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    Tuesday, November 29, 2005

    Big Fat Jewish Divorce . . . (From the Christian Right)

    Throughout the last five years, as the Christian right has assumed ever greater power and prominence in America, the organized Jewish community has been remarkably quiescent. Traditionally, Jewish leaders have been among the most vigilant guardians of American secularism, seeing the separation of church and state as key to Jewish equality. But faced with an evangelical president who seemed inviolable and an alliance of convenience with the religious right over Israel, Jewish leaders didn't raise much of an outcry when billions of taxpayer dollars were diverted toward religious charities through Bush's faith-based initiative. They didn't make a fuss when the administration filled the bureaucracy with veterans of groups like the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition. As leaders of the religious right and their allies in the Republican Party trumpeted plans to "take America back," observers detected growing anxiety among ordinary American Jews, but there was little response from organized Jewry.

    This month, that started to change. Two major Jewish figures -- Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism -- have taken on the religious right and, by extension, the Republican Party. By doing so, they have enraged some evangelicals and opened a fissure in the larger Jewish community. Some leaders are worried about provoking a conservative backlash and ushering in a new era of anti-Semitism. Others rejoice that someone has finally articulated what so many ordinary American Jews have been thinking. Either way, the culture wars have suddenly taken on an overtly sectarian cast.


    It's really hard to organize religious Jews with secular Jews over these kind of issues, I would imagine. Also, this coming from Reform Jews must be causing some rifts. From Blue Voice:

    Reform Judaism is the most widely practiced version in the US. To the extent that the Christian Right groups take Judaism seriously as a religion at all, their affinity is for the Orthodox version. The Orthodox version shares some of the Christian apocalyptic ideas that are used in support of hardline rightwing policies in Israel, including the militant settler movement, which some conservative Christian groups help to finance. Orthodox Judaism tends to emphasizes "traditional values" as the Christian Right understands them in issues relating to sex and personal conduct.

    I've always suspected, too, that Orthodox dress and dietary practices make them seem more exotic to many conservative Christians, which fits with their image of Jews as somehow strange and alien.


    Back to the Salon article:

    Yoffie approaches the issue from a religious rather than a political perspective.

    "We are particularly offended by the suggestion that the opposite of the religious right is the voice of atheism," he told his audience. "We are appalled when 'people of faith' is used in such a way that it excludes us, as well as most Jews, Catholics and Muslims. What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God and that anyone who disagrees with you is not a person of faith?"


    Blue Collar Politics thinks the Catholics already share the frustration:

    The Catholic Church recently awoke from their spiritual coma, and realized that the right-wing Christians were not now, nor had they ever been, enamored of worshipers of Christ who didn't march under their banner.

    To the right-wing fundamentalists, "mackerel snapping" was the noise they'd hear as they were carried up in the Rapture and Catholics' burned below.
    After coming to that realization, the Catholic hierarchy recently came out for Evolution and against any closer alliances between faith and government in America.
    Now the Jews seems to realize that the main difference the uber-Christians see between Jews and Catholics is a matter of queuing: Jews die just before the destruction of the Catholics, homosexuals, commies, Liberals, Democrats and Republicans who haven't pushed to hurt the poor, crippled or the UN.


    Ahem. The lines are now being drawn fairly strictly by faith now:

    Foxman lamented the divisions in the Jewish community over the issue, noting that there is much less unity than there was 15 years ago. Nor could Jews count on their old allies in the civil rights struggles -- African-Americans and Latinos -- for help. Those bonds have withered; those groups no longer tend to see church-state separation as a vital condition for minority rights.

    As in, the idea of "minority" long meant it seemed necessary for the groups with less power to back each other up if anyone was going to gain equality. Times have changed.

    Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, founder and chairman of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews -- and a former staffer at the ADL -- predicts that Foxman's call for a united Jewish front is doomed to fail, since other Jewish leaders won't want to take on the religious right. Eckstein's entire career is devoted to being a liaison between evangelicals and Jews -- his organization raises money from Christians for Jews in Israel and in the diaspora, and he's an advisor to Ariel Sharon and a goodwill ambassador to the state of Israel. Conservative Christian support is crucial for Jews in both Israel and America, he says, and it's folly to attack them.

    Eckstein says that it's the liberal Protestant churches that have turned on Israel by calling for divestment. Meanwhile, secular Europe treats Israel like a pariah. "And who are the only ones who are coming out and standing with Israel? The evangelical Christians," Eckstein says. Eckstein acknowledges Foxman's fear about the erosion of church-state separation, but thinks any danger posed by the American religious right pales beside the threats to Israel. "Jews need to always be on guard for their survival as Jews, and for their rights as Jews here in America, but I don't believe that those rights are threatened to the point that Jewish leaders like Abe Foxman should try to galvanize the Jewish community and start a battle with a constituency that includes the president of the United States, and that includes such a large part of the Republican Party and such a large part of America," he says. "I don't think it's reached that point that Jews should be alienating their greatest friends in the real battle of Jewish survival."

    When I spoke to Eckstein, he had just gotten off the phone with someone from Focus on the Family. Christian leaders, he said, feel hurt and victimized by Foxman's speech. And he feared what might result: "Rhetoric can create an anti-Jewish feeling among good Bible-believing Christians," he says. "Certainly in the evangelical world they're very focused on their leadership. It's very different than the Jewish community -- most of the Jewish community doesn't care what Abe Foxman says. If their pastor says that black is white and white is black, well, the pastor said so. If leaders themselves start to say it's the Jews who are preventing us from having a moral society in America, that's what we saw in history."


    Zombie-Christians, huh? That's not gonna provoke any anti-Semitism! Somehow the notion that they are respectable enough to be disagreed with seems preferable to the notion that they're robots, ready to go Nazi if programmed that way.

    I am really glad to see this splitting of the "faithful" ranks because we all know that the evangelical Protestants were using everyone else, even using the language of "faith" to get their agenda put in place. It's not that I really think that evangelicals hate Catholics and Jews (Muslims, perhaps, a different story?), but that they don't really care who joins them as long as they've got as many people as possible. I don't think standing up to them will endanger Jewish lives because I think the evangelicals really only want to convert them, not kill them. Sure, it's murder through assimilation, but it's not genocide.

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