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February 22, 2008

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PAGE 4A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 22, 2908 By David Bommtein The state of the election We're down to it. Since my last column, the race for the presidency of the United States has come down to four people: John McCain and Mike Huckabee on the Republican side, Hillary Clinton and B~rack Obama for the Democrats. While McCain seems to have the Republican nomination locked up, the Democratic side, as we all know, appears to be headed down to the wire. And it is that portion of the nomination on which I'd like to focus. I received several comments from readers regarding my first column on the elections, in which I referred to Obama as "a black sorta- Muslim." Admittedly, the flippant choice of words was poorly conceived, and rather than an attempt at brevity I should have spelled out the facts: In Obama's own words he describes his Kenyan father as "raised a Muslim," but a "confirmed atheist" by the time his parents met, and his Indonesian stepfather as "a man who saw religion as not particularly useful." In 1988 Obama joined Trinity United Church of Christ, a mega-church with 10,000 members. There have been documented attempts to pin a Muslim label on Obama as if that's a bad thing, and in my offhand and superficial remark I added to this sad bias. My intent was merely to embellish the notion of diversity in the current campaign, but that's not how many people read my comment. Let me elaborate. At issue is howAmerican voters, more specifi- cally, Jewish American voters, view American politics. On a global level we have been perceived for years to be parochial and rigid in our ac- ceptance of a certain type of candidate: white, male, and middle- to upper-class. When John Kennedywas nominated his Roman Catholicism became an issue, and he defended himself by dearly defining apersonal separation of church and state. Today gender, race, and religion are all atthe forefrontofthe 2008 elections, sometimes in good ways, sometimes not. Before he dropped out, Mitt Romney made a speech defending his Mormon beliefs and espousing a role for religion in politics. I firmly believe the opposite. There is no place for religion in politics, other than a moral understanding of right and wrong. Whether a candidate is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, an atheist, or simply unaffiliated, should have no bearing on our decision to vote for or against that individual. It should only be an issue if a politician allows his or her religious views to dictate policy or influence their decision-mak- ing, as our current president has. Is it possible that Jewish voters fear a Muslim president may not support Israel, or that he or she will take a softer stand against terrorism? Is it equally possible that Muslims hold similar but opposite fears relative to Jewish politicians? Definitely. Must we get over these phobias and vote based on principles, ethics and ideals? Absolutely. So, too, gender should not play a role in casting a ballot. Whether Hillary Clinton cries or not, what needs to be evaluated is not her emotions (unless they're out of control, something that holds for men as well), but her values and positions. Sadly and surprisingly, many people will not vote for Clinton simply because they don't like her. I don't know if it's the tone of her voice or the perception that she is the quintessentially manipulative politician, but the knock on Hillary is that she is cold and unlikable. It has nothing to do with her values orvoting record, which mirror Obama's in every way with the exception of universal health insurance (she wants it for everyone, Obama wants it in a more limited form). By the same token, I have wondered how the American populace will react when they see Barack Obama and his black wife and family take the stage with him if and when he gets the nomination and debates McCain. I'm not saying this because I care or am prejudiced, but I am aware of the impact this could have on much of racially charged America. It wasn't all thai long ago (1972) that Shirley Chisholm, a black congresswoman, ran for the presidency. She was a marginal candidate with no chance at election, but she ran, and from that time to this, there have been no viable black or women or religiously diverse candidates running for the highest office. Isn't it time these issues became irrelevant, and relevance shifted to the issues of the day, the issues that matter most? It is critical for coming to terms with who we are as a people--a moral people, a Jewish people, and an American people--whether we do or do not allow these sidelights to impact how we select the next president. I, for one, will only vote my conscience and my core values. This year I voted for Barack Obama in the Florida primaries. Now let's see where America stands. And that's the good word. The opinions in this column are those of the writer and not the Heritage or any other individual, agency or organization. Send your thoughts, com- ments, and critiques to the Heritage or email Letter from Israel Assassination could hurt pora By Ira Sharkansky importance of the figure. Israelis, Americans, and others are saying that he was not well Who did it? known to the general public, but had been a key The issue is the assassination of Imad Mug- figure in planning details that took hundreds niyah, a ranking operative of Hezbollah, and of lives. That somebody got to him in central high on the wanted lists of Israel, the United Damascus will also shake the prestige of Syr- States, and numerous other countries. Jan authorities, and may lead other figures like He was credited with the bombing of the himtospendmoretimeprotectingthemseives Marine base in Beirut that killed more than andlesstimeworkingontheirplanstodestroy 200 Americans, explosions in Israeli and Jew- others. Mugniyah's colleague HassanNasrallah ish facilities in Buenos Aires that killed more will be addressing his funeral via a large video than 100, plus assorted plane hijackings and screen, and not risking his own presence on a other abominations, public platform. People like him do not surrender at the local Advocates of peace will concern themselves police station. Someone went after him, close with the cycle of violence. Whoever did this to the center of Syria's capital, and got him will add a significant push to that cycle, and with a bomb placed in or under his car. almost certainly cause harm to Israelis and/or InitialIsraeliresponsesweresaidtobedeni- overseas Jews. That harm will make its own als.Morerecentlythecommentatorshavebeen contribution to continued cycles. All this is reading closely the official statement. They sad, but seems inevitable if we take seriously now find ambiguities as well as coyness in the the frequent proclamations of Iran, Hezbol- expressions of key ministers. Whoever did it, lah, Hamas, and others that Israel must be Hezbollah and Iranian sources say that Israel destroyed. I recall one cease-fire that the was responsible and will pay the price. Palestinians and Israelis declared as of 6 a.m. The price may be heavy. It is conventional to The Israelis withdrew their tanks from Gaza, say that the bombings in BuenosAires came in but the first rockets landed in Israel before 11 response to an earlier Israeli attack that killed a.m.As long as rhetoric of hatred and destruc- a Hezbollah leader and his family, tion continues at its present intensity, Israel It is no surprise that Israelis are already (if it did this) has few alternatives other than arguing if the most recent killing was worth persuading its enemies that violence has a the price that may have to be paid. Insofar as price. Insofar as they glory in their images of the price may come from overseas Jews, they death and destruction, abombmaybethebest should ponder the consequences even if their way of communicating with them. representatives were not let into whatever There is also pride in accomplishment. Nu- forum decided about this. It will not be pleas- merous Israelis seem to believe that this was ant if a community center in Minneapolis, our work. Doing it in Damascus adds to the a synagogue in Britain, or a senior citizens' appeal.Doesitmakeupforthekillingofanaged residence in Miami Beach comes tumbling physicist in Dimona, or the leg of the young down on its clients. Those kinds of facilities boy from Sderot? It is not in the same league are less likely to be protected than Israeli astherescuefromEntebbe, hut it is something installations here or abroad, and morality is that we need every once in a while. not a prominent trait of Hezbollah, Hamas, Ira Sharkansky is professor emeritus of Iranian, or Syrian operatives, the Department of Political Science, Hebrew The argument of its worth turns on the University of Jerusalem. 'THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. O O CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE O ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 38 Press Awards EWISH NEWS HERITAGE Florida JewishNews ( ISN 0199-0721 ) is published weekly for $34.95 per year to Florida ad- dresses ($41.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Central Florida Jewish News, Inc 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, EO. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER EO. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 email: F, ditor/P~ifsher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Assoch~ Editor Gene Starn Lyn Payne Society Editor Bookin in Gloria Yousha Wayne Gray Account Executives Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser Thomas UIImann Contr~uting Columnists Jim Shipley Ira Sharkans~ Steve Levine Tim Boxer David Bornstein Gail Simons Production Department David Lehman * Ted Marks Elaine Schooping * Gil Dombrosk'Y By Jonathan S. Tobin In 1263, the great Spanish scholar Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, better known as Nah- manides, was summoned to Barcelona by King James I of Aragon to engage in a rather stressful form of interfaith dialogue with rep- resentatives of the Dominican and Franciscan religious orders. Their debate is known to history as the Disputation of Barcelona. The purpose of those who initiated the event (principally, an apostate Jew) was to compel the conversion of Spanish Jewry to Christianity. Guaranteed freedom of speech, Nahmanides, the sole Jew- ish representative in the proceedings, gave as good as he got in a free-wheeling medieval rhetorical brawl, in which both sides made it clear how little they thought of their op- ponents' faith. Though given a reward by the king for his performance, Nahmanides was eventu- ally forced to flee the country because of the church's anger. In particular, Pope Clement IV sought to punish the rabbi for his courageous defense of Judaism. Catholic revival Flash forward 745 years, and some of the lessons of the Disputation still stand. Public arguments about matters of faith can be a dangerous game whose outcome often serves the purposes of those who wish to spread intolerance rather than knowledge. Though the context of the present day couldn'tbe any more differentthanthe circum- stances of 1263 Barcelona, many Jews appear to be thinking about interfaith relations with this piece of sad history still in mind. The latest irritant in Catholic-Jewish rela- tions is the result of the church's revival of an Easter Week devotion in which believers asked to pray for the conversion of the Jews. As part of an effort to break down divi- sions within Catholicism that had grown up around the abandonment of the Latin Mass, last year Pope Benedict XVI allowed the say- ing of the Tridentine rite. The prayer, which was dropped by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, spoke of Jewish"blindness" and asked the Almighty to "remove the veil from their hearts." Shocked by this reversion to language that was part of a long history of the teaching of contempt for Judaism, Jewish leaders asked the Vatican o reconsider the move.'l~voweeks ago, the Vatican responded by issuing.a new version of the prayer which eliminated the lines about blindness" and the "veil" over Jewish hearts, but did not omit the call for conversion. The Jewish reaction to this move was an- guished. The Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to the pope asking that he further amend the prayer. The Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbinical movements are all expected to add their pleas soon. In response, CardinalWalter Kasper seemed to express bewilderment at the sensitivity of the Jews. He told the Italian newspaper Cor- riere della Sera, "I don't understand why Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our papers." His point was that the prayer "reflects the faith of the church, and furthermore Jews have prayers in their liturgical texts that we Catholics don't like one must respect differences." While the cardinal's statement illustrates the slippery slope down which this sort of dispute can soon lead to hurt feelings on all sides: he is, of course, right. Catholics are free to believe whatever they want about the universal truth of the doctrines of their faith. The same right mustalso apply to everyone else when it comes to their opinions about their own religions and everyone else's. Problems arise not from believing these different things, but how we act on those differences. On that score, it is important for Jews to understand that the Catholic Church has, in recent generations, moved light years away from the spirit of the Disputation Of Barcelona. Under the inspired leadership of Pope John XXIII and later Pope John Paul II, the Vatican discarded the teaching of conteml~t for Judaism, and introduced new curricula in their schools and churches based on respect for Judaism and recognition of past persecutions. As for proselytizing, unlike many Protes- tant denominations, the church has dropped campaigns to specifically target Jews for conversion. Yet Jewish groups still fear that if the Vatican, in seeking to mollify its own liturgi- cal conservative wing, moves away from the spirit of Vatican II, it will mean that Catholics no longer embrace John Paul II's beliefs that taught Catholics to think of Jews as their theological older brothers whose legitimacy should not be questioned. That fear is genuine and it is based, in no small part, on the legacy of church-based mis- sionizing that was rooted in compulsion and oppression of Jews. But as Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio in another interview, the revised prayer "does not mean we are embarking on a mission" to convert Jews. Rather, they are just expressing their faith. Jews and Catholics may have many things in common, but they do notaccept the fundamen- tals of each other's religions. No less than in 1263, Christians believe theirs isthe true path to salvation. Jews still disagree. In societies where religion rules all, such as most of the Islamic world, such theological differences are just as much a matter of life and death as they were in Barcelona during the Disputation. Agreeing to disagree But in free societies such as our own, we can merely say, "vive la difference" and leave it at that, knowing none of us will be the worse for wear as a result of our contrasting views about the nature of eternity or divinity. Genuine interfaith dialogue is not rooted in agreement, but rather, on agreement to disagree. The trick is to do so in a civil manner, and to avoid public attacks on each others' faiths that can only lead to discord and prejudice. So while it is all well and good for Jews to Toblm on page 5A