FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

As Israel attacks Gaza, Jews elsewhere feel an impact

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As the death toll in Gaza rises, so does anger against Israel -- and sometimes, by extension, Jews -- in Europe and elsewhere.

We should mark how unique this is. There's a very large, and often very rich, Russian community in London -- and there are no attacks on Russians or their mansions, restaurants or churches because of the Russian seizure of Crimea and sponsorship of uprisings in eastern Ukraine. 

People from Sri Lanka didn't live in fear when their government was pounding the Tamil Tigers into submission, with thousands of deaths. Chinese visitors are undisturbed by reaction to their government's suppression of dissent in Tibet and its jailing of dissidents. And quite right, too. Who knows what Russians, Sri Lankans or Chinese abroad think about their governments' actions?

Jews, by contrast, are held responsible by large numbers of non-Jews in Western democratic countries for Israeli actions. That's all Jews, whatever their views on the Israeli response to the rockets fired on Israel from Gaza. Sometimes, the reaction goes much further than disapproval. 

Over this past weekend, a synagogue in Paris was firebombed, and there were a couple of small demonstrations featuring signs saying "Death to Jews." The attack further inflamed tensions that were already running high since before the latest violence in Gaza. In May, four people died when a gunman opened fire in a Jewish museum in Brussels. Many of those interviewed said they were not surprised, given the rise in the level of verbal and some physical violence against Belgian Jews in the past decade.

Exorcisms and charlatans flourish in impoverished Gaza

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(A man reads a Koran in Gaza, 3 Dec 2010/Suhaib Salem)

The shabby room in a one-story house in suburban Gaza was shrouded in darkness, and only the mutterings of a bearded exorcist broke the silence. A man lay stretched on a grubby mattress, writhing, as the faith healer recited Koranic verses to chase away an evil spirit. “Get out, you demon,” the exorcist, who calls himself Sheikh Ali, threatened the spirit. “Get out or I will burn you.”

There are a lot of demons to chase in this poverty-riddled Palestinian enclave, say a growing number of Koranic exorcists who have set up shop in Gaza, offering to end the torments of their sometimes highly disturbed patients. The growth of exorcist clinics is seen by some as a sign of rising religious fervour among ordinary Palestinians. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that runs Gaza, however, is increasingly concerned that many exorcists are simply charlatans.

Nobody knows how many exorcists are here, but Hamas investigators say they uncovered 30 cases of fraud last year alone. There have also been complaints that healers are using dark magic to cast spells on their clients, and the police say they have found evidence of sexual abuses committed during these sessions.

Wall overshadows Muslim- Christian relations in West Bank

palestinians-at-damascus-gateThe Palestinian issue has figured prominently over the past week in stories with a religion angle. Pope Benedict’s visit to Israel, which ended on Friday, was the most prominent. While visiting Bethlehem, he called Israel’s barrier in the West Bank one of the saddest sights” on his whole tour. Early this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time. Netanyahu said the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for peace talks while Obama said Jewish settlements in the West Bank have to be stopped.” On Wednesday, United Nations human rights investigators said they hoped to visit Gaza in early June and hold public hearings on whether war crimes were committed there in Israel’s blockade of the area governed by the Islamist movement Hamas. (Photo: Palestinian protesters wave flags at the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City, 21 May 2009/Amir Cohen)

In almost every speech he made, Pope Benedict pleaded for more interfaith contacts and cooperation as a way to move forward towards peace. With the Israeli-Palestinian issue so polarised, the question of promoting understanding among the people of the Holy Land often seems to be reduced mostly to a Jewish-Muslim issue. The tiny Christian minority in the local population often seems to be standing on the sidelines.

But within the occupied West Bank, there are numerous examples of religious coexistence between the Muslim and Christian populations. The West Bank village of Aboud, which I described in a feature you can read here, is a case in point. Father Firas Aridah, head of the local Catholic parish, points to the joint celebration by Muslims and Christians of their respective religious holidays. The Catholic school he operates with a majority of Muslim students doesn’t impose the church’s beliefs on the student body but teaches them their own faiths.

Soldier says rabbis pushed “religious war” in Gaza

gazaOur Jerusalem bureau has sent a very interesting report about criticism within the Israeli army of the Gaza offensive in January. What caught my eye was that it brings up the issue of a religious war, a term usually used in relation to Muslims. (Photo: Israeli air strike near Gaza-Egypt border in southern Gaza Strip, 26 Feb 2009/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

The story starts off as follows:

Rabbis in the Israeli army told battlefield troops in January’s Gaza offensive that they were fighting a “religious war” against gentiles, according to one army commander’s account published on Friday.

If Hillary goes to Jakarta, can Barack be far behind?

Is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Jakarta a hint that President Barack Obama will pick Indonesia as the first Muslim country he visits in his drive to improve U.S. relations with the Islamic world? There were lots of other suggestions when he first mentioned this back in December, including Egypt (the New York Times pick) and Morocco (judging by what might have been a write-in campaign on our comments page).

My tip at the time was either Indonesia or Turkey. In recent weeks, Turkey’s star has probably faded as its relations with Israel soured recently. Those strains came after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of “knowing very well how to kill” in Gaza during a debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos and then stormed off the stage. (Photo: Hillary Clinton with Jakarta schoolgirls, 18 Feb 2009/Supri)

Clinton said all the right things today, like telling the country where Obama spent four years as a boy that it was proof that modernity and Islam can coexist. “As I travel around the world over the next years, I will be saying to people: if you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can co-exist, go to Indonesia,” she said at a dinner with civil society activists. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda reciprocated by telling her Indonesia shared the United States’ joy at Obama’s election and she should tell the U.S. president “we cannot wait too long” for a visit.

Rabbi wants to bring U.S. Muslim-Jewish teamwork to Europe

Rabbi Marc Schneier, a New York Jewish leader who has helped to build bridges with American Muslims, is planning to bring his campaign to Europe to help ease the anger fed by bloodshed in Gaza. “In the light of the recent conflict in Gaza, Jewish-Muslim tensions have been exacerbated,” Schneier, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters during a recent visit to London. “We have seen a rise, I would say an exponential growth in anti-Semitic attacks, rhetoric coming from the Muslim world. We cannot allow for Islamic fundamentalism to grow.” (Photo: Rabbi Marc Schneier/FFEU)

Schneier helped to bring together thousands of Jews and Muslims across America last November in an initiative in which 50 mosques were twinned with 50 synagogues over a weekend. Jews and Muslims worked together in community projects, formed study groups and got a better understanding of each other’s faith. They publicised this in the short video below and a full-page ad in the New York Times available here in PDF.

An eloquent and persuasive speaker, Schneier has advocated closer links between Jewish and Afro-American communities through the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, where he has worked with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

Paris Muslims attacked in new twist to Gaza tension in France

The tension in France because of the Gaza conflict has taken a new twist with a charge by three Muslim youths that Jewish militants had beaten them up because one of them had thrown away a pro-Israel pamphlet. The focus until now has been on rising anti-Semitic attacks, presumably mostly by Muslims angered by Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, but this puts another layer of complexity on the story. The attack happened almost a week ago, on Thursday Jan. 8, but the details are still unclear and the versions being put out don’t match up.

According to the victims’ account, about seven youths from the Ligue de Défense Juive (Jewish Defence League) were distributing the pamphlets on Jan. 8 outside Janson de Sailly, a leading lycée, secondary school, in a chic district of Paris, and handed one to a pupil of North African Arab origin.  When he threw it away, the JDL militants beat up him and one or two other youths of Maghrebin origin who came to help him. The lycée pupil and two others then filed a complaint with the police against the Jewish militants and police are now investigating the incident.

An LDJ spokesman flatly denied any link to this attack and said it does not distribute these pamphlets outside of lycées, only at universities. On its website, it was less clear, saying only that it “denounces the aggression against two pupils of the Janson de Sailly lycee. The LDJ rejects every form of violence.” The LDJ spokesman said his group had the same name and logo as the militant Kach movement banned in Israel and the Jewish Defence League banned in the United States — in both cases because they were suspected terrorist organisations — but had nothing to do with these groups.

GUESTVIEW: Gaza, New York, Mayor Bloomberg and interfaith dialogue

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. He is writing a book about Interfaith and Civil Society.

By Matthew Weiner

The last day of 2008 was a bad day for interfaith relations in New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had his annual Prayer Breakfast at the New York Public Library, where several hundred religious leaders gathered (see video here). As usual there were prayers offered from many faiths. The Hindus were miffed, because a Sikh got their usual slot. Instead of praying, the Sikh explained Sikhism for a bit too long. The Buddhist monk also prayed too long, and the translation took forever. But poor staging was not the reason for the dark cloud that hung over us all. (Photo: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 3 Nov 2008/Lucas Jackson)

Instead, it was the bombing of Gaza. Or rather it was the Mayor’s response the day before that created  tension in the audience. The night before, Bloomberg had sided with Israel in the conflict. “I feel very strongly that Israel really does have a right …to defend itself,” he said. The mayor said nothing about the loss of innocent life on the Palestinian side.