Category Archives: Faith-based

Archbishop Tutu barred by U. of St Thomas because of criticism of Israel

Rumors have been circulating for some time that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was banned by the University of St Thomas in Minnesota because of statements he made that some consider anti-Semitic. Now it’s official: winning the Nobel Peace Prize doesn’t protect you from charges of anti-Semitism if you criticize Israeli human rights violations. Neither, apparently, does being one of the most compelling voices for social justice in the world today, or even getting an honorary degree from and giving the commencement address at Brandeis.


Minneapolis/St.Paul’s City Pages just reported that members of the St Thomas Justice and Peace Studies program were thrilled when Bishop Tutu agreed to speak at the University– but administrators did a scientific survey of the Jews of Minneapolis, which included querying exactly one spokesperson for Minnesota’s Jewish Community Relations Council and several rabbis who taught in a University program– and concluded that Tutu is bad for the Jews and should therefore be barred from campus.

…in a move that still has faculty members shaking their heads in disbelief, St. Thomas administrators—concerned that Tutu’s appearance might offend local Jews—told organizers that a visit from the archbishop was out of the question.

“We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy,” says Doug Hennes, St. Thomas’s vice president for university and government relations. “We’re not saying he’s anti-Semitic. But he’s compared the state of Israel to Hitler and our feeling was that making moral equivalencies like that are hurtful to some members of the Jewish community.”

St. Thomas officials made this inference after Hennes talked to Julie Swiler, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“I told him that I’d run across some statements that were of concern to me,” says Swiler. “In a 2002 speech in Boston, he made some comments that were especially hurtful.”

Just to send the message home, Swiler says

“I think there’s a consensus in the Jewish community that his words were offensive.”

To be clear here, Swiler and the other rabbis have the right to say whatever they think, though representing those opinions, as Swiler does, as a Jewish consensus, is laughable.

Ultimately, groups like Minnesota’s JCRC, the right wing fringe group Zionist Organization of America, and the increasingly embarrassing Anti-Defamation League, who have all attacked Tutu for his criticism of Israeli policies, will face the consequences of smearing Tutu –a hero to millions and leader of a movement that was known for the massively disproportionate involvement of numerous South African Jews.

But it’s the craven behavior of the administrators of St. Thomas that will likely be a mark of shame for years to come. While it’s understandable, given the Church’s history of virulent anti-Semitism, that a Catholic institution would be extra sensitive about relations with Jews, it’s not clear here that there was any real pressure to cave in to. Did groups threaten to picket? Who knows what administrators were thinking?

Regardless, the backlash has already begun. Marv Davidov, an adjunct professor within the Justice and Peace Studies program said:

“As a Jew who experienced real anti-Semitism as a child, I’m deeply disturbed that a man like Tutu could be labeled anti-Semitic and silenced like this,” he says. “I deeply resent the Israeli lobby trying to silence any criticism of its policy. It does a great disservice to Israel and to all Jews.”

To make matters worse, when Cris Toffolo, the chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program told Tutu what happened and warned him of a possible smear campaign, she was immediately demoted.

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Campaign to stop mosque in Boston: The Islamic Society of Boston drops defamation lawsuit against opponents of mosque, construction to proceed

Interfaith relations are finally looking up in Boston after the announcement of a temporary cease in hostilities between the Islamic Society of Boston and the city of Boston, and groups and individuals that have sought to stop them from building a mosque.

Boston-area Jewish and Muslim leaders sighed in relief yesterday at the resolution of a lengthy legal dispute over the planned construction of a mosque in Roxbury, saying the development cleared the way for renewed local dialogue between adherents of the two faiths.

It’s been almost 5 years since Boston mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Congressman Michael Capuano attended the groundbreaking for what was slated to become the largest Islamic Cultural Center in New England. On that day, Mayor Menino hopefully announced:

Boston is now – and has always been – a City of vibrant faith communities. The ISB Cultural Center builds on that tradition – and provides a new context for religious and cultural exchange. By creating a space for inter-faith dialog, this Center will bring both the Muslim community and the community at large closer together.

But in marked contrast to city and state leaders’ enthusiasm about the project, a group that included some Boston residents, well-known right wing Israel advocacy group the David Project, and self-styled terrorism expert Steve Emerson, reacted with tremendous alarm and waged a full scale campaign to stop construction of the mosque.

Christian Science Monitor religion reporter Jane Lampman wrote:

It’s a microcosm of the suspicions about Islam that have played out across America since 9/11.

After the city of Boston conveyed a parcel of land to the ISB, articles appeared in the Boston Herald in 2003 linking society leaders to Islamic extremists. The ISB denied the story, responding in detail to what it saw as inflammatory distortions. “When you place a picture of Osama bin Laden next to a picture of our mosque, that is completely misrepresentative of who we are,” says Salma Kazmi, assistant project director.

Boston’s Fox TV station followed with broadcasts on the charges, and two local organizations – the David Project, a pro-Israel group, and Citizens for Peace and Tolerance (CPT) – have continued to publicize them and press for public hearings.

CPT says Boston could become a “potential radical Islamic center.” The ISB counters that media and local groups, with help from terrorism analyst Steven Emerson, have conspired to halt construction and “incite public sentiment against area Muslims.”

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With Friends Like these: Christian Zionists stifle US Jews and inhibit peace efforts.

The recent death of Jerry Falwell can serve as an opportunity to reflect on the growing Christian Zionist (CZ) movement and how such a movement is related to other establishment pro-Israel groups such as The David Project, ADL and AIPAC. To be clear, there is a Faustian bargain being forged, for short term political and financial gain, Israel and the American Jewish establishment are willing to engage with people such as John Hagee of the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) “who is contemptuous of Muslims, dismissive of gays, possesses a triumphalist theology and opposes a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

This bargain also entails muzzling – American Jewish leaders who have been critical of CUFI sponsored local “Nights to Honor Israel” say they have been pressured into silence.

“The pressure has been enormous,” said a prominent Jewish leader who said he was contacted by local community officials after he raised questions about a local Christians United For Israel (CUFI) event. “I can’t even talk about it now; I feel a real sense of intimidation because people in our own community are saying I’m opposing something that’s good for Israel, that I’m hurting Israel.”

In terms of Falwell specifically, although their relationship has not been seamless, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has called Falwell a “towering figure of the religious right” and a “dear friend of Israel

The fly in the ointment, beyond the occasional “oopsy” anti-Semitic utterances, eg, “the antichrist is probably a Jewish man alive today,” (condemned by Foxman of the ADL), is that the relationship between the Christian Zionists (like Falwell, Pat Robertson and Hagee) and Jews is roughly that of Germany to the Soviet Union before Germany invaded its ally. Christian Zionists believe that as one large piece of the Apocalypse endgame, a unified Jewish state must exist over all of what is now Israel and Palestine and that a new temple must be built on temple mount. The important take home point is that within the framework of Christian Zionist belief is the notion that at the time of Christ’s second coming, Jews will be offered a choice to convert to Christianity or immediately be condemned to hell or some reasonable facsimile.

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Talk on occupation at British high school gets Jerusalem Post headline!

In a classic case of shoot the messenger, the Jerusalem Post reports:

A high school in southwest England has come under fire for agreeing to host an anti-Israel event for students on Monday.

Sherbourne High School in Dorset is hosting an event entitled “The Occupation: Up Close and Personal, Living in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

Scheduled to speak is Sharen Green, a reporter with a local newspaper who has spent time in the Palestinian Territories with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program.

Has it occurred to anyone that if Israel actually ended its occupation, they’d stop supplying such rich material for “anti-Israel” presentations like this?

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Festering sore indeed

Presbyterian Church USAIt doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the hyperbolic, Chicken Little approach to anti-Semitism is bad for Jews, and can fuel bitterness and resentment than can morph into actual anti-Semitism. Here’s a remarkably vivid description of that resentment from the December, 2006 edition of the very respectable Middle East Policy Journal. In his lengthy article, Presbyterians, Jews and Divestment: The Church Steps Back, University of Michigan political science professor Ronald Stockton details the airing of grievances at the Presbyterian General Assembly:

A third issue was the strong sense of pain and grievance among those who had supported the engagement process in 2004. They felt they had been ill-treated by their Jewish critics. Their motives had been questioned and their character impugned in a most egregious way. They had been called antisemites, supporters of terrorism, supporters of murder, enemies of Israel, and even supporters of potential genocide through the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel. They had heard no words of regret from the Jewish side for these excesses, which at times seemed to them to border on hate speech. They felt they had acted on behalf of their faith and out of positive motives. Continue reading