Jim Rice 10-28-2015


THE IMAGE OF Palestinian teenagers pulling out knives and attempting to stab heavily armed, flak-jacketed Israeli soldiers—or civilians, right in front of the soldiers—serves as a sad metaphor for Israel-Palestine these days. The desperation, the futility, the massive disproportionality of firepower—it’s all there.

Of course, what really happened in recent violent incidents is subject to contentious dispute, as is so much else in the region. Take, for instance, a mid-October clash in East Jerusalem. The Israeli police gave their version of events: Border police officers confronted a Palestinian man, who pulled a knife and tried to stab them. They fired at him to “neutralize” the attack, and he died of his injuries.

The Palestinian News and Information Agency’s version added significant details: The “man” killed by Israeli soldiers was actually a 16-year-old named Muta’az Owaisat, and the agency reported that the police quickly imposed a military cordon to keep journalists from the scene, near an “illegal Israeli settlement.” The report added, “Earlier Saturday, an 18-year-old Palestinian ... was shot by an Israeli setter in central Hebron, in the southern Western Bank, where he was left to die by Israeli soldiers who prevented paramedics from administering medical assistance to him.”

An anecdote in The Washington Post illustrated the senselessness of the violence: “As an atmosphere of fear and vengeance spread, a young Jewish Israeli stalked an Ikea parking lot in Kiryat Ata, a town in northern Israel, apparently looking for Arabs to attack,” the Post reported. “He repeatedly stabbed a man who turned out to be Jewish himself.”

A lot of ink is spent explaining what “caused” these latest outbreaks—it’s usually summarized as Israel’s attempts to restrict Palestinians from entering the area of East Jerusalem that houses the al-Aqsa Mosque (and the Temple Mount). But in some ways, looking for a single precipitating cause misses the point. Sometimes, such eruptions are simply a case of a people saying, “I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Image via Jabeen Bhatti / RNS

In a bid to defuse the wave of Palestinian violence that has struck Israel and the West Bank during the past few weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Oct. 8 prohibited all of the country’s parliamentarians from visiting the Temple Mount, a contentious site holy to both Jews and Arabs.

Netanyahu made the controversial decision in order to quell Muslims’ fears that Israel was preparing to assert sovereignty over part or all of the Mount, the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, and the long-destroyed Jewish Biblical Temples. Netanyahu has long denied such intentions.

Far-right-wing Jews, including Israeli agricultural minister Uri Ariel, say Jews should have the right to pray at Judaism’s holy site, and some have vowed to build a Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. Arab leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have said such a move would result in a regional war against Israel.

Image via The Abrahamic Reunion/RNS

An interfaith group gathered in a private home Sept. 21 to head off potential tensions over how Jews and Muslims celebrate Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha, two holidays that overlap this year.

The meeting of the Abrahamic Reunion took on added significance in Jerusalem, where more than a week of violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians on the Temple Mount have spilled into the streets of East Jerusalem.

Two dozen people of various faiths heard a rabbi explain the laws and traditions of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and a Muslim sheikh explain the laws and traditions of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that honors the willingness of Ibrahim (the biblical Abraham) to heed God’s order to sacrifice his son.

The day culminated with an interfaith peace walk between the eastern and western parts of the city. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and considers it part of its capital. The Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Image via Michele Chabin/RNS

Israel’s 47 Christian schools are entering the second week of an open-ended strike to protest ongoing cuts in government allocations, which they attribute to government discrimination against minority religious groups.

The schools, 40 of them Catholic, teach 33,000 Christian and Muslim Arab students in central and northern Israel.

Officials from various Christian denominations called the strike on Aug. 31, after nearly two years of negotiations with the Ministry of Education failed to convince the government to reinstate the funding it has withdrawn from the country’s semi-private schools during the past six years.

REUTERS / Danny Moloshok / RNS

Actress Mayim Bialik. Photo via REUTERS / Danny Moloshok / RNS

Emmy-winning actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik isn’t afraid to speak out about her sometimes-unconventional social views, from writing a book about attachment parenting to criticizing hyper-sexualized celebrities in a recent essay.

Now, she’s talking candidly about religion in entertainment, claiming that “it’s never going to be trendy to be observant or religious in Hollywood circles” in an interview with FOX411.

Tom Getman 08-25-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

When my wife, Karen, and I lived in Jerusalem, we awakened each morning to see the rising sun shining on the Mount of Pentecost. It is the traditional site of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), the Upper Room, and King David’s tomb.

The power of that image remains in our consciousness. But even more compelling was the view from our hillside terrace where we had breakfast and entertained our friends. Below, between our home and the holy “mountain” 100 yards across the Hinnom Valley, was the still garbage-strewn site of the Moloch cult’s altar where babies were sacrificed to the presumed angry Israeli god — a place condemned as cursed, with no buildings for 2,500 years.

The contrast was always startling. Land, hills, trees, military power, and false religion have become the idolatrous substitute for God himself, as church historian Martin Marty has noted. And the fact is that “children” such as Rachel Corrie, Israeli soldiers, Palestinian stone throwers, and totally innocent little infants are dying daily, as contemporary sacrifices to an idolatrous god.

Shira Rubin 08-25-2015

Image via RNS.

Elhanan Shmidov views this illegal Jewish outpost, within earshot of the drumming ceremonies of nearby Palestinian villages, as the epitome of "self-sacrifice," where "good Jews" like him carry out the holy mission of populating this contested land.

Shmidov, like many of his neighbors, said residents must defend their place in communities like his throughout "Judea and Samaria," the biblical name referring to land that was once the domain of the ancient Jewish kingdom. He takes no responsibility for the Jewish extremists — whom he calls "wild weeds" within the pro-settler community — who carry out violence against Palestinians.

The increasingly radical Jewish militants who target Palestinians are the latest front in Israel’s struggle against terrorism. Israeli security authorities estimate hundreds belong to the extremist groups, but only about 100 have been involved in the violent attacks.

Robert Hirschfield 08-11-2015

TUVIA RUEBNER HAS earned the lament he wrote for King David, Israel’s better-known sorrow bearer. The poet came into the world 91 years ago in Pressburg-Bratislava, Slovakia, under Nazism’s shadow. It is a shadow he managed to separate himself from physically, but which sticks to him philosophically and is at the core of his poetry. The parched sound of random loss is the root sound in many of his poems. The spawn of an unimaginable yesterday, Tuvia Ruebner is more than anything a poet of today.

His parents, his grandparents, and his little sister Litzi all perished at Auschwitz in 1942, a year after he immigrated to British Mandate Palestine. Forty years after their deaths, Ruebner’s first son, Moran, was sent to fight in Israel’s first Lebanese war. Moran left for South America the following year, estranged from his country and its wars, and after a few letters, was never heard from again.

In Ruebner’s poem “[My father was murdered],” one by one he enumerates his losses:

Jim Wallis 07-30-2015

If politicians are letting one person trump the tone of politics, just to go up in the polls or get on the debate stage, that’s very bad news for our nation’s civil discourse.

It certainly isn’t serious talk. Serious talk is “Hard work.” “Difficult negotiations.” “Competing interests.” “Coalitions and diplomacy.” Serious talk recognizes that no agreement, no matter how diligently negotiated, is perfect.

Iran is an enemy – an enemy of America, an enemy of Israel, and an enemy of peace. I believe that. But you need to find ways to make peace with your enemies in order to reduce potential conflict. Choosing war with our enemies as our first option since 9/11 has just made us more enemies.

The question is: what we should do about Iran?

Richard Wolf 06-09-2015
Photo courtesy of Shai Halevi / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Shai Halevi / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

The Supreme Court on June 8 declined to insert itself into the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian issue by second-guessing U.S. policy on Jerusalem.

Ruling just a few months after a feud between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the justices refused to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to have their passports changed to reflect Israel as their birthplace, as Congress demanded more than a decade ago.

In denying the challenge waged by the Jewish parents of a 12-year-old almost since his birth in 2002, a majority of justices heeded the State Department’s warning that a simple passport alteration could “provoke uproar throughout the Arab and Muslim world.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres, Pope Francis, and Palestinian President Mahmoud

Israeli President Shimon Peres, Pope Francis, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Image via RNS/Reuters.

The Vatican’s decision to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state on May 13 angered Israeli officials.

The move comes four days before the first-ever canonization of two Palestinian nuns and it solidifies the standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel that the government is “disappointed by the decision. We believe that such a decision is not conducive to bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.”

the Web Editors 05-13-2015
Image via giulio napolitano/

Image via giulio napolitano/

The Vatican announced it will recognize the state of Palestine in a treaty concluded May 13.

The treaty is awaiting formal approval and signing, but it is already being recognized as a major statement of support for a Palestian state in the historically contested region. 

The pope has long signaled his support of a state. The language of the treaty, while not yet signed, has alarmed Israelis but invigorated the Palestinian case for statehood, The New York Times reports

For the past year, the Vatican had informally referred to the country as “state of Palestine,” in its yearbook as well as in its program for Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land.

Formal recognition of a Palestinian state by the Vatican, which has deep religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites, lends a powerful signal of legitimacy to the efforts by the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, to achieve statehood despite the long paralyzed Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Read more from The New York Times here.

Photo via Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Dr. Charles Stanley. Photo via Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Amid a heated debate over his vocal opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley will decline an award he planned to accept from the Jewish National Fund in Atlanta on April 23.

News that the longtime pastor of First Baptist Atlanta and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention would be honored by the JNF angered many Jews who pointed to his history of vitriolic anti-gay comments.

Stanley said the award was causing too much strife within the Jewish community, and for the sake of his love for Israel, he would not accept it, according to the JNF, a nonprofit that sponsors environmental and educational programs in the Jewish state.

It was Stanley’s idea not to accept the award, JNF spokesman Adam Brill said Tuesday.

“Dr. Stanley feels that he did not want to see any further controversy and I think it’s a laudable and heartfelt decision, and we totally support and embrace it.”

Decrying Stanley’s “sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions,” the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) led a campaign to get JNF to change its mind on bestowing Stanley with its Tree of Life award, which was to be given to him for his support for Israel by the JNF’s Atlanta chapter on Thursday, Israel’s independence day.

“We respect Dr. Charles Stanley’s decision,” said Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director of Atlanta-based SOJOURN, on Tuesday.

“We are so grateful for the strong support of hundreds of people across the country. We look forward to a productive dialogue with JNF in the coming weeks and building our relationship together to support the local Jewish and LGBTQ communities and Israel.”

Kim Hjelmgaard 04-15-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Charles Platiau / RNS

A woman lights candles in front of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris. Photo via REUTERS / Charles Platiau / RNS

The number of violent anti-Semitic attacks around the world surged nearly 40 percent last year, according to a report released April 15 by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

The report found there were 766 recorded incidents against Jewish people in 2014 — the worst year for attacks since 2009. It was released ahead of Israel commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, which began April 15 at sundown.

The attacks were “perpetrated with or without weapons and by arson, vandalism, or direct threats against Jewish persons or institutions such as synagogues, community centers, schools, cemeteries, and monuments as well as private property,” the authors of the report, based at the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University, said.

In 2013, there were 554 registered incidents.

Jeffrey Salkin 03-11-2015
Photo via Aleksandar Todorovicvia / Shutterstock / RNS

View from Dominus Flevit church, located in the old part of Jerusalem. Photo via Aleksandar Todorovicvia / Shutterstock / RNS

Is Christian Zionism good for the Jews?

Not every Jew thinks so.

In fact, Christian Zionists make many Jews crazy.


Worry No. 1: Christian Zionists believe all Jews need to be back in the land of Israel before Jesus can return.

Except it’s not true.

I once asked Ralph Reed, the prominent conservative activist and founder of the Christian Coalition, about this.

“Rabbi, I’ve been in church every Sunday of my life and I have never heard such a thing,” he said.

Ryan Beiler 02-04-2015

Evangelicals are no longer automatically taking a one-sided approach to conflict in the Middle East—and with that change comes hope for a troubled region. 

Jeffrey Salkin 01-21-2015
Photo via Donald Jenkins / Flickr / RNS

A Jewish bakery in Paris. Photo via Donald Jenkins / Flickr / RNS

Let me tell you about a married couple. They have been together for many years. Their marriage has had some good moments, but there have also been periods of verbal and physical abuse. Finally, the wife tells her husband that she is considering leaving the marriage. She knows she has options. She can go to a shelter for battered wives, and even find her own place to live in safety and security.

As she starts her car in the garage, her husband runs after her. He drops to his knees and begs: “Please don’t go. I won’t be ‘me’ without you!”

Does she put her foot on the brake, shut off the engine and go back into the house? Does she stay in what has become a very troubled marriage?

That is precisely the question that many Jews in Europe have been asking themselves. More than 7,000 French Jews have moved to Israel in the last year, and there are clear signs others will follow.

This is huge. France has the third-largest Jewish community in the world.

Reflections of the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle B. 

Contested Land, Contested Memory: Israel's Jews and Arabs and the Ghosts of Catstrophe. Dundurn Press. 

Jim Wallis 11-05-2014

We cannot undermine or defeat a group that we do not understand.