Martin Federman: Bullies on the Block
- The Jewish community loses credibility when we attack certain
Bullies on the block
By Martin R. Federman
I grew up in ethnically diverse Queens, N.Y. Still, one day the
Rexall gang stopped Sheldon, Lloyd and me after Hebrew School,
pushing us around. Our supposed insult was what they expected from a
bunch of "little Yids." Unexpectedly, Lloyd dropped his books,
stomped toward the shul muttering "I'm calling the cops." After some
more shoves and unpleasant language, they took off.
I remembered this recently when reading the Dec. 22 front-page story
in the Advocate of "Jewish activists" targeting Cambridge churches
because of space given or rented to people who question Israeli
policies. These "activists" certainly have the right to disagree
with anyone. There is, however, irony inherent in the belief that
they are protected by free speech, yet the same protection is not
available to others. The rationale usually given (as quoted in the
Advocate's coverage) is that those using the facilities are "hotbeds
Let's be clear - there are some vicious anti-Semites out there, and
some do use anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric to cover it. The
targeted churches, however, have warm relations with the Jewish
community and even a history of support for Israel. Nevertheless,
the "activists" cannot abide anyone criticizing any of Israel's
policies. Since they cannot simply silence these voices (freedom of
speech, you know), they use the one indefensible accusation: anti-
Semitism. Since this is rightly a heinous accusation, old friends
are intimidated into doing anything to insulate themselves from it.
Consequently, these churches are frightened into second-guessing any
connection with voices possibly unacceptable to Jews.
A pernicious aspect of these tactics is that they target groups like
Sabeel and its director, the Rev. Naim Ateek. Despite Ateek's
frequent recognition of Israel and his wish to interact with it and
to promote a non-violent strategy within the Palestinian resistance
movement, he has been slandered, his words taken out of context. In
reality, voices like Ateek's are the ultimate threat to those who
claim there are no Palestinian "moderates," lest the lie that "there
is no partner for peace" be exposed. The contemptible strategy
of "activists" like The David Project has been to attack Ateek and
now our Christian neighbors with that label "anti-Semite."
I'm not so worried about the individual "activists." Like the Rexall
bullies of my childhood, we need Lloyds to tell them that we won't
be intimidated. I'm more concerned by The David Projects and CAMERAs
out there with immense resources to disseminate misinformation
dressed as fact. But most frightening is the realization that, as
quoted in the Advocate, these bullies are supported by our
institutional agencies. If the Jewish Community Relations Council,
an agency with a well-deserved history of defending civil rights, is
intervening in conversations with our Christian allies on the side
of our short-sighted Jewish bullies, we are in trouble.
Rather than attacking Christians who have proven to be our allies,
we should be working with them. Only then will we have the
credibility to address the threat of the real anti-Semites.
Martin R. Federman, a Jewish educator, is co-chair of the Boston
Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
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