it suspicious. Nor do they like Netanyahu, who is viewed as entirely unwilling to give Palestinians any of what they want for the sake of a peace agreement.

(This latter aspect is far too complex to get into here. Suffice it to say that a lot of Israeli Jews believe the Palestinian leadership cannot be trusted to upheld such an agreement, making it too risky to try.)

For those reasons and more — including the not inconsequential staunchly pro-Israel stance of the current Pelosi-Schumer Democratic leadership — large numbers of American Jewish Democratic voters and their representatives are not about to abide a party takeover by anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian activists and politicians, who they are also likely to paint as anti-Semitic.

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PBS story on Iran's Jews hurt by failure to fully explain what captive minorities must do to survive

PBS story on Iran's Jews hurt by failure to fully explain what captive minorities must do to survive

Captive minorities in nations ruled by all-controlling despots play by the rules — or else. Iran’s estimated 9,000-15,000 Jews, one of the world’s most ancient Jewish communities, are a case in point.

Why? Because playing by the rules is just what happened recently when a visiting PBS journalist came calling on Iran’s Jews — with Teheran’s explicit permission, of course.

You’ll recall that Iran’s leaders constantly call for Israel’s physical destruction and that Teheran funds Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. Both proxies are also sworn to destroy Israel.

This means that Iranian Jews are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Many of them have relatives in Israel, and the Jewish homeland is where their biblical-era ancestors fled from some 2,700 years ago, when forced into exile.

In late November, one of PBS’s premiere news platforms, “PBS NewsHour,” broadcast a piece that, like other attempts to explain the Iranian Jewish community, came up frustratingly short.

Once again, those Iranian Jews interviewed on camera said what they always say, which is that life for them in Iran is, on balance, secure — though not always perfectly so — and that Israel is their enemy simply because it's their government's enemy.

What else could they say in a nation where just one politically suspect utterance by a Jewish community member, particularly if made to a foreign media outlet, could mean devastating consequences for them and their co-religionists?

(“Special correspondent” Reza Sayah did note some of the tightly controlled circumstances in which Iran’s Jewish minority survives as second-class citizens. But PBS could have added the comments of an outside expert or two to more fully explain the Iranian context. I can’t help wonder why that didn't happen.)

Here’s the lede-in to the NewsHour story, lifted from the segment’s transcript:

Jewish people have called Iran home for nearly 3,000 years. The Trump administration and U.S. ally Israel often depict the Iranian government as composed of anti-Semitic radical Islamists bent on destroying Israel. But within Iran, many of the estimated 15,000 Jews say they're safe and happy living in the Islamic Republic. Reza Sayah takes a rare inside look at life for Iran's Jewish minority.

“Safe and happy”? Perhaps in a Potemkin village sort of way.

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Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Globalization has scrambled just about everything, for better AND worse.

Technology has compressed physical space and time, forcing the myriad human tribes to deal more directly with each other. Nor is there any going back — no matter how isolationist, anti-immigrant or simply anti-change some current political rhetoric may be.

This means that ethnic and religious groups many of our parents, and certainly our grandparents, had little chance of meeting in their neighborhoods can now be encountered in any large American city, and also in our nation’s rural heartland.

Buddhism is one such example.

But it's not just that Asian Buddhists — be they Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese or others — have come to North America, where their beliefs and practices have attracted considerable interest.

What’s also happened is that some Western Buddhists — formal converts and the larger number of individuals with no interest in converting but who have been influenced by Buddhist philosophy and meditative techniques (myself included) — have melded broad concerns for Western social justice issues with traditional, inner-oriented Buddhist beliefs.

These Western Buddhists certainly did not single-handily start this trend. Vietnamese Buddhist monks who immolated themselves to protest severe discrimination against their co-religionists by the Roman Catholic South Vietnam government in the early 1960s preceded them.

But these Westerners — many of them marinated in 1960s American liberal anti-war and anti-discrimination activism — pushed the envelope far enough to create a uniquely Western Buddhist path now generally referred to as Engaged Buddhism.

A key figure in this movement died earlier this month. His name was Bernie Glassman and he was 79.

The elite mainstream media, as near as I can ascertain via an online search, totally ignored his death. An error in editorial judgement, I think — certainly for the coverage of how American religion has and continues to change. His contribution to this change was monumental.

Western Buddhist publications reacted otherwise, as you would expect.

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Beat the journalism clock: Track rising anti-Semitism via Jewish and Israeli news media

Beat the journalism clock: Track rising anti-Semitism via Jewish and Israeli news media

This past Saturday, the Jewish sabbath — just two weeks removed from the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and 80 years to the day following Kristallnacht -- the Israeli news site Times of Israel ran the following stories on its home page. Each was about anti-Semitism; either a hateful display of it (including one new one in the United States) or warnings about its steady rise in Europe.

Because it would take too much space to explain them all, I’ll just supply the links and note the nation of origin. Please read at least a few of them to gain a sense of the level of concern.

(1) The Netherlands.

(2) The United Kingdom.

(3) Poland.

(4) Germany.

(5) Austria.

(6) United States.

A quick web search that same day uncovered a host of other stories documenting recent anti-Semitic actions, many cloaked in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, including this one from The Jewish Chronicle, the venerable, London-based, Anglo-Jewish publication.

A local Labour party [meaning a regional branch of Britain’s national opposition political party] confirmed it amended a motion about the Pittsburgh synagogue attack to remove a call for all forms of antisemitism to be eradicated and for Labour to “lead the way in opposing" Jew-hate.

The story, of course, included the usual explanations meant to excuse actions of this sort. And, for the record, while I do not consider all criticism of Israeli government actions to be anti-Semitic, I do believe that the line between legitimate political criticism of Israel and hatred of Israel because its a Jewish nation is frequently blurred.

I listed all the above stories to make some journalistic points. The first of them is to point out journalism’s unique internal clock.

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God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

So who is that Jordan Peterson guy and why is he so popular with some people and so controversial for others?

Yes, after weeks of getting emails from people asking when I was going to write something about Peterson, the other day I took a look at a very God-haunted Washington Post Style piece that ran with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide." Now, readers can click here and check out the "Crossroads" podcast that digs into some of this.

The cultural divide is easy to spot and to explore. On one side you have people -- millions of them -- who follow Peterson's every move in the digital marketplace of ideas. Some see him as the next C.S. Lewis (or a perfect example of trends that Lewis opposed). Some see him as the new William F. Buckley.

Some like his calm, blunt take on political correctness -- including issues related to free speech, gender wars, etc. It' this old logic: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

On the other side there are those who use similar logic, only they assume that when someone endorses one thing or the other that Peterson has said, that then links the University of Toronto clinical psychologist to that cause, whatever that may be. For example, see this take at The Forward:

Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor-turned-self-help-guru, “The Savior of Western Civilization.” Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent conspiracy theorist for Infowars, has tweeted, “Jordan Peterson for Canadian Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, many who admire Peterson see him as a kind of anti-Donald Trump, a person who is making a case for a culturally conservative approach to life using logic, education and discipline as opposed to, well, America's Tweeter In Chief.

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Who are those gentiles observing Jewish holy days? The Forward has a (nearly complete) answer

Who are those gentiles observing Jewish holy days? The Forward has a (nearly complete) answer

It is difficult to figure out today's incarnation of The Forward, a left-leaning Jewish news website based in New York City.

A century or so ago, it began life as the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language daily for Jewish immigrants. Its political cast was on the socialist side, something that abated slightly during the 1990s when Seth Lipsky, later to resurrect the New York Sun, edited what was then a weekly publication. ...

I mention all that not to "bury" the Forward but to add some context before I praise it. The website ran a rather interesting and informative story about a group of non-Jews, also known as gentiles, who observe Jewish holy days and eschew celebrations of Christmas and Easter.

From the article:

On the night of Rosh Hashanah, thousands of people will leave work, gather in congregations across the globe and worship God, the ruler of the world. Ten days later they will begin a fast and gather again to pray, this time atoning for their sins.
On both occasions they will praise Jesus Christ and pray for his return.
They are not Jews, nor are they Jews for Jesus. Rather, these congregants are members of an evangelical Christian movement called the Living Church of God. On the days Jews know as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, these Christians celebrate what they call the Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement.
“We’re not trying to be Jewish,” said Dexter Wakefield, a Living Church minister and the church’s spokesman. “We’re obeying God’s commandments. The holy days have great meaning for the Christians who keep them.”

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A religiously intriguing lawyer joins Trump defense team as a key adversary exits  

A religiously intriguing lawyer joins Trump defense team as a key adversary exits  

The addition of controversial attorney Jay Sekulow to President Donald Trump’s defense team is a wide-open invitation for journalistic personality stories. By all accounts, Sekulow, 61, is among America’s most zealous -- and effective -- religious litigators. He also hosts a daily radio show and has become an omnipresent Trump advocate on other media. 

Early coverage on his appointment left unexplored territory on the religion aspects of the sort noted by The Forward, the venerable liberal Jewish newspaper whose print and online editions reach a broad readership. Then The Washington Post published a June 27 jaw-dropper on Sekulowian finances.

More on money in a moment. If The Forward’s treatment seemed harsh, that’s certainly predictable. Sekulow has been in the middle of many social issues that are considered “conservative” while the paper has traditionally embraced socialists and liberal Democrats.

Moreover, Sekulow was raised in Reform Judaism, but became a “Messianic Jew” (that is, an evangelical Protestant of Jewish ethnicity) during college years at Mercer University, where he later earned his law degree. After work as a trial attorney for the IRS and a business lawyer in Atlanta, in 1990 he became chief counsel for the new American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson.  

Like Trump’s top lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, Sekulow is no expert in the Washington, D.C., quicksand the President finds himself in. But he’s battle-hardened, having argued 12 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in his religion specialization. Early on, Sekulow grasped that federal judges are less than ardent supporters of religious freedom claims and switched to a civil liberties strategy exploiting other Bill of Rights guarantees, winning for instance a 1987 Supreme Court OK for airport pamphlet distribution by Jews for Jesus.

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Western Wall battle: Viewing Jewish culture wars from a balcony in Israel's Galilee region

Western Wall battle: Viewing Jewish culture wars from a balcony in Israel's Galilee region

The view from my hillside guest house in the northern Israeli village of Amirim -- where I'm writing this post -- takes in the lake known in Hebrew as the Kinneret and in English as the Sea of Galilee. The lake-side city of Tiberias is also visible, as is the militarily strategic high plateau called the Golan Heights.

Errant shells from fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan regularly land across the tense border in Israel, as they have during my stay here. But they’re too far away, perhaps 20 or so miles, to be of immediate concern.

Likewise, the regular threats made by the Iranian-aligned, Lebanese Hezbollah militia to eradicate Israel in a barrage of rockets. Lebanon is just a dozen or so miles due north, but that border is mostly quiet for the moment. So why be concerned now?

What is of immediate concern, however, is the recent flare up over the Israeli government’s decision to rescind an agreement allowing non-Orthodox religious Jews to share prayer space at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.

The nod to Orthodox political pressure enraged the organized non-Orthodox Jewish establishment. From cries of boycott Israeli leaders to claims that Israel gave U.S. Jews “the finger,” liberal journalistic pundits and organizational leaders alike seemingly competed to express the depth of their outrage and disgust.

(A second decision negating a provision that made conversion to Judaism somewhat easier within Israel was also made, though it's attracted much less attention outside of Israel, where conversion requirements are generally less stringent than they are in Israel.)

Consider all this the Jewish world’s internal culture war -- a struggle between strict adherence to traditional religious practice versus broadening the practice to accommodate contemporary sensibilities.

Ironically, the brouhaha is of little concern to the average Israeli Jew, the majority of whom are by no means strictly Orthodox, if not outright secular (though culturally staunchly Jewish).

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Asking The Forward: Why is this story (not very) different from all other 'Christian' Passover stories?

Asking The Forward: Why is this story (not very) different from all other 'Christian' Passover stories?

If you know nothing else about Passover, the Jewish festival that began on the evening of April 10, you might well know of the Seder dinner, its liturgy called a "Haggadah" and the "Four Questions" the youngest participant gets to ask during the meal.

The first question is perhaps the most famous: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" The brief answer is that the eight-day feast commemorates the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery and bondage in Egypt.

Zoom ahead to 2017 and The Forward. This is a New York City-based Jewish news and commentary publication that, in the past year or so, has had a particular interest in evangelical Christians who appropriate Jewish themes and who endorsed then-candidate, now POTUS, Donald J. Trump.

Asks the paper, "Evangelicals Are Falling In Love With Passover -- Is There Anything Wrong With That?" Let's jump in:

In March, Florida televangelist Paula White gave her followers a special holiday message. Not for Easter, which falls in mid-April, but for the Jewish holiday of Passover.
“We are entering into one of the most supranational and miraculous seasons,” White, who is also a spiritual adviser to President Trump, said in a special video. “The season of Passover.” ...
In the traditional Passover story, God commands the Israelites to sacrifice lambs and to spread blood on their doorways so that they may be spared God’s wrath. Christians view the sacrificial lamb as an analogy for Jesus’ death, and the Israelites’ salvation as their own as believers in Jesus.
“The lamb’s blood became their salvation or their deliverance,” White said, referring to the Israelites. “Our Passover lamb, Jesus, is for your deliverance today.”

Many evangelical Christians, and more than a few Protestant mainliners, wouldn't find much to argue with in White's assertion.

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