American Jews confront internal rancor over Israel
Some see signs of growing strife within American Jewry over the issue of Israel.
January 27th, 2012
10:40 AM ET

American Jews confront internal rancor over Israel

By Joe Sterling, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) - When the editor of a Jewish newspaper here wrote this month that the Jewish state might consider assassinating an American president, his column made national headlines and provoked a Secret Service inquiry.

The most striking criticism came from the Jewish community itself, which collectively held its nose and harshly denounced the column by Andrew Adler, who is also the owner of the weekly paper, the Atlanta Jewish Times. Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman called Adler's words "irresponsible and extremist."

Adler apologized and resigned as editor, but some see the episode as the latest example of an increase in divisive, over-the-top rhetoric within American Jewish communal life, revolving largely around the hot-button issue of Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians.

The tensions have provoked Jewish groups across the country to launch programs aimed at lowering the political temperature in their own religious communities.

Israel is not "one of the great unifying factors" that it once was in the Jewish community, said Samuel Freedman, author of "Jew vs. Jew: the Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry.”

"Since the Lebanon invasion and the First Intifada, it has become a dividing line,” he said, referring to the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation in the late 1980s. “It's probably deeper now than I've ever seen it."

Tensions within American Judaism are rising as some Jews detect an "existential threat" to Israel, with Iran's nuclear aspirations and Islamist parties coming to power during the Arab uprisings, he says.

Freedman also sees broader trends at work, including the fading line between private and public talk dissolving in the era of blogging and tweeting. The Atlanta Jewish Times incident, he says, is a reminder that words that sound bold in private will "resonate really differently when they are out in public."

Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, says emotions have been much more "intense and destructive" lately as ideological camps within the American Jewish community harden their views over the contentious U.S. presidential campaign, tensions between Israel and Iran, and issues from health care to marriage.

"This is going to be a brutal year," he says. "We're looking at a scorched earth political environment."

Felson’s group spearheads a nationwide civility initiative and held a "civility institute" last year to help Jewish leaders with conflict resolution, listening and "communicating across polarized divides."

Leaders from 15 Jewish communities across the country participated.

The council recently issued a civility statement signed by a range of prominent Jewish entities, saying the effort has "deep roots in Torah," the Jewish sacred text, and "in our community's traditions."

But the statement also spoke to a troubled Jewish landscape. "The expression and exchange of views is often an uncivil, highly unpleasant experience,” it said. “Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults, and outrageous charges."

Jane Schiff, a Jewish Council for Public Affairs board member who is also on the group’s civility task force, says she has seen the hostile atmosphere take its toll in her Atlanta community, with rabbis backing off from talking about Israel.

"They are afraid it will affect their employment. I'm seeing friends saying to each other, 'I'm not talking to you about that because I want to stay your friend,' " she said of controversial issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Judy Saks, the community relations director for the Jewish Federation of Nashville and editor of the federation-produced community newspaper, can attest to the vituperation.

In May, an online video surfaced about Muslims in Nashville that said they were fomenting pro-terrorist ideas. Called “Losing our Community,” the video was produced by a Boston-based group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance.

A video on the group’s website says one Nashville Muslim figure it regards as radical has been embraced by “self-described progressive Jewish religious leaders," including a rabbi, and is respected as an interfaith activist in the community.

Saks said that the original video blasted three Nashville rabbis but that two were removed after several weeks. Americans for Peace and Tolerance did not respond to a request for comment.

"It brought out such divisiveness in this community,” Saks said. “It pointed fingers at our rabbis for doing what rabbis do."

The organized Jewish community decided to draw up its own civility statement, which supports "robust and vigorous debate about critical issues – as long as it is civil and tolerant" and disagreement "without threats of reprisal."

"This willingness to listen to other points of view honors Nashville's spirit as an open, welcoming and friendly city, our nation's history and our Jewish heritage," it said. "We will not engage with those who threaten the safety and security of our community."

In California's San Francisco Bay Area, controversy erupted over a film about Rachel Corrie shown at a 2009 San Francisco Jewish film festival.

Corrie, an American member of the International Solidarity Movement who was killed in Gaza nine years ago by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer, symbolizes for many the battle on the left against Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

Corrie's mother spoke at the event, angering some Jews, who said her appearance politicized what was supposed to be an artistic moment.

The reaction to the film reflected the political fissures in the Bay Area Jewish community. In response, two community leaders, Abby Michelson Porth and Rachel Eryn Kalish, co-founded Project Reconnections, which included an initiative called the Year of Civil Discourse.

The well-funded effort throughout 2011 worked to bring Jews of different political stripes together for dialogue and deliberation, study and workshops. It also focused on reconciliation in four synagogues beset by political enmity and engaged community leaders over issues such as the Middle East.

Porth, also associate director at the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, says the project helped infuse the community "with the skills and the opportunity to have a rich, meaningful and civil discourse."

She says it got people on opposite ends of the spectrum to stay at the table to understand the other person's point of view and to to deliberate thoughtfully over disagreements.

Kalish, the Year of Civil Discourse project facilitator, saw people’s "fight or flight" instincts shift as they learned to communicate thoughtfully and gain a deeper understanding of issues such as Jewish settlements and the status of Jerusalem.

A healthy conversation, Kalish said, helps people think and understand that "maybe there's a third way" to approach a stubborn issue.

She recalls an interaction in one synagogue between an older man who lived through Israel's War of Independence in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967 and a young woman who sees Israel through the prism of its criticized actions in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The two synagogue members came to understand each other and now work side by side as dialogue "facilitators" at their congregation. Kalish cites this as an example of "pretty dramatic change" in learning how to listen and speak honesty and respectfully.

Mitch Chanin, executive director of the Jewish Dialogue Group in Philadelphia, offers dialogue programs for Jews in synagogues, colleges and other organizations and trains people as dialogue facilitators. The group formed in 2001 and has done work across North America.

Chanin, who says his group refrains from promoting political opinion, says the dialogues have included talking through the tough issues around the Middle East conflict.

"People grapple with the questions of what risks are we willing to take and what actions are ethical. Who can we trust and not trust?" Chanin said. "The likely consequences of Israeli policies. What are the intentions of Palestinian actors?

“What can we do to be safe? When is it OK to kill? When is it necessary? When is it wrong? When are there alternatives?"

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Israel • Judaism

soundoff (2,431 Responses)
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    July 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
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    April 30, 2012 at 3:31 am |
  3. all about movie stars

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    April 20, 2012 at 2:52 am |
  4. Muneef

    Google (John Pilger; Palestine is still the issue.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:35 am |
  5. June Forsyth Kenagy

    What I'd like to know is, how come this Jewish editor gets no penalty other than being fired for promoting assassination of President Obama, when any other ordinary person would be in jail for such talk?
    Why the discrepancy in treatment? Aren't we all equal under the law?

    January 31, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • AngryJew

      That is a very good question.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  6. Iqbal khan


    January 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • evensteven

      Embarrassing . . .

      February 6, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  7. ed

    I'm a "gentile" and I back the jewish people 100%

    January 31, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • AngryJew

      Good for you. You are a good pet. Now get me a soda.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  8. George Meyersick

    After, viewing all of the inapropriate speach here today, I ask myself Who are you people? You obviously do not know the Kora, or the Tora. Ive heard of the blessings and you're about to endure the prophesy's that are insued in Revelations. Such idiocracy, and ignorance. How many of you are practicing jews? The Palestinians have always claimed what the lord gave Israel, Israel due to lack of faith and greed have detered the land as a bartering tool to obtain peace? I am ashamed of all who profess such idolitry and sinful lack of knowledge. The European peoples did not cause your pathetic views. Israel, will envolve the European counterparts for protection from the surrounding of nations against Israel waiting to devour her. Israel, is the mother of us all and in reality deserves the respect and inteligence of what seems to be lacking in its Jewish community. The answer as the lord put it was thjat Israel, defied God once again and needs as a nation to "Repent", of its sins and turn toward God himself for protection' Man is an abomination to God, and so are his deeds. We cannot live without his guidance and correction. It is true the jewish leaders need to justify their divenace and unscrupilous concepts of greed and malice toward mankind, this was never a blessing. I think personally all of you should read the scriptures and learn what it sez'? If there is anyone with a mind, exercise its potential.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  9. Chimo

    This jerk Populiat on You tube is just another fool who thinks that we jews walk around calling ourselves "the chosen people" and this idiot who is allowed to post his anti semitic crap actually thinks that we see ourselves as better than anyone else, really???? I don't think so. We Jews have one country that we ask to have for ourselves, it's not a big country, but apparently these muslims who own and operate 95% of the entire middle east want the jews to give up most of their land to the Palestinians. They say we Jews "stole" this land, and what's really sick is that their are some jews who actaully side with these muslims. These are the people who want to finish what Hitler started. I say We have the right to our Israel and no one has the right to take it from us. The arabs will never give us jews peace, even if we part with East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and anyone who says they will is a liar or is totally misguided and believes the lies of the Palestinians. Keep the land Israel and go ahead and build your settlements, it's exactly what the arabs would do to the jews if they had the control. They did have the West Bank and Jerusalem prior to 1967 and they still tried to destroy what was left. Never give up the land you have Israel. Rachel Corrie was an anti semitic twit who hated jews and decided to step in front of a buldozer (not the most intelligent thing to do) and then the stinkin Eurotrash decides to beatify her and write a play about her "heroism" Puhleeeeez. I hate all anti semites

    January 31, 2012 at 2:26 am |
    • Hitch

      Chimo, I agree with you 100% ! May God Bless you and may God Bless Isarel forever!!! PS Prayer does change Things!

      January 31, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • AngryJew

      Israel does not own the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem. So, yes, the Jewish settlers have stolen the land where they built their illegal houses.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • evensteven

      You hate anti-Semites? Seems you are cast from the same mold. Hatred is hatred, whether toward Jews or from Jews.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:26 am |
  10. Reality

    The terror and aggression that is Islam via a Partial and Recent and Not So Recent Body Count

    As the koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:

    The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

    ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

    and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

    and more recently

    1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

    1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

    2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

    3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

    4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

    5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

    6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

    7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

    8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

    9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

    10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

    11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

    12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

    13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

    14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

    15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

    16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

    17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

    18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

    19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

    20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

    21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

    22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) - Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

    23) "October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began

    January 31, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Jeff

      One sick Hindu extremist picking on another sick extremist group. You should add Church buring; priest and his children burnt alive by Jeddi-wallas in India.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • Reality

      Putting the final kibosh on religion:

      • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      A quick Google, Bing or Yahoo search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      January 31, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • ......

      put the final kibosh on reality hit report abuse on all reality bull sh it

      January 31, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Max

      Dude did you make this up!! get a life

      March 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  11. The Bear Jew

    I'll just say it this way. There are maybe 4 or 5 nut-jobs here that are playing at being big nasty white supremacists. It's pretty weak stuff. Have a look at stormfront.org. They worry about fluoride in their water, they love David Duke (remember him?), and they don't want any profanity on their site. There is absolutely nothing to them.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • populist1488 on Youtube

      Seriously, what can be more supremacist than referring to your jewish selves as the chosen people. Really, the audacity of you jews amazes me.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Richard Alexander

      @populist1488 on Youtube – Palestinians are now trying to win over evangelicals by claiming that the Palestinians are the real Jews, while the Israeli Jews are false Jewish converts from Eastern Europe. This is just one of many examples that Islam has no problem claiming supremacy for itself!

      January 31, 2012 at 2:01 am |
    • The Bear Jew

      Someone should let you know what it actually means to be chosen, populist1488. I'll just say it this way: we were chosen when your ancestors were still painting themselves blue and living in trees. We taught you and are still teaching you most of what you know. We do that because that is what we are expected to do as God's people in the world. Your envy is not new. We've seen it for thousands of years. We still do what we are expected to do.

      January 31, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • The Guyver

      "There are maybe 4 or 5 nut-jobs here that are playing at being big nasty white *supremacists."

      "I'll just say it this way: we were chosen when your ancestors were still painting themselves blue and living in trees."

      *Supremacist – a person who believes in or advocates the supremacy of a particular group, especially a racial group.

      January 31, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • The Bear Jew

      Like I said, envy. I don't feel particularly superior, but you feel inferior. So you think I'm the supremacist and you're what? Some sort of victim? I read the Stormfront website last night. There was a part called Crimes of the Jews. No one could come up with anything, but everyone agreed that it was a great idea to have a list. Real sad. Stop playing at being a victim. It doesn't look good on you.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • AngryJew

      I think that all of humanity is the "chosen" people. When we start throwing that type of slogan around, we get to societies with brown shirts and Hitler youth.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  12. Walter Weller

    Religious belief, if strongly held, inevitably - always - has led to conflict. But maybe its day has come, where its murderous proclivities will have some benefit for society.

    In today's world, where too many people face too many other people and communication is too free, perhaps a few good interfaith (and intrafaith) wars would thin out the population some and at least get rid of most of the more devout fundamentalists. That would seem an unmitigated good deal - a consummation devoutly to be wished.

    Go get 'em, holy hot-heads.

    January 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Israel is restored in prayer
    Prayer changes things

    January 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Tom Paine

      Religion is like a disease that sickens society as a whole with its brainwashing BS.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • Nope

      STEP research proves you wrong.

      Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. The volunteers prayed for "a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for specific patients, for whom they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.

      The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren't prayed for but were told it was a possibility.

      The researchers didn't ask patients or their families and friends to alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have been unethical and impractical. The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

      January 31, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Israel is restored in prayer

    January 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  15. Know Your Jews

    What's all this, Stormfront? Not getting your fluoride?

    January 30, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.