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July 27, 2012

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 27, 2012 By Nell Rubin WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Seven years on, many Jews still have lingering questions about the addition to the pro-Israel lobbying scene of Christians United for Israel, the project of evangelical leader the Rev. John Hagee. Hagee believes he has a biblical mandate to press on and is undeterred. "As Isaiah said, 'For Zion's sake we will not hold our peace and for Jerusalem's sake we will not rest,' " Hagee told more than 5,600 delegates at the opening plenary Monday of the CUFI Washington Sum- mit 2012. The summit stands as something of a Christian version of the annual Wash- D ington policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Like the AIPAC event, the CUFI gather- ing includes a day of lobbying and here, too, the Israeli prime minister is a guest speaker, albeit via satellite. "We will not be intimated by any person, by any groups of people when Israel is on the line. We are the front line of defense for Israel in the United States of America," Hagee said to thunderous applause and a few shofar blasts. "The covenant that God made with Abraham is eternal and it cannot be repealed by the president of the United States, by the president of the United Nations." Hagee created CUFI in early 2006 after calling 400 to Was fellow pastors to meet him in San Antonio, Texas, "to form a national organization that could give national unity on behalf of Israel." Today, CUFI claims more than 1.1 million members, 754,000 Facebook fans and 96 college campus chapters. It has held events throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Kenya, Israel and Scotland, according to Hagee. About one in five Ameri- cans-some 60 million peo- ple-consider themselves evangelicals, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. A 2005 Pew study found that 41 percent of evangelicals favor Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict versus 13 percent favoring the Palestinians (20 percent said they didn't know; 18 percent said neither, and 8 percent favored both). Yet many Jews view CUFI's rank and file, who are over- whelmingly but not exclusive- ly evangelical, with suspicion. Only 21 percent of American Jews surveyed earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute said they had a favorable view of the "Christian right'--often a synonym for evangelicals. By contrast, 41 percent view Muslims favorably. The Jewish views on evan- gelicals come in large part from long-standing concerns over proselytizing and end- time theologies that foresee that Jews who do not accept Conference on page 15A CUFI l~vitter Audience at the Christians United For Israel Summit in Washington listening to an address by the group's executive director, David Brog, on July 17. ~0 By Ben Sales JERUSALEM (JTA)--For a few days at least, the old joke about Israel being the 51st U.S. state feels true. A litany of U.S. officials and politicians are parading through Israel this month, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the end of the month. In addition, National Security Advisor Tom Do- nilon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns either have visited or will visit this month. With the exception of Romney's visit, the trips are not so much about the U.S. presidential campaign as U.S. policy concerns in the region. Clinton's meetings last Monday focused on Egypt's new government, the effort to halt Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and Israeli- Palestinian relations. But there's also a good bit of U.S. politicking happening in Israel. Two week ago, Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's former spokesman, and Mat- thew Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, spent three days touring Israel stumping for Romney under the aus- pices of the RJC. They held events in places with large numbers of Americans, like Jerusalem and Modiin, and spoke with reporters. Their mission on the trip was two-fold: to convince Americans in Israel to regis- ter to vote--and cast those votes for Romney--and to get American expats to convince their relatives back home to vote Republican, too. "I don'twant to have a presi- dent where we have to wonder does he or does he not have Israel's back," Fleischer said at a July 10 event in Jerusalem that drew about 120 people. "The choice is between push- ing Israel around as President Obama has done, and Gover- nor Romney, who will stand strong by Israel's side." Estimates of the American population in Israel vary from 100,000 to 250,000. The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem does not offer an official num- ber, saying only that 80,000 Americans live in and around Jerusalem. On their trip, Brooks and Fleischer talked about 150,000 potential vot- ers, a figure that includes both dual U.S.-Israeli citizens and students and other temporary residents here. Fleischer described the American expatriate com- munity in Israel as similarly sized to Toledo, Ohio, or Fort Lauderdale, two midsized cities in swing states. Large numbers of Americans in Israel hail from those swing states, which means their absentee ballots could sway the election. The message that Brooks tried to hammer home in Israel was that Jewish support for Obama is on the wane. At the event in Jerusalem, he made note of an American Jewish Committee poll in April that showed Jewish sup- port for Obama had fallen to 61 percent. In 2008, Obama cap- tured 74 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a new study; previous estimates had put the figure at 78 percent. "Republicans are making inroads. People who voted for Obama have buyer's remorse now," Brooks said. "His sup- port is eroding in the Jewish community." Despite his drop in popu- larity, Obama remains more popular among Jews than among Americans generally. In Israel, polls show Obama remains deeply unpopular. Among American voters in Israel, polls conducted after the 2008 election by Keevoon, a Jerusalem-based research firm, found that 76 percent of those surveyed voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) vs. 24 percent for Obama. Despite the perception that American Israelis don't like Obama, Hillel Schenker, the vice chairman of Democrats Abroad Israel, says he expects the majority of U.S. voters in Israel to support the presi- dent-as Jews in America are likely to do. Obama "has consistently expressed his clear dedication and commitment to Israel's fundamental security needs," Schenker said. "His sensitiv- ity toward Israel's security needs cannot be compared to anyone else." iVoteIsrael is one of sev- eral efforts in Israel to reg- ister American voters. Along with the RJC, iVoteIsrael cosponsored the Jerusalem event featuring Fleischer and Brooks, and the organization activists placed voter registra- tion forms under every seat. The organization is of- ficially nonpartisan, but its founder, Elie Pieprz, is a for- mer Republican activist who used to workwith Republicans Abroad Israel and in America as a lobbyist for the conserva- tive nonprofit Americans for Tax Reform. Pieprz said he cut his ties with those groups before starting iVoteIsrael. "It's important to have strong engagement of ideas on both sides," he said. "If you have one side engaging and one side not engaging, that can lead to apathy." iVoteIsrael has about a dozen employees and 50 to 60 volunteers in Israel. The organization also is sponsor- ing a series of debates imme- diately before Romney's visit between local Republicans and Democrats. Pieprz would not say how many voters the group has registered. The visits by U.S. figures are helping ratchet up the volume of the presidential campaign in Israel, but Republicans Abroad Israel and Democrats Abroad Israel have been doing campaign work here for years. Both partisan organizations plan to promote their respec- tive parties in the coming months with Op-Eds in Israeli and Jewish publications. Whatever the outcome in November, Pieprz says all the attention given to U.S. voters here will end up benefiting Israel. "There are American citi- zens here in Israel and we want to be treated that way," he said. "It's not about how America treats an ally. It's about how America treats American citizens." By Toby Axeirod BERLIN (JTA)--Say yes to circumcision. That's the message of a petition that three German students have created at Directed toward the Ger- man government, the petition comes in light of a recent Cologne District Court ruling that found that non-medical circumcision of a minor is a criminal act. Although the ruling does not apply to other districts, it has had a chilling effect, with hospitals in Berlin turning away parents until legal clarity has been reached. "We are young people and we were shocked because of the new law," Michael Groys, 21, one of two Jewish students who created the petition with a Muslim friend, told JTA. "We thought we have to say some- thing to the government, and so we thought this is the best way to do it." The petition reads in part: "Circumcision was and is a central element of our reli- gions, and a covenant with God, which has been fulfilled for thousands of years without a problem--so why is it being criminalized today?" One reason may be a popu- list, anti-immigrant trend in Europe. Practices such as kosher and halal slaughter are under pressure; the right of Muslim women to wear headscarves has been severely limited in some countries; and minarets can no longer be built in Switzerland. Circumcision is high on the list of suspect practices, even though Jesus himself had a brit milah, as Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, pointed out at a news conference here last week fol- lowing an emergency meeting of the group. There is also a tendency to use modern arguments against age-old religious practices. Holm Putzke, a professor of criminal law at the University of Passau who has argued for several years for a ban on in- voluntary circumcision, told JTA that he hoped the Cologne ruling would prompt a discus- sion about "what should be given more weight--religious freedom or the right of chil- dren not to have their genitals mutilated." But even Jewish parents who cringe at the idea of cir- cumcision, like Berlin Cantor Avital Gerstetter, defend the right to continue the ritual. "It should be up to the parents," said Gerstetter, whose two sons were both circumcised in Berlin's Jew- ish Hospital. "It should not be banned. That is not a good thing, especially in Germany. It is just stupid." The ruling has proved such an embarrassment to Germany that the federal government has hinted it will intervene. Late last week, a spokesman for German Chan- cellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, told Reuters that for "everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Mus- lim religious life in Germany. Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment." Goldschmidt, who is also the chief rabbi of Moscow. was relieved by Siebert's comments. "This statement will come as a great comfort to Jewish communities not only in Germany but also to com- munities right across Europe who felt deeply troubled by the court's decision," he said in a statement. "I am grateful to Chancellor Merkel for making it clear that religious freedom will not be compromised in Germany." Members of the Conference of European Rabbis last week had urged Jewish parents to ignore the ruling and noted that the Maccabees found the ban of circumcision so threatening thatthey revolted against the ancient Greeks. Mohels say they will con- tinue to do circumcisions. "God is more important than a judge," said the Jerusalem- born Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves the community of Hof Saale in Bavaria and has performed 4,000 brit milahs over the years. But Goldberg also said that some of his congregants have expressed reservations about circumcis- ing their sons since the ruling. Physicians who perform circumcisions also are wor- ried. "Doctors arevery insecure," said Berlin attorney Nathan Gelbart, who is a member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany's arbitration court. And parents are quaking in their boots, he said. "In Berlin, you have 1,500 Jewish circum- cisions a year, so of course these people are affected. They might be subject to criminal prosecution." The local ruling, however, is not binding "as long as there is no decision by the High Court of Justice or High Constitu- tional Court," Gelbart said. Now, "Some people are sug- gesting turning themselves in" to force the law to a higher court, saying"if you think this is a crime, please arrest me." The Bundestag, or parlia- ment, could start the proce- dure of adopting a law that explicitly allows religious circumcision of boys--even though it is not banned, Gel- bart pointed out. "But let's be realistic: It can take years" to adopt such a law. The petition at, meanwhile, states that "We're not criminals! We're not barbarians!" and concludes, "We're against the circumci- sion of our rights!" Mike Delberg, 22, a Jewish law student in Berlin who put the petition together with Groys and Anil Celik, who is Muslim, said people don't understand "that this is a main part of our religions, a tradition that is not up for discussion. They only see that we cut off our foreskin. "There were times when Jews had to live underground and could not reveal they were Jews, but they still practiced the brit milah. People don't understand what we had to live through to keep this tradition." Many former Soviet Jews abandoned the practice, said Groys, who was born in the Ukraine. But in the 1990s, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Jews no longer feared being open about their re- ligion. More than 150,000 Jews came from the Eastern Bloc to Germany in the past 22 years. "Now they are saying they are afraid of the situation," Groys said. "They remember when it was not allowed. It was really problematic. And so they remember, with fear on their faces."