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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In Salon.com > Jews and the Christian right: Is the honeymoon over?

Excerpts from a riveting, must-read piece by Michelle Goldberg at Salon.com:
On Nov. 3, Abraham Foxman gave a speech to an ADL meeting, calling attacks on church-state separation the "key domestic challenge to the American Jewish community and to our democratic values." "[T]oday we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized, and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before," he said. "Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!" Among the major players in this campaign, Foxman listed Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council.

...Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism...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?"

Much of Yoffie's sermon argued that for many Jews, liberalism is the result of religious values, not their antithesis. Being a liberal believer, he said, "means believing that religion involves concern for the poor and the needy, and giving a fair shake to all. When people talk about God and yet ignore justice, it just feels downright wrong to us. When they cloak themselves in religion and forget mercy, it strikes us as blasphemy. "

And then he launched into the most controversial part of his sermon -- an impassioned denunciation of right-wing homophobia that invoked the historical parallel of Nazism. "We understand those who believe that the Bible opposes gay marriage, even though we read that text in a very different way," he said. "But we cannot understand why any two people who make a lifelong commitment to each other should be denied legal guarantees that protect them and their children and benefit the broader society. We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations. And today, we cannot feel anything but rage when we hear about gay men and women, some on the front lines, being hounded out of our armed services. Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry." (my emphases)













....Throughout the last decade, the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups had reached a kind of accommodation with the religious right that was based in part on Christian leaders toning down their more theocratic rhetoric. In 1995, Ralph Reed, then the executive director of the Christian Coalition, addressed the ADL and apologetically acknowledged that much of his movement's language alarmed Jews. "This is true not only of the blatant wrongs of a few -- those who claimed that 'God does not hear the prayers of Jews,' those who said that this is a 'Christian nation,' suggesting that others may not be welcome, and those who say that the only prayers uttered in public school should be Christian prayers. It is also true because of the thoughtless lapses of many -- the use of religious-military metaphors, a false and patronizing philo-Semitism, and the belief that being pro-Israel somehow answers for all other insensitivity to Jewish concerns."

Such sensitivity has virtually vanished from today's religious right, replaced with a triumphalist religious nationalism. Foxman was especially alarmed by the situation at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., where, according to numerous reports, a climate of outright religious bigotry prevailed. Some faculty members introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged their charges to convert. Upperclassmen exerted similar pressure on undergraduates; one Jewish cadet was slurred as a Christ killer. Several cadets have filed a lawsuit.

Even more disturbing to Foxman than the abuses themselves was the religious right's response when they came to light. Few were apologetic -- instead, they declared themselves the victims. When Democratic Rep. David Obey offered an amendment to a defense appropriations bill calling for an investigation into the situation at the academy, Republican John Hostettler stood up and said, "The long war on Christianity in America continues today on the floor of the House of Representatives."

...Foxman said in his speech, "Make no mistake: We are facing an emerging Christian right leadership that intends to 'Christianize' all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and local rooms of professional collegiate and amateur sport, from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants."

Given this onslaught, Jews can't simply cede their place in America in exchange for support for Israel. Speaking of those who caution him not to disturb the Jewish-evangelical alliance, Foxman says, "If we cannot disagree, what kind of a friendship is it?"
A sub-heading asks: Will Jews speaking out lead to an anti-Semitic backlash?

Satisfying, solid food for thought and encouraging as an opportunity for renewing a vigorous, necessary dialogue, (although I'm sure Dr. Laura and Dennis Praeger are among those who will continue their unquestioning alliance to the radical, intolerant, bigoted right). Thanks Salon.com and writer Michelle Goldberg. Complete article here.

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