FaithWorld

U.S. and Canadian Jews, Muslims seek dialogue

Muslim and Jewish leaders across the United States and Canada plan to meet this weekend to discuss ways to fight anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia.

The meetings and panel discussions from Friday to Sunday — dubbed the Weekend of Twinning — are part of a broader movement of interfaith dialogue taking place against a global backdrop of tensions between religious groups.

Several of the rabbis and imams have broadcast a public service announcement on CNN appealing for interfaith understanding (see the video above) and published a full-page ad in the New York Times available here in PDF form.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and co-organizer of the weekend talks, told me in a brief telephone interview that “it was a realization among Muslims and Jews that as children of Abraham not only do we share a common faith but we share a common fate … It is necessary for us to champion the causes and the concerns of the other.”

Asked how he rated Jewish-Muslim relations in America at the present, he replied: “Virtually non-existent” — a response that underscores the task ahead.

Germany still fighting anti-Semitism

To mark the 70th anniversary of ”Kristallnacht”, when Nazis ransacked Jewish shops and homes and set synagogues ablaze, the German parliament this week passed a resolution on anti-Semitism.

It says anti-Semitism is still a problem that Germany needs to take seriously and calls for a team of experts to report regularly on anti-Semitic activity in Germany and to recommend steps to combat it.

A row with the Left party over the resolution sparked criticism from the Central Council of Jews and overshadowed a wider debate in Germany on the subject.

Does Sony need a religious affairs adviser?

Box art for LittleBigPlanet/Sony handoutDoes Sony need a full-time religious affairs adviser? Someone who says “that’s OK” or “whoa, don’t go there!” It looks like they could use one, judging by its decision to recall and remaster its Playstation 3 video game LittleBigPlanet because it might offend Muslims. LittleBigPlanet was supposed to be one of the biggest releases of the season. And then Sony found out some background music had a few phrases from the Koran in it and they decided to replace the disks with different music. An in-house religion maven who does some “content debugging” would cost much less than this embarrassing exercise.

Sony isn’t the only company to trip over religious sensitivities. Microsoft had to withdraw its Xbox fighter game Kakuto Chojin; Back Alley Brutal in 2003 because of Koran verses chanted in the background. Back in 1998, Muslims accused Nike of sacrilege for selling sneakers bearing a logo showing the word “air” written in fiery letters that looked like the Arabic word “Allah.” Nike ended up withdrawing the shoes, giving sensitivity training to employees and building playgrounds at several mosques in Virginia.

Muslims haven’t been the only ones complaining. A French jeans poster showing women imitating Jesus Christ and his apostles in the Leonardo da Vinci painting, “The Last Supper”, was banned in France and Italy after Catholics there complained. A leading anti-Semitism watchdog howled last spring when a South Korean cosmetics company advertised a skin lotion with a picture of a young woman sporting what appears to be a Nazi officer’s hat.

Pius polemics persist — more due next month?

Pope Pius XII/The Holy SeeReasonable people can agree to disagree on lots of issues, but some are so polarising that even reasonable people will hunker down in opposing trenches whenever debate about them flares up. The long-standing Catholic-Jewish dispute over Pope Pius XII and his role during the Holocaust is one of those issues. The 50th anniversary of Eugenio Pacelli’s death on Oct. 9, 1958 has recently mobilised both his defenders and detractors. After several pro-Pius comments from the Vatican and its friends and a firm but polite rebuttal by an Israeli rabbi, the umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, CRIF, has issued a stinging denunciation of Pius and warning that beatifying him would strike a “severe blow” to Catholic-Jewish relations.

CRIF logoThe statement (here in French) is clearly sharper than the latest call by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urging the Vatican to open its last wartime records to historians’ scrutiny before deciding to proceed with Pius’s beatification and eventual canonisation as a Roman Catholic saint. CRIF is the public spokesman for France’s 600,000-strong Jewish community, which is Europe’s largest. It regularly denounces anti-Semitism in France Anti-Defamation League logoand upholds the memory of the Holocaust, but has not been as active as the ADL in engaging the Vatican in the debate over whether Pius did as much as he could have to save Jews during the Holocaust.

A quick look at the timetable of the latest dispute puts the CRIF statement in perspective. Shear-Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa in Israeli, became the first Jew to address a bishops’ synod in Rome on Oct. 6. Catholic-Jewish relations have improved markedly in recent decades and Cohen accepted the invitation in that spirit. But when in Rome he realised the meeting would also be commemorating Pius’s death, he told our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella he might not have attended if he had known that. During his address, he told the bishops that Jews “cannot forgive and forget” that some major religious leaders during World War Two did not speak out against the Holocaust. He separately told reporters Pius “should not be seen as a model and he should not be beatified”.

Split decision in Germany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case

Berlin’s reopened New Synagogue, 10 Oct 2005/Amanda AndersenGermany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case has ended with a partial victory for the defendant. A court in the western city of Cologne has upheld an injunction banning the prominent German-Jewish writer Henryk Broder from calling another German Jew an anti-Semite. But it said the ban only applied to his blistering personal attack on Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, daughter of the deceased former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Heinz Galinski. If it had been expressed in a more factual way, it said, the statement would have been protected as free speech.

The dispute, which the Jerusalem Post dubbed a case of “kosher anti-Semitism,” started back in May when Broder posted a letter on the website Die Achse des Guten (The Axis of Good) complaining to WDR radio in Cologne for interviewing Hecht-Galinski for a programme on Israel’s 60th anniversary. In her comments, Hecht-Galinski compared Israel’s policy towards Palestinians to Nazi policy towards Jews. Broder wrote: “Mrs EHG is an hysterical, egoistic housewife who is talking for nobody but herself and is uttering nothing but nonsense anyway. Her speciality are thoughtless anti-Semitic and anti-Zionistic statements, which are a fleeting fad once again.”

Hecht-Galinksi obtained a court injunction against him calling her an anti-Semite (which explains why the adjective “anti-Semitic” has since been xxx’ed out of Broder’s letter on the web). She argued that Broder, an active defender of Israel who has written a series of books dealing with the relationship between Germans and Jews, was trying to silence criticism of Israel. “Especially in the face of our common past, critical comments on committed injustices must be possible, also if they concern Israel,” she wrote in a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

First rabbis since Holocaust ordained in Poland

New rabbis read Torah at Chabad Yeshiva in Warsaw, 30 June 2008/Kacper Pempel“The opening of our yeshiva (in 2005) and the ordination of the new rabbis is the best answer we can give to Hitler and the Nazis, it shows they did not win,” said Rabbi Shalom Stambler. The ordination of nine new rabbis on Sunday evening in Warsaw, the first in Poland since the Nazis murdered most of what was one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, was a proud moment for the Warsaw-based head representative of Chabad Lubavitch of Poland. “Poland was always a centre of Jewish study in the world,” he said. “People used to come from all over the world to study the Torah here. This was stopped by the Nazis … We hope the yeshiva will grow and grow.”

Read our feature “Pride, hope as Poland ordains first postwar rabbis” here. Apart from his comments in the feature, Rabbi Stambler told me a recent controversy in Poland over a book accusing Poles of persecuting Jews in the years after the Holocaust had told him something about today’s Poles. “I saw how many people entered into the dialogue, students, intellectuals, people who wanted to know how their grandparents had acted,” he said.

Fear, by Jan GrossJan Gross’s book Fear argues that anti-Semitism remained prevalent in Poland under the communist regime after 1945. In a sign of the continued sensitivity of the subject in Poland, state prosecutors investigated whether the book had slandered the Polish nation but finally decided not to press charges.

Give Hagee a chance, says McCain ally Lieberman

McCain and Lieberman at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, 18 March 2008/poolThink the uproar over John Hagee’s comments about Hitler, the Holocaust, the Bible and John McCain’s rejection of his endorsement is over? Hardly.

U.S. news networks have been abuzz with the latest twist to the saga — a Hagee endorsement (of sorts) from renegade Democrat-turned-independent Senator Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman, who is Jewish, said in a statement posted on his website on Wednesday that “I believe that Pastor Hagee has made comments that are deeply unacceptable and hurtful. I also believe that a person should be judged on the entire span of his or her life’s works.”

Despite anti-Semitism, Russia lures back Jews

Pro-Israel meeting in a Moscow synagogue, 9 August 2006/Alexander NatruskinJews are returning to Russia. For as long as anyone alive can remember, the flow was mostly in the other direction. But Amie Ferris-Rotman and Conor Sweeney in our Moscow bureau have found a return wave, despite a persistent anti-Semitism there:

Around one million Jews fled during the Soviet era and the post-communist chaos. Those returning now from Israel, the United States and Europe hope to use their new skills and old knowledge to do business.

“Now there are services here, like in New York and Paris, but the lifestyle is more interesting than in either of them — it’s easy to understand why thousands are coming back,” said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress.