Is Vern Anti-Semitic? rev 031119
The offending column is followed by correspondence
with officials of the Jewish community,
the November 14 opinion in The Jewish Chronicle, and others.
Vern's writing appears in blue; other writers appear in red.
Additional material appears in black. This color-coding is to make following the correspondence easier to follow.
Vern's position statement appears at this link.
031029 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
No teacher of world religions is regarded with greater affection than Huston Smith. Even before the 1996 PBS series with Bill Moyers on what Smith calls ``the wisdom traditions,'' Smith was widely known for his book, ``The World's Religions,'' which has sold millions of copies to several generations. His impeccable personal relationships with many faiths, through family connections and travel, make his scholarship a love affair with humanity as well as the divine.
Smith was in town last week-end to honor Elbert Cole, his 1938-39 roommate at Central Methodist College, on Cole's retirement as director of Shepherd's Centers of America. Cole founded the movement in 1972 to provide seniors with new opportunities to learn and to enrich society.
Cole asked Smith to help those at the conference to understand commonalties among Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Smith said these faiths were revealed by the same God but took different forms as appropriate to the language, culture, and times of those to whom they were given.
He noted historical respect between Muslims and Jews, but that the boundary between Christianity and Islam has often been contested, which has led to persistent stereotypes, one of which is that Islam is a violent religion. Smith presented a scholar's view that Islam may have been less violent than Christianity, but recently violence has been nurtured within Islam.
In an interview later, Smith said resentment of the West in the Muslim world arises in part from the way the West conquered it and chopped up it up into artificial states like Iraq and Israel, and from the West's support for corrupt and oppressive regimes.
As he spoke to me, Smith seemed almost overwhelmed by sorrow over the Middle East where there is ``too little land and too much history.'' Where formerly the American Jewish community questioned Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, ``now it is silent'' as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "by his actions, seems determined to force the Muslims into such a desperate situation that they will leave and Israel will take all the land.''
Smith described these as ``shocking, disgusting, and tragic developments'' that impede interfaith relations because those concerned hesitate to speak for fear of being called anti-Semitic.
479. 031105 EXCERPT from the column of the following week
An area Jewish leader wrote me to complain that my column last week makes
readers think ``that the American Jewish community doesn't question settlements
and supports Sharon in his desire to force Muslims to leave Israel so they
can take all the land.''
You wonder why the Jewish community sometimes has an issue with you. Putting Iran and Israel with the words corrupt and oppressive in the same sentence might just make a few people wonder how you really feel about the democratic Jewish State of Israel.
And then using quotes from Smith that make readers think that the American Jewish community doesn't question settlements and supports Sharon in his desire to force Muslims to leave Israel so they can take all the land certainly doesn't advance your supposed cause to bring Jews and Muslims together.
I am disappointed that you refer to the enemy of Israel as Muslims (there are Christian Palestinian suicide murderers as well) and that you don't even mention why Israel is at war with people who kill innocent men, women and children on buses and in cafes.
Better luck next time in your efforts to foster peace and understanding...
[official of a major
Jewish organization in Kansas City]
All of your points are worthy of consideration.
1. Smith did specifically name Iraq and Israel, together. I had never thought of the creation of Israel in the same way as Iraq, but in a general sort of way -- both states being created by Western powers -- I see his point. It startled me and I like the challenge of contemplating a fresh way of looking at an old situation. As for Israel being corrupt and oppressive -- read the Israeli newspapers. As you know, even Jews have been denied certain rights unless they are Orthodox.
2. I am very aware
that many of my Jewish friends question the settlements, but I think the
thrust of what Smith was saying has the ring of truth to it -- the
JCRB ad, for example, does not allow much latitude for those of us (Jewish
and non-Jewish) who support Israel but question the Sharon policies. Perhaps
I should have helped Smith be clearer that he was referring to the stance
taken by many leading pro-Israeli organizations in America rather than
every single Jewish person. However, he spoke to me in great pain
about how he can no longer discuss these matters with Jewish friends who
are themselves not officials of Jewish organizations. There may be more
truth than falsehood in the impression the column gives.
3. I do not agree with you that quoting Smith -- to the effect that Sharon "by his actions" seems to be establishing the facts on the ground to realize the hope of some settlers and other fanatics to take all the land -- fails to advance my desire to bring Jews and Muslims together. I think giving Smith a voice in my column provides a rare opportunity for the Jewish community to see how others see them, and thus I should be thanked for extending the benefit of honesty to my friends in both the Jewish and Muslim communities. You will note that I also mentioned that Smith said "recently violence has been nurtured within Islam." I would like to remind both Jewish and Muslim communities that violence is no answer. Is my friendship with Jews conditioned on keeping silent about what someone as distinguished and knowledgeable as Smith says?
4. Of course you are right that there are Christian Palestinians as well as Muslim Palestinians. At least some Christians remain. I think you are right that my column is defective in this way, and while I have made this point in other columns, it should have been acknowledged in this one as well.
5. If I were to mention why Israel is "at war," I would have to mention why Palestinians have resorted to suicide bombings. Such an account is beyond the scope of my column. It would also lead to a discussion of the morality of the strategy -- such as, what is the best way to protect Israelis? Most of the world has the opinion that the violence against Israelis might be reduced by abandoning the provocative settlements. This seems to be an important element in the so-called Road Map advanced by the US Bush administration with the others of the Quartet. Even Thomas Friedman has said that every military strategy offered by Sharon has failed (NYTimes Oct 16). The war Sharon is fighting (and, in my view, initiated since he, not Arafat, broke off the Taba talks, not to mention the provocation of the Temple Mount visit) has increased the violence. Remember, he promised when elected to eliminate the violence in, what was it, two months? Three years later, the tragedy worsens, with over twice as many Palestinians killed as Israelis, many of them as innocent as the Israelis.
6. I hope you saw my column on Sukkot.
7. One way for the Jewish and Muslim communities to grow together is for each of them to admit their own sins. I hear a lot from Muslims denouncing those who misuse their faith as a justification for violence. I don't hear much from the Jewish community in Kansas City denouncing Israeli sins.
8. You have every right to make others aware that you regard my column as seriously flawed. I earnestly hope you will use this occasion to write an "As I See It" column or letter to the editor setting forth your own questions about settlements and letting the readers know that many Jews question the Sharon government.
that you took the trouble to write me, and
Dear Rev. Barnet, I read your Wednesday column with great dismay. If Israel is an "artificial" state, then so is the United States. Too little land in the Middle East? Israel makes up a fraction of a percent of the land mass of the Middle East. Too much history? Are the Jews to apologize for having survived? You seem to suggest (albeit behind the voice of Mr. Smith) that Arab hostility toward Israel is Israel's fault. How, then, explain that hostility before Israel so much as put up a single settlement? And you need to listen better to the "American Jewish" community. The day it is silent -- on Israel or any other issue -- is the day, I'm convinced, the messiah will arrive. There is anything but silence on Israel's settlement policies. But there is virtual unanimity that the attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel -- the only state in the world subject to such treatment -- is nothing more than old-fashioned Judeophobia.
[not an official of the Jewish community]
0. First let me say how grateful I am that you wrote. [Personal compliment omitted on this public web site.]
1. I think you make a very good point about the impression the column gives
regarding disagreements within the Jewish community about settlement policies.
After this was pointed out to me by another writer, I prepared a note for
my next column apologizing for this impression.
2. To me, your other concerns seem to be less on the mark. Yes, the US could be considered an "artificial state" but the REASON Smith brought up the artificiality of Israel and Iraq is to EXPLAIN why Muslim resentment. I think in the context my column provided, Smith's comments make sense, whether we agree with them or not.
3. I think what Smith means by his often repeated phrase, "too little land, too much history," is simply that various interests are competing. I see no favoritism in the comment.
4. Just because Jews, thank God, have survived (and made great contributions to the world, including to Islam) does not justify the settlement policies. I am surprised you would seem to think that survival justifies any behavior on Israel's part.
5. I do not know enough history to judge whether Arab hostility is Israel's fault, but if you read the column another way, I think you might see that Smith lays the blame not on Israel but on the colonial designs which did not take adequate account of the situation "on the ground." I never heard him once say anything that could fairly be interpreted as Judeophobic. He spoke lovingly of his daughter who converted to Judaism -- before she met the Jewish man who became her husband, and other family relationships. If you read his book The World's Religions, you surely will find that he engenders enormous and deserved respect for Judaism.
6. I doubt that the explanation you seek -- for hostility to Israel before
the settlements began -- would be difficult to discover. I am not saying
it is justified, but there are explanations. I do not believe those explanations
include substantial anti-Semitism, but rather grow out of property, water
rights, and such disputes. [personal comment of respect omitted from this
public web site]
7. I do hope you distinguish criticism of Sharon from attempts to "demonize and delegitimize Israel." I worry that people of unquestionable good will like Smith themselves become demonized in expressing their desire for peace and security for Israel and others in the region when they dare to question Sharon's policies. In this context, your implication of Judeophobia may not be merited.
*. Again, I appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing. I hope my comments, while they may be disagreeable, somehow provide you with a different perspective at least on the intent of the column. If I can do anything else to reassure you of my deep regard for the Jewish tradition and desire for the integrity and security of Israel, please let me know. As I say, I have prepared an apology on the point I mentioned at the outset. I also ask you to look at the many columns I have written highlighting the Jewish tradition with deep respect. Please write again about this if you wish, and certainly at any time you feel I have been unfair.
Vern Barnet (Guardian
Fierce rebuke exposes rift between military and government
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Israel's army chief has exposed
deep divisions between the military and
Ya'alon also told Israeli journalists in an
Gen Ya'alon had apparently
hoped his anonymous criticisms would strengthen
But the comments were so
devastating that he was swiftly revealed as the
The statements - which a
close associate characterised to the Israeli press
The criticism is made all
the more searing because Gen Ya'alon is not known
The general warned that the
continued curfews, reoccupation of towns and
"In our tactical decisions,
we are operating contrary to our strategic
Earlier this week, army commanders
in the West Bank told the military
"There is no hope, no expectations
for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,
The commanders warned that
the situation was strengthening Hamas, a view the
Mr Sharon and Mr Mofaz were
reportedly furious at the general's statements
Anonymous sources in the
prime minister's office were quoted in the Israeli
But army radio reported yesterday
that the foreign minister, Silvan Shalom,
Gen Ya'alon also waded into
one of the most contentious issues of the day by
He said the military had
warned that the fence, which digs deep into
Further questions were raised
yesterday after the chairman of parliament's
In response to questions
about Gen Ya'alon's comments, the army's chief
"No uniformed officer has
expressed criticism of the government. The
Dear Rev. Barnet,
I must affirm the sentiments expressed in an e-mail you received earlier today from [name omitted on this public web site], regarding the comments of Huston Smith.
As an American Jew, I am opposed to Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. It is ridiculous for anyone to say that Jews in America, Israel and around the world have stopped voicing opposition to these settlements.
At the same time, I am fully aware that there are two sides to this conflict and Israel does not shoulder all of the blame. How else does one explain the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, at a time when the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip were under Arab control? Many persons in the Arab world were intent on destroying Israel long before these settlements existed.
To say the least, I found your reporting of Smith's remarks one-sided in the extreme.
[ not an official of the Jewish community ]
Dear Mr [not an official of the Jewish community]:
As I told [your friend], I am very grateful when people write me about a column I have written. I think it is extremely important for all of us in a democracy to share our perspectives with each other, and to call each other to account when we make indefensible statements.
I append my response to [your friend]. You will note that I have prepared an apology regarding the impression my column gives that the American Jewish community supports the settlements. You will also note that I don't think that some in the local Jewish leadership have done much to encourage discussion on this point. The effort has been to align with "fundamentalist" Christian churches and -- perhaps more recently "mainstream" churches -- to mute criticism of current Israeli policies.
In addition to my apology, I wonder if you think that a remedy for the widespread impression voiced by Smith may be for Jewish persons such as yourself to make your objection to the settlements known to such Jewish leadership as the JCRB/AJC and to the public.
I am not an expert on Middle East history, but my impression is -- to respond to your question about the founding of the PLO -- is that the Palestinians in that organization sought the destruction of Israel at that time. Much has changed since then, and -- alas -- much remains the same.
I presume [your friend] shared his email with you, so I imagine [he] will not mind my sharing my response to him. I am sending him a copy of this email.
Again, I really appreciate your taking the trouble to write about the column and hope you will write again in this important commitment we have to fair exchange. This is critical around issues which cause us to experience our pain and aspirations so deeply.
Your recent article in this weeks Star once was very troubling. I won't bother to even try and dispute the inaccuracy and blatant lie to the point of those who are critical of Israel being labeled anti-semitic, or deal with the myth of the settlements being the primary reason why there is not peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I will only ask you why you so totally ignore what is truly anti-semitic and unhelpful to Moslem-Jewish relations by not denouncing the remarks of the now former Prime Minister of Malaysia? You consistently seem to find room in your column to give ink to those critical of Israel, but in no way seek whatever moderate Moslem voices may exist to criticize those followers of Islam who seek to destroy the chance of Islamic-Jewish-Christian peaceful coexistence. Shame on you! You give me little faith with which to believe your credibility as an honest broker for interfaith programs of peace in this community.
Senior official of a major Jewish organization]
1. You raise the issue of whether those who are critical of Israel are in danger of being labeled anti-Semitic. (Actually, your complaint misreads the column. I did not write that those who criticize Israel are labeled anti-Semitic, but rather that Smith said ''those concerned hesitate to speak for fear of being called anti-Semitic.) The column was more narrowly focused, not on criticism of Israel but, as I understand Smith, on Sharon policies. I would agree with you that generalizing that ALL of those who are critical of either Sharon or Israel are NOT in danger of being characterized as anti-Semitic, but certainly SOME are, and I am one example, having been labeled as such by some in Kansas City, and I know many others who feel inhibited in this way. Smith does not say that criticism results in such labeling, but he did say that the FEAR of being called anti-Semitic impedes interfaith relations. I believe he is correct. It seems pretty obvious, actually. Please do not distort the words that actually appear in the column.
2. Smith did not say that the settlements were the "primary reason why there is not peace between Israel and the Palestinians." That is your language, not his, and it does not appear in the column. I do not quote Smith on the question of what the primary cause for the lack of peace is because that was not the subject of the interview, nor did he express an opinion about it. The question we were dealing with was interfaith relations, not the primary reason for the conflict.
3. I did initiate discussion of the remarks by the now former Prime
Minister of Malaysia this week, along with the troublesome Gibson movie,
at this week's meeting of the Interfaith Council. With Rabbi Horwitz's
support in response to my raising the issue, a committee is considering
how to respond to these outrageous attacks on the integrity of the Jewish
heritage. I have previously written about the Gibson movie in a Star column
August 13; perhaps you missed that column, so I include it at the end of
this response to you. The current issue of my organization's newsletter
reports on the controversy about the former PM's remarks. There are many
outrages I have not written about in my once-a-week column which is usually
focused on Kansas City, not Malaysia.
4. Further, you complain that I "in no way seek whatever moderate Moslem
voices may exist to criticize those followers of Islam who seek to destroy
the chance of Islamic-Jewish-Christian peaceful coexistence." Again, you
ignore my work in the community, as well as my many columns on the subject,
several resolutions of the Interfaith Council which I prepared, and particularly
the discussion on pages 34-38 of the Jackson County report. I particularly
want to draw your attention to the item quoted from The Star on
page 36 by Tanweer Papa. As he can tell you, I was the one who urged
him to write this piece, and advised him in preparing it. When a Jewish
person wrote the Task Force deriding Papa's comments, I sought and obtained
the clarification from Papa also included in the Task Force report. Perhaps
you have not taken the trouble to read this important document, and I would
advise you to do so. Surely you are aware of my vigorous efforts to resolve
the misunderstanding between the Islamic School and Hyman Brand. These
are two of many examples I could give. And there are the numerous forums
around town I have assisted in arranging to give those moderate voices
You wrote with understandable
and admirable passion. I hope reminding you of these various factors will
moderate your response as you reflect. I am sending a copy of this to [Name]
who wrote me in a constructive manner. And I am very pleased that you took
the trouble to write me directly, and I appreciate any opportunity for
an open exchange of views. Because of [Name's] helpful critique, I have
prepared, as I say, an apology about one point that
I believe, on reflection, was poorly handled in this past Wednesday's column.
And I certainly would welcome any additional frank exchange with you. I
am ready to admit errors and do my best to correct them once they are pointed
out to me. I believe democracy thrives with the free exchange of views,
and that this process can be mutually corrective. I stand ready to do my
part in the dialogue. I hope the length of this response, and the trouble
I have taken in preparing it as soon as possible on receipt of your email,
indicates the respect I have for you and the organization you represent.
467. 030813 THE STAR'S
A recent study says
violence, discrimination and harassment against Muslims in the U.S. increased
15% last year. Protestant Senators have accused Catholic Senators of being
anti-Catholic because they oppose the nomination of a Catholic to a federal
judgeship. Christian conservatives complain about court rulings that "under
God" does not belong in the Pledge of Allegiance. In Europe, anti-Semitism
seems to be growing.
FEB 8 FOLLOW-UP REPORT [to the Interfaith Council] FROM VERN:
CHRONICLE STORY.-- At a lunch meeting January 24, I meet with Rick Hellman (editor of The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle), and Ahmed El-Sherif (a Muslim), Allan Abrams (Jewish), Diane Hershberger (KC Harmony executive director), and David Nelson (Council chair) about the "Blood Libel" story. Rick said he did not reply to my January 6 inquiry about the alleged statement until the Jan 17 story appeared in his paper because he did not want me to write about it before he did, even though he first learned about it from me, which he called a "tip." I was dismayed that my early effort to reach out to him was seen as competitive rather than cooperative.
We discussed the fact that many Muslims were prepared to offer their condemnations, and that he knowingly chose not to include such statements in the story although his publication schedule provided no impediment to such inclusion. We discussed the opinion that the way the story was handled and labeled was incendiary and the opinion that the story unnecessarily placed the Muslim community on the defensive. He felt the story was appropriate for the front page and the way it was handled because of the issues it raises for the Jewish community, and said he would welcome follow-up material from the Muslim community. He felt there was no obligation on his part to seek out such condemnations to be published with the original breaking story. He could not explain why the story had been held for three months by the JCRB/AJC which apparently had done nothing with the story during that time. It had not contacted KC Harmony, NCCJ, the Interfaith Council, the Diversity Task Force, for example, and did not return my Jan 3, Jan 6, Jan 11, or Jan 13 inquiries until after the story was published.
of the purposes of the Interfaith Council is "to work with media and with
educational and religious leaders and groups in promoting accurate and
fair portrayal of the faiths."
ADDITIONAL NOTES ABOUT THE CHRONICLE STORY:
A January 3 email complaint from Judy Hellman of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau about my column in the Kansas City Star on January 1 included the statement that "A local Imam spoke at an area college recently and stated that Israel and the Jews were responsible for the horrors of 9/11." I immediately requested information so I could verify this and condemn such a statement.
I wrote her again on January 6 and received no reply. That same day I also wrote her son, Rick Hellman, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, for any information he might have had. Before noon he wrote back, "This is the first I've heard about this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Of course, I would like to find out more about it. Can you tell me what college or person is allegedly involved, or any other information?" I responded by saying that the only information I had came from the source, whom I did not identify.
On January 8 I wrote rabbis and several others in the community for information. One responded with additional suggestions to contact, which I did. I wrote KU Hillel and a scholar at UMKC, I contacted a reporter at The Star. I spent a great deal of time trying to track down the story. No one had information. That same day I wrote Marvin Szneler, head of the JCRB/AJC. On Jan 11, I repeated my request for information to Judy. To date, I have not has any response from her.
I heard nothing from Rick until Jan 16, the night before publication, when he emailed me the text of the story. The next day I picked up the printed version and discovered it was the only story on the front page of the Jan 17 Jewish Chronicle.
On Jan 16 Marvin called my message-only phone, though he has been given my unlisted direct and cell phone numbers and used them in the past. I did not retrieve the message until Friday. His office was closed when I tried returning the call. Respecting the sabbath, I waited until Sunday, Jan 19, to return his call, at his home. I asked him when he learned about the story. He said in October. He said that when people don't want you to talk about something, you have to respect their wishes. Marvin turned the conversation into a rant against my January 1 column, a column which I wrote last April, and about many other things he has complained about before. Instead of seeking to solve a problem and move ahead, Marvin's tone was to rehearse grievances. He, like The Chronicle has done, demeans and belittles my efforts in the community. He praised the interfaith work done by the JCRB/AJC. He promised me to send me the JCRB/AJC statement following 9/11; to date he has not.
I do not understand why Rick's mother shared the charge first with me about the incident, and not with her own son, or why she would seem to expect me to condemn something that no one I contacted seemed to have any information about without giving me an opportunity to verify the information.
I do not understand why the report of a three- or four-months-old incident was the inflammatory front page story (the only story), why it was written in such a way that Jewish friends I spoke with thought it was about an incident that had just happened, and why the Islamic Society was given about a day to investigate the charges and to respond to Marvin's demands in the article (when will you stop beating your wife?) that the Muslim community has been spreading such anti-Semitic statements. I do not understand why my strenuous efforts to obtain information so that I could assist the Jewish community in obtaining Muslim condemnations of the alleged statement were ignored before publication of the article. I do not understand why the story has such urgency that it could not have been held for one more week while the Muslim community had a chance to prepare an informed response. If as Marvin says, people who don't want you to talk about the story have to have their wishes respected, does this mean that when they do decide to talk, Muslims should be forced into immediate response?
[Professor] Milton Katz [who taught the class where the offensive statements were reported to have been made] told me it would not have bothered him in the least if the story had been delayed so that the Islamic Center had had more of an opportunity to consider a response, and that I could have assisted the Jewish community in bringing Muslims to condemn the statement in question. He was able to keep Rick from immediate publication by insisting that Rick have an opportunity to talk with students. He agreed that it would have been better if I had been called before the story appeared in order to enable adequate Muslim response. It is difficult for me to understand why Marvin did not respond to my inquiry so I could have helped.
If The Chronicle
wants to be part of bridge-building, a headline such as "Muslims join Jews
in condemning 9/11 accusation" would have been far better than the inflammatory
"Blood Libel," front-page headline. Judy, Marvin and Rick all know of my
desire to assist any religious community to work things out. The 3-month
old incident reported in such a way to give the casual reader the impression
that the incident was current, seems to have been designed to place Muslims
on the defensive, to make them reactive, instead of using the opportunity
to build a bridge. If Rick had the chance to contact Rabbi Abraham Cooper
in Los Angels about the story and do internet research, why did he not
contact me when I was the one who apparently first alerted him to
the story and have the contacts to make a joint Jewish-Muslim denunciation
an effective way of settling the issue, instead of perpetuating and deepening
suspicion about motives and hidden agendas? Instead of the focus being
on the outrageous statement itself, poor journalism and poor community
relations become the
5. FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES October 28, 2003
A Willful Ignorance
*By PAUL KRUGMAN* [Jewish]
According to The New York
Times, President Bush was genuinely surprised
Mr. Bush's ignorance may
reflect his lack of curiosity: "The best way to
But there's something broader
going on: a sort of willful ignorance,
Last week I found myself
caught up in that struggle. I wrote about why
Yet that moral punctiliousness
is curiously selective. Last year the
Why is aiding a brutal dictator
O.K., while trying to understand why
The answer is that in these
cases politics takes priority over the war
Muslims are completely wrong
to think that the U.S. is engaged in a war
Which brings me back to my
starting point: we'll lose the fight against
6. critic [2003 Nov 5] [appeared in The Star Nov 9]
for publication in Star, sent in last week
Huston Smith, as quoted by Rev. Vern Barnet in his column of October 29, says that "resentment of the West in the Muslim world arises in part from the way the West conquered it and chopped it up into artificial states like Iraq and Israel and from the West's support for corrupt and oppressive regimes."
The idea that Israel is an "artificial" state is just a half-step away from saying that it really should never have been created in the first place and has no right to exist. But when such a quote appears in a column by Rev. Barnet, who never misses an opportunity to smear Israel, this is no great surprise. Perhaps he has forgotten how to critique those who rejected the Oslo accords and the Wye agreements?
Smith complains that the American Jewish community used to question Israeli settlements, but "now it is silent." Not really. The debate in America about the wisdom of certain settlements--and certainly in Israel--continues actively. Jews tend to be the most self-critical people around, a characteristic which most people find refreshing. It's just that there is a lot MORE noise about the evils of terrorism. And why was Israel such a problem to the Muslim world before the Six-Day War, when there were no settlements? But Rev. Barnet and Huston Smith can't find room for that in their analysis without blaming Israelis, the victims of terrorism and the genocidal education which pervades much of the Muslim world.
Such foolishness does not promote interfaith understanding, let alone growth within the Muslim community.
6. response [2003 Nov 5]
You are more generous with these critics than I would be. I think your diplomacy will help you take the high road. Your replies are detailed and respectful. My tendency is to focus on the real flaw in the thinking of the critics, something you are not, I don't think, comfortable doing. Here is a sample of how I might target the problem in their thinking.
"Criticizing the particular *behaviors* and *policies* of Israel or the Palestinians or the Americans or the French or the KU Jawhawk basketball team is distinct from criticizing their identity, their rights, their racial or national or cultural characteristics. I don't like many of Sharon's violent policies towards Palestinians and his settlement policies in the West Bank. I don't like the Hamas and Islamic Jihad policy of attacking Israeli civilians, either in the illegal settlements or in (pre-1967) Israel. I think both particular sets of policies and the behaviors they lead to are immoral and counterproductive. Anti-semitic means to oppose Jews. I am not anti-Semitic. I am anti-illegal-violence. The difference is crucial."
I don't think my bluntly stated behavior/identity distinctions nor your diplomatic explanations will convince those who don't want to make such distinctions out of blind loyalty.
I appreciate your
notes and comments on the recent condition we live in. I am concerned that
our Jewish friends in the faith community, a tradition I respect, are too
sensitive to see the point. What is happening in Gaza, Rafah, and Jeneen
and many other places in the West Bank and Gaza may not get headline news
in our mainstream media, but indeed it is reaching millions of people via
the internet and alternative ways.
With sincere respect,
9. [published in The Star Nov 9, 2003]
Once again Vern Barnet is telling partial truths in his ongoing Israel-bashing crusade.
Certainly he does not morally equate Israel, a democratic country with a free press, with Iraq, a country until recently under the control of a corrupt dictator who threatened to kill all who opposed him.
Barnet keeps forgetting that:
1) The Jews have been a continual tenant of this area since biblical times. They made their entrance into the land of Israel with Joshua about 1200 B.C., a few years before the "West conquered it and chopped it up into artificial states."
2) The U.N. 1947 partition of Palestine gave both the Palestinians and Israelis land. Had not nine Arab countries launched a joint attack on the newborn state of Israel, the Palestinians would have had their own country 55 years ago. Further, if their Arab brothers had acted in 1948 to relieve the Palestinians' plight, then these unfortunates would not, for the past two generations, have been living in camps of squalor and poverty.
3) Finally: If the Palestinians put down their weapons, there would be peace; if the Israelis put down their weapons, they would be annihilated.
10. Confusing Criticism
I will never forget my first trip to Israel. I was a teenager and excited beyond words at the very idea of being in the land that had for me, until then, existed only in my dreams.
For me, Israel “began” as soon as I saw the El Al plane that would take me there. With the blue and white Star of David emblazoned on its tail, the plane itself symbolized the most important thing about Israel: its role as sanctuary for Jews. Not only did Israel exist, but a fleet of jets could whisk us there if some disaster threatened in the diaspora.
That is why I was disheartened to read in Yediot Achronoth that two weeks ago, El Al began plastering white stickers over the flag on some flights to cover the plane’s Israeli identity. “In a nocturnal operation, El Al workers covered the Israeli flag and its insignia with special stickers. From the ground the planes appears almost entirely white, with no identifying marks,” Yediot reported.
The reason for this precaution is that El Al, the safest and most security conscious airline in the world, wants to make it more difficult for terrorists with shoulder-carried ground-to-air missiles to know when an El Al plane is taking off or coming in for landing.
It is a sensible measure and one that will probably need to be taken from time to time. It is also one of the simpler precautions El Al is taking. It is well-known in the airline industry that El Al is also employing measures to ensure that its planes, unlike any other passenger planes except Air Force One and Two, have the ability to deter a missile attack.
Nevertheless, it is a sad symbol of the times. Naturally, the people to blame are the terrorists who would not think twice about taking out a civilian airliner when and if they had the chance. But it also points to the horrors of the Mideast status quo. Israel has been in a struggle with the Arabs for a half century but, in all that time, El Al perceived no need to disguise its identity. Only now does it need to fly incognito.
course, the same situation that has produced extra caution at El Al has
also made Israel a fearful place over the past three years.
All this is well-reported. There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism worldwide. It’s ugly and vicious and, like any and all forms of racism, must be combated.
But it is also obvious that some of the danger Jews are now confronting derives not from traditional anti-Semitism but from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Look at France. Most of the violent acts of hate that have been directed at Jews there come from French Arabs (Moroccans and Algerians, mostly).
They are directly linked to feelings produced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have little if any connection to that hatred – once common in Europe and so homicidal – based on the idea of Jews as “Christ-killers” and members of a “perfidious race” (i.e. traditional anti-Semitism.) Certainly, ugly old fashioned anti-Semitism still exists, and the new strain, exported from the Middle East, is particularly virulent.
But it’s wrong to confuse it with the strong feelings against Israeli policies that have emerged among some mainstream Europeans. These only became widespread after the outbreak of the intifada. During the years of the peace process, Yitzhak Rabin was the most popular foreign leader in most European countries and Shimon Peres remains popular. Obviously, anti-Semites do not distinguish between Jews let alone Israelis.
The line separating legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from anti-Semitism is only crossed when criticism of Israel moves from opposition to Israeli policies to calling for the eradication of Israel as a state. After all, the usual stance in criticizing foreign governments is to call for reform or even revolution. But calling for Israel’s annihilation is obviously anti-Semitic; if it isn’t, the word has no meaning.
Thankfully, that is not what most of the critics are saying. They are criticizing Israel’s policies -- usually its policies in the West Bank and Gaza -- not its existence. In this they are joined by many, many Israelis. According to today’s newspapers both the IDF chief-of-staff and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom are saying that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians are damaging not only to Palestinians, but to Israel’s security.
Sometimes criticism demonstrates more care than blind “support” does.
This is something American Jews need to understand. If they did, they would not hail as Israel's "stalwart friends" those politicians who cheer on Israeli policies which are harming Israel. Nor would they honor Members of Congress who introduce or co-sponsor those “Israel: right or wrong resolutions” which demonize Palestinians, offer no ideas for a solution, and help keep both people locked in their current predicament.
That isn't friendship and it's not support. It's just politics.
real friends are those who try to help Israel and its leaders end the cycle
Prime Minister Sharon said yesterday that he was ready to negotiate with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. The Bush administration needs to make that happen and Congress needs to encourage Bush, rather than threaten him if he dares show leadership.
MJ Rosenberg (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report. If you have colleagues or friends who would appreciate receiving this weekly letter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
views expressed in IPF Friday are those of MJ Rosenberg and not necessarily
Israel Policy Forum.
11a. comment on The Chronicle story above
©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2003 Reader Opinions
Date: Nov, 15 2003
11b. comment on The Chronicle story above
©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2003 Reader Opinions
Date: Nov, 16 2003
This article and
the above response are very thought provoking. My comments are mainly in
response to the above letter. I agree that dialogue is good.
11c. comment on The Chronicle story above
©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2003 Reader Opinions
Date: Nov, 17 2003
11d. comment on The Chronicle story above
©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2003 Reader Opinions
Date: Nov, 15 2003
11. Vern's response
With the extensive material already posted above, a further detailed response may be unnecessary. If anyone has specific questions that cannot be answered by the statement below (posted before The Chronicle opinion appeared) or the documentation presented above, I will do my best to provide a prompt reply.
Those who care about Israel, including even me. Vern Barnet, have every right, indeed a duty, to express their concern for Israel in appropriate ways when they believe it is being led to futher injury from those who wish to destroy Israel.
My Answer [placed on this website the week before The Jewish Chronicle "Opinion" above appeared -- see two paragraphs above]
From the earliest age, I learned deep respect for Jews and the Jewish tradition from my mother's teaching and example. My interest in interfaith work grew out of appreciation for the wealth of Jewish wisdom.Vern Barnet, 2003
The following statement was prepared at the request of representatives of the Jewish community who told me that they think I am reluctant to condemn Palestinian violence because I fear I might lose Muslim friends. This statement was a good-faith effort to express my support for Israel, its security, and its peace, with all parties at the meeting given a subsequent chance to make suggestions, which we incorporated. Following the issuance of the statement, the response given in red below was made.
ANOTHER WAY OF SAYING IT . . . .Vern Barnet, 2005 Nov 7
RESPONSE FROM MARVIN SZNELER of the JEWISH COMMUNITY RELATIONS BUREAU/AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE
Rabbi Mark H. Levin, D.H.L., D.D.
Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park, Kansas
"Make no mistake: the battle for American hearts and minds is well underway. It is a battle we cannot afford to lose. We must make it clear to all that thousands of American lives were obliterated in an act of unjustified terrorism leveled not at Jews but at the United States; it was not a religious act but a political act; not because of Israel but because America stands for democracy, pluralism, and everything that fundamentalist, militant Islam and their minions abhor. How will you react if a coworker claims the blood bath occurred because the United States takes the side of Israel? That very thing happened to me yesterday in a supposedly non-political prayer service set up by Congressman Moore, where a Palestinian spokesperson, who had been told not to be political, unjustly exploited the opportunity to claim that the tragedy involved the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The next step would be to blame the power of American Jews, then us personally." [bolding and red added]
|The context for Levin's
For years I had worked amicably with
Rabbi Mark Levin and other rabbis. Levin was a member of the Jewish Christian
Muslim Dialogue Group which I coordinated. He has been a progressive leader
and supporter of interfaith work. I thought our personal relationship was
of friendship and collegiality. In fact I had excellent relations with
the official leadership of the Jewish community. The Jewish Community Relations
Bureau had in fact presented me with a "Distinguished Community Service
Award" when David Goldstein was the executive of that organization. That
good spirit of cooperation and trust evaporated when Marvin Szneler
Errors and comments, from minor to major
1. The event was an observance, not a prayer service. The Interfaith Council is very careful to be inclusive, and the word “service” is not used on the program. The word “prayer” is used only once, and only as an option under the heading, “A MOMENT OF SILENCE for prayer, meditation, or reflection” in order to be inclusive.
2. It is imprecise to say that the event was “set up” by Congressman Moore. He had no responsibility for shaping the event, selecting the speakers, designing the program, arranging the music, and such, which was prepared by the Interfaith Council. I did consult with his office, and the event was initiated by the Congressman in that he asked MAINstream Coalition for ideas about how to have a public event on Sept 16 that was inclusive; and from that, the contact between Moore’s office and the Council was made.
3. Ahmed El-Sherif, the speaker Levin refers to, is not Palestinian.
4. El-Sherif was not told not to be political. I did not tell Bob Meneilly or Mark Levin not to be political either. I wish I had, but it did not occur to me. My instructions, which none of them (including Levin) followed, was to present 90-second greetings on behalf of their faith communities.
5. El-Sherif did not say that the
“tragedy involved the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” He certainly did not
say that “the blood bath occurred because the United States takes the side
What El-Sherif said was this. He said that
the US might need to reexamine its foreign policy. It was later explained
to me that within the Jewish community this was interpreted as a way of
suggesting the US end its support for Israel. I did not understand it that
way, especially since El-Sherif elsewhere in his remarks explicitly said,
in front of an audience that included a large number of Muslims, that Israel
should be safe and secure. He also said that the Palestinians should likewise
be safe and secure.
Levin is careless and has not been completely
faithful in his words. *** Informed of such misunderstandings, he
said he would mention El-Sherif favorably in his Yom Kippur sermon. Only
when later pressed to provide the text of the sermon, did he admit that
he had not kept his word, and excused himself by saying it was no longer
appropriate to mention El-Sherif. *** He said that an article about
the Sept 16 observance would appear in the very next Chronicle.
It did not. ***
There are many other examples where Levin’s words
have not matched reality. This may be unintentional and careless, but it
is not possible to rely on his report on what was said September 16. I
have an extensive file of email exchanges with him, which I submitted to
a third party with his knowledge for professional examination, from which
I believe this concern is justified.
—Vern Barnet, firstname.lastname@example.org
Why I don't write about the State of Israel
In 2003, I interviewed world-beloved scholar and author of the most used book on world religions, Huston Smith. My assignment since 1994 has been to write about interfaith issues. You can find this particular column at http://www.cres.org/star/star2003.htm#478.
A local rabbi, Rabbi Alan Cohen, sent a private letter to The Star complaining that I should write about religion only, not politics. As a result, I have been advised against mentioning subjects relating to the State of Israel.
I thought the rabbi was a friend of mine, so I asked to visit with him. It was difficult to get an appointment with him, but after more than a month's delay, we met.
I promised (and kept my promise) not to argue with him but simply ask questions with a view to understand how he separated politics and religion in the Middle East (it is common for rabbis to preach in support of Israel and raise money for the State in their Shabbat sermons). I went to the meeting with a list of questions on my yellow pad. When it was clear the rabbi did not know that I had mentioned that Smith said that "recently violence had been nutured within Islam," I departed from my list of questions to ask one question I did not prepare: "You did read my column, didn't you?"
The rabbi said No, he wrote the letter on the basis of excerpts that had been supplied to him. During the meeting I did not comment on this lack of elementary fairness, to write a complaint about a column without reading it, but simply continued with my questions because I was told, "these are very powerful people."
My column was followed by a full-page article in The KC Jewish Chronicle entitled, "Is Vern Barnet Anti-Semitic," full of distortions and outright lies. At the time I was head of the Interfaith Council. The first of my many awards in Kansas City for interfaith work came from the Jewish Community Relations Bureau, which until the retirement of its wonderful leader, was a great force for interfaith understanding. The political shifts in Israel also affected the situation here.
In 2011 the rabbi approached me after a panel discussion he helped to arrange about Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures -- with no Muslim on the panel. I think he wanted to confront me because a member of the audience had raised the question of no Muslim participation and wrongly assumed I had planted the question.
The confrontation the rabbi initiated in front of witnesses led to my recitation of the history of his letter complaining about my column and the statement he made during the subsequent discussion I had with him that he had not even read the column he was complaining about, but wrote on the basis of excerpts that had been supplied to him.
His response, with no hint of apology,
in front of witnesses, was That's in the past; we need to look forward.
Click on the tree to visit the CRES home
page -- and other linked pages.