Zionism

Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

My wife was born in Israel and most of her extended family still lives there. We have several close friends living there, plus I also have journalist friends and acquaintances in Israel.

It’s wonderful to have so many people I care about in a nation to which I’m deeply connected. However, this means that when we visit, which is often, we generally have a packed schedule. This leaves us little down time for rest and seeking out new experiences, even when we’re there for a couple of weeks or more.

So for that we schedule stopovers in Europe, either going or coming. Just the two of us and a rented car, exploring and hanging out where our interests take us, including  beautiful and nourishing environments. We're also drawn to Jewish historical sites, old synagogues and the like.

We’re now thinking about another trip to Israel this spring or summer. But this time, we’re considering skipping our usual European respite. Why? Because of the increasingly overt anti-Semitism.

We have no desire to either experience it anew or spend our money in societies where the dislike of Jews and Israel are menacingly on the rise.

A disturbing survey, released just last week, by the European Union on the growing insecurity of the continent's Jews — and their increased desire to emigrate — prompted our reevaluation. Here’s part of how Bloomberg reported the survey's chief findings.

Insecurity fueled by anti-Semitism prompted a growing number of British, German and Swedish Jews to consider leaving their countries, according to a landmark survey conducted by the European Union.

Nine out of every 10 Jews sense anti-Semitism is getting worse with some of the most acute concern registered in northern Europe, according to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. The survey is the largest of its kind worldwide and polled more than 16,000 Jews in 12 countries.

“Mounting levels of anti-Semitism continue to plague the EU,” said Michael O’Flaherty, the Irish human rights lawyer who runs the Vienna-based agency. “Across 12 EU member states where Jews have been living for centuries, more than 1/3 say that they consider emigrating because they no longer feel safe as Jews.”

Concerns over safety are prompting Jewish communities in some of the EU’s biggest economies to question whether they should remain, according to the data. In Germany, their share soared to 44 percent from 25 percent six years ago.


The BBC ran its online story on the survey under the headline, “Anti-Semitism pervades European life, says EU report.”

Let that sink in for a moment. “Pervades.”

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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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Anti-Semitism in Germany: Prime your sources, Israel-Iran conflict could make it far worse

Anti-Semitism in Germany: Prime your sources, Israel-Iran conflict could make it far worse

The supreme irony of German anti-Semitism is that it took the horrors of the Holocaust and the near-total destruction of German Jewry to banish it from wholesale public acceptance.

These days, anti-Semitism still has a bad name in Germany, at least under the law. It's illegal there to incite hatred against Jews (and other ethnic and religious groups) or to deny and even minimize the nation’s Nazi-era Holocaust crimes.

But that hasn't been enough to keep anti-Semitism from reemerging in Germany in a big way of late, particularly among the far-right and Muslim immigrants. I’ll say more below, but for now just keep this in mind: the Israel angle.

Germany, of course, isn't the only European nation to fall prey to a re-run of what many over the years have labeled the world’s oldest hatred. Examples abound in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary and elsewhere.

Nor is rising anti-Semitism in the West confined to Europe. It's being more freely expressed in the United States -- remember Charlottesville? -- and in Canada, as well.

By way of illustration, here’s a bit from a recent story from Poland by JTA, the global Jewish news wire service. (Journalists and others with an interest in Jewish-related news should read it regularly; it's free.)

Things went from bad to worse following a row between Poland and Israel over Warsaw passing a law in January that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. The dispute unleashed the worst wave of anti-Semitism since the fall of the Iron Curtain, according to Rafal Pankowski, co-founder of the Polish anti-racism group Never Again.

In the wake of the fight over the law, he told JTA: “In the space of one month, I have seen more anti-Semitic hate speech than in the previous 10 years combined.”

Ah, another Israel-angle tease. But first, a personal aside to make my bias clear.

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A rabbi (who belongs on your sources list) unpacks info on Orthodoxy and Zionism

A rabbi (who belongs on your sources list) unpacks info on Orthodoxy and Zionism

One of the oddest incidents during The Religion Guy’s decades on the beat was an annual Nation of Islam rally in Chicago led by Minister Louis Farrakhan (who was notably entangled with President Barack Obama’s former United Church of Christ pastor).

The oddity was that Farrakhan, America’s most prominent anti-Semite, invited Jewish rabbis to speak.

Not routine rabbis, of course, but spokesmen for Neturei Karta of Monsey, NY, a fierce faction of Orthodox Jews that condemns Zionism as “heresy” and accuses Israel of committing “aggression against all peoples.”

Orthodox Judaism’s traditional opposition to Zionism was a theme in Chaim Potok’s beloved 1967 novel “The Chosen” (a must-read for religion writers of all kinds). Potok depicted a friendship after World War Two between two Orthodox boys, the son of an ardent Zionist educator, and the heir to a Hasidic dynasty opposed to establishment of modern Israel.    

Reporters on foreign affairs, politics, and religion should be aware of Rabbi Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva University, whose latest column for the interfaith journal First Things discusses Orthodoxy and Zionism.  If not there already, carmy@yu.edu  belongs on your prime source list, since Orthodoxy is trickier to cover than Judaism’s other branches.   

Carmy makes a key point: “Secular journalists typically ascribe pockets of rigorously Orthodox antagonism to Zionism to the belief that Jews will only govern themselves in the land of Israel when the Messiah comes.”

That’s true for some Hasidic groups, he says. But historically, the rest of Orthodoxy had a different objection.

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Washington Post transportation desk digs into Christmas Wars about Metro advertising

Washington Post transportation desk digs into Christmas Wars about Metro advertising

Oh Christmas wars, oh Christmas wars, they make lawyers flock gladly.

Oh Christmas wars, oh Christmas wars, they drive the news clicks madly ...

Can somebody help me out here?

We really need some kind of Saturday Night Live worthy cold-open anthem that celebrates/mourns the role that First Amendment fights -- as opposed to waves of shopping-mall news -- now play during the weeks that lead up to the Holy Day once known as the Nativity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ (see "Christmas").

Most of these annual stories are sad jokes, but some have substance. The latest Washington Post report on the mass-transit advertising wars falls into the second category, raising real issues about public discourse (and the First Amendment) in our tense times.

The headline: "Is Metro waging war on Christmas? Archdiocese sues to post biblical-themed bus ads." Here's the low-key, serious overture:

The Archdiocese of Washington is suing Metro after the transit agency rejected an ad for the organization’s annual “Find the Perfect Gift” charitable campaign, which features a biblical Christmas scene.
In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, attorneys for the archdiocese argue that Metro’s ban on subway and bus ads that “promote . . . any religion, religious practice or belief” has infringed on the organization’s First Amendment rights. ...
The banner ads, designed to be placed on Metrobus exteriors, are relatively minimalist in their design. The display highlights the phrases “Find the Perfect Gift” and “#PerfectGift,” and includes a link to the campaign’s website, which encourages people to attend Mass or donate to a Catholic charitable groups. The words of the ad are overlaid on a tableau of a starry sky; in the corner are three figures bearing shepherd’s rods, along with two sheep.

As a 10-year (or more) regular on DC mass transit, I totally get why this is such a hot-button issue.

We're talking about messages displayed before some of the most tense, picky and politicized eyeballs on Planet Earth.

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Jesus was a Palestinian and similar claims that often cloud Middle East reporting

Jesus was a Palestinian and similar claims that often cloud Middle East reporting

In 2014, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israel, proclaimed himself a direct descendant of the ancient Canaanites, one of the tribes believed to have inhabited what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories prior to the Israelites’ arrival. Erekat did so while rejecting Israeli government insistence that Israel be recognized as a Jewish nation.

Erekat’s obvious point -- which he's made repeatedly, along with other Palestinian, Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders, as well as some Christian leaders who favor the Palestinian side -- is that Israel has no real claim to call itself a Jewish state. Moreover, goes this line of reasoning, Israel is, in fact, a purely colonial enterprise because the people we call Palestinians are descendants of the land’s true indigenous population.

According to this logic, it's not only today’s Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as part of their hoped-for nation state, who are colonizers. Rather it's all Jews, no matter where they live in Israel, because the Canaanite-Palestinian historical connection predates Israelite-Jewish claims on the land.

If you read Arabic, look at this piece from the Palestine Press for clarification of Erekat’s position. If not, here’s an English-language piece refuting Erekat from The Algemeiner, a right-leaning, New York-based Jewish print and web publication.

Western news media reports often pass along the Canaanite-Palestinian linkage claim unchallenged. This happens more often in opinion pieces than hard news stories. However, on occasion the claim makes its way into a bare bones, dueling assertions piece presented without clarifying context or background.

So here’s some context and background that religion-beat writers would do well to keep in mind.

To begin, biblical and archeological claims are difficult if not impossible to unequivocally substantiate historically.

The former is often a matter of interpretation rooted in faith, reason, culture -- or the rejection of all or any of them. This is true no matter whose faith claims are at issue.

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Can anti-Trump U.S. Jews and Muslims put aside historic differences to work together over time?

Can anti-Trump U.S. Jews and Muslims put aside historic differences to work together over time?

Negative circumstances can sometimes produce a surprisingly positive results. That's the case now with American Jews and Muslims as an outgrowth of the wave of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts currently making unwanted headlines.

An increasing number of groups and individuals within the two religious communities -- historically wary of cooperating because of their profound political differences over Israel and the causes of Islamic-inspired terrorism -- have come to each others' assistance in response to the incidents.

If you haven't kept up with this twist, the following stories can bring you up to speed.

This one's from USA Today. Here's a second from NBC News. And here's one from The Los Angeles Times.

It's a step forward when generally estranged communities come to each other's aid. But let's be realistic.

This new-found cooperation does not for a second offset the gravity of the hateful incidents, which have also impacted non-Muslim, non-white immigrants.

Nor does it mean that the cooperation will continue once the current crisis passes, which I certainly hope is soon. I say this because this scenario has played out before.

The 1994 Oslo peace accord signing is one such instance. American Jews and Muslims fervently embraced cooperation then, only to back away from each other when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heated up yet again. Anger and distrust on both sides forced the swift pull back.

So my advice to journalists covering this story is to be careful not to over inflate the strength of this cooperation.

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Elite newsrooms avoid 'liberal' issues, as Obama visits mosque with an interesting past

Elite newsrooms avoid 'liberal' issues, as Obama visits mosque with an interesting past

Present Barack Obama's visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in the old Catonsville suburb, was an event that was both important and symbolic for a number of reasons.

For starters, violence linked to the rise of the Islamic State, as well as acts of terrorism inspired by radicalized forms of Islam, have become a bloody normality in world headlines during the years of the Obama presidency. President Obama has attempted to maintain what his supporters argue is a graceful, calm stance on these trends in an attempt to avoid pouring gasoline on the flames. His critics insist that he has chosen blindness, for motives that remain unclear.

Oh, and then there are those bizarre numbers that keep showing up in polls whenever Americans are asked if they believe Obama is, in fact, a Muslim (despite his adult conversion into a liberal, oldline Protestant band of faith).

Thus, the speech at the Baltimore-area mosque received major coverage, as it should. Most of the coverage did a good job of covering, in glowing terms, the content of the Obama message (full text here). What puzzled me, however, was the lack of attention focused on the location. This left me -- as usual -- puzzled about current trends in "liberal" and "conservative" journalism. Hold that thought.

This passage in The Washington Post report captured the mainstream media tone:

The historic 45-minute speech at a large, suburban Baltimore mosque was attended by some of the country’s most prominent Muslims. In what appeared to be a counter to the rise in Islamophobia ...

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Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for The Washington Post to believe it, too? 

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classic model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem." My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete or lacking in context. Could it have been written from an editorial mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here?

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