A Good List To Be On: The NRA’s Blacklist

Do people still get blacklisted in America?  

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action has published a list of “organizations, corporations, publications, and celebrities that have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations.” It features a lot of Jews and Jewish groups:

  • American Jewish Committee
  • American Jewish Congress
  • Jewish Labor Committee
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • B’nai B’rith
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Hadassah
  • Rabbi Paul Menitaff
  • Rabbi David Saperstein
  • Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
  • Actor Ed Asner
  • Actor and Producer Mel Brooks
  • Actor Hal Linden
  • Actor Leonard Nimoy
  • Actor Jerry Seinfeld
  • Actor Henry Winkler
  • Mayor Ed Koch z’l

They have also blacklisted medical groups such as the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the National Association of Public Hospitals and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the League of Women Voters of the United States, and the National Association of Police Organizations.

Read the complete list. I think you will agree that this is the sort of “blacklist” any self-respecting organization would like to be on.

Faith Leaders Commemorate 9/11 and Denounce Islamaphobia

When the fires of intolerance are spreading, will we raise our voices in protest?  Will we stand with Muslim Americans when emotions are raw and the danger is greatest?

— Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism

Ten years ago this weekend, a terror attack changed the world and changed America forever.  It left Americans frightened and dismayed, and filled American hearts with bewilderment and enduring rage.

We stand here today as representatives of America’s great religious traditions.  What has been our role in healing our nation?

I suggest that we have had, and still have, four major tasks.

More after the jump.
Our first task is to help America remember the victims and to offer their families comfort and healing.  Sometimes, let’s admit, 9/11 has become a slogan or a cause rather than a human tragedy.  But we in the religious world are not distracted; we focus on the lives snuffed out and on those who suffered most.  We pray for the bereaved and extend a loving hand to the injured and traumatized.  We know that news may move on, but for those affected, the loss and the pain remain.

Our second task is to educate about the meaning of 9/11.  And education means that religious communities must confront the extremists in their midst; if we cower in the face of fanatic minorities, we are lost. This is true for Muslims, and it is true for us all. And education also means that when we look at 9/11, we must absolutely refuse to justify, excuse, or explain away what happened.

The attacks of 9/11 were acts of unmitigated evil, carried out by men who polluted religion by coupling it with violence.  As religious leaders, we know something about this; after all, the connection between religion and violence is set out in the story of Cain and Abel at the very beginning of the Biblical story of humankind.

And we know, better than anyone, that there is no such thing as murdering your way to salvation; we know that ruthless acts, calculated to produce shock and outrage, are an affront to God and to everything we hold dear; we know that whatever explanations might now be offered, those responsible for this evil are those who chose to kill in God’s name.

And because it is hard to comprehend evil on such a scale, when we talk about 9/11, we try to talk about flesh-and-blood people – like two-year old Christine Hanson, sitting on her father’s lap on United Airlines Flight 175 on her way to Disneyland.  We remind Americans that taking Christine’s life was blasphemous and repugnant; and we remind them too of the profound reverence that we all must have for human life and the integrity of creation.

Our third task is to resist with all of our might the view that the extremist fringe that carried out and supported this violent act is the voice of Islam in America or in the world.

To give you a sense of how difficult this is, permit me to say a few words about what is happening here in America.

I believe that America has done a better job than most of the world, including Christian Europe, of embracing its Muslim citizens and welcoming its Muslim immigrants.  What makes the United States unique is our religiosity and our pluralism.  Americans respect religion and believe in God, and they eventually learn to respect religions different from their own.  Add to that the great principle of church-state separation and we can be confident that for Muslim Americans, like all other Americans, full religious freedom will eventually be assured.

Nonetheless, there is cause for concern.

The events of 9/11 and other events since, such as the Park51 controversy, opened a door that some have been quick to rush through.  Ten years after 9/11, negative views of Muslim Americans continue to rise.  Ten years after 9/11, it has somehow become respectable to verbally attack Muslims and Islam in America.  Vital distinctions are being blurred by people who should know better.  I am referring to distinctions between the radical, fanatic version of Islam, held by a tiny minority of Muslims, and centrist Islam; I am referring to distinctions between the moderate majority and the extremists on the margins.

There are very real consequences when entire populations are represented in the public imagination by their worst elements, when the sins of the few are applied to the group as a whole.

I have watched in astonishment as prominent politicians, including candidates for President of the United States, have found it politically opportune to peddle divisive anti-Muslim bigotry.

And if all of this were not enough, we have been witness to a paranoid fantasy about Sharia law taking over America by stealth.  In the last year, more than two dozen states have proposed legislation outlawing the use of Shariah law in state courts.  Louisiana, Tennessee and Oklahoma have already approved such measures, which I do not hesitate to call anti-Muslim.

When I hear such things, I can barely contain myself.  What if a state were to put forward a bill that referenced Jewish law or Canon law in a similar way?  Jews and Catholics would be outraged, and rightly so.  To say that these laws are unnecessary is an understatement of monumental proportions.  Have these lawmakers not heard of the First Amendment, which already prohibits courts from adopting any kind of religious code as law of the land?

These laws serve only to do two things:  single out Muslims as second-class citizens and undermine the Constitution of the United States.

Many Muslim Americans that I know are feeling beleaguered right now, and I would be surprised if they were not.

But now the good news:  this is a great and wonderful country.  And with President Obama and President Bush before him leading the way, most Americans still see this country as a secure sanctuary that safeguards our right to be different and to follow our own religious path.  

Yes, troubling things are happening now, due in part to the economic climate.  As we know, economic uncertainty is often a fertile ground for hatred.

But we will not accept excuses.  And the fact is that good people are fighting back.  The people in this room are fighting back.  And most Americans, with the right leadership and inspiration, will be proud to stand with the forces of inclusion and to oppose the forces of intolerance in this land.

And that brings me to our fourth and final task:  to offer hope, and faith.

This is a difficult time for America.  Politics is inherently divisive, and never more so than now.  When everyone is shouting; when every voice on talk radio or cable news is trying to be the loudest and the most shocking; when it seems that our problems are too great to solve and our hatred too deep to cure, it is the task of religion to offer healing and a sense of the common good.

And when our Muslim neighbors are under attack, the best way to do that is not with theology, but with personal friendships, and with concrete, grassroots, hands-on projects that bring us together.  And that is exactly what we have been doing, and we will give you the details in a minute.

And our message today is:  timing is everything.  The time for coalitions of decency to come together to fight for our Muslim neighbors and for religious understanding is now, when it is needed most.  

This is our challenge: When the fires of intolerance are spreading, will we raise our voices in protest?  Will we stand with Muslim Americans when emotions are raw and the danger is greatest?  We will, I believe.  It won’t be easy, it will take work, but we will do so.  Because that is the moral course.

So I end with the hope – that is our common hope – that Muslims, Jews, and Christians will not permit fanaticism to grow or prejudice to harden; that as the sacred day of 9/11 approaches, we will honor the memory of those who died by teaching our children to honor life; and that here, in America, as seekers of God and children of Abraham, we will refuse to grant a victory to those who work to divide us; that here in America, we will reclaim our common heritage and find a common path.

Thank you for being here and for joining with us.

Reform Movement Denounces Glenn Beck’s Attack on Religious Values

— Annette Powers

“Beck’s sweeping dismissal of the religious faith of a million and a half North American Jews was both tragic and outrageous.

Speaking on his Tuesday radio show, Fox News host Glenn Beck brought up the recent letter that more than 400 rabbis signed and placed as an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal criticizing him for repeatedly comparing his ideological foes to Nazis. He claimed that this letter, coordinated by Jewish Funds for Justice, was dominated by Reform rabbis, and dismissed the Movement as akin to “radicalized Islam.” Reform rabbis, he said, “are generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way.” His comparison was “not about terror,” he stressed, but “about politics, and so it becomes more about politics than it does about faith.”

In response to these remarks, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism issued the following statement:

We are deeply distressed by Glenn Beck’s profoundly offensive remarks about Reform Judaism and Reform rabbis.  Beck’s sweeping dismissal of the religious faith of a million and a half North American Jews was both tragic and outrageous.

Reform Judaism, a proud and venerable religious tradition, does not accept Mr. Beck as the arbiter of what is spiritual and what is not, of who has faith and who does not, of what constitutes real religion and what does not.   We respect his faith and demand that he respect ours.  Our members, who — like others in North America — apply their religious values to the problems of the broader society, are happy to have Mr. Beck disagree with us on any position that one or more of us may take, but not to make pronouncements and sweeping condemnations that he has neither the right nor the knowledge to make.

We are particularly incensed that Mr. Beck chose to compare Reform Judaism with “radicalized Islam.”  While noting that Reform Judaism is not about “terror,” he implied the opposite — or, at the very least, that the religious faith of the largest segment of North American Jewry is extremist and fanatic.

Mr. Beck’s comments are offensive to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.  Speaking in sweeping generalizations about other religious traditions is offensive.  Imputing radicalism and fanaticism to large religious groups is offensive.  Dismissing the heartfelt religious beliefs of millions of North Americans is offensive.  Mr. Beck should be ashamed of his comments, and we hope that he will have the good sense never to repeat them.

Transcript of Beck’s comments follows the jump.

Reposted from Media Matters for America

Last month, 400 rabbis signed an open letter from Jewish Funds For Justice to Rupert Murdoch requesting that Glenn Beck be sanctioned for his false claims that George Soros collaborated with the Nazis.

Today, rather than apologizing, Beck lashed out at the rabbis. Beck falsely claimed that “all” of the rabbis who signed the letter came from the Reform movement of Judaism. Beck asserted that Reform Judaism is “more about politics” than about faith. Beck went on to liken Reform Judaism to “radicalized Islam.”


PAT GRAY (co-host): And now remember, this is all fueled by an organization that Soros funds, that has a bunch of progressive rabbis that came out against Glenn and said —

BECK: OK, you have to — hang on just a second. When you talk about rabbis, understand that most — most people who are not Jewish don’t understand that there are the Orthodox rabbis, and then there are the Reformed rabbis. Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way, to where it is just — radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. When you look at the Reform Judaism, it is more about politics. I’m not saying that they’re the same on —

GRAY: No, obviously not.

BECK: — and they’re going to take it at that, but — stand in line.

GRAY: “Glenn Beck says –“

BECK: It’s not about terror or anything else, it’s about politics, and so it becomes more about politics than it does about faith. Orthodox rabbis — that is about faith. There’s not a single Orthodox rabbi on this list. This is all Reformed rabbis that were — that made this list.

STU BURGURIERE (executive producer): Yeah, I don’t know that for a fact. I know that certainly this organization is a progressive political organization. And that’s fine.

These are pretty outrageous claims — even for Beck.

First of all, the letter was signed by rabbis from the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstruction, and Reform movements. So Beck is dead wrong about that.

But more importantly, the Reform movement isn’t some fringe, radical group that has abandoned Judaism; it’s the largest religious denomination American Jews.

According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, 35 percent of American Jews consider themselves to be Reform, compared to 10 percent who consider themselves to be Orthodox and 26 percent who consider themselves to be Conservative.

Similarly, the survey found that 39 percent — a plurality — of American Jewish households that belong to a synagogue are Reform.

According to its website, the Union for Reform Judaism includes “more than 900 congregations in the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands” and “is the largest Jewish movement in North America and represents an estimated 1.5 million Jews.”

That’s a lot of Jews that Beck just smeared.

Reactions to Unrest in Egypt: Hope & Concern

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism

We are watching the developing situation in Egypt with concern, and with hope.

We agree with President Obama that it is essential that the Egyptian government use restraint when dealing with peaceful protests.  Our prayers go out to all those who have been injured and the families of those who have been killed in this conflict.

The people of Egypt should have the rights of all citizens of the earth to peacefully assemble, to express their opinion openly and without fear of oppression, and to express their political desires through a fair and legitimate election.

We, therefore, join with the governments of the United States and Canada in calling for President Mubarak to implement the political, social, and economic reforms that will move the country forward.

We urge, and pray, that these reforms be moved forward through a peaceful dialogue between the protestors and the government and not through the use of violence on either side.

We hope that whatever the outcome of these events, the Republic of Egypt continues to work for peace in the greater Middle East and continue its over thirty year peace agreement with the State of Israel

Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ), member of the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee

The United States and our allies are all monitoring the situation on a minute by minute basis and encourage a peaceful and democratic resolution to the current Egyptian unrest. My heart goes out to all of those who have been killed or injured during the mass demonstrations in the Egyptian streets.

For the past 30 years, as the most populous of the Arab states, with the largest standing army in the region, Egypt has played a critically important role in protecting America’s interests in North Africa and the Middle East. This includes Egypt’s cooperation in military, intelligence, and economic matters with our country; and its continuing to preserve the peace with America’s most important friend and strategic ally in the region, the Jewish State of Israel. Egypt has also partnered with the U.S., Israel, and our other allies in fighting terrorism.

In the end, we seek an Egypt that remains a strong ally, working with the U.S. in our common fight against terrorism, living at peace with Israel, and creating an increasingly open society to meet the needs of its young and growing population.

— Alan Elsner, The Israel Project Senior Communications Director

The uprising in Egypt that looks like it may sweep away President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old regime threatens to deprive Israel of its most important strategic ally in the region.

Israeli leaders have been silent about the events in Egypt and are powerless to affect the outcome. But they and the entire Israeli population are gravely concerned that the turmoil will ultimately bring to power a new government hostile to the Jewish state.

At a time when Israel’s relations with Turkey, its other traditional regional ally, have deteriorated sharply, and when Hezbollah is strengthening its grip in Lebanon, the developments in Egypt will likely deepen a sense of vulnerability in the Israeli public and strengthen the government’s determination to keep security its number one priority.

There is also the danger of a domino effect.

More after the jump.

Challenges have been sparked to the monarchy in Jordan – the only other Arab country to have made peace with Israel – as well as governments throughout the Arabian Peninsula which control most of the world’s oil supplies.

Israel and Egypt fought four wars between 1948 and 1973 but signed a peace treaty in 1979. True, it was a “cold peace.” Mubarak refused to allow cultural or people-to-people relations to flourish and kept military ties between the Israel Defense Forces and the Egyptian military on a low level with no joint exercises. He also tolerated a media that has spewed offensive anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric for years, ensuring that Egyptian public opinion remained hostile to Israel and Jews in general.

Still, this “cold peace” has been a tremendous strategic asset for both countries and a bulwark of stability in the region. Israel no longer had to plan for a two or three-front war and was able to cut military spending, with a consequent boost to its economy. In the past year, the Egyptian military has made some efforts to disrupt weapons smuggling to Iranian-backed Hamas across its border with Gaza.

Of course, Israelis recognize that Mubarak has been running a corrupt, authoritarian regime that has held back progress in his country. On a strictly human level, Israelis understand that Egyptians should enjoy the same democratic rights as they do and deserve the chance to build a better future. But the danger exists that what comes next will be infinitely worse, not only for Israel but for the Egyptian people themselves.

The nightmare scenario, of course, is a repeat of the Iranian revolution of 1979 when the pro-western Shah, an Israeli ally and oil supplier, was replaced by an Islamic regime that openly calls for Israel’s destruction, denies the Holocaust and is engaged in an all-out attempt to build nuclear weapons.

The Shah’s government, no doubt, was a cruel human rights abuser – but the Islamic fundamentalism of the Ayatollahs which replaced him has been a thousand times worse and now threatens the peace of the world.

In Egypt, the best opposition organization is the Muslim Brotherhood which has close links to Hamas and is ideologically very hostile to Israel. Its leaders probably understand that abandoning the peace treaty with Israel would endanger the $2 billion in aid Egypt receives each year from the United States as well as critically damaging Egypt’s important tourist trade. But their rank-and-file supporters are not as sophisticated and would no doubt place immense pressure on the leadership to change the country’s pro-western orientation.

Still, Egypt is no Iran. Strategically and historically, the two are competitors and not allies. Iran is at the center of a growing “Shi’ite crescent” which is steadily bringing Lebanon into its orbit.

Probably the best solution for Egypt would be a peaceful and orderly transition to free and fair elections. But this too is no panacea. Local elections were held in Gaza in January 2005 which brought the Iranian-backed Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement to power.

That was six years ago, and Hamas seems determined never to hold another election ever again. In 2007, it brutally crushed the opposition Fatah organization and expelled its members. Last October, a poll by The Israel Project in Gaza found Hamas with only a 40 percent approval rating, trailing considerably behind Fatah – but of course Gazans have no opportunity to express their will at the ballot box.

Egyptians deserve a chance to build democracy and move their country forward. Israelis hope they get the chance to do so, knowing that peace and friendship works best between fellow democracies.

Open Letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

Dear Secretary Gates,

On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis, we write to express our support for repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. We find disappointing the position espoused that ministering to gays and lesbians would violate religious freedom. We strongly believe that such a repeal need not compromise religious freedom within our armed services, but instead will lead to a stronger, more fair and effective military.

While respecting the complexity and seriousness of the issue, the White House and many current and retired military leaders have recognized the urgency of repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General Colin Powell, among others, have expressed their view that the policy should be abandoned.  These views reflect the fact that since its inception, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has forced gay and lesbian service members to live their lives in secret, always at risk of losing their ability to serve our country. Almost 14,000 soldiers and sailors have been expelled under the policy. It has been estimated by the GAO that the cost of replacing these service members exceeds $200 million, with a follow up study by an expert commission placing the figure even higher, at $363 million.  Particularly in a time of war and recession, these are human and financial resources we cannot afford to squander.

More after the jump.
We know, however, that some in the religious community have expressed support for maintaining “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  We strongly hold the opposite view.  Communities of faith across the country believe in the importance of ensuring the rights of gay and lesbian Americans and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As Reform Jews, we are guided by the understanding that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim, in the Divine image. Regardless of context, discrimination against any person is inconsistent with this fundamental belief, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a crucial step toward creating a more just and compassionate military. We must no longer allow prejudice to deprive our nation of the skills and commitment of talented and patriotic men and women.

More than two-dozen countries allow homosexuals to serve openly in their militaries without negative impact on unit cohesion or efficiency. In fact, as you know, among NATO countries, only the United States and Turkey continue to have such bans. In Iraq and Afghanistan, American troops serve side by side with openly gay allied service members. In addition, 75 percent of Americans, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, believe gays and lesbians should have the right to serve openly.

The time has come to repeal this harmful law. We urge you to do so expeditiously and with the interests of justice held paramount.


Rabbi Steven A. Fox          
Chief Executive, Central Conference of American Rabbis    

Rabbi Eric Yoffie
President, Union for Reform Judaism