January 30, 2003

Muhammad, the Documentary?

By Jerome S. Kaufman

(Article below appeared in redacted version, Detroit Jewish News, Jan. 3, 2003)

For some reason, as I watched the supposed documentary Muhammad, I had the feeling that I was viewing The Lion King or some similar Disney Production? Maybe it was the extravagant grandiose scenery and impressive crowd scenes. Maybe it was the fact that there was something obviously fictional and one sided about the whole presentation.

The Foxnewswatch TV program, with its usual panel of renowned political experts, immediately called the presentation politically dishonest and a shrieking example of why the Federal Government should get out of funding Public TV and Radio. The government itself becomes culpable and an apparent ally and enabler for obvious distortions and political agendas of this sort divorced from reality and in fact, counterproductive to honest political discussion. The script and visuals of the film consisted of a carefully crafted Muslim piece of political propaganda. It was an obvious attempt to counter today’s very hard facts of current on-going worldwide Muslim terrorism. It was also a deliberate attempt to revise ancient history to conform to current Arab political ambitions.

The most egregious of these distortions was the attempt to re-enforce an Arab claim to Jerusalem as their third holiest religious site. A history of Mohammed’s allegorical visit to Jerusalem is depicted that is pure conjecture. It is based entirely on one line in 17 Sura (chapter) of the Koran. This chapter recounts the story of a dream Mohammed had where he takes a midnight ride (al-Isra) on his flying horse al-Buraq, which had the face of a woman, the body of a horse and the tail of Peacock. The narrative of the Koran in Sura 17 describes it as follows: "Glory be to Him, who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque (in Mecca) to the further mosque (al-masjid al-Aqsa), the precincts of which we have blessed." “The furthest mosque.” That is the only phrase upon which the whole myth of Arab claim to Jerusalem is made!

The conjecture, ably and plentifully enhanced by later politically motivated Arab commentaries, is that must refer to Jerusalem. In fact Jerusalem is not mentioned in Koran even once! By contrast Jerusalem is mentioned over 677 times in the Hebrew bible, repeatedly expressing Jewish adulation and centuries old longing to return and re-iterated multiple times daily in their prayers.

The other egregious politically motivated distortion revolves around the Treaty of Hudaibiya. A cover up is attempted to becloud Yasser Arafat’s frequent reference to this treaty when he addresses only Arab audiences. The connotation is always, “Don’t worry. I am not really making peace with these Jews. Remember the Treaty of Hudibaya.” The actual facts of this treaty were that Mohammad was unable to defeat the Quarish tribe, a supposed Jewish tribe that resided in the town of Hudaibiya in battle. He therefore made a 10-year treaty with them. After just two years, Mohammed successfully marshaled enough forces to beat the Quarish. He then discarded the Treaty of Hudaibiya and defeated the Quarish permanently in route to conquering the entire Arabian Peninsula.

The comparison to the current Israeli/Arab negotiations is not hard to make and the duplicity of Arafat is thus flagrantly exposed. In order to cover Arafat’s gaffs as far as Western audiences are concerned, the only thing to do was to change the whole history of the event. This film with dedicated historical revisionism attempts to do just that.

The real tragedy of this entire film is that it is a visual success. It has also been cleverly positioned to coincide with the Christmas and Chanukah holidays. Television networks will thus have a readily accessible vehicle that costs them nothing as a result of government and private Arab funding. There is also the vast swampland of the politically correct that will demand equal time for this “politically dishonest” propaganda film. Islamists will thus have been completely successful in their primary goals that is, unless we wizen up to this extragant charade.

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UN Animus toward Israel

Redacted from an article by FLAME

Is the Jewish state getting a fair shake from the world body?

Several years ago, we published one of our clarifying messages under the heading of "The UN and the Middle East." In it, we described how the UN seems to be totally obsessed with Israel. Now, a few years later, it might be time to revisit the topic.

What are the facts?

An outcast: Israel is indeed an outcast in the United Nations and thus, by extension, a pariah in the whole world. Though founded in 1948 - over fifty years ago and at about the same time as many other countries in the wake of World War II - its "legitimacy," its "right to exist," are still being questioned and a topic of constant debate in the UN. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, the hostility of the United Nations against Israel expanded out of all bounds. Between 1967 and 1988, the UN Security Council passed 88 Resolutions against Israel and the UN General Assembly passed more than 400!

In 1974, Yassir Arafat addressed the General Assembly with a bolstered pistol on his hip and received a standing ovation by that body. The hostility against Israel reached its peak in 1975, when the General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 declaring "Zionism as a form of racism.” This infamous Resolution remained in effect for sixteen years when, under intense pressure
from the United States, it was finally repealed.

What is the reason for the collective hostility of the UN against Israel?

All of this hostility is based on the very structure of the United Nations. In the General Assembly, 130 of the 190 members will always, automatically, vote against Israel. The inner circle of this hatred is the core of twenty Arab nations, which initiates the harshest condemnations of Israel. Those countries are part of the larger 56-member Muslim group, which can reliably be counted on automatically to join the Arab block in their anti-Israel Resolutions.

And, those countries are almost always joined by the "non-aligned" group, which are essentially the underdeveloped countries of the world. They have little interest in Israel, but they are united in their hatred of the United States and consider Israel its surrogate. Each country in the General Assembly counts the same. The vote of the United States counts the same as that of, say, Rwanda or the Ivory Coast. The greatest outrage is that of the 190 members of the UN, Israel, not being a full member of any of the "regional groups," is the only country that cannot be a member of the Security Council, the most important body of the UN. Syria, deservedly classified as a terrorist state, has just been elected to a 2-year term on that Council. Such outlaw countries as Libya, Iran, North Korea, and even Saddam Hussein's Iraq are eligible for membership. Israel is not.

The most virulent center of anti-Israel activities within the UN

The Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has classified Israel as the principal human rights violator in the world today. Since its inception, about 25% of its resolutions have condemned Israel. Such egregious human rights violations as those of China in Tibet, or of Russia in Chechnya don't even come to the floor for discussion. The genocide in Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, the horrifying "communal strife" in Indonesia's East Timor, the "disappearance" of a few hundred thousand refugees in the Congo, and the ruthless rampage of the Sudanese Muslims against the Christians are not found worthy of the attention of the Human Rights Commission. Such outlandish canards as the "blood libel," that Jews use the blood of Muslims and Christians for the baking of their Passover matzos or of the Israelis injecting Arab children with the AIDS virus are earnestly discussed in that forum.

Finally, there is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which was established in 1949 to assist the Palestinian "refugees" created by the Arabs' attempt to destroy Israel at its birth. For more than 50 years, UNRWA has fully funded and essentially administers the so-called "refugee camps" - hotbeds of murderous anti-Israel activity, including the notorious camp in Jenin, which is the source of most of the suicide bombers who have so far killed over six hundred Israeli civilians and wounded thousands more.

Obviously, the pressure that the Arabs and other Muslim countries are able to exert because of their disproportionate economic power is the main cause of the anti-Israelism (anti-Semitism) of the UN. But most disturbing is the participation and acquiescence in such activity on the part of many of the European nations which, by their actions or inaction, were complicit in the Holocaust. As to the underdeveloped nations of the world, all of which are represented in the General Assembly, one would hope that they would look to Israel as a country from which they could learn and that they would wish to emulate. Virtually all of the countries created after WWII, most of them in Africa, have regressed socially, politically, economically, and in virtually all other respects since freeing themselves from their colonial condition. Millions and millions have died in fratricidal wars. Millions have died of starvation and millions are condemned to die by famine and by AIDS. Instead of condemning and hating Israel, they should take it as an example of how to build an advanced, prosperous and competent nation. #

FLAME – Facts and Logic About the Middle East, PO Box 590359, San Francisco, CA 94159

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January 15, 2003

Judaism's New Friend

Generations of persecution have conditioned Jews to see the Vatican as an enemy. It is time for Jews to recognize how much the Church has changed and to take yes for an answer.

The International Jerusalem Post

In the fall of 1989, on the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II, I traveled to Poland and unexpectedly began a process of personal reconciliation with Christianity. Poland was, admittedly, an unlikely place for that process to happen. And the timing was even more unlikely: It was the height of the controversy over the Auschwitz Convent, which Jews saw as a deliberate
attempt to "Christianize" the Holocaust, retroactively stripping the victims of their Jewishness.

For their part, Poles saw a convent at the site of the murder of tens of thousands of Polish Catholics as a natural expression of their faith, and the attempt to remove Polish nuns from Polish soil as an unbearable infringement on their sovereignty. And so I'd come to Poland to write about the irony of how two wounded peoples managed to nurture their animus long-distance even, after few Jews remained in the country. In Krakow, I was invited by a Dominican monastery to meet several dozen young monks. It was my first interfaith encounter. Until then, I'd visited churches only as a reluctant tourist. I'd grown up in a Brooklyn neighborhood of Orthodox Holocaust survivors who equated Christianity with Nazism, and for whom entering a church meant violating the memory of all those who died resisting the Cross. As a child, I would cross the street rather than even walk past a church, afraid that grasping hands might reach out, kidnap me and forcibly raise me as a Christian, a Jewish, amnesiac.

Now, as I passed through the cold stone halls of the monastery, accompanied by robed escorts, all my childhood fears resurfaced. Jesus on the cross seemed to me a taunt celebrating the crucifixion of the Jews. 1 felt I was walking in the shadow of death. I was led to a vaulted underground chamber filled with robed young men. Their eager smiles tried to reassure me: We are desperate to learn about the missing Jewish piece of our being. For two hours they asked me all those questions forbidden under communism and now not just possible but urgent - about Hassidism and Zionism and the Jewish contemplative tradition. And with the concern of those who themelves lived in a difficult geography, they wanted to "know how Israel could survive surrounded by enemies.

When I asked them about Jozef Cardinal Glemp, the head of the Polish church who was inciting anti-Semitism in his defense of he Auschwitz convent, one monk replied delicately: "We think he doesn't always know what he's saying." His friends laughed. No one rose to defend Glemp. Finally, they asked me to offer a prayer in Hebrew. With bowed leads and closed eyes, the young monks listened as I recited the 23rd Psalm: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." We were a few hours' drive from Auschwitz, but the shadow of death wasn't in this house. Here, we were brothers in prayer, humbled and joined by suffering.

Since that transformative encounter, my connection with Christian communities, especially in Israel, has intensified. I discovered remarkable groups living among us and working to deepen the Christian world's relationship with the Jewish people. And as Christians this week celebratethe birth of their faith in this land, Israeli Jews have an opportunity to learn about that largely invisible Christian presence.

Few Israelis, for example, know about the Beatitudes, an international community of monks and nuns who pray in Hebrew and celebrate Jewish holidays. They even fast on Yom Kippur, embodying the New Testament's insistence that Christians are a branch grafted onto the olive tree of Israel. Few Israelis know about the Sisters of Sion, which began as an order praying for the conversion of Jews to Christianity and which has now, in effect, reversed its "mission" and is helping bring Judaic teachings to the Church. Or the Urfeld Circle, which links German Catholics and Israeli kibbutzniks in ongoing dialogue. Or "Bat Kol," a Catholic group whose name is taken from the talmudic expression for a heavenly voice, and which brings theology students from around the world to Jerusalem to study the weekly Torah cycle, complete with rabbinic commentaries. These groups are only the most prominent expression of the theological transformation occurring within much of Christianity, especially the Catholic Church.

In recent decades, the Church has not only neutralized its traditional teaching of contempt toward Judaism and the Jewish people, but effectively reversed it, no longer seeing the Jews as cursed but blessed.

When the pope made his pilgrimage to the Western Wall in March 2000, the media focused on the apology for anti-Semitism contained in the note he placed between the stones. But the real story was the wording of that message: The pope referred to the Jews as "the people of the covenant," repudiating 2,000 years of supersessionism - Christianity's insistence that the blessings of the covenant were no longer valid for the "old Israel" and had been usurped by the Church. Now, though, the Church was reversing one of its seminal doctrines and insisting that two parallel covenants could coexist, one for Christians, one for Jews.

The shift is hardly confined to obscure doctrine. Its message is regularly preached in Catholic churches and taught in Catholic schools and seminaries, creating the potential, as one monk in Jerusalem said to me, for the transformation of the Church from the central point of hatred for the Jews to the central point of love for them. One concrete result is the repudiation of Catholic missionizing toward Jews. Though the process began after the Holocaust, the suspension of missionary activity was at first unspoken: The Church understood the vulgarity of missionizing among a survivor people, but lacked a coherent theological justification for its restraint. Now, though, increasing voices within the Church are making the non-missionizing policy theologically explicit. For if God’s covenant with the Jews has never been revoked, then the survival of the Jewish people as an independent entity must be part of his plan.

Last August, a joint statement by American rabbis and Catholic Bishops affirmed precisely that point And a remarkable document on Christian-Jewish relations recently issued by an American group of interdenominational Christian scholars, In view of our conviction that Jews in an eternal covenant with God, we renounce missionary efforts directed at converting Jews. If Jews do not share our faith in Christ, are in a saving covenant with God, then Christians need new ways or understanding the universal significance of Christ" Together, these revolutionary changes form the most extraordinary religious story of our time: the process of healing humanity's deepest religious wound. No religion has ever challenged its own negative theology toward another faith as profoundly as have Catholicism and parts of Protestantism.

Surely no religion has had a greater need to atone. But the capacity of Christianity for teshuva - the Hebrew word invoked by the Catholic Church in describing its process of reconciliation with the Jews – says much for its spiritual integrity and vitality. Not all parts of the Catholic Church understand the new theology, or embrace it with equal fervor. The process will take generations, and contradictory interpretations and setbacks will no doubt emerge.

The repudiation of missionizing by American bishops, for example, recently provoked an anguished protest by the American Catholic conservative commentator, William F. Buckley, who insisted that making an exception of the Jews would undermine the foundation of Christian belief in Jesus as savior.

Despite such resistance, the change is proceeding because its motive isn't just historical guilt but spiritual insight. As one Jerusalem nun put it: "The great shock of the Holocaust for the church was that we'd thought the Jews weren't faithful to God, but suddenly we discovered that God's enemies are also the enemies of the Jews. The new theology didn't emerge only from Christian guilt; it came from the realization that we had misunderstood the role of the Jews in history, which is to be a sign for God's presence in this world."

Yet the story of the Church's astonishing transformation leaves many Jews unmoved. Out historical wound is still so raw that many of us simply don't believe the Church's teshuva is genuine. Some even discern a trick: The Church Is still trying to convert us, through love now instead of brutality. And so rather than celebrate one of the great Jewish victories of the post-Holocaust era, many Jews continue to cling to an archaic perception of the Church as enemy, weighing its every pronouncement for hints of recidivism. We delight in each new expose’ of the Church's unsavory past, while ignoring or minimizing its heroic efforts to make amends today. Last year's big Church-bashing book was David Kertzer's, The Popes Against the Jews; this year's version is Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. Over the past decade Jewish organizations have waged bitter feuds with the Vatican on issues like the guilt of Pope Plus XII and the Church's refusal to accept a direct link between Christian teachings and the Holocaust - all
of them battles over the past.

When the dialogue began nearly 50 years ago, Jewish groups confronted the Vatican with two non-negotiable demands. The first was that the teaching of contempt be repudiated. The second was recognition of the State of Israel - a move not only of political but theological significance, negating the old Church doctrine of the “wandering Jew” punished with homelessness for “rejecting Jesus.” The Vatican has fulfilled both demands and, in the case of theological contempt, has gone well beyond mere repudiation. The very fact that nearly all our disputes with the Church now focus on historical, especially Holocaust-related issues is proof of how far the Church has come in accepting the Jewish agenda.

Perhaps we are indulging our rage now simply because it's finally possible.
For centuries Jews were forced to speak of their bitterness toward the oppressive Church in euphemisms, unable even to explicitly name the source of humiliation. Now, thanks to Jewish sovereignty and, ironically, a transformed Church, Jews can finally unburden themselves. The problem, though, is timing. When the dialogue began after the Holocaust, both sides understood that the onus for change was entirely on the Christian side, and that the only
concession Jews were expected to offer was to show up.

But now we've entered the second generation of dialogue. And when one side continually offers overtures and the other side responds with sullenness or worse, the temptation is to withdraw. A one-way process of reconciliation cannot sustain itself indefinitely. To be sure, there have been a few significant Jewish gestures toward Christianity in recent years, most notably the statement Dabru Emet (Speak Truth), signed by Jewish scholars and published in 2000 as an ad in the New York Times. Dabru Emet not only acknowledged the Church's new theology of Judaism, but also offered a reciprocal new Jewish theology of Christianity, celebrating it as the carrier of the God of Israel to the nations.

But all too often, the Jewish community allows feuds over historical
interpretation to dominate its relationship with the Church. We have the right to insist that the Church show respect for Judaism and the Jewish people in the present, and that it raise its future generations in a spirit of reconciliation - precisely what the Church is now doing. But our legitimate demands over the present and the future don't extend to the past. We have no right to dictate to the Church how it should understand its own history. And we certainly have no right to tell it whom it should elevate as its saints. Instead, we need to allow Christians the freedom – and grant them the trust - to confront their own past. That trust is not misplaced. After all, Catholics have written some of the most powerful critiques of Christian anti-Semitism - from Edward Flannery’s The Anguish of the Jews to James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword -. The Christian self-confrontation with the past has just begun. That is their struggle, not ours.

After decades of relentless Christian self-examination of their theology of contempt, it's time for Jewish soul-searching as well. The rabbinic ban on even stepping inside a church may have made sense at a time when Jews were a vulnerable minority resisting a voracious and triumphalist Christianity; it is offensive when Jews are once again a sovereign people living in its own land - and responsible for the first time for a Christian minority.

That is only the most glaring example of an embedded Jewish hostility to Christianity. Of course there is no comparison between the historical consequences of Christian and Jewish contempt for each other's faiths; and Jewish anti-Christianity was an expression of psychological self-defense, but no longer. Creating a healthy Israeli Judaism freed from ghettoization depends
in part on creating a new Jewish relationship with Christianity.

Now that we're back home, a key spiritual expression of our return should be reconciliation with the faith that emerged from our midst just before we were exiled from this land. Almost from its inception, Christianity attempted to expel the Jews from the House of Israel. By now confirming the ongoing validity of God's covenant with the Jewish people, the Church is acknowledging that the House of Israel is expansive enough to accommodate both Jews and Christians.

That essential shift in Christian thinking challenges us to accommodate in our conception of the House of Israel the religion that has brought Israel's ancient story to the world. Responding to Christian overtures is a key Jewish self-interest. At a time when much of Islam seems intent on assuming Christianity's old role of generating religiously inspired hatred of Jews, nurturing the Christian-Jewish dialogue can offer a measure of protection. We desperately need allies to counter the growing delegitimization of Israel and of the Jewish story

An example of how the Christian- Jewish dialogue can help us fight the war against demonization was provided earlier this year by Boston Catholics who undertook a public campaign to convince Muslims that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a fraud. That isolated example needs to become a central component of the dialogue. Protecting the integrity of Jewish history from a new big lie-rather than ensuring that Catholics read their own history in the "correct" way - is the over-riding Jewish interest today

This past year has been traumatic for both the Jewish people and the Catholic Church. Arguably Jews haven't felt so vulnerable or so alone since the 1930s. For its part, the Church has lost the trust of many of its people in the wake of the sexual abuse and cover-up scandals; the Church's ancient tradition of celibacy - which helped produce some of the world's great mystics, from St. Francis to Thomas Melton - Is now widely mistrusted, even ridiculed.
When friends are in trouble, they support each other. Jews should be telling the Church that we, who have experienced the authenticity of its teshuva, trust its capacity to morally renew itself in the face of its current struggles. And the Vatican should be telling us that it sees the attack on Jewish legitimacy now spreading through the Muslim world and Europe as an attack on itself, and that honest debate over Israeli policies cannot be allowed to turn into an
indictment of Israel's existence.

Most profoundly, Christians need to hear from Jews that we respect their spiritual authenticity and relationship to the House of Israel, and don't despise them as "goyim" or worse, as potential Nazis. And Jews need to hear from Christians that they respect the centrality of Israel for Judaism today, and won't tolerate the renewed demonization of the Jews under the guise of criticism of the Jewish state.

The success of the reconciliation movement between Christianity and Judaism has implications far wider than relations between the two faiths. At a time when the future of humanity may well depend on the ability of Islam to overcome its triumphalist theology; the Christian-Jewish dialogue is sign of hope. Few would have believed a half-century ago that the Vatican would be capable of reversing supersessionism, a doctrine that seemed integral to the identity of the Church. For a world struggling against despair, the Christian-Jewish dialogue proves that religion is still capable of contributing to the evolution of humanity.

The writer, Israel correspondent for the New Republic, is author of “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.”

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